I don’t know that I have anything else to report. All the reviews are correct, this is an amazing show, not just for kids but for the adults who devoured the books as kids, and in this stupid year, needed a soft pick-me-up.
Updating a series that has its feet firmly planted in the 80s and 90s is tricky business, because you want it to feel both fresh and nostalgic. It’s not an easy feat, yet showrunner Rachel Shukert managed to do it to near perfection. Shukert was a writer on GLOW, and the fierce feminism and girl-powerness of that show is on display in the 12 year old babysitting protagonists.
The show takes place in modern times, as you can tell by the cell phones and the inclusion of actual gay characters, but it still manages to keep all the charm of the books. In fact, I’d argue by diversifying the cast and streamlining the stories, they’ve managed to make it even more charming.
Each episode follows one book, starting with the first as Kristy’s Great Idea and the season ender being a two-parter where they’re at camp (renamed Moosehead.) The premises are mostly the same, Kristy is bossy and has a great idea, Mary Anne is shy and has to learn to stick up for herself, Claudia is artistic and misunderstood by her brainy family, Stacey is sophisticated and learns to live with her diabetes, and Dawn is a free spirit always ready to fight for the underdog.
But somehow this show does in ten episodes what more than 100 books weren’t quite able to do — and that’s give some real emotional heft to the familial problems of the girls. Kristy is much angrier over being abandoned by her father, Mary Anne’s relationship with her dad is even more distant in his grief after losing her mother, Dawn is the caretaker for a mom who is a little too free a spirit, Stacey is afraid her parents are ashamed of her illness, and in the second episode, Claudia heartbreakingly posits “No matter who your parents are, they could always make you feel like you’re letting them down. And that feeling, the one that makes you feel sad and scared and not good enough, that’s the real phantom caller.”
All of this is helped by the picture-perfect casting. The five main girls are all great in their own right. Momona Tamada’s Claudia is cute as a artistic button, Shay Rudolph’s Stacey is believably sophisticated for twelve, Malia Baker’s Mary Anne is wide-eyed in shyness, Xochitl Gomez’s Dawn is determined, but best of all is Sophia Grace as Kristy, who plays the character with the most depth – scared of losing her mother to Watson’s wealth, scared her friends will outgrow her, and acting out when she doesn’t know what to do with all of those emotions. But the genius casting was truly saved for the parents. They definitely played second-fiddle to their middle school co-stars, but Alicia Silverstone (Elizabeth Thomas), Marc Feuerstein (Watson Brewer), Takayo Fischer (Mimi Yamamoto), and especially Marc Evan Jackson (Richard Spier) were so darn good as the parents to these almost-teens.
Like I said, I’m probably not saying anything new. But even if you don’t have children (my sons only half-assed watched a couple of episodes with me), this series will not only entertain, it might make you cry, and will definitely provide some sweet relief to this shit show of a year.