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Series Review: In “The Baby-Sitters Club,” Vibrant Young Women Grow Up

Written by: Christopher Llewellyn Reed | July 2nd, 2020

Series poster: “The Baby-Sitters Club”

The Baby-Sitters Club (Rachel Shukert = showrunner; Lucia Aniello = director of first 8 episodes; Luke Matheny = director of final 2; 2020) 3½ out of 4 stars.

Based on Ann M. Martin’s eponymous series of books published between 1986 and 2000, Netflix’s new series The Baby-Sitters Club is a delightful affair that celebrates young women in all their vibrant glory. Whether you’re a parent looking to reinforce strong feminist principles in your daughters, a girl on the cusp of young womanhood striving for independence, or just someone who enjoys good entertainment, the show is sure to please. With a cast of rising stars with a grand future ahead of them, ably supported by their adult counterparts – among whom is Alicia Silverstone (of long-ago Clueless, and more recent Catfight, fame) – The Baby-Sitters Club offers important lessons from which everyone could learn, carefully embedded within each of the ten 22- to 27-minute episodes so as not to feel overly pedantic. Even when the messaging stands out in occasionally clumsy parts, the overall effect is still wonderfully cinematic. I watched it with an 11-year-old and her mother, a fan of the original books, by my side. We all loved it, as will you.

Each installment is narrated by a different character, just as was each book. They are, initially: Kristy (Sophie Grace), Mary-Anne (Malia Baker), Claudia (Momona Tamada) and Stacey (Shay Rudolph). The first three have grown up together in the fictional town of Stoneybrook, CT, though free-spirit Claudia has become, at series’ start, a bit estranged from the bossy Kristy, whose best friend is Mary-Anne. Stacey is a new arrival from New York City. The impetus for the club is Kristy’s. She and her friends babysit, anyway, so why not become organized about it so they can better serve the neighborhood needs and guarantee a steady income? They’re in middle school, after all, and no longer children. Time to think big!

Alicia Silverstone in THE BABY-SITTERS CLUB ©Netflix

Dramatically, the club is but a pretext for a slew of adventures and misadventures that allow each person to evolve and demonstrate the value they bring to this world as individuals. When they are soon joined by a fifth girl, vegan and social-justice activist Dawn (Xochitl Gomez), who has moved with mom from California following a bitter divorce, their crew becomes even more diverse. I don’t mean this just in terms of race and ethnicity – though there is that, too, though we could always have even more – but also in terms of personality. They each exhibit great variety of behavior and temperament, which makes the fact that they can come together and work as a team all the more inspiring.

Adding to the complexity of the narrative are the family stories that form the backbone of each girl’s through line. Kristy’s mother (Silverstone) is about to get married to a rich father of two kids, causing (in Kristy, anyway), a fair amount of strife. Claudia’s strict parents want her to do well in math, when all she wants to do is paint. Mary Anne’s uptight widowed father cannot seem to loosen the parental leash, even in the face of overwhelming evidence of her responsible nature. Stacey must learn to overcome the trauma that caused her to relocate to Stoneybrook. Finally, Dawn has to figure out how to handle her scattered mom, who, though loving, makes her feel like the parent in the relationship. There’s a lot more than that, too, and every bit adds to the beautiful richness of the enterprise.

l-r: Xochitl Gomez, Malia Baker, Sophie Grace, Momona Tamada and Shay Rudolph in THE BABY-SITTERS CLUB ©Netflix

In this age of political polarization and global pandemic, it’s wonderful to find material that offers, in simple, yet effective ways, such dramatic uplift. Through its combination of mostly fine scripts and always great performances, The Baby-Sitters Club is something the entire family can sit and watch as a unit, enjoying every minute. These girls have attitude, and that’s just what they need.

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Christopher Llewellyn Reed is a film critic, filmmaker, and educator. A member of the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA) and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, he is Managing Editor at Film Festival Today; lead film critic at Hammer to Nail; formerly the host of the award-winning Reel Talk with Christopher Llewellyn Reed, from Dragon Digital Media; and the author of Film Editing: Theory and Practice. In addition, he is one of the cohosts of The Fog of Truth, a podcast devoted to documentary cinema.

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