Netflix’s The Baby-Sitter’s Club has already received praise for excelling as a modern-day retelling while keeping the aesthetics that made Ann M. Martin’s middle-grade books so beloved. The series is tailored to the world we know today—iPhones, Instagram references, and even Hamilton posters make an appearance. But there are still landlines, Claudia’s endless candy stash, and advertising via flyer distribution. More importantly, there are still very real and very personal stories that ground these characters.
Many of these stories are tweaked to reflect a more modern era: Stacey sports a cool, bedazzled insulin pump for her diabetes while punishment for Mary-Anne includes a confiscation of her smart phone. But each episode emphasizes the same middle-school struggles that we grew up with. There’s conflicts over clashing personalities and anger over absent parents. There’s trepidation over new relationships, both in friendship and in intimacy. There are the feelings that come with crushing on that person who may or may not like you back.
Navigating the uncertain teenage years is a tricky undertaking. But The Baby-Sitters Club manages to succeed by creating layered and relatable characters. And it doesn’t sacrifice the stories that might, on the surface, look trivial compared to adult drama. That’s in part thanks to another show that laid the foundation for realistic teenage stories almost 20 years ago: Freaks and Geeks.
In an interview with The L.A. Times, Baby-Sitters Club director and executive producer Lucia Aniello explained that she and showrunner Rachel Shukert wanted to “make something for young girls that treated them like real people that weren’t glossy in any way.” Aniello went on to reference Freaks and Geeks, citing how the short-lived series about a group of misfit high-schoolers served as an influence for crafting multi-faceted young characters.
Although Freaks and Geeks only lasted for 18 episodes, the show made a lasting impression that has carried it through the years. It was a show that portrayed high school life the way we knew it: messy, weird, fun, and slightly crazy. It was a show that was grounded in realism as opposed to an idealistic world. These fully-formed teens shared their pain over not fitting in, their arguments over personal opinions, and their disdain for their parents. The Baby-Sitters Club executes a similar vibe. We see the girls struggle with finding themselves, with feeling adequate enough for their families. We see them trying to balance independence with growing up.
Freaks and Geeks was set in the 80’s. But it felt relatable when it debuted in 1999 because of the storylines and character journeys. The Baby-Sitters Club book series was originally set in the ‘90s, but the easy way in which it has been translated to the current decade proves that its stories and struggles endure. Watching The Baby-Sitter’s Club, it’s easy to see how the fabric of Freaks and Geeks is woven into the tapestry; many of the “upgrades” that serve to modernize its characters also help expand their personalities. Dawn’s interest in activism leads her to push for income equality at summer camp while her family history of witchcraft appeals to those of us who embraced our heritage, even if we knew we were different. Mary-Anne’s growing self-confidence thanks to involvement in theater speaks to anyone who has found their voice through a new hobby. Claudia’s education about the Japanese internment camps is a sobering moment that anyone who has had to learn a hard lesson during a time of personal crisis will connect with.
Freaks and Geeks gave us the kind of high school experience we could understand. And now, two decades later, The Baby-Sitters Club is giving us the kind of middle school experience we can understand in a similar way.
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