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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Jem: Season 3 - Volume 1
Jem: Season 3 - Volume 1
Rhino // Unrated // August 31, 2004
List Price: $49.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Bill Gibron | posted November 16, 2004 | E-mail the Author
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It's hard to imagine a life raunchier than that of a rock star. Sure, you could argue that an adult film fluffer soils more than just the sheets every time they "perform", and lawyers lack even the basic ethos to avoid looking like jaded jackasses whenever they arrive on the scene. But for pure down and dirty debauchery, for saying yes to another excess over and over again, the fey frontman or grim guitar hero stands scum and scurvy above all others in the race for the reprobate. Chocking on their own vomit, forgetting the basics of human hygiene and fornicating with a daredevil attitude toward STDs, paternity and sexual orientation, your groupie grazing band of beer-swillers seem the unlikeliest of role models (clear cut cautionary example? Absolutely!). So it seems odd that Hasbro would decide to market a new line of adolescent toys based in the booze, breasts and bass solos of rock and roll. Nothing prior to the greed grind of the 80s suggested that heavy metal or the pure power of punk lent itself to warm and fuzzy cross-promotion with a Happy Meal manic public, Perhaps, since the notion was knocked-up during the mid-80s, when New Wave was proving that even the wussiest wimp could cross dress his way into superstadom, the plaything producer didn't give the power chord parameters of their decision a second outside consulting contract. Besides, the cute as a button babe at the center of the conceit was goody two shoes enough to avoid any attachment to either the depraved or its rival in repulsion, the Satanic salute. Jem and the Holograms were Josie and the Pussycats minus the Hanna-Barbera desire to turn everything into a Tom and Jerry battle royale. And when it finally fell onto TV screens everywhere, Jem proved the anomaly that destroyed the rule. The toyline was a so-so success. Jem was a flat-out phenom. Thanks to Rhino, we have had the ability to revisit this series in complete season box sets. For outing #2, we get half of Series 3 in the every evolving universe of Jem, her band and the basics of being a multimedia luminary. The only question left is - how cool is that? The answer, naturally, is slightly more complicated. Jem may be a great role model, but her show is starting to falter as it makes its tertiary rounds.

The DVD:
Here is the story of Jem, so far: When her father dies, Jerrica Benton is left with a lot of responsibilities. Her father owned half of the popular rock and roll record label, Starlight Music. He also ran Starlight House, a home for orphaned and foster girls. Jerrica must now manage both businesses and it's not easy. On the home front, the girls are a handful, demanding time and attention. And the corrupt co-owner of Starlight Music, Eric Raymond, will stop at nothing to keep Jerrica and her interests in check. When Ms. Benton learns that The Misfits, an all-girl group of abrasive bitches is Eric' s main priority, she decides to fight fire with fire. With the help of one of her late father's inventions, a holographic entertainment program named Synergy, Jerrica becomes rock icon Jem, and her fellow co-workers at the halfway house – sister Kimber and friends Aja and Shana – become her back up band, the Holograms. Acting as their manager is longtime pal and Jerrica's current boyfriend, Rio. Only Jerrica and her friends know that she and Jem are one in the same. The rest of the world only sees her computerized laser disguise. Synergy can also project holograms wherever and whenever Jerrica needs them.

During Season 1, there was a battle of the bands competition between Jem and the Holograms and their rivals, the mean miscreant Misfits. First prize was a mansion and a movie contract. The maniacal musicians, with the help of Eric and a goon named Zipper, did anything they could to stop Jem, but naturally, good triumphed over evil and Starlight won the prize. Season Two featured several multi-part installments, including: a three-part resolution a movie contract storyline; a two-part plot revolving around runaways and an important Music Award; a similar double dose of drama surrounding an all-star concert called The Jem Jam; and a new look for Jem and the Holograms called Glitter and Gold. In among these longer narratives, Jem and the Misfits visited Paris, got stranded on a desert island, romped around the Peoples Republic of China, entered a fashion show, appeared on Broadway, helped an aging rock and roller and saved a ski resort. There were also a few new characters introduced, including a friend for the Holograms nicknamed Video and her horrible, harassing cousin Clash, who instantly takes up with The Misfits.

Season Three, Volume 1 sees the show staying on a more episodic approach, presenting puzzling problems and far too easy solutions over the course of 22 short minutes. The individual installments featured include:

Disc 1: -The Talent Search 1, The Talent Search 2, Scandal, One Jem Too Many, The Band Breaks Up, The Fan, Fathers Day

Disc 2: – The Treasure Hunt, Aztec Enchantment, Music Is Magic, The Jazz Player, Danse Time, Roxy Rumbles, Alone Again

Disc 3: – KJEM/ Trick or Techrat/ The Presidential Dilemma/ The Rock and Roll Express/ Mardi Gras

The first thing you notice about the third season of Jem that is different from the previous two series is the added emphasis on educational and hot button issues. With popularity comes a higher profile, and once Jem was a hit, the sweet smack of reality came calling to its insane in the membrane approach to wish fulfillment. Jem is no longer about living out wild, freedom-based fantasies amongst the jet-set scenario of the world of rock. No, fame now comes with the price of responsibility, and from the first episode, the cartoon is now Jem-packed with controversy. Certainly, all the bewitching and bedazzling, couture and celebrity are still part of the show's plotting, but like an old Soviet satellite, the splendiferous world of Jem, The Holograms and the Misfits plummets back to the planet and is now riddled with real world roadblocks. Money just can't be thrown at problems: common sense and smart business acumen must also be tossed at the situation. Children aren't just handy plot-fillers or juvenile jokesters: they're intensely messed up miniature adults with incredibly complex problems pounding on their psyche. For every new adventure there is a perilous path riddled with envy, jealousy, competition and disappointment. Jem and her gals still ride a rather charmed chariot throughout most of the misery (pain brushes up against them but never lingers long; even when the odds seem destined to defeat them, the Holograms pull out a 'W' in the end), but now there is a depth to the predicaments which make them seem more formidable, more unfixable. Apparently, Jerrica Benton and her friends have seen the last of the free and easy salad days. The great karmic wheel is now colluding against them every chance it gets. While we are sure she will survive, the effervescence has been replaced with some slight vexation.

The third season also sees the introduction of two new band members, one for each of our competing pop combos. On the side of the sinister is Jetta, a black-haired harpie with the salty tongue of a cockney sailor and the disposition of a pissed-off python. This ballsy Brit is constantly bragging and butting her way into everyone's business, usually with disastrous results. On the side of sunshine and smiles is Raya, a humble, intensely shy Hispanic gal (got to love those PC bows to multi-cultural diversity) who only comes out of her shell when she's drumming. Usually cast off to the side of a circumstance, she can always be counted on to add the mandatory moral pronouncement to all discussions. Both babes became additions to the antics during "The Talent Show" episodes: Raya was brought on to replace Shana when said glamour gal takes on a high profile position as fashion designer for a TV series. Jetta is the Misfits response to the Holograms cheerful clarion call. It would be nice to say that the fleshing out of the group dynamic makes for bristling drama or a deeper direction, but sadly, these embellishments simply feel like the new product marketing decisions they constantly play out as. Jetta seems to suit the writers better than Raya (our London lady does spout off at the mouth much more then her Mexican match), functioning as something even more malevolent than Eric Raymond or chief Misfit Pizzazz. Besides, our Latina lass is nothing more than a cultural dodge, a chance to open up the minority status to another ethnic group (the Holograms are already rife with an Asian and an African American).

Season 3's other major stumbling block is the desire to be preachy instead of peachy. As stated before, Jem/Jerrica and her brassy bandmates tackle a number of tough – or in the case of a couple, completely pointless – issues, all in an attempt to teach the kid-vid audience about the importance of pressing adult subjects, like illegal immigration ("Aztec Enchantment"), respect for one's parents – especially papas ("Father's Day) and the constant disrespect that be-bop receives by the popular culture ("The Jazz Singer"). Show creator Christy Marx's love of books comes out in the decision to champion reading ("The Treasure Hunt") and battle illiteracy ("Roxy Rumbles", which focuses on the illiterate Misfit). The 'Just Say Yo' mindset of the post-Reagan malaise gets a shove in the shrill direction when a new Starlight girl develops a passion for pills ("Alone Again"). The concept of handicaps and how they can be easily – make that a little TOO easily - overcome shadows the ancillary character crisis of "Danse Time" and no Saturday morning cartoon show would be complete without a gratuitous plug for patriotism ("The Presidential Dilemma") and the Bill of Rights ("KJEM"'s freedom of expression-inspired rants). All the elements that filled Season 1 and 2 with sickly sweet eye and ear candy become ham-fisted malleable messages under the new Jem code of conduct. And it's not that these shows are bad - indeed, Jem has to try impressively hard to suck stinkbombs (more on this in a moment). It's just that, when it first appeared, Jem understood how to balance the moral with the merriment. Season 3 seems constantly hampered by the heavy hand of a "very important episode" after school special schlock.

Unlike Season 1 or 2, our third trip into Jem's wild world uncovers a few musty turds as well. The aforementioned "Jazz Singer", while having nothing to do with vocalizing, sees the show wander into a series of augmented fifths that it doesn't have the musical, or intellectual, acumen to master. The kidnapping of the leader of the free world ("The Presidential Dilemma") inspires more jeers than fears when a slightly stupid Mystery Machine approach to the scenario backfires on the borderline seriousness of the story. The unbelievably sissified rich kid that pays the Misfits to find out Jem's secret identity hampers what is actually a fairly decent diversion into weirdness (the Prisoner style scenario of "The Fan" is really very original). And no one could tolerate the scaredy cat crap that clutters up the standard fright facets of "Trick or Techrat". On the plus side, "The Talent Show" breezes by with great plotting and palpable plausibility, and "Scandal" handles the issue of tabloid tell-alls with understated grace (indeed, almost all the show's on Disc 1, save the "Fan"'s fidgeting fellow, are very well done). But by the time we pass through "Music is Magic" (a decent enough episode that turns twisted and surreal very quickly), the DVD set is doomed. Nothing will prepare you for some of the preposterousness present, from the miserable music train drain of "The Rock and Roll Express" to the near racist revisionism of "Mardi Gras" (where a black man is pegged as a thief because of issues outside of his sinister sneakiness). Overall, the show is still a grinning, gracious craving, a highly implausible pleasure that makes you feel foolish for ever falling for it. As an example of merchandising tied to entertainment, Jem is just fine. But this third time is not so lucky for our power pop princesses.

Thankfully, the songs save us most of the time, their video vibe style displaying far more invention than the poor plotting they exist within. We seem to get more tunes in a typical Season 3 show (even using the Monkees brand of hoopla, boasting an additional song toward the end of an episode as an "encore") than a typical Season 1 or 2 installment. While it's true there is nothing as memorable as "She's Got the Power", "Back in Shape" or "She Makes an Impression", the music really makes Jem, investing it with a novelty that helps rehab some of the stupidity on hand. Also, newfound popularity means a more polished presentation overall, with character modeling spot on throughout the vast majority of the episodes, and the animation sparkling with a precision and clarity missing from the initial shows. Perhaps the best way to look at Jem: Season Three - Volume 1 is to consider this the comfortable phase of the series, when achievement and popularity allowed the show some luxuries it lacked previously. By Season 3, Jem understood its demographic, realized that it occasionally drew the attention of adults as well as kids, and purposefully played to both the cheap, as well as the prosperous disposable income seats. While it would be nice to continue in the defending of this delightful 80s throwback, the facts are far more dumbfounding. At this point in the re-release schedule, the bloom is off Jerrica's rosy relationship with the fans. Jem is going to explore what it wants to, sermonize when it feels like and skip along on goodwill alone when the sad scripting demands it. If you can accept those conditions and still smile with unbridled delight as the opening credits unfold, then Jem will remain a long lost lasting merry memory. Just remember that as the episodes continue the de-evolving of what made this escapist amusement so habit-forming in the first place, Jem really doesn't care. It has bigger issue fish to fry, and could care less if you dislike the obviousness of the odor.

The Video:
The 1.33:1 full frame image looks nearly brand new and incredibly vivacious. The animation maintains a nice balance between color and contrast, and the multi-million dollar infusion of influence means the hand drawn wonders are amazing in their pen and ink perfection. While Jem never strived to be anything other than a subtle shill for a toy manufacturer, Season 3 showcases a real caring for cartooning. Rhino's release of Jem is equal to the series jewel-based moniker. It's a dazzler.

The Audio:
In a word – OUTRAGEOUS! Jem has been remastered into Dolby Digital 5.1 (the original Dolby Digital Stereo is intact as well) and it sounds incredible. As a show about rock and roll, the aural presentation is everything and the power pop of all the bands here is captured in crystal clarity and sonic superiority. As for the dialogue and effects, everything is handled in a professional – if not very channel challenging – manner.

The Extras:
Each of the three discs offered in the Jem: Season 3 - Volume 1 boxset has its own set of special features. Disc 1 contains a couple of commentaries (part 1 of "Talent Search" is hosted by creator/story editor Christy Marx, while "Father's Day" features writer/co-producer Roger Slifer) as well as an option to see/listen to all songs. The second disc contains a scene-specific discussion on "Treasure Hunt" by Marx, as well as the 'Play All' tune treatment. The final DVD offers up another alternative narrative with Marx (on the "KJEM" episode) an interview with the singing voice of Jem, Britta Phillips (who seems barely conscious as she reminisces), a calm Q&A with Slifer (which acts as a career résumé retrospective) and some revelatory remarks from the Jem Production Bible (the focus this time on the new and ancillary characters). The best way to describe any of the alternative narratives here is to refer to them as sparse and salient. Marx likes to link everything in the show to her life (and the connections seem pretty clear), while Slifer is more professional in his approach. These are not wall-to-wall wonderments of important information. Each DVD discourse is warm and friendly with an honest love for the series and the shows presented. It is interesting to note the omnipresent influence of Hasbro. The company constantly demanded script changes, required the featuring of certain characters to match product launches, and dictated a high standard of recognizability in the artwork. Both Marx and Slifer marvel at the attention to detail, and infer that Hasbro's hands-on approach was a major factor in Jem's success. While it would have been nice to see some media material from the era (the 80s were so filled with fun hyperbole), or perhaps some actual examples of Hasbro's "helping", this second serving of box set compliments is sure to please.

Final Thoughts:
It feels kind of funny dumping on Jem for not being more playful or giddy. Perhaps it is the still-tangible sugar rush one got from the first few episodes, when the weird world of the Holograms and their clash of the concerts craziness with the Misfits seemed novel and new, not rote and decidedly one-note (even with all the attempts to soften the stinkers this time around, the bad girl band battling Jem for cultural supremacy is a fairly fetid, one dimensional bunch). All foibles, flubs and flops aside, Jem: Season 3 - Volume 1 is still a super keen kind of show, an unembarrassed attempt to marry style with substance to create superficial think truffles that are actually nourishing as well. The earworm songs will stick to your cerebellum like bountiful black strap molasses and the endearing personalities of Jem/Jerrica, Aja, Shana and Kimber will clear out the cobwebs of cynicism like Hercules visiting the Augean stables. While certainly laying on the lessons a little thick, and occasionally falling off the logical cartoon cart, Jem is still a show eager to please and pulling out all the stops to do so. If you sit back and let the music take you, if you free-associate on all the rock star antics being avoided in the tale telling (so when do Jem and the gals get down to the PCP fueled midget orgies???) or if you simply relax and recall a time when commerce met the cartoon and a kind of anti-entertainment Armageddon did not occur, then you will really enjoy this show. In general, the life of a dishonest to badness metal musician (or the post-millennial perverted pop diva) is nothing to be replicated without a cabal of lawyers, a slew of antibiotics and a person proficient in body art. Jem only believes in the enchantment in euphony. It could care less about the crib, the bling or the pimp cup. If those three words mean nothing to you, then step right up to the universe of Jem. Synergy will certainly make everything all right.

Want more Gibron Goodness? Come to Bill's TINSEL TORN REBORN Blog (Updated Frequently) and Enjoy! Click Here

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