Whenever the great girl groups of the rock and roll era are discussed, one animated band always seems to get shortchanged. Fans of flesh and blood combos can argue all they want for the Go-Gos superiority or the Bangles, but when it comes to the queens of pen and ink performance, no one can hold a hand drawn candle to the collection of creative musicians known as Jem and the Holograms. About as pre-fab as the Monkees, this half-hour hit parade could have been a crass business bungle. After all, it was based on a line of dolls from Hasbro and initially conceived mainly as a crass commercial tie in. But Jem, Kimber, Aja and Shana managed to figured out a way - through some very talented people behind the scenes - to transcend their demographically accurate marketing strategy and become something of an anomaly in the standard Madison Avenue kid's show carnival. Instead of being hopelessly dated and directly linked to its toy line, Jem today remains a wonderfully evocative and energetically entertaining show that captures a place and an era that has all but vanished from the pop culture scene. Nothing exemplifies the carefree clash of fashion and fame better than this animated wonder featuring the first ladies of girl power.
The individual episodes offered on the 11 DVDs in the Box Set are as follows:
Disc 1: Season One -The Beginning/ Disaster (aka Setbacks)/ Kimber's Rebellion/ Frame-Up/ Battle of the Bands/ Starbright 1: Falling Star/ Starbright 2: Colliding Stars
Disc 2: Season One (Cont.) - Starbright 3: Rising Star/ The World Hunger Shindig/ Adventures in China/ Last Resorts/ In Stitches/ The Music Awards 1
Disc 3: Season One (Cont.) - The Music Awards 2/ The Rock Fashion Book/ Broadway Magic/ In Search of the Stolen Album/ Hot Time in Hawaii/ The Princess and the Singer/ Island of Deception
Disc 4: Season One (Cont.) - Old Meets News/ Intrigue at the Indy 500/ The Jem Jam 1/ The Jem Jam 2/ Culture Clash/ Glitter and Gold
Disc 5: Season Two - The Talent Search, Part 1/ The Talent Search Part 2/ Scandal/ One Jem Too Many/ The Bands Break Up/ The Fan/ Father's Day
Disc 6: Season Two (Cont.) - The Treasure Hunt/ Aztec Enchantment/ Music is Magic/ The Jazz Player/ Danse Time/ Alone Again
Disc 7: Season Two (Cont.) - Roxy Rumbles/ KJEM/ Trick or Techrat/ The Presidential Dilemma/ Rock 'N' Roll Express/ Mardi Gras/ The Middle of Nowhere
Disc 8: Season Two (Cont.) - Renaissance Woman/ Journey to Shangri-La/ Journey Through Time/ Out of the Past/ Hollywood Jem Part 1: For Your Consideration.../ Hollywood Jem Part 2: And the Winner Is...
Disc 9: Season Three - The Stingers Hit Town Part 1/ The Stingers Hit Town Part 2/ Beauty and the Rock Promoter/ Homeland, Heartland/ Midsummer Night's Madness/ Riot's Hope/ Straight from the Heart
Disc 10: Season Three (Cont.) - That Old Houdini Magic/ A Change of Heart/ Britrock/ The Day the Music Died/ Video Wars/ A Father Should Be...
Disc 11: Bonus Features
The hope and happiness that Jem/Jerrica and her band mates feel - the overriding optimism that, even through the toughest times, they will somehow persevere - is outrageously contagious. And before you know it, you are caught up in their spirit of support and friendship and you're whisked away on clouds of cartoon cleverness. In other ways, Jem is just like those great old-fashioned serials from cinemas past, using the cliffhanger device and the deviousness of Eric Raymond, Clash and The Misfits to turn up the suspense. And then there is the music. Jem is jam packed with the basics of top of the pops rock that, somehow, explains every irritating tween act on the market today. But unlike today's AOR awfulness, the tunes by Jem and the Holograms (and for the most part, the music of the Misfits) are absolutely delightful and catchy as Hell. Sure, they are not three minute masterpieces, but tunes like "She's Got the Power", "She Makes an Impression", "Back in Shape" and "Truly Outrageous" capture the character and the mood of the show in short, sweet sonic bliss.
Unfortunately, Jem would go from peachy to preachy as it went on, with an added emphasis on educational and hot button issues. With ratings popularity came a higher profile, and once it was a big fat hit, the sweet smack of reality forced the maker's hand. Jem would no longer center solely around living out wild, freedom-based fantasies amongst the jet-set scenario of the world of rock. No, fame would come with the price of responsibility and as a result, the cartoon was packed with calling-card controversy and unnecessary morals. 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.
Toward the end, we also see 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. Centered on 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. Indeed, as it slinked its way through a highly uneven final season, the spark that set the original shows alight dimmed ever so slightly. We got the new (annoying) band, The Stingers, as well as a rival for Rio, Riot. Romance ruled and contrivance reigned. Toward the end, Starlight was literally up for grabs and Jerrica's loyalties were clearly questioned. This is not the Jem we grew to love and support. Instead, it's the result of too much success and too much emphasis on making sure the intended audience walked away understanding important lessons, not the fun of a frothy, frilly escape. When it began, Jem was genius. Toward the end, it became a victim of its own vivacious spirit.