While The Baby-Sitters Club (BSC) book series may not have been on everyone’s radar in India in the ’90s (Sweet Valley, Malory Towers and St Clare’s seem to have been the preferred choice of pre-teen girls), the series written by Ann M Martin was immensely popular stateside.
With a total of 131 books published between 1986 and 1999, the series also spawned spin-offs such as the Super Specials, Super Mysteries, and Little Sister novels as well as a TV series in 1990 and a film in 1995. And with its adaptation released this month, Netflix joins the club.
Like the books, each episode is narrated by one of the BSC members (the opening credits change depending on who it is). Set in fictional town of Stoneybrook, Connecticut, the 10-episode series kicks off with ‘Kristy’s Great Idea’ when assertive 13-year-old Kristy Thomas realises there is a market for trustworthy sitters after she witnesses her mother struggle to find one for her young brother, David Michael.
Since her business plan involves starting a club where adults can call a number and reach a host of babysitters who actually enjoy the job, she quickly ropes in her best friend, quiet Mary Anne Spier (the Sally to her Darrell), and fashionable and artsy Claudia Kishi, who brings along Stacey McGill, the chic, new girl who is also a math whiz. A later addition is free-spirited Dawn Schafer who is brought into the club by Mary Anne.
The Baby-Sitters Club
- Cast: Sophie Grace, Momona Tamada, Shay Rudolph, Malia Baker, Xochitl Gomez, Alicia Silverstone, Takayo Fischer, Mark Feuerstein, Marc Evan Jackson, Sophia Reid-Gantzert
- Creator: Rachel Shukert
- Director: Lucia Aniello, Kimmy Gatewood, Heather Jack, Luke Matheny
- Runtime: 10 episodes of under 30 minutes each
- Storyline: Four young girls start a babysitting service and learn about friendship, trust, acceptance, identity and other life lessons along the way
While in the beginning, the girls deal with a competitor —The Baby-Sitters Agency comprising high school students (they have the huge advantage of being able to stay out late and apparently, the money to hand out free merch) — and lighter matter like the mystery of the Phantom Caller, the show makes it a point to focus on subjects such as friendship, family, parent-child relationships, trust, acceptance, and identity as well as first crushes and kisses.
Certain storylines from the books get an update such as in ‘Mary Anne Saves the Day’. When Mary Anne realises that her charge, Bailey, is running a fever and makes the decision to rush her to hospital, the Netflix show also allows Mary Anne to assert herself by calling out the medical staff who repeatedly misgender Bailey, resulting in them apologising.
Having said that, there are no outright villains in Stoneybrook (Riverdale, it is not). As Dawn puts it, “Parents are just older weirdos doing the best they can. Just like the rest of us.” And that sentiment applies to the adults in general.
The cast is uniformly good, including Alicia Silverstone as Kristy’s approachable, open mom and Takayo Fischer as Claudia’s understanding grandma. The children, in particular, shine and the camaraderie between Kristy (Sophie Grace), Mary Anne (Malia Baker), Claudia (Momona Tamada), Stacey (Shay Rudolph) and Dawn (Xochitl Gomez) comes through the screen.
Special mention for Sophia Reid-Gantzert, who plays seven-year-old Karen Brewster, Kristy’s stepsister, with complete gusto, whether she is indulging in a fascination for the macabre or spouting Shakespeare during an audition (Hamlet no less!).
In short, despite a few quibbles (Claudia’s Japanese-American parents just had to be obsessed with grades, didn’t they), whether you’re a child or a nostalgic adult, this charming series is definitely worth a watch.
The Baby-Sitters Club is currently streaming on Netflix