At the risk of further damaging my masculinity, I’ve developed strong feelings for Jem and the Holograms. I remember seeing snippets of it as a child while channel-surfing, and it always stood out to me for some reason.
Now, years later, I’ve revisited the show and found it holds up surprisingly well! Some episodes do, anyway. Some are the usual tripe you’d expect from a girl’s show in the 80s, but the good ones knew how to pull your heart string or keep you coming back after the commercial break, usually by threatening to kill the cast in brutal ways: falling off a cliff, movie set pyrotechnics going berzerk, or the bar they’re in being blown sky-high! In most episodes there was always something intense going on, which made it stand out from the other safe, cutesy shows.
Let’s be honest, though, the Misfits made this show. Like all 80s cartoons, the protagonists were moral pariahs and very boring as a result. The villains had actual human foibles and often felt more fleshed out. So when I started collecting Jem dolls, I had only intended to get the Misfits.
They’re as 80s as it gets, folks. I started with the original three in a single ebay lot: Pizzazz, Roxy, and Stormer. Eventually I picked up Jetta, and finally Clash, my personal favorite, who went as the only one without a base for a while.
Clash has the best outfit of the bunch, I love her purple hair, and she looks great in just about anything.
Jem dolls stand at about 12.5 inches tall, making them a full inch larger than Barbie. This proved to be the toy line’s undoing: they were too big proportionally for Barbie clothes, they were more expensive, and their huge, unwieldy boxes were too big for the toy shelves at department stores, which typically had them tall enough for Barbie boxes. So they’d be laid on their sides or on top of the shelves where kids couldn’t see them very well. Couple that with the more detailed and expensive clothing, AND the inclusion of cassette tapes with original music, and Jem didn’t last on the shelves for more than a few years.
Which is a shame, ‘cos it has infinitely more style and character than Barbie ever did. Barbie’s purpose was to be whatever little girls wanted to be when they grew up, which is great on its own. But as far as having a distinct character as a toy line, she was too amorphous. Jem had a clear identity as a battle between rival glam-rock girl bands, and the music gimmick was a great touch, especially since so many of the tunes are catchy as hell.
Well, eventually I decided I needed to add Jem herself to the mix, because it didn’t seem right to have all the bad girls and no protagonist to torment. I found one in a chic jumpsuit ensemble and bagged her….and she arrived with a stowaway, her sister Kimber! The seller was nice enough to throw her in for free!
My initial reaction: “Cool, she sent me Kimber!”
Later: “Shit, now I need clothes for Kimber!”
Next thing I know, I have both bands on a pair of increasingly crowded shelves, and two awesome homemade backdrops to match.
Maybe it’s my former love of gaudy stuff coming back to haunt me, or maybe it’s just my love of tough chicks. Jem surprisingly ended up being a highlight of the collection amid all the gross and otherwise boyish toys on my shelves.