I’m a sucker for both the cute and the creepy, and that’s probably why I had a ton of these toys as a kid, yet never watched the show. Krumm especially steals the show in this toyline with his amazing sculpt and supreme weirdness. He somehow manages to be scary, gross, weird, and endearing all at once. He’s right at home on my shelf of oddball crap.
The toys were designed by toy designer Mel Birnkrant, whose website chronicles the creation of an awesome line of monster toys that eventually became the Aaaahh Real Monsters figure line. This probably explains why the characters from the show were somewhat half-baked feature-wise when compared to the other, more fully fleshed-out designs. While the Gromble probably has the sculpt that comes most alive out of all of them, Krumm is definitely the best all-around of the cast members that were rendered in plastic.
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.
My favorite shows from childhood where Real Ghostbusters, Jonny Quest, and Batman TAS, among others. Sometimes I go back and binge something that was on the air when I was a kid just to see if it holds up or not.
Know which show I expected to be a total cringefest, and ended up enjoying the hell out of? Jem and the Holograms.
Jem and the Fucking Holograms.
It surprised the hell out of me that I actually kind of love this show. Totally expected it to be unwatchable girly tripe about love triangles and eighties feelgood music. Didn’t expect the complex plotlines, the car chases, the ten-times-per-episode brushes with death the girls have with collapsing bridges, runaway cars, burning buildings, BOMBS PLANTED BY MOBSTERS. Didn’t expect the father’s day episode to rip my goddamn heart out. Didn’t expect to laugh like an idiot when the Misfits fucked up several dozen vacations at a ski resort, or went on a joyride in Jem’s car indoors during a lavish party. Didn’t expect the dialogue or visuals to occasionally crack me up.
Least of all did I expect the music to, on some occasions, be awesome (and this coming from a guy who hates musicals). Each episode has three musical numbers accompanied by mini-music videos, which are the highlight of the show (I imagine this goes double for any little girls who had the cassette tapes the dolls came with, ‘cos all those songs got featured on an episode or two). I’m a fan of eighties music and I’ve been bingeing the show and saving the best songs to a personal playlist on youtube.
Jem and the Holograms, our heroines, average two songs per episode, and occasionally have a decent one. I’m guessing with them as the protagonists, they would have to perform the largest number of songs, and therefore they were the most difficult to make consistent quality-wise. They often resemble Debbie Gibson and range from cringey to okay most of the time, mostly since they provide the sort of feelgood tripe one expects from eighties music. While the main theme of the show is undoubtedly sexy, I think there are a couple more stand out examples.
“Who is He Kissing?” has a nice beat and doesn’t get cringey like a lot of Holograms songs. It also has a well-made music video accompaniment, one of my favorites in the series.
“It Depends on the Mood I’m In” is a very cute track that’s easy to dance to, and watching Jem play pretend in the closet is kind of adorable.
The Misfits, Jem’s rivals and series antagonists, have a rougher, punkier Toni Basil sound to counter Jem’s Debbie Gibson flavor. They have maybe one song for every two Holograms songs, and usually perform one every episode. Every other track is decent or good, though their punky style can make them grating at times. They have quite a few listenable songs that are stylistically unusual compared to the Holograms. Between their music, videos, and entertaining personalities, I consider them the best band in the series. Jem is always bubblegum pop, the Stingers are always funk & soul, but every time the Misfits cue up a song, you have NO idea what to expect.
I love the video for this track. Like all Misfits tracks, it’s got a demented edge to it, but it really suits the subject of the song, and the visuals couldn’t be more perfect: Pizzazz being utterly tormented and humiliated while her bandmates helplessly watch. The ending gives me chills every time.
“You Gotta Be Fast” has a great eighties synth beat, and the video showcasing the Misfits wreaking havoc on helpless ski resort clients is a treat to watch.
This video is really fun in a spooky way, and makes me wonder if Jem isn’t using her hologram powers to enhance the performance. The song itself has a lot of oomph and would feel right at home on an eighties rock collection. I love how the Holograms are clearly enjoying the Misfits in action: they’re clearly better sports than the Misfits themselves.
This track is just awesome, and perfectly captures the essence of the Misfits.
This one, a hula beat about how the Misfits had a shitty time in Hawaii, just cracks me up. The tune itself is really cute.
Two bands who wouldn’t be caught dead sharing a stage together, do a joint performance to selfishly split up their runaway members, newfound friends Kimber and Stormer. This is as close to perfect as a song by either band ever got: music, tempo, lyrics, everything is just right.
The Stingers, another rival band, have the least number of songs in the series, but pretty much all of them are AMAZING. Every song this group performs has a professional sound that the other two lack. I absolutely love these guys and their distinctively funky sound, though they also belt out some of the best ballads in the show. “Are You Feeling Alright?” stands out as impossible to dislike.
This is easily my favorite track by the band, despite a weak start that’s borderline acapella. I rate the video up there with Love Sick for awesome visuals that reinforce the lyrics and tell a story as well. Centering it around the most gorgeous member of the band helps a lot, too: Minx is really easy to look at.
“Perfect Match” is extremely easy to dance to, and Riot’s vocals are a real treat and hilariously narcissistic. It’s one of a handful of tunes that are great with or without the accompanying video, although this one has some great visuals referencing famous romances.
After I dunno how many years of keeping my eyes peeled, I finally snagged my Killer Tomato holy grail — the Missing Tomato Link — before someone else did!
Yes, he’s insanely rare. Yes, I opened the package. No, I don’t feel the least bit of shame or guilt. This thing is too awesome to leave sealed in a plastic prison.
He has one of the coolest head sculpts of the toy line, and he’s also one of the ultra-rare “walking” tomatoes with arms and legs. More importantly, he comes with everyone’s Killer Tomatoes waifu, Tara Boumdeay!
He’s actually listed as a good guy, a misunderstood monster of vast intelligence and class. Or something to that effect. Either way, he sure has a thing for Tara. And who wouldn’t, with a butt like that?
He happily joins the Killer Tomatoes collection. Now all I’m missing is Ultimato, the rarest of them all. Even if I never find him, I’m content to finally have Link and Tara at last.
So I was browsing toys in the local Savers for props to use in a play set in the early 80s, and lo and behold, what do I find?
My girl, Wisp! In great (if soiled) condition! From 1983! This cutie is typically priced at $20 to $30 on ebay, so I can’t believe I found her. She even has her star decal intact!
She got to be a prop in the play, and then I took her home and prettied her up a bit. Face was caked with soot. Still got some stains on the white bits that need to be washed out, so she’s a work in progress. Still in wonderful condition considering where I found her.