Just forget the words and sing along

Monday, July 29, 2013

Jem and the Flintstones

So, a few weeks ago, after I discovered that I'd watched every known episode of Robot Chicken twice thanks to my PVR, I thought it was time to stop recording it and replace it with something else.  That's when I noticed that TeleToon Retro was showing the first episode of Jem.  Since the beginning is a perfect jumping-on point, I decided to start watching Jem.

For those who've forgotten this gem of the 1980s (pun completely intentional), Jem follows the adventures of Jerrica Benton, president and CEO of Starlight Music.  She also runs the charity Starlight House, a foster home for orphaned girls.  But by night, Jerrica becomes Jem, the world's greatest and most beloved pop star.  She accomplishes this transformation through Synergy, a sentient AI developed by her father that changes her appearance though highly realistic holograms, using the holographic projects concealed in her earrings.

Only three others share this secret:  her bandmates Kimber, Aja, and Shana.  (And Raya starting in season 2.)  As a "wink wink, nudge nudge" to how Jerrica transforms into Jem, they name their band the Holograms.

The typical episode follows Jerrica/Jem as she balances her dual identity and battles with rival band the Misfits for top 40 supremacy.  While the Misfits do it though lying, cheating, and all manner of dirty tricks, Jem and the Holograms do it through kindness, generosity, and fair play, and always win the day.  (I was going to say honesty, too, but because of the whole dual identity thing, that makes honesty kind of hypocritical.)

I was going to wait until I'd seen the entire series before jotting down my thoughts on it, but I saw one episode recently that's been sticking with me.  It's called Glitter and Gold.  This must be one that troubles Jem fans.  I remember back in the early days of the Internet, my best friend (a much bigger Jem fan than I) was on one of the first Jem message boards, and they were already deconstructing this episode.

The episode opens with Jerrica hard at work, supervising some of Starlight Music's new acts, and the tabloids are still posing the question, "Where is Jem?"  Apparently, Jem hasn't been seen in some time, and the Jem and the Holograms haven't put out an album in "forever," as one character puts it.  And whenever someone questions Jerrica about the whereabouts of Jem, she gets testy and quick to change the subject.

Right there, I want to see the "Jem No More" story.  I want to see what happened that made Jerrica decide Jem needed to disappear for a while. 

We do get some hints of this when Jerrica converses with Synergy for some advice.  Turns out she gave Jem a break because she was actually getting jealous of Jem and all the fame and attention she receives.  "I know it sounds strange, but I'm actually jealous of myself," she confides.  And this jealousy is personified in Rio.  Oh, did I not mention Rio?  Rio is Jerrica's boyfriend, and Jem's road manager.  While trying to stay faithful to Jerrica, Rio finds himself mysteriously drawn to Jem, especially when Jem occasionally returns his advances.  As the series goes on, you'll eventually see there's no logical reason for Jerrica to keep her dual identity a secret from Rio.  And, at this moment, she starts to think that way.  She has Synergy whip up a holographic simulation of Rio so she can practice revealing her true identity.  The simulation ends with Rio losing his shit and going on an angry rant about how he doesn't like liars.  Jerrica, assuring herself that this is just a simulation, resolves to tell Rio the truth.

Meanwhile, Kimber of the Holograms, absent-mindedly made two different dates with two different guys at the same time.  The two guys start brawling, and interrupt Jerrica and Rio's tender moment.  Once they get to the bottom of things, Rio goes off on Kimber about how he doesn't like liars, and his angry rant is pretty much exactly the same as Synergy's simulation.  Traumatized by this, Jerrica changes her mind about revealing her true identity, and this frustrates Rio and he storms off, being sure to kick over a houseplant on his way out to express his anger.

Back in the plot, this big chain of record stores has announced its annual "Glitter and Gold" contest.  Whichever band is the first to have an album go gold though this chain of stores wins.  The Misfits are already in the contest, but with Jem MIA, there's currently no other pop star that can offer realistic competition.   Jerrica and the Holograms show up to pitch some other Starlight Music bands for the contest, but before they go in, they overhear the Misfits going on and on about how overrated Jem was anyway, and how Jerrica must be a pretty crappy manager for driving the #1 pop star in the world into hiding.  Still angry with Rio, and hearing both of her good names being trashed by the Misfits, Jerrica can't stand it anymore.  She Hulks out, transforming herself into Jem, and announcing that Jem and the Holograms will be competing against the Misfits in the Glitter and Gold competition.

Jem and the Holograms quickly pump out a new album.  Wanting to make sure that they get into the competition without a hitch, Jerrica personally supervises the final shipment of albums.  But the Misfits' hired goons show up to hijack said shipment, and Jerrica is saved by Rio, leading to their reconcilliation.  And Rio assures Jerrica by saying, "Just because I get angry sometimes, doesn't mean I don't stop caring."

And see, this is why this episode is sticking with me.  I'm no relationship expert, but doesn't this just seem like all the hallmarks of an abusive relationship?  He gets mad at her, punches around the furniture, and then comes back with bullshit like, "Hey, even though you make me do these horrible things, I still love you."  Maybe that's why Jerrica keeps her dual identity from Rio:  she's developing a split personality to deal with the abuse.

And then the rest of the episode follows the Glitter and Gold contest as Jem and the Holograms and the Misfits watch the album sales to see which of their albums will be the first to go gold.  It all comes down to the wire, with all the stores in the chain selling out, and Jem and the Misfits are tied at 499,999.  Rio tries to make the grand romantic gesture by buying the final Jem album, but he's disqualified for being a Starlight Music employee.  We then get a fake-out when a customer buys one of each album.  The next album sold will be the tiebreaker.  But there's only Misfits albums left!  So Rio quickly returns his album so there's a Jem album back on the shelves.  The Misfits hard-sell tactics backfire, the final Jem album is sold, Jem and the Holograms win, and Jerrica/Jem has resolved her dual identity for another week.

This episode is just very unusual, especially in the way it tries to develop the Jem/Jerrica/Rio love triangle.  As I said, Rio just comes across as an abusive jerk, which adds a somewhat disturbing element.  Other than that, the final Glitter and Gold competition just seems, well, typical of the stuff on the show.  I don't know man, it's just...weird.

There's two TV shows I was literally raised on.  And what I mean by that is they were on at the same time, every day, and I watched them at the same time, every day, from my earliest conscious memories of television to when I became a legal adult at age 18.  And those two TV shows are The Flintstones and M*A*S*H

About 10 years ago, semi-delirious with the flu, I jotted down that The Flintstones was the greatest TV series ever made, and if they ever released it on DVD, I'd totally buy it.  So a couple of weeks ago, I saw that Amazon.ca's Deal of the Day was The Flintstones: The Complete Series, for the low, low price of $40.  I could not say no to that.  I know own every episode of The Flintstones.  It arrived back on Friday, and I spent a good portion of my weekend watching random episodes of The Flintstones.

Some of the ones I watched:

The Drive-In - Sick and tired of workin' for the Man, Fred and Barney quit their jobs and go into business for themselves, buying a drive-in restaurant.  But of course, they have to keep this from Wilma and Betty until they start making money at it, cuz they know they'd freak out.  But of course, Wilma and Betty grow suspicious when Fred and Barney start auditioning young women for Water Buffalo play.  In reality, they're hiring waitresses.  Who sing and dance.  Who doesn't love this song?

The Hit Songwriters - Another episode I remember fondly because of the music.  Fred, sick and tired of workin' for the Man, is inspired by the love poems that Barney writes for Betty, and tries to turn them into hit songs.  Bring in a cameo by legendary composer Hoagy Carmichael to help bring Fred's idea to fruition, and we do get a good song.  As Mr. Carmichael tells Fred at the end of the episode, only one out of every 5000 published songs becomes a bonafide hit.

Little Bamm Bamm - The one where the Rubbles adopt Bamm Bamm.  There's a surprisingly large amount of drama in this episode.  Jealous of all the attention the Rubbles lavish on Pebbles, Fred angrily tells them to "get their own baby."  The Rubbles head home, and have a tearful conversation in which it's heavily implied that they can't have children.  They wish upon a falling star for a child of their own, and the next morning, Bamm Bamm has been left on their doorstep.  Thrilled that they have a child of their own, but knowing that they have to do this properly and legally, the Rubbles take Bamm Bamm down to child services to see about adopting him.  Child services takes Bamm Bamm, and after all the necessary paperwork, decide to adopt out Bamm Bamm to the billionaire Stonyfellers.  Betty and Barny decide to fight this in court, but they're horrified when the Stonyfellers hire ace lawyer "Perry Masonry."  (I once read one TV critic write that what made The Flintstones so famous in its day was it was one of the first shows to do pop culture references.)  The Rubbles lose, and Barney walks away, suicidal.  However, at the end of the case, Mr. Stonyfeller reveals that his wife is pregnant.  This news causes the Stonyfellers to relinquish their claim to Bamm Bamm, leaving the Rubbles free to adopt him.  Fred stops Barney right before he attempts suicide, the Rubbles adopt Bamm Bamm, and they live happily ever after!  Seeing a suicidal Barney is somewhat shocking, and there's a lot of pathos.  And that makes it a stand-out episode.

So, yeah.  There's going to be lots of Flintstones ramblings in the near future.

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