It’s a red letter day for 80s fans (or rather a pink letter day), as at long last, Shout! Factory has released the entire 65 episode series, ‘Jem’ (apparently now legally known as ‘Jem & The Holograms’) in one must-own boxed set, ‘Jem and The Holograms: The Truly Outrageous Complete Series!’ This has been a long and winding road for fans, but it’s finally here!
‘Jem And The Holograms,’ in most fans’ opinions, was the third in the trinity of licensing juggernauts of the 80s, alongside ‘G.I. Joe’ and ‘Transformers.’ ‘Jem’ was Wonder Woman to their Superman and Batman. All three were toy lines produced by Hasbro with cartoon series by Sunbow Productions. The biggest difference, of course, is that ‘Jem’ was aimed at a female audience. But unlike other female-themed shows, it wasn’t comedic or cutesy. This was by design as head writer Christy Marx once explained, she was instructed to write the show in the style of a boy’s action cartoon, in order to appeal to young males who might have otherwise turned off a girlie cartoon.
So what was ‘Jem?’ It was an animated series that debuted in 1985, following the zeitgeist-changing success of cable channel MTV, which back then used to air almost nothing but music videos for hours on end. Inspired by colorful pop stars like Cyndi Lauper, each ‘Jem’ episode featured two or three music video interludes. In one episode, ‘The Jem Jam,’ Jem actually collaborates with animated avatars of a young Michael Jackson, Mick Jagger, Madonna, Bruce Springsteen, Tina Turner and Stevie Wonder.
The show stars Jerrica Benton, a young music executive who inherits half of her parents’ music company, Starlight Music after their deaths. The other half goes to Eric Raymond, her father’s former partner, who plans to use the company to promote his group of bad girls, The Misfits. Jerrica is outraged and wonders what she can do to preserve her father’s legacy, when suddenly Synergy appears before her. Synergy is a sentient computer that Jerrica’s father Emmett built before his death, who can project light and sound to create completely realistic holograms! These illusions can be projected through a special pair of star-shaped earrings that Jerrica wears from then on.
Utilizing Synergy’s holograms, Jerrica disguises herself as Jem, a fabulous pink-haired pop singer. Her sister and friends form her backup band, The Holograms and they take on Eric and The Misfits. Jerrica wins the company in full at the end of the first Jem miniseries. The rest of the episodes continued to follow the exploits of both bands in various entertainment-themed venues, from the set of a movie, to fashion photo shoots, even a Renaissance Faire!
But this was no puff piece! The show was tense and dramatic! Filled with danger, cliff-hangers, exotic locales and of course, romance. The writers were clearly dedicated to making this show GOOD versus just a 30 minute commercial to sell fashion dolls. The characters had more depth than a lot of other ‘toons of that time period. Because they couldn’t incorporate crime fighting or the typical ‘good versus evil’ approach most action cartoons are free to utilize, the writers had to get creative by making the drama more personal. It was almost soap operatic! (In a good way!)
Jem And The Holograms Cast
Let’s meet the cast, shall we? Jem, secretly Jerrica Benton, was the lead singer of The Holograms. One of the running themes of the show, is that Jerrica is kind of a stick in the mud, older sister type, but when she becomes Jem, she’s allowed to let her hair down and have fun.
Red-headed Kimber is Jerrica’s emotional younger sister. She is a musical prodigy and plays multiple instruments, usually keyboards and writes most of their songs. She can be a hothead though. As rigid as Jerrica is, Kimber is not.
Aja Leith was the first foster girl the Benton’s adopted. She has blue hair and plays the guitar. She’s the resident Tom Boy and a fitness fanatic. Whenever Synergy or the band’s car, the The Rockin’ Roadster, breaks down she’s the one to call.
Shana Elmsford, with purple hair, was the second foster girl the Bentons took in. She is maternal, artistic and sensitive. She actually designs all of The Holograms’ outfits. She played drums in the first season and switched to bass in the second. (Fun Fact: The surnames Benton, Leith and Elmsford were all names of scientists in the field of holography!)
The group was joined in the second season by Carmen “Raya” Alonso, a Latina with darker pink hair than Jem’s. She suffered from insecurity but Jem and the Holograms teach her to believe in herself.
In addition to the band, there were several other important allies. Rio Pacheco was Jerrica’s high school sweetheart who suddenly develops feelings for both Jerrica and Jem, creating a “Lois Lane-type” love triangle. Vivian “Video” Montgomery is a cinematographer who directs their videos. Giselle “Danse” Dvorak is a dancer/choreographer who also runs a shelter for runaway teens. And then there were the Starlight Girls, the foster children that the Bentons had taken in. There were twelve all together, but only a few had notable roles. Ashley starts out as a rebellious teen and even betrays Jem to The Misfits, before she learns the error of her ways. And Bah Nee is a Vietnamese girl who is determined to find her father, an American GI.
On the other side of the fence was Eric Raymond, a sleazy executive who will do anything to win. The Holograms’ biggest rivals were The Misfits, led by Pizzazz (Phyllis Gabor) a nasty, entitled brat, who came from a wealthy household where her father would just buy her whatever she wanted to get her out of his hair. She’s used to getting what she wants and if she doesn’t, there’s hell to pay! She has green hair and plays guitar and sings lead on most Misfits songs.
White-haired Roxy (Roxanne Pelligrini) is Pizzazz’s right-hand. She’s pretty much a thug from the mean streets of Philadelphia. In one “very special” episode, it is revealed that she is illiterate.
The “nice” Misfit is Stormer, an insecure girl who feels empowered by hanging with such tough customers, but secretly she has a strong moral compass and often does things to defy The Misfits if she think it’s over the line. In the second season, they are joined by Jetta (Sheila Burns) a saxophonist from the UK. She sports black and silver hair, plays the saxophone and is a conniving vixen! She is also a pathological liar, claiming to come from nobility when she is really from a run down slum in London.
And just as Jem had allies outside of the group, The Misfits are assisted by a trio of wacky tag-alongs. Constance “Clash” Montgomery is Video’s cousin and is a mistress of disguise, using this ability to sneak onto Jem’s movie shoots and such to sabotage them. In earlier episodes, Clash’s hair is red and blue, but later it was switched to purple. (The doll also had purple hair.) Zipper is a bumbling punk that series writer Christy Marx made sure to write off the show early on. He was replaced by a Boy George-esque, androgynous character, Techrat, a genius who built amazing devices that The Misfits could use to thwart Jem.
In the final season, the groups are joined by The Stingers, a new trio led by handsome and charismatic lead singer Riot, whom Marx described as a mixture of Jim Morrison, Elvis and Prince, along with the flirtatious Minx, who sets her eyes on Rio and huckster Rapture, who tries to con people with her fake “psychic abilities.” Two new allies for Jem appeared as well, Regine a young, headstrong fashion designer and Astral, a magician.
The episodes were packed with drama, thrills, romance and music! Great pop songs that actually stand up to “real” music of the era just fine! I used to hold my boombox up to the TV to record each song! Despite the rotten sound quality, I’d listen to those tapes over and over!
And I’ll be honest with you. It wasn’t easy being me as a young adolescent. I got bullied every single day. That’s not an exaggeration. In fact, I got bullied from the moment I got to school until I got home that afternoon. My middle school years scarred me the way a lot of people’s high school years did. But… I always had Jem to turn to at 4:30 every weekday afternoon. For those 30 wonderful minutes, I was friends with fabulous rock stars with outrageous hair and who were kind and always did the right thing. And The Misfits weren’t exactly evil; they were just mischievous. (Now that Eric on the other hand…)
Sadly, as successful as the show was, the doll line it was meant to promote struggled at retail. Buyers were simply already accustomed to buying Barbie as their go-to fashion doll. The Jem dolls were too large to share clothes or accessories with Barbie, who, by the way, also launched her own rock band, The Rockers around the same time. Hasbro pulled the plug before the dolls based on The Stingers, Astral and Regine could be produced. And without a toy line to promote, the cartoon series ended as well. Luckily, Christy Marx had enough notice, so she was actually able to pen a fitting goodbye episode.
Jem struck a cord with me as she did a large number of people. ‘G.I. Joe’ and ‘Transformers’ have a bigger fan base, but after meeting and talking to so many Jem fans, I really must insist that we are more passionate! Like both ‘Joe’ and ‘Transformers,’ there’s an annual ‘Jem Con’ held in a different city each year. It’s a considerably more intimate affair, which is nice because you can actually converse with more people and really connect. I’ve only been to one, but it was a life changer. Everyone there was wonderful! And so diverse, all ethnicities, both genders, gay, straight. Jem crossed barriers!
Samantha Newark who provided Jem and Jerrica’s speaking voice was there and was the kindest, most embracing celebrity I’ve ever met. Just a real “gem!” One thing that rankled me about Jem was that they swapped out her famous “Jem Theme” in the third season for a faster song that went “Me and my friends are Jem Girls!” Ouch! But Samantha rectified that with an empowering song on her self-titled album called “Jem Boy!” Just lovely!
‘Jem’ has been released on dvd before, just not the entire series. Rhino had the rights and issued two boxed sets, but not the final edition, which would have included fan-favorite episode “Out of the Past,” the most emotional 30 minutes of the series, which was the “secret origin” of Jem & the Holograms, including when Aja and Shana came to live with them, both of Jerrica and Kimber’s parents’ deaths, not to mention the final episodes which featured the arrival of The Stingers, Astral and Regine. Fans were crushed! So close! And, ‘Jem’ was one of those shows that got better and better as it went on! Those final episodes are light years better than the crudely rendered opening miniseries that launched the show!
The Hub has been airing ‘Jem’ for several months now and the ratings have been great! Not to mention Hasbro has all but announced a new toy line that will debut in some capacity at New York Comic Con.
So get prepared and grab all 65 Truly Outrageous episodes! Showtime Synergy!
Now Available: JEM AND THE HOLOGRAMS: THE TRULY OUTRAGEOUS COMPLETE SERIES, M.S.R.P. $89.99, but it’s on Amazon.com for $59.99.
Also Available: JEM AND THE HOLOGRAM: SEASON ONE, M.S.R.P. $29.99