Appellate Judge Jennifer Malkowski declares: Jen is my name, no one else is the same, Jen is my name!
Our reviews of Jem: The Complete First And Second Seasons (published July 28th, 2004), Jem and the Holograms: Season Three (published June 27th, 2012), and Jem and the Holograms (Blu-ray) (published January 27th, 2016) are also available.
"Jem is truly outrageous. Truly, truly, truly outrageous."
When a theme song feels the need to apply the "truly" adverb to its claim of outrageousness three times in as many seconds, one might suspect it doth protest too much. Even if Jem and the Holograms: The Truly Outrageous Complete Series is not quite "truly, truly, truly outrageous," this collection of the memorable '80s cartoon retains a kind of infectious excitement and still provides a lot of silly fun a quarter-century after its debut.
Facts of the Case
Developed to promote a line of Barbie-style Hasbro dolls, the series centers on the double life of Jerrica Benton—by day a rich and glamorous record company executive at Starlight Music, by other times of day a rich and even more glamorous rock star, Jem. Jerrica keeps her identity secret when she transforms into Jem with the help of Synergy, a computer that can projects holograms, including the Jem hologram that it projects over Jerrica. The rest of her band, The Holograms, includes her younger sister Kimber and two adopted sisters, Aja and Shana. All the ladies live together at the Starlight Mansion where they care for a whole pack of foster girls in between rock shows and try to keep Jerrica's purple-haired boyfriend, Rio, from discovering that she is also Jem.
Life would be just swell for these do-gooder superstars if it weren't for scheming rival executive Eric Raymond and his spoiled, obnoxious, occasionally homicidal girl band, The Misfits. Pizzazz, Roxy, and Stormer envy any success Jem and the Holograms have and will do whatever it takes to cut them down.
Jem and the Holograms: The Truly Outrageous Complete Series includes all sixty-five episodes of the series: Season One and Two are spread over four discs each, the shorter Season Three is on two discs, and the final disc (packaged with Season Three) contains most of the extras.
Strange as it may sound, Jem and the Holograms really does have something for everybody—at least everybody who digs a cartoon with a pronounced '80s vibe. Crammed with plots of every stripe, from car chases and rock shows to complicated romances and charity work, and doing much more genuine character development than most cartoons for kids, it often rises above the many absurdities of its premise. I myself am an example of the show's broad appeal, since I loved it as a little tomboy who couldn't care less about "glamour and glitter, fashion and fame." I was a Jem Girl anyway.
As an adult, it's quite possible to appreciate aspects of the show earnestly, but if you don't, then you'll definitely have fun with its camp value. Gather some friends ready for '80s nostalgia, add alcohol, hit "play all" on Season One's first disc, and you'll have a grand old time. The giggles will come often as you wonder why a movie producer would randomly offer a mansion to whichever band wins a contest, why the writers couldn't come up with better names than Danse and Video for two characters who dance and shoot videos, and why Jerrica so often tries to steal her own boyfriend as Jem and then gets jealous of herself. You'll also get a kick out of the animation, which strives for an ambitious level of detail but is sometimes unintentionally hilarious (the execution of a scene of foster girl Ashley sitting down in a chair in the premiere cracked me up). And the music videos can conjure up some delightfully funny images, as in the "Like a Dream" sequence of Jem and Rio in formal wear riding a winged unicorn over a rainbow.
Like this fanciful image, the series as a whole is about fantastic, girly wish fulfillment. Jem's life is brimming with designer clothes, cool cars, mansions, movie and rock stars, royalty, and so on. No matter where the band travels, there are always hunky dudes with their shirts off or unbuttoned ready to pitch woo. A representative pair of episodes, parts one and two of "Hollywood Jem," feature Kimber receiving two marriage proposals of marriage—one from a dreamy British musician and the other from an equally dreamy stunt man—in the same week that Jem gets nominated for an Oscar. On the other side of these wish fulfillment fantasies, though, the show has a strong emphasis on doing good in the world—sometimes overdone, as it seems like just about every artist or musician in the story runs a home for troubled kids! There are definitely a couple of shrill and preachy songs about helping others that crop up every few episodes.
There are many foundational aspects of the show that really make very little sense, especially the absent rationale for withholding the Jerrica/Jem secret from Rio. There's really no reason for it other than (admittedly fun) love triangle that the deception creates at many points in every season—and boy, does this show lean heavily on love triangle plots! Further, why does Jerrica need holographic technology to become Jem? The two look identical, other than hair and makeup, which could be accomplished with…well, some hair and makeup. It's also pretty hilarious to keep hearing about how powerful Synergy is and how Jerrica must hide the technology so that it doesn't "fall into the wrong hands" and realizing the astoundingly silly ways in which Jerrica and her friends use this power.
Despite all this, the better episodes of the show actually can suck you in to the characters and plots. Season Two offered the most of these, I'd say, with Season One being a bit more episodic and formulaic (Jem gets a great opportunity, then The Misfits command Eric to help them muck it up and steal the spotlight) and Season Three bringing in a kind of lame new band, The Stingers. Here are a few recommendations for episodes within the full series set that I particularly enjoyed, for different reasons:
• "The Beginning"—Creative title for the series premiere, huh? It's fun to see the backstory to the band's formation in this episode and the four that follow it, forming a five-part opening for the show.
• "Island of Deception"—In a nice change-up from the usual stories about performing a concert or making a video, Jem and the Holograms get marooned on a tropical island with The Misfits and they all have to work together to survive. Predictably, there is little real hardship and eventually they find a hunky guy.
• "The Talent Search"—The search for new members of both bands makes for a great episode, even if the new members don't go on to add all that much. This two-part premiere of Season Two had good character development, a lot of heart, and one of Jem's catchier songs with the "All's Right in the World" closing number.
• "The Presidential Dilemma"—This is a great so-bad-it's-good episode that showcases how bizarre the show sometimes gets. Jerrica and holograms of a fightin' Washington, Lincoln, and Teddy Roosevelt try to rescue the kidnapped current president from an insane collector of historical memorabilia in his massive underground complex. Wait, what???
• "Journey through Time"—In another frivolous use of unbelievably powerful technology, Eric's henchman Techrat uses a time machine he's just created to send Jem and the Holograms back into other time periods and keep them out of The Misfits' way. Despite the ludicrous premise, it's a fun opportunity to see the band tour music styles of the ages and wear cool 1940s outfits.
• "Out of the Past"—Here we get basically the prequel to the series as finding their dead father's diary leads Jerrica and Kimber to remember their childhoods, learn about how their dad created Synergy, and try to recover their dead mother's music recordings.
The first DVD set to gather all sixty-five episodes together, and the first to release some of the Season Three episodes at all, Shout! Factory's Jem and the Holograms: The Truly Outrageous Complete Series is quite a solid release that should satisfy most viewers, if not wholly the show's hardcore fans (who are currently putting on regular JemCon events). The set comes nicely packaged in a sturdy, shimmering outer case that stores three individual keep cases—one per season, each housing multiple discs. The biggest issue is that while the transfers of the episodes sound very good, the image quality could be better—and apparently was on previous DVD releases of the show from Rhino. There are some flecks, a certain lack of sharpness, and a lot of variance on color saturation. Occasionally the show looks dull and washed out, while more of the time the colors are joyfully or painfully vibrant; the pinks glare so brightly sometimes that I felt like I was getting radiation exposure. Honestly, the animation has a lot of problems, anyway—especially with fluidity of movement and with scale—so better transfers would only do so much for the visuals.
Special features, though, are generous and high-quality. Some commentary tracks that head story editor Christy Marx did for a previous release are nowhere to be found, but instead we get lots of other goodies. A 48-minute featurette on the creation of the show interviews people in all kinds of rolls for Jem and the Holograms: producers, writers, illustrators, the songwriter, and Britta Phillips, the singing voice of Jem. The rest of the voice cast also get a separate, 24-minute featurette, which is a lot of fun. It's a trip to hear the voice of young, purple-haired stud Rio coming out of a not-so-young gray-haired voice actor! A third featurette offers 27 entertaining minutes of fans talking about their love for the show. People definitely downplay the do-gooder aspect of the characters here and seem to have cared mostly just that she was a rock star. There's also a great comment about how Jem and the Holograms was different and great in its time because "there was kissing" and "things actually happened." Animated storyboards show sketches of five different musical sequences, including a draft version of the opening theme. There are six minutes of awesome old commercials for the original Jem dolls, in many varieties and with all kinds of accessories.
A DVD-ROM function used on your computer will give you access to lots of neat documents: catalogue pages for the toys, a licensing kit, a profile and interview of Jem with a fake rock magazine, and the writer's bible for the show that Marx put together. It's full of interesting tidbits; for example, The Misfits songs had to be about negative things and self-centeredness, but couldn't encourage the impressionable viewers to actually be like The Misfits. This document also has surprisingly detailed and logical rules for how the holograms work—surprising because they seem to have been dropped from the first moment of the show! Lastly, each disc has a "Video Jukebox" function that will let you play just the music videos separate from the episodes.
Jem and the Holograms is still outrageous today not because it is timeless, but because it is so charmingly of its own time, awash in '80s detail that will either give you some good laughs or push your nostalgia button. Either way, I've heard that "once you're a Jem Girl you're never the same"…
Not guilty. Jem and her gang are—you guessed it—truly, truly, truly outrageous.
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