Review: Netflix’s The Baby-Sitters Club is the show of your pre-teen dreams

Netflix’s adaptation of The Baby-Sitters Club makes long-time fan Tara Ward fall in love with the series all over again.

When I was 12 years old, my class had to write a letter to a famous person. Some of my classmates wrote to an All Black, Tom Cruise or Hulk Hogan. I wrote a four-page love letter to Ann M. Martin, author of The Baby-Sitters Club series, telling her how much her books meant to me and helpfully passing on my own story ideas. They mostly involved Claudia solving a mystery in a playground, but it was the 90s and I liked playgrounds. I sent the letter in a red and blue airmail envelope with “New York” written on the address in big, capital letters. My heart was full of hope.

I never heard back from Ann M. Martin. Maybe she didn’t get my letter, maybe she hated my idea about a babysitter and an out of control flying-fox. Either way, I channelled my disappointment like Kristy Thomas would by being bossy and sulking in my room, reading all my Baby-Sitters Club books again from cover to cover. I’d have done anything to live in the magical town of Stoneybrook and experience The Baby-Sitters Club in all its exotic American glory. In Stoneybrook, you could get pizza delivered to your house. What a place.

Now, my dream has finally come true, thanks to Netflix’s heartwarming adaptation of the series.

The Baby-Sitters Club follows a group of pre-teens – Kristy, Mary Anne, Claudia, Stacey and Dawn – who run a babysitting business in their suburban Connecticut town. The series was incredibly popular, inspiring several book spinoffs, a short-lived HBO series, a 1995 movie, a series of graphic novels, and even a podcast where two adult men reviewed every single book. A whopping 176 million copies of The Baby-Sitters Club were sold between 1986 and 2000. That’s a lot of kids that needed looking after.

Now, Netflix is about to create a new generation of fans with this loyal adaptation of the books and oh-my-Claudia-Kishi, it’s good. You’re about to become the sixth member of the gang because watching the show feels like stepping into Claudia’s bedroom in the middle of a club meeting. Every tiny detail has been lovingly bought to life, from Kristy’s trademark turtlenecks and the handwriting that opens every episode, to the hollow books that hide Claudia’s candy. Even Louie the Dog looks exactly like he did on those pastel-coloured covers. Oh my poor, sweet Louie. I hope TV is kinder to you than the books.

Many years apart, but an identical spirit.

My penpal Ann M. Martin is one of the show’s producers, which might explain why the series looks so convincing. But there’s both style and substance here because The Babysitters Club is a sweet and charming celebration of friendship. These five ambitious, independent young women are taking over the world, one babysitting job at a time, and together they’ll tackle whatever life throws at them.

When I was 12 years old, my biggest worry was whether the sides of my mullet were even, but these girls could run for president. Kristy accuses another character of “setting up boys for a lifetime of making excuses for them”, Claudia dresses with “Ruth Bader Ginsberg chic”, and Dawn reckons her parents were “trapped in a cycle of co-dependency”, a phrase I definitely wish I’d included in my pitch to Ann M. Martin. They’re dealing with estranged parents, illness and divorce, as well as the emotional highs and lows of being 12 years old. I mean, nobody has a mullet, but they’ve still got a lot on their plate.

There’s a definite 90s vibe here, but the show feels fresh and relevant. It’s more diverse and representative than the books ever were, especially the character Dawn, who is now Latina and has a gay Dad. The Club babysits a transgender child (Mary-Anne schools the adults on the correct use of pronouns, because Mary-Anne is awesome), and their teachers include a lesbian couple with children. It’s still as middle class as the books, but it’s refreshing to see a children’s show embrace an inclusive community of characters in such a warm, no-big-deal way.

This is apparently a phone.

It’s not just about the kids, though. The show also fleshes out the lives of the adult characters which gives the show more depth and offers the nostalgic book fans a new perspective on these well-known stories. Us oldies will appreciate the quiet joy of the second-time-around romance between Mary-Anne and Dawn’s parents, or empathise with Kristy’s mum Elizabeth (Alicia Silverstone) as she struggles to blend two families in ways we never could as younger readers. “Parents are just older weirdos doing the best they can,” Dawn says, and I would like to warn 12 year old me that this is the absolute truth.

Television adaptations of much-loved books can be either a heartbreaking disaster or a joyful reminder of why you adored the story in the first place. The Baby-Sitters Club is definitely the latter. It could do with a touch of the spark of kids shows like Odd Squad or The InBESTigators, but ultimately, this is a show with huge heart. The Baby-Sitters Club was made with love and a determination not to let fans down. My 12-year-old self would be stoked, and grown-up me is pretty happy too.

You can watch The Baby-Sitters Club on Netflix right now.



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