80s nostalgia

A Truly Outrageous Jem and the Holograms Refresher Course

Yesterday brought news that G.I Joe: Retaliation director Jon M. Chu was working on a live-action Jem and the Holograms movie, based on the ‘80s cartoon. This caused many nostalgia synapses to fire, but even those among us who fondly remember Jem could probably use a refresher course on the pink-haired rock icon.

Who is Jem? By day, she’s executive Jerrica Benton, head of Starlight Music. By night, she’s Jem, the rock star lead singer of Jem and the Holograms.

Is she truly outrageous? Yes. Truly, truly, truly outrageous.

How does she switch between Jem and Jerrica? She transforms between the two with the help of Synergy, a, uh, hologram-generating computer “designed to be the ultimate audio/video entertainment synthesizer.” Jem’s dad built Synergy shortly before his death, so even though you might think Synergy’s just a funky electro Siri precursor, she also has a place of emotional significance in Jem’s life. Jem/Jerrica activates the system by grabbing her distinctive pink star earrings and sometimes by saying, “Showtime, Synergy.”

Who are the Holograms? They’re Jem’s backup band. Kimber is Jerrica’s biological sister, while Aja and Shana are her sociological sisters. (They both moved in with the Bentons as orphaned tweens.) Raya joined up with the gang later, and while there’s some in-fighting in the band and occasional hurt feelings, they always seem to work everything out. Only the Holograms know that Jem and Jerrica are one and the same, and they all pitch in to help keep that a secret.

Do the Holograms live a simple, peaceful rock star life? They do not. They have a villainous rival band, the Misfits, led by the green-haired Pizzazz. You can recognize a member of the Misfits because they wear a lot of face paint — more face paint than the Holograms, who often wear face paint too.

Who else would want to bother Jem, et al.? Plenty of people, but specifically evil corporate-type Eric Raymond, who is often in league with the Misfits. He used to be business partners with Jerrica/Jem’s father Emmet, and when Emmet died, Eric fought with Jerrica for control of Starlight Music. (He eventually lost, but he never stops trying to wrest control back.)

Surely that’s it, though, villain-wise. Nope! There are also the Stingers, led by Riot, who’s like a cross between Fabio and every member of Poison. (He’s very seductive.) The Stingers work for Eric’s record label.

So much antagonism. Who’s on Jerrica’s side? Her boyfriend Rio, recognizable by his purple hair. He’s also the road manager for the Holograms, and has a crush on Jem — whom he does not realize is his girlfriend, Jerrica. He’s kind of a dumdum, but loyal.

How is the music? The music is actually perfectly serviceable ‘80s pop! It’s like if “Total Eclipse of the Heart” and a toy-commercial jingle had a baby. Think Debbie Gibson. (Jem precedes Gibson by a few years, but still.) The Holograms always sing a few numbers per episode, and each tune has a music-video-style chyron with the name of the song to introduce it, all official like. The Misfits and the Stingers also sing, and again, the music is completely respectable.

What are some possible themes a live-action Jem movie could pluck from the series? For starters, feminism! Jerrica is a hugely successful businesswoman, and Jem is a beloved international rock star. How do you have it all, Jem? There’s also the ongoing conflict between corporate interests and artistic integrity, which often plays out on Jem as a clash between Eric’s greediness and Jerrica’s ethics. As with many bands, sometimes members of the Holograms feel underappreciated — are they destined to always be second banana? (This is especially difficult for Kimber.) Finally, Jem could address transracial adoption and the foster-care system: Aja is of Japanese descent, and Shana is black, and they were both raised by the white Bentons. As Aja, Shana, Kimber, and Jerrica grew up, Emmet Benton founded the Starlight Foundation, which provides a group-home environment for orphaned girls. (These girls are known on the series as Starlight Girls, and some of them form their own band.) A lot of the Holograms’ work is dedicated to raising money for the foundation.

A Truly Outrageous Jem Refresher Course