(Listen to the episode here.)
Kit: I’m gonna be honest all of my notes for this–there’s just an entire page that says “GUITAR MOTORCYCLES.” Like that’s page one, and then page two is the rest of my notes.
Annie: Hey there, I’m Annie.
Kit: I’m Kit.
Maq: And I’m Maq.
A: And this is The Jem Jam, where we do an episode-by-episode recap of the 1980s cartoon Jem and the Holograms, because it is truly, truly outrageous. And also truly, truly insane. We are starting with episode one of season one, aptly titled “The Beginning.” And last episode–if you want to check that out–we also mentioned how we got into Jem, what our thing is, what is up with the music videos, some of the history… so if that’s what you’re interested in before just jumping right in and want some context, I would give that a listen first.
“The Beginning” is the first of a four- or five-parter that was released as a miniseries. I believe in some of the airings they were actually cut up by episode break, which is why so many of them end on insane cliffhangers. These were all written by Christy Marx, the creator of the show. Her screenwriting stuff–she tended to only come in for the beginning and the end. But when you’ve got a Christy Marx episode, you know you’re in for some very high quality soap opera garbage. Shall we dive right in?
K: My first note here says “most 80s theme song ever,” so…
A: The theme song is amazing.
M: It really is.
A: And, honestly, really good production values compared to the rest of the show.
K: I watched it and there was glitter pouring out of my TV screen. Which was incredibly difficult to get off the floors, for the record. I want you to know what I’m sacrificing for this podcast.
A: We appreciate it. We open in medias res, at the premiere to… something, basically. And all our characters come one by one out of the car.
M: We’ve got the audience chanting their names in the background.
A: Right. So, just in case you missed their name the first time, they’ve got you covered.
K: The chanting was really weird for me, ‘cause it sounded like one person shouting in a studio and then they just doubled it up and doubled it up and doubled it up as necessary to make it sound like it was a crowd. But it kind of comes across as the Borg instead.
M: Yeah, I can see that.
K: It was deeply unsettling.
A: So our cast comes one by one out of the car–who do we start with? Aja, I think?
M: Yes, it’s Aja. And then I think it’s Shana, then Kimber, and then Jem.
A: And all we get are the characters’ names up to this point, until she thinks to herself, “I remember how it all happened.”
M: Smash cut to funeral.
K: I was so disoriented by that! “It all started with the unexpected death of my father,” and I was like, “Whoa!”
A: And the best part is the dad’s death is–that’s it!
K: I assumed he’d been murdered under suspicious circumstances by the record label guy, but–
A: That’s entirely possible.
M: That is entirely possible.
A: There’s this backstory episode way later on in the show–way later than it should be–where he just sort of dies. They read his diary and it just sort of stops. He’s like, “I’m tired, but I finished the thing. Bleh.”
M: You do learn how her mom died, which is a thing.
K: Oh, her mom’s dead too?
A: Yeah! They’re orphans now!
K: Why does nobody get a family in these things?
A: There’s no parents in this show, it’s all orphans. The show is entirely orphans. To the point where it’s orphans running an orphanarium.
M: At this funeral, while Jerrica is talking to Eric Raymond, who is one of the main villains of the show, you see your first glimpse of Rio being a jealous turd.
A: Oh my god, it’s awesome. First off, we have to talk about the fact that Jerrica is too fashionable to wear black, so her purple outfit actually matches her boyfriend’s hair.
K: Is that why she keeps him around? Because his hair goes with so many of her outfits?
A: We have no idea why she keeps him around.
K: Because I see so many straight women with boyfriends and I’m like, “Why do you even have that?” But that might actually be a reasonable excuse to have him around.
A: It is a beautiful head of purple hair. And as far as we can tell–I believe we see him shirtless once or twice and his body hair is also purple.
A: So, Eric Raymond is one of the most spectacular bad guys, because he is so evil but also so hilariously inept at running a music company. He has one band. Sometimes two, but mostly just one. And that is how he makes all his money.
K: Doesn’t this recording company have a board he needs to answer to?
A: That’s the funny thing, isn’t it? There’s two people who maybe are in charge of the company. And it’s either Jerrica, who was left the company in her father’s will. We have no idea what her credentials are. Did she go to business school? Does she have an MBA? How old is she? We don’t know. And then there’s Eric Raymond, who is always wearing a suit and tie, therefore he knows business. There’s no board. It’s just them.
M: This is why I stand behind post-apocalyptic future. Because in the post-apocalyptic future, you don’t need a board. You just need the boss.
K: Are you saying Eric Raymond is the King of Bartertown?
M: Yes. Yes I am.
A: The best part about Eric Raymond is that sometimes the animators had a lot of fun with Eric. And so, because he’s evil, you’ll sometimes see these weird little devil horns in his hair.
K: Having him constantly be leering and giggling about money all the time wasn’t enough? They were thinking “Whoa, this is too subtle, how are they gonna be able to tell he’s the villain? I know!”
A: That’s about the length and breadth of it. So, at the funeral, Eric expresses some sleazy condolences and Rio–who sees another man talking to Jerrica–Hulks the frick out and snaps at him and drags her away. And Jerrica, over her shoulder, is like, “Rio means well!”
K: I feel like that’s an after school special.
A: Yeah, no, that is… Rio is improbable. So after the funeral, we head to Starlight House, which is this weird decrepit house. It looks kind of like a whimsy house that is filled with foster girls. Because apparently they run a foster house where Jerrica and her friends… live?
M: And it’s currently falling apart and pretty crappy. We focus on Rio trying to fix the electrical stuff, and it goes out. And this will be relevant later, as to why Kimber has to have a lantern to get around the house at night. Meanwhile, we watch Aja and Jerrica climb around on their knees, scrubbing the floors, because mops don’t exist.
A: It’s kind of like we just walked into the middle of a “fixing up the place” 80s montage. These are basically a bunch of twenty-two year olds, maybe, who own a foster house?
K: This is something I forgot to mention earlier, but it’s in my notes in all caps so it must be important: Rio sounds like a pinball announcer. It was just so weirdly generic, “Where have I heard this voice before?”
A: Starlight House is just garbage. It is an awful place. The girls are living in squalor, and so they’re like “Where are we gonna get money?” And Mrs. Bailey, I believe, is the one who’s like, “Well, you could always just take money from the recording studio. That’s what your father did.”
K: That seems… at best, wildly irresponsible and at worst, illegal.
M: And this is why I say it’s a post-apocalyptic future. Because again… eh, who cares in the post-apocalyptic future?
A: So Jerrica heads to Starlight Music. And all the staff has been replaced, so she’s like, “Gasp! What’s going on, is someone evil in here?” And lo and behold, there’s Eric with his little devil horns.
K: Supposedly all these staff are being dicks to Jerrica, but she is completely disrespecting them. She charges past the security guard. She completely ignores the receptionist. Jerrica’s just a dick to service workers.
A: Yeah, she is not nice to them.
M: These people are just doing their jobs and she’s acting like they’re dicks for doing so.
A: And it’s worth noting that Eric has decided that he wants to turn Starlight Music into “the most powerful recording company in the country.”
K: You can tell it’s from the 80s. Because these days the idea of being “the most powerful recording company in the country” is just laughable.
A: Yeah. This is akin to maybe wanting to be really big on YouTube. “I’m going to topple PewDiePie!”
So Eric has a plan to make Starlight Music the most powerful recording company in the country because he has a new band.
M: And that’s when they arrive.
K: This scene is just so baffling to me. I’m still not entirely sure what happened. It seems like the door busts open, but it’s not the front door to his office. It’s a door off to the side. Which means they were just waiting in his closet for a dramatic entrance. And then they come in on these guitar motorcycles and start driving around the office.
A: And let’s also get into the fact that if you screenshot these guitar motorcycles, they’re basically guitars with handles and wheels. There’s no footrest, there’s no exhaust pipe, there’s no way for them to tell it to go. And so, let us introduce our Misfits: Pizzazz! Roxy! And Stormer!
So Jerrica’s like, “Get off those abominations. Stop riding motorcycles in here. They function neither by the laws of engineering, nor the euclidean way we perceive space and distance. Please leave my father’s office so that I may once again perceive space and time as a rational human may.”
M: And the Misfits respond with a music video.
A: This is our first music video of the show. Again, we discussed what the hell is up with the music videos in Episode 0, so pop over there if you’re as baffled as we are. But the song is “Outta My Way.”
K: It’s weird. Is this band supposed to be punk fusion? Because this song sounded like ABBA.
A: You’re right, it did!
K: I was listening to this going, “This is an ABBA song. I’m pretty sure. Not one of the good ones.”
A: All the good Misfits songs basically work along the same way, which is, “I get everything, I’m awesome, me me me, you suck.” So that’s their introduction. They don’t even start with words, just, “Outta My Way.”
K: And then, at the end of the music video, you get Pizzazz sinking into this chair. Reality reasserts itself, and she just starts talking. And Eric just starts talking. Are we gonna pretend this didn’t happen?
A: The chair that they are sitting on, as far as we can tell, has not existed before this moment. And it is right below these photorealistic lips that someone just drew on the wall and stuck there.
K: Is this a Rocky Horror showing? And then they just took over the space afterwards and didn’t bother to get rid of any of the paraphernalia?
A: I’m gonna go with that.
K: Are we going to find some feather boas tucked away in a corner somewhere?
A: I dunno, but that seems like the kind of thing Eric Raymond would do on his off hours. He seems like a Rocky Horror Show performer.
K: He’s Dr. Frank-n-Furter.
A: He’s got the body for it, let’s be honest. Eric announces that there’s going to be a Battle of the Bands, as promotional material for the Misfits. Because he’s going to make sure that all the other bands are so awful that the Misfits sound great. But they’re like, “But we sound great anyway!” And Jerrica’s like, “We’re gonna stop you, because you were mean to me.”
K: “And your music is trash.” She explicitly says their music is trash.
A: Right. Which is rude.
K: That’s just rude.
M: Very much so.
K: So far, Jerrica’s not a particularly sympathetic protagonist here.
M: No, not really.
A: No, but her father’s dead.
K: Her father’s dead and that’s how you know she’s the good guy.
A: Right, exactly.
A: And so she goes home. All the lights are still off from Rio’s spectacular failure at being an electrician. And someone has left this gigantic pink box, and she opens it and she’s like “Ooh, what beautiful earrings,” at these pieces of plastic that somebody cut some stars out of. And then the best thing ever happens. The earrings glow, and this woman appears in their room, who has the absolute worst design in the show.
K: She looks like an instructor in an aerobics video.
A: She does, she absolutely does. And her first line is, “Jerrica Benton, I have come for you!” right as we hit the commercial break. And as we all know, “I have come for you”/“I have come for thee” is a thing that Death says. So we leave these kids with a commercial break–maybe just that first segment–we end with the idea that the 80s Glam Rock Specter of Death has come for Jerrica.
So immediately afterwards it is revealed that, first off, she’s a hologram. Or at least she’s not there. And she’s like, “Follow the clues!”
M: And so they go and climb into the Rockin’ Roadster–or, it’s just a van at this point.
A: It’s a van. I couldn’t pay attention to the van, because I was too awestruck by the sign for the Starlight Drive-In, where they go. Which is this nightmare-looking Liefeldian woman straddling a rocket.
K: Did Jerrica’s dad–everything he owned, he named it “Starlight”?
K: Also, why did he own a drive-in? Did he lose all his money in the drive-in? Is this why he’s dead? I don’t–
A: Ah, ah ha! He had a secret lab in the drive-in.
K: Several questions, the first of which is, why? Of all the places to have a secret lab, why would you have it in your defunct drive-in?
M: No one’s gonna go there.
A: I have an answer for you, and the answer is, “Shut up.”
So they go through a hologram wall, which they quickly identify as a hologram. Which is kind of weird because why not just say it was an illusion? ILLUSIONS, MICHAEL.
So they go inside and they discover the source of the 80s glam rock ghost, which is–
M: A giant Casio keyboard.
A: With a screen on it and some big blinky lights. So the ghost introduces herself as Synergy, who is a holographic construct made by Jerrica’s father. Who ran a music company and a foster house–
M: And designed holograms.
A: And created artificial intelligence? Synergy is capable of producing completely realistic–maybe tangible–holograms, both on her own and through the conduits that are Jerrica’s new earrings. She says she is a “highly advanced artificial intelligence who was designed to be the ultimate audio-visual entertainment system.“
K: So he was able to create artificial intelligence, and he decided what he was going to use this for was glam rock shows.
A: Yes. And it’s worth noting that the only way you can interface with this thing, besides talking to it, is by banging your fingers on the keyboards. Synergy pulls back a wall to reveal that her father has been collecting glam rock outfits.
M: That we’ll never see again.
A: Real clothes. They’re not holographic clothes, in the same way that the Jem disguise is later on. These are all real people clothes made of real fabric that he has been collecting. That are in all of his foster daughters’ sizes.
K: Has he been wearing them?
A: Maybe. I’d like to put our Rocky Horror theory back on the table.
This is the big doll commercial phase. We’ve got all of these dolls with all their costumes. We have a whole panel that slides back to reveal a whole bunch of musical instruments. Enough to start–I believe Kimber calls it “a dozen bands.” And a new car that rises up from the floor: the Rockin’ Roadster, which they make sure to refer to explicitly by name. So they’re like "I know what we have to do now.”
K: They do the natural thing when presented with artificial intelligence and hyper-advanced hologram technology and a crapload of clothes that maybe your father was wearing in his off time and a whole bunch of musical instruments. And that is to start a glam rock band.
M: And their first debut as a glam rock band happens to be at the competition that Eric Raymond is hosting, quotes around “competition,” please. Where he’s putting the Misfits up against the Limp Lizards, who are personally one of my favorite side bands.
K: “Limp Lizards” actually sounds like a band I would listen to in real life. I’m not even gonna lie.
A: Me, too. And the best part is, whenever they need a third band that is not the Holograms or the Misfits or, later on, the Stingers, they put in the Limp Lizards. So they are a recurring band.
M: And the main singer of the Limp Lizards is this skinny blonde chick who always looks frustrated or annoyed at what’s going on. And she’ll just throw up her hands and walk away as the Holograms and the Misfits try to out-music each other
A: There’s a lot to like about the Limp Lizards. The contest is over with that, I guess, so he’s about to declare the Misfits the winner when the Holograms reveal that they had a stage right behind everybody this whole time where they did setup, sound check, everything. And they’re ready to go.
K: They set up the stage directly across from the Battle of the Bands stage, directly in line of sight, and nobody noticed until they started playing.
A: This is where we get our second song, which is the first Jem and the Holograms song.
K: “Only the Beginning.”
A: Right, “Only the Beginning.” Because they’re like, “we’re gonna be great, we’re gonna make it to the top, we’re gonna fly through a castle or something, but also we’re going to win at a crane game.” And so Jerrica does all these holographic stunts because this is the point where she’s introduced herself as her persona, “Jem.” And the Holograms. Why she didn’t just use her own name… I don’t know.
K: Well, then she wouldn’t be able to pose as her own agent.
M: That’s true.
K: And unnecessarily complicate the plot.
A: Right. This is the first instance of Jem being a complete unnecessary complication of having the double identity.
M: I don’t know how this works. Because she has Synergy create Jerrica Benton, the hologram, on the stage that Eric’s by. He turns and he shouts at her. He runs straight for her. And then she says, “Show’s over, Synergy,” changes her outfit, and then runs up on stage. Eric was looking at her the whole time. How did this work?
A: I have an answer for you. It is, “shut up.”
So they’re about to basically punch each other, because they’re mad about Starlight Music, and one of them suggests that, “We’re going to have another Battle of the Bands in six months. And the best band wins full control of Starlight Music.” i.e., Jerrica wins full control of Starlight Music.
And so there’s a guy in the background who steps up at this point, and he’s like, “By the way, I’m a millionaire. I’m carrying around this photo of my mansion. I’m gonna give it to somebody.”
K: That’s what I love about this. He says he’s a movie producer. So this movie producer shows up to this crappy Battle of the Bands in the middle of the park for no reason. Not only does he have a mansion on hand that he’s prepared to give away, but he also has a very convenient photo–that somebody else is holding–of the mansion.
A: He’s so rich he’s got goons to hold up his mansion pictures. Oh, and let’s not forget that because he’s a movie producer, he’s gonna give a movie deal to these people. I don’t remember what rock band movies were like in the 80s, but I’m assuming we’re looking at something based off of A Hard Day’s Night.
K: I’m kind of hoping for This is Spinal Tap.
M: But the thing to remember about this is that it’s basically Jerrica running up to Eric, shouting, “Hey you can’t take my company!” Eric going, “Can too, and if your band beats my band you can have it back!” And Jerrica just saying, “Fine!” Like that’s how decisions are made.
A: That’s true. This is a verbal agreement. There’s no contract signed. Eric has no reason to agree to this, or even suggest it. He’s an idiot. But he’s wearing a business suit.
M: So he knows what’s going on.
A: Right, this is how business works.
K: I’m just imagining some poor PR person in his office showing up later on, saying, “How many times do i have to tell you? I’m your first phone call.”
A: Speaking of a PR nightmare, this is the point where the Misfits commit their first of many completely illegal acts.
A: This is actually minor, considering the fact that later on, they try to kill Kimber in a volcano.
M: I forgot that happened.
A: Which is a real thing that happens. So what they do first is, they steal all of the Holograms’ instruments and take off in their van down a seaside highway cliff.
M: And as the Holograms chase after them, they promptly start throwing the Holograms’ instruments out, destroying them and thus creating massive destruction of property, on top of their multiple felonies and grand theft. And then, just for fun, Roxy starts flinging the instruments directly at the Rockin’ Roadster, and Aja ends up having to swerve off the road. So at this point you can also put in reckless endangerment or even, considering that she was throwing the instruments straight at them, attempted murder.
K: Here’s what I don’t understand. And I don’t understand a lot of things in this show. Earlier on, they said they had enough instruments to start ten bands?
M: Yeah, yeah.
K: Why are they chasing the Misfits to get their stuff back?
M: That’s a good question.
K: They have spares. You’re gonna tell me to shut up again, aren’t you?
A: Yeah. Shut up, Kit.
K: So anyway, they end up dangling over a cliff. A literal cliffhanger.
M: And when we come back, Jerrica has the sudden idea of, “Rio is coming here now!”
A: She has no idea! Does he always drive this way? Does she have a link? Did she sense him? Did she sense his dudebro-ness?
K: She saw his purple hair coming from a mile off.
A: It’s true, that thing sticks out.
M: And so she asks Synergy to create a Hologram Jem who is about five feet too tall to be human.
A: And her wingspan is, proportionally, about that of a bald eagle. So she flags Rio down and is like, “They’re over there. Maybe help them.”
M: And then we smash cut to Eric Raymond holding a newspaper that’s like, “Rio Pacheco Saves Day!” And he’s like, “Do you know many millions of dollars of–”
K: Free publicity, or whatever.
M: Free publicity!
A: Yeah, he’s worried about the publicity.
M: And Pizzazz is like, “Whatever, man. I don’t care.”
A: And Eric’s like, “Whatever, I’ll make sure you win the contest.” And Pizzazz is like, “You’d better, because…”
K: Music video.
M: Which I think is one of my and Annie’s favorite music videos.
A: Yeah. It is for the song “Winning is Everything.” This a Machiavellian deconstruction of the philosophy and how the ends justify the means. They illustrate this over the course of the music video in a couple of ways, prime of which is: there’s a giant football on a football field, Pizzazz hatches out of it, she’s like Attack of the 50 Foot Woman, and then she terrorizes the football players.
So the weird thing happens after this song. Eric applauds.
K: He was aware that the song was happening!
A: Did he see all of that?
M: Did he see Pizzazz coming out of an egg on a football field as a giant football lady?
D: Did they just sit there and sing the song for him a capella? Because they didn’t have their instruments. I don’t know. I have this very careful theory and that single act just blows it all away. But it’s okay, because there’s a subplot that’s been going on in this episode that is going to be important soon and we need to talk about the Starlight Girls, who live at the foster house and all have the most tragic 80s haircuts ever.
M: Including Ashley, who is basically the lead Starlight Girl, because she’ll show up a lot. You tend to notice her ‘cause she has the worst 80s haircut of all of them.
A: And this little yellow and pink outfit.
K: Is this why their parents abandoned them? Because they had bad haircuts?
A: I think so, yes.
M: Probably, yeah. And basically it’s all the girls being goody-goody, and talking about an honor jar, which they’re putting together as they slowly gain money. And they’re going to buy a new fridge for the Starlight House. And they only have thirty dollars to go!
A: They’re just so noble. Ashley steals thirty dollars from the honor jar and gets caught in the act. So the Starlight Girls’ punishment is like, “You have to get thirty dollars for the honor jar.” And she throws a fit about it. Maybe because she’s 10 or something, also because this is 1980s thirty dollars. I don’t know how much that’s worth right now.
M: Thirty dollars in 1980 in 2015 dollars is $85.09
A: HOLY JEEZE!
K: So is she planning to sell a kidney, or…?
A: I don’t know! She’s gotta earn eighty dollars! God, Ashley, you’re right to be upset!
So Eric Raymond is yelling at a phone and he is talking to the guy that is going to stand in for the best character, Techrat, for these first five or so episodes. He is calling White Terminator Geordi La Forge. His name is, like, Buzzer?
M: But no, we’ll just call him White Terminator Geordi La Forge.
A: It’s worth noting that if his name is Buzzer, he has it monogrammed on the back of his leather jacket. And he’s like, “Yeah, you want to go scare them. Just rough them up a little. Put the fear of god in ‘em.” And he’s like, “Yeah, I’ll do it, Mr. Raymond!”
K: So what you want to do when you go to somebody’s house, break in, and scare them is wear a leather jacket with your name across the back in enormous letters.
A: Yeah, and then you set the house on fire.
M: Except that wasn’t necessarily his fault. That was Kimber using a lantern and then dramatically dropping it and then going, “Oh no, the lantern!” And everything is paper so it all catches on fire immediately.
A: Right. So everything is on fire, and Zipper escapes, and that is basically where our episode ends. “Everything is on fire. Buy all our playsets and toys. Maybe they’ll still be there next episode. You don’t know.”
K: This episode was a bit like the ending of Return of the King. It could’ve ended in five different places, but it didn’t. It just kept going. It felt like they scripted out the episode and they were running short, and they crammed some music videos in there, and they were still running short, so they just put five more minutes’ worth of crap in there to pad it out.
M: I actually do remember, in some of the Christy Marx commentaries, where she was talking about how she always had to put aside so many minutes for music videos. And so she would, and then sometimes they’d just come through with only two music videos. And so the episode would be ten minutes shorter than it normally would.
A: Right, they ran short by cutting out some of her plots. So we’re left on our “to be continued” for this five-part miniseries. Next episode we will find out if everyone’s alive, and we’ll have more acts of destruction from the Misfits. We’ll have some more songs. We’ll have some more weird animation errors. It’s something to look forward to.
So, until next time, I’m Annie.
K: I’m Kit.
M: And I’m Maq.
A: And don’t forget to be outrageous.