Posted on by Scott Delahunt

A while back, Lost in Translation reviewed the 2015 Jem and the Holograms film.  Today, let’s look at the cartoon that people were expecting to be the base of that film.

As mentioned in the movie review, the Eighties saw rules and regulations over children’s programming relaxed, allowing toy manufacturers to create animated series that were effectively ads for the toys.  Hasbro saw success with both Transformers and G.I. Joe, thanks to the collaboration with Marvel Productions and Sunbow Productions.  With the boys’ line of toys comfortable, Hasbro turned to its girls line.

The fashion doll industry is dominated by one company, Mattel.  Mattel’s Barbie line dominates the doll aisles at stores.  Hasbro decided to try to get a piece of the action by introducing its own line of fashion dolls, Jem and the Holograms.  The initial line in 1986 featured Jerrica Benton, her rock star alter ego Jem, her younger sister Kimber, and foster sisters Aja and Shana, all of whom made up the band.  A rival band, the Misfits, also received dolls – Pizzazz, Roxy, and Stormer.  To round out the line, Jerrica/Jem had a boyfriend doll, Rio.  The dolls and fashions were inspired by the music videos of the time, with wild coloured hair and pastel tones.  The initial dolls came with music cassettes with two songs each from the Holograms and the Misfits.

The doll line lasted two years before Hasbro discontinued it due to lack of sales.  Mattel’s introduction of the Barbie and the Rockers line the same year Jem and the Holograms debuted didn’t help matters.  However, by the time the Jem line wrapped up, twenty-four dolls were released, including two releases each of the Holograms, the Misfits, and Rio and three sets of Jem and Jerrica.

To help with sales, Hasbro went with the Marvel/Sunbow team up that had success with G.I. Joe and Transformers.  Christy Marx, who had written scripts for both prior cartoons. became the story editor for the new series, Jem and the Holograms.  The series revolves around Jerrica Benton, Starlight Music, and the foster home, Starlight Girls.  Jerrica starts the series as co-owner of Starlight Music, her late father’s company, along with Eric Raymond.  Eric, though, sees Starlight as a means to an end, getting rich, and is using the company to line his pockets.  To this end, he backs the Misfits, a punk band made up of Pizzazz, Roxy, and Stormer.  Jerrica discovers Eric’s duplicity and tries to find a way to take full control of Starlight Music.  The answer is a contest highlighting new bands.

Jerrica, though, doesn’t have one immediately available.  She discovers, though, that her father had been working on a secret project and tracks it down to an abandoned drive-in theatre.  Inside, her father’s computer, Synergy, reveals itself and its advanced holographic capabilities to Jerrica, allowing her to become Jem.  Her sisters Kimber, Shana, and Aja, join Jerrica and become the Holograms.  The contest boils down to one between Jem and the Holograms and the Misfits.

Pizzazz wants to win.  She’s in music for the fame and has no scruples in how she gets it.  She’s perfect for Eric’s purposes, sabotaging Jem’s public appearances.  However, the key element is performance, and Jem and the Holograms edge out the Misfits, letting Jerrica get the money to fully own Starlight Music and fund the Starlight Girls.  Thus ending the first five episodes of the series.  Eric is arrested and the Misfits are looking for a new label as a result.

The series continues in a similar vein.  Eric gets out thanks to being able to afford the best lawyers money can buy.  The Misfits become rivals to Jem and the Holograms, trying to sabotage the latter group’s efforts any time they can.  Eric continues to try to retake Starlight Music, using evvery avenue of attack he can, at least until he starts up Misfits Music with the Misfits.  Meanwhile, Jerrica’s relationship with her boyfriend Rio Pacheco becomes complicated thanks to Jem.  As much as Jerrica wants to tell him the truth,. Synergy insists that her technologies remain secret.  The lives of the Holograms are no less complex.  Kimber has her own love triangle develop between a British singer and an American stuntman, while she tries to live in the dual shadow of her sister and her alter ego.

In the third season, a new band appears.  The Stingers, comprised of lead singer Riot and musicians Rapture and Minx become a rival to both Jem and the Holograms and the Misfits.  Working with Eric, the Stingers take over Mistfits Music and rename it Stinger Sound.  The third season ran shorter than the first two, in part because the Hasbro had discontinued the toy line.  No toys, no need to advertise.  However, the cartoon was a ratings success.

Each episode featured two or three songs, either as a montage related to the scene it appears in or as a more traditional 80s music video.  The Misfits appear in most of the episodes, one key exception being the anti-drug “Alone Again“.  Some of the draw for the series was the music; the show revolved around two bands, after all.  Each band had a distinctive sound, with the Misfits having a harsher tone than Jem and the Holograms.

Ultimately, while the series was popular, that popularity didn’t translate into sales.  The sheer size of the line of dolls, which included three of the Starlight Girls, Synergy, and two friends of Jem, Danse and Video, may have spread what sales there were.  Availability was an issue in some areas, where the cartoon aired but the dolls weren’t in stores.  Mattel’s Barbie and the Rockers may have also eaten into the sales, having a known name despite the lack of cartoon.  From this view, Jem and the Holograms failed on what it was supposed to do, sell dolls.  However, a cartoon that still draws in viewers over twenty-five years later, that is truly outrageous.

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