Apart from My Little Pony, the other Hasbro franchise that seems to have really come back strong lately is Jem – more surprising, perhaps, because there’s no new TV series to spark the new interest. Instead there are reruns of the ’80s cartoon on the Hub and Teletoon Retro, and of course Shout! Factory just released the whole series on DVD this week. (Part of the show was previously released on DVD in the ’00s, but they stalled out before completing the series, and the old DVDs have been out of print for a long time.) Even though the toys never did sell that well, the cartoon always seems to be popular.
I think the songs are the key part of the phenomenon. Not only were they well-written original songs (Barry Harman, who wrote the lyrics, was a bona fide Broadway lyricist who was able to bring some good craftsmanship to the major task of writing three songs per episode), not only were the music-video sequences a cut above the usual ’80s cartoon in terms of the visuals, but the songs helped to crystallize the major issue of any kids’ cartoon: who do you like better, the good guys or the bad guys? On a show with villains – some kids’ shows don’t really have any villains, of course – evil often seems cooler than good; if you watched He-Man, you might secretly root for Skeletor. But on Jem, there was an additional argument, brought up in the theme song: whose songs were better? Kids could pick sides not only in terms of which side to root for, but in terms of whose music to hum.
For the record, the theme song was right: the Misfits’ songs really were better. That’s because the good guys’ songs mostly had to be pro-social and inspiring, and a lot of them are weighted down with messages about caring and sharing. The Misfits, like any cartoon villain, didn’t have to be good role models, so as long as they were punished in the end, they could sing about anything they wanted – being selfish, having a good time, being cool. Really, their songs are more authentic modern pop, since you’re likely to hear a lot more songs about empowerment and self-fulfilment than the need to care and share with others.
That said, I recall the Jem videos as being somewhat trippier than the Misfits’ overall. And I don’t recall the Stingers enough to comment at all.