The 10 Most Outrageously Insane Episodes of ‘Jem’
Thanks to reruns on the Hub and a new DVD box set from Shout Factory, Jem and the Holograms has been experiencing a bit of a renaissance lately — especially here at ComicsAlliance. I’ve become hooked on the show, and as someone who recently finished watching every episode of the show, let me tell you: It is completely insane.
It may even be the craziest of the toy tie-in cartoons of the ’80s, and considering it’s up against the saga of space robots that can turn into trucks and a show about the greatest soldiers in the world fighting against an arms dealer with a Cthulhu monster in his basement, that’s saying something. It might be a bold statement, but it’s one I intend to prove with a rundown of The 10 Most Truly, Outrageously Insane Episodes of Jem!#
10. MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S MADNESS
For those of you who aren’t familiar with the premise of Jem, it goes a little something like this: Record executive Jerrica Benton has a set of high-tech earrings that tap into a supercomputer named Synergy to project a hologram that turns mild-mannered Jerrica into the truly outrageous rock star, Jem, lead singer of the Holograms. Meanwhile, her boyfriend Rio is sort of in love with both versions of her, and she never gets around to telling him the truth because she’s worried how he’ll react to her ongoing deception. It’s actually a setup that could lead itself to a lot of Superman and Lois Lane-style love triangle tension, but the show never really gets into it that much.
Until the middle of the third season, that is, when Jerrica has a full-on schizophrenic break.
After an argument with Rio about herself and a music video sequence where she envisions her two identities as giant gladiatrices battling it out in the ruins of the Colosseum, Jerrica creates a third secret identity, Jamie. Throw in Riot, the lead singer of a rival band called the Singers that believes it’s his destiny to woo Jem, and suddenly the love triangle has become an actual love pentagram.
Fortunately for the mental state of all concerned, Jamie is never brought up again, and neither is the actual mystic oracle who told Jerrica she needed another personality.
#9. HOT TIME IN HAWAII
The story of two rival rock groups traveling to Hawaii and competing in a big Battle of the Network Stars-style sports competition is a pretty standard setup, but when the bands in question are the Holograms and the Misfits, things venture into the truly bizarre pretty quickly. For one thing, the Misfits decide to cheat — because of course they do — and end up breaking the world records in the high jump and pole vault. In the world of Jem, somehow no one seems all that surprised there are Olympic athletes that have had their records shattered by a woman named “Pizzazz.”
But try as they might, they can’t figure out how to cheat in the swimming competition, and when their plot to attack Kimber with a giant robot shark fails — that’s not the crazy part — they decide to go old school on it. So in order to win a televised sports competition with no actual prize, the Misfits kidnap Kimber and leave her bound and gagged in an active volcano.
Of all the many, many felonies committed by the Misfits over the course of the show’s 65 episodes, this is the one that comes closest to outright attempted murder. It’s worth noting that this is one of the few times in Jem that an arrest is made, but it’s the Misfits’ trainer who takes the fall, leaving the band itself to go on its merry way of hang glider laser vandalism.
#8. JOURNEY TO SHANGRI-LA
Despite the promise of the episode’s title and the appearance of strangely baggy pants, this one is not about the Holograms’ ill-fated attempt to play at the Gathering of the Juggalos. Instead, it’s about Jem deciding that their sound is missing something, and coming to the conclusion that what they need is to find the mystical Tibetan city of Shangri-La. See, they are the keepers of all art and music, and since they’ve been on a magically hidden mountaintop for like a thousand years, they probably have nothing better to do than pitch in on a few glam pop songs.
It goes without saying that there is also a yeti involved.
But don’t worry: He’s a friendly yeti, and even helps out when the Misfits show up and are promptly poisoned by the snow briar, for which there is no cure but the music of the mystical realm. One would think the Holograms might take this opportunity to even up the score for the whole Kimber-in-the-Volcano thing, but Jem heads to Shangri-La anyway and learns their sacred healing melodies.
Because really, when you’re 1200 years old and living on a mountaintop with nothing to do but contemplate music and experiment with clashing fabrics, helping a pop band get their 14th gold record does a lot to break the tedium.
#7. THE FAN
Considering that it has no actual reason to exist, Jem’s secret identity seems like a lot more trouble than it’s worth. Case in point, the episode where an obsessed billionaire offers an enormous amount of money to anyone who can tell him who Jem really is. The Misfits take him up on his offer, so they build a fake mansion and fill it with actors playing Jem’s bandmates, her boyfriend and the orphaned girls she takes care of and making a fake videotape of Jem’s nonexistent childhood.
And not only that, but they’re so good that they fool her completely, which is no mean feat since one of her bandmates is also her sister. The only thing that tips her off is when she tries to walk through the fake wall protecting Synergy and ends up knocking herself unconscious:
Eventually, in a scene lifted straight from The Prisoner — yeah, I said it — Jem is confronted with a fake Jerrica, and is almost driven completely out of her mind. Which, when you think about it, makes that story about “Jamie” make a lot more sense.
#6. RENAISSANCE WOMAN
Here’s a fun fact about England: It’s actually over there right now. And it’s not still the Middle Ages, even in most parts of Wales.
I mention this because while you might now it, I’m not really sure the creators of Jem did when they came up with the first of two episodes they made about a sinister plot to subvert a local line of succession. It all revolves around the Holograms heading overseas to play at a Renaissance Fair in honor of a young man taking his title as the Lord of Carfax County, presumably named after Dracula’s London estate, not the people who tell you if your Honda got wrecked before you bought it. That’s weird enough, but it only gets weirder when they start operating on a definition of “Renaissance Fair” that involves every single person in an entire town flat-out giving up on modern technology.
Complicating matters for young Lord Reggie is one Robin Goodfellow, who robs the Lord’s men with his bow and arrow before he’s eventually cornered by guards at spear-point, manacled, and thrown into a dungeon before Jem can rescue him by going on her own Robin Hood trip. Nobody ever calls the real cops, or has a trial; they just throw him in a medieval dungeon.
And keep in mind: this all happened in 1986. It’s almost weirder than it would’ve been if they’d actually traveled back in time to play a glam show in Sherwood Forest, but as we’ll see a little later in the countdown, the keyword there is “almost.”
#5. INTRIGUE AT THE INDY 500
Remember earlier when I said that the Misfits had a pretty long list of felonies they committed over the course of this show? Well, when Jem’s label, Starlight Records, sponsors a hot pink racecar in the Indy 500, Misfits manager Eric Raymond sabotages the car so that he can cover his heavy debts to the Mafia. This, by the way, is not me inferring anything: There is actually a character designed to look like Marlon Brandon in The Godfather whisper-threatening Eric through the opening sequence. Then the Misfits steal Jem’s car, crash it through a wall, and try to run the Holograms over. It was a busy week.
Anyway, using the magic of holograms, the Holograms — a four piece rock band who are definitely not mechanics — rebuild a racecar in one night, and since the driver is injured, Jem drives the car in the Indy 500 herself.
Oh but wait, it gets better: Rather than let her rival die in a fireball of her own making, Pizzazz jumps the fence, carjacks a racer while he’s at a pit stop, then causes a wreck that takes out a bunch of other cars, and goes neck-and-neck with Jem while Jem uses holograms to convince Pizzazz that she’s hallucinating her own scolding conscience.
Just to put this in context, these are the lead singers of the two most popular bands in the world. Imagine if Kanye West and Lady Gaga jumped the fence at the Indy 500, stole two cars, wrecked the other drivers, and then Kanye won the race. That is basically what happened here, set to a song called “I’m Comin’ From Behind.”
#4. ROXY RUMBLES
Most kids’ cartoons of the ’80s had a “Very Special Episode” of one type or another that addressed a Serious Issue, and Jem was no exception. In this case, it’s illiteracy, which comes up when the Misfits are at fake MTV reading from a teleprompter and Stormer turns to her bandmate Roxy and asks “Shouldn’t you tell them you can’t read?” Subtlety is not exactly this show’s strong point.
Anyway, Roxy is so angry that she quits the band and — because no coincidence is too huge for the world of Jem — immediately finds a winning lottery ticket that makes her a millionaire. Armed with money and a huge chunk of resentment for the world, she sets out to get her revenge on all who mocked her by throwing a street fair… in Philadelphia!
As you might expect, Jem is having her own pro-literacy street fair at the same time, which is disrupted when Roxy gets her old street gang to help:
They’re called the Red Aces, which is written out in black letters on their t-shirts despite the fact that they’re just as illiterate as Roxy, having dropped out of high school along with her. Because, as ComicsAlliance Jemologist Bethany Fong put it, “that’s where we all learned to read. High school.”
In the end, Jem helps out, Roxy goes broke, and she resolves to learn to read even though the other Misfits call her stupid for not being able to read in the first place. So… that’s kind of like a moral, right?
#3. THE DAY THE MUSIC DIED
In this episode, they don’t even wait for the show to actually start before things get crazy. Instead, the opening credits are interrupted by Kimber yelling “stop!,” and telling viewers that there won’t be a show today because Jem is dead. Folks, that is how you open a cartoon.
Jem’s not really dead, of course. She just got stressed out from her double identities and got shipwrecked after sailing down to Mexico with Riot from the Stingers, an accident he arranged to get her alone and pursue his destiny of breeding a race of genetically perfect glam-rockers. But while she’s presumed dead, everything goes wrong for everybody, as revealed in a weird documentary-style setup that’s never explained at all.
Starlight Records goes bankrupt and gets bought out by Pizzazz’s father, the surviving Holograms and Stingers are pressganged into some kind of feudal serfdom as part of a Misfits super-group that includes three keyboardists, four guitarists and one saxophone, and Kimber seems to be in danger of a mental breakdown from suddenly becoming aware that she’s a cartoon character. The whole thing has all the earmarks of being revealed to be a dream, but it’s not.
And the craziest thing? Jem is gone for FIVE DAYS. I counted. Every single thing in this show is less than a week from going apocalyptically bad at any time.
#2. THE PRESIDENTIAL DILEMMA
Here’s the thing about using a phenomenally powerful super-computer that can project realistic holograms over long distances: Occasionally, you’re going to need to move it, and when that move is to Washington DC, the Secret Service gets a little understandably curious about what kind of Doomsday Device you’re bringing to your meeting with the President.
That’s not the big problem, though. No, that comes from the fact that this is the only episode of Jem with an actual super-villain.
His name is “The Washington Marauder,” a domino-masked villain complete with uniformed henchmen worthy of the Super-Friends who has been stealing national treasures, including the Liberty Bell and a set of moon rocks, to stock a secret museum that he keeps 200 feet underground. He’s essentially the evil version of DuckTales for the NES, but for the crown jewel of his collection, he’s decided to steal the President himself.
Which is of course why mild-mannered record executive Jerrica Benton has to save the President, which she does after the Holograms put Synergy back together in a secret Government lab so that she can project the image of a fightin’ mad Abraham Lincoln.
As a result, the President becomes the only person in the world who isn’t in the band to know Jem’s secret identity, and he gives her a presidential pardon for her unlicensed super-computer. Government in action!
As weird as it might be to see Jem fighting a super-villain for the first and only time, though, it’s topped by one episode:
#1. JOURNEY THROUGH TIME
So yeah, the Misfits have a f***ing time machine.
You’d think that would pretty much say it all, but it’s somehow less weird that they have one than what they end up doing with it. I mean, a group of fairly imaginative people with a lust for money and power should be able to htink up all kinds of interesting applications for time travel, but instead, they just opt to score a sweet headline gig at the History of Music Festival by sending the Holograms back in time to meet Mozart, hang out during the London Blitz, and meet up with fake Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock.
Then again, Aja’s mesmerizing pompadour/victory roll hair mutation aside, it’s actually not a bad plan as far as attempted murders go. They nearly get stoned for being witches in the 18th century, and bombed to oblivion by Nazis in the ’40s. Eventually, though, they get dropped back in their regular time frame and head off to the festival with a newfound appreciation for the history of music, and the time machine gets destroyed when Techrat, the Misfits go-to gadget man, accidentally brings some dinosaurs to the present.
One more time for those of you in the back: the Misfits are trying to get a gig at a music festival when THEY KNOW A GUY WHO CAN GIVE YOU A DINOSAUR. That is literally the only thing you would need to become the richest and most famous person in the world, and considering that Techrat built this time machine in a garage, I’m not sure why they didn’t just go back in time to get the Holograms’ hit songs before they could record them, or, hell, why not go for the Beatles? At the very least, they could’ve had Techrat build a time machine every week and drop the Holograms back in time to some deadly historical event until one finally stuck.
I’d watch that show. But then, I watched 65 episodes of this show, and I think it’s pretty clear that it lived up to its promise of being truly, truly, truly outrageous.