Most kid-centric entertainment offerings require at least a smidge of suspension of disbelief. No matter how much we wish things were different, animals can’t talk, no one has ever been shrunk down to the size of a bee, and there isn’t a special breed of magical bear that can fold up into a bouncy balls commiserate with their approximate bear-shaped size (love you, Popples). But that’s what’s great about movies and television shows for the younger set – they specifically value and encourage imagination, even if it’s occasionally just kind of bonkers.
In the late eighties, the animated series Jem and the Holograms (sometimes also known as just Jem) was built on being “truly outrageous,” thanks to a narrative that tapped into a common fantasy (being a rock star! and also owning an orphanage!) and bolstered it with some truly fantastical (and, yes, outrageous) elements, like the use of Synergy, “the ultimate audio-visual entertainment synthesizer,” to transform regular old record company executive Jerrica Benton (and pals) into the candy-colored pop quartet The Holograms. Housed in an old drive-in movie theater, Synergy was built by Jerrica’s dad (sure) and allowed the girls to adopt holograhic alter egos in order to play their jams without sacrificing their regular identities. Because it was the eighties, Jerrica used a pair of star-shaped earrings to make the transformation. It looked a little bit like this:
Yes, truly outrageous.
The Holograms even wrote and performed a song about Synergy:
Jem loved Synergy. The Holograms loved Synergy. The fans loved Synergy. (And, really, who wouldn’t love a magical machine that gave them clothes and cars and a cool secret identity? Synergy is easily one of the best eighties-era machine sidekicks ever created.) Synergy was not just important to Jem, she was essential, which makes it sting that the new live-action Jem feature from Jon M. Chu sounds as if it has not only pulled the plug on Synergy, but erased her entirely.
Go ahead and scream, “Showtime, Synergy!” into the void. It may help.
A new piece over at USA Today gives us a closer look inside what Chu and company are trying to do with their Jem movie. Unsurprisingly, Chu and his crew are interested in bringing Jem into the modern era, thanks to social media. The piece shares that “the key for Chu was finding a way to explore the Jerrica/Jem dynamic in 2015. ‘How can you even have a secret identity with all this social media?’the director asks. ‘But then it dawned on us: Wait, everybody has a secret identity. The idea of “Who are you really?” is more relevant today than ever.’”
Yes, because no one on the Internet has a secret identity.
Although it is currently unclear how exactly Jem and the Holograms find success (most likely without Synergy), Chu’s interest in social media might point us in the right direction. Chu’s Jem (Aubrey Peeples) is shy about reticent to share her talents with the world, “however, her talent is discovered and even though she doesn’t want to be ‘out there’ as a musical superstar, Jerrica is forced to embrace the over-the-top Jem alter ego in order to take care of her family and bandmates.” A modern way to discover some talent? YouTube. Just a guess here: Jem/Jerrica, while afraid to share her talents on a large stage, will somehow record some sort of video (maybe she will do it, maybe one of her bandmates will, maybe a total stranger will happen by her while she is performing and they will do it), and it will end up on a video-sharing site, rocketing her to instant fame.
That is definitely a modern way to address quickie fame (and a good way to jettison Synergy), but it also robs Jem of one of its wackiest elements (again, giant hologram machine operated by earrings). Moreover, Chu’s new film isn’t concerned with giving us an adult-aged Jerrica who runs a record label and an orphanage in addition to being a secret rock star, because this Jerrica is a teenager struggling to find her place in the world (Molly Ringwald was even cast as her guardian, hinting that she is too young to be out in the world on her own).
The film’s IMDb page currently doesn’t list an actress for Synergy (remember, though, that IMDb pages are often fan-generated and at least fan-edited, so this is a slightly unreliable metric, though the page does contain the fullest cast listing currently available, one noticeably without Synergy present).
Sure, you can make a movie without a rock star-spawning hologram machine, but why would you want to?
Jem and the Holograms will open on October 23.