June 2011

Clarissa Darling wore floral blouses, told boys what was up

Clarissa Darling was the kind of girl all the eight-year-olds in my group of friends wanted to be.  We wore our hair long in floral patterned headbands, collected baggy t-shirts and devised secret codes with our best friends.  Clarissa was perfect: pretty, but not too pretty, gross, but not too gross, tomboyish, but not too tomboyish.  She stood up to boys, but also felt awkward sometimes and always was annoyed with her parents and little brother.

Maybe I wax too nostalgic, but iCarly and Hannah Montana and the kind of female TV stars that today's eight-year-old girls watch cannot compare to Clarissa, our human and everyday role model of the ‘90’s.

Clarissa Explains It All aired on Nickelodeon from 1991 to 1994, for five seasons. The show’s main characters are Clarissa, her father Marshall, mother Janet, brother Ferguson and her best friend, Sam.  Clarissa is an adolescent girl and deals with the problems of pre-adolescence—friends moving away, crushes on boys, getting a driver’s license.  But at the same time, Clarissa functions as a sort of television advice columnist to her viewers, speaking directly to them from the screen. 

Clarissa Explains It All broke a lot of rules for children’s television.  First, it had male and female best friends, both inflame with hormones presumably, who never pursued a romantic relationship. It was nearly unheard of on television, and still is a rarity, to have male and female friends without some sort of romantic history or potential. 

Second, it was the first Nickelodeon show with a female lead.  Both boys and girls watched the show, so it helped pave the way of other female-led shows on the network, including The Amanda Show and The Secret World of Alex Mack. A rule that we don’t seem to follow these days, boys really will watch a show even if it has a female protagonist.   

Third, Clarissa touched upon some hot teen issues of the day.  Clarissa accidentally shoplifts lingerie, a reference to teen sexuality.  The show also spelled out the word “S-E-X” onscreen. She also stands up to a school bully, a boy named Clifford, tackling the issue of if girls could, should or would fight with boys.

The part of the show that was most memorable—besides Clarissa’s one-liners and the “wah-wah” noise dubbed when Sam’s ladder would hit Clarissa’s window--was the show’s theme song and opening sequence. The theme song was memorable mostly because there was nothing much to remember.  It consisted of a bunch of “na na na na na’s”—characteristic of the apathetic teen, I suppose—interspersed with some random catchphrases of these apathetic early ‘90’s teens—“All right, all right!” “Hey cool!” and “Just do it!”.

 

In the intro, Clarissa wears an outfit that she doesn’t replicate in the slightest in the rest of the series—a black ensemble with a short skirt and midriff top, hot pink tights and high boots.  Her family wears what they do for the rest of the show, but Clarissa’s teen superhero get-up makes it seem like this show was nearly something completely different, centered around earrings and boyfriends, popularity and pimple creams.

Clarissa was cancelled in 1994, but ran on into syndication after that. In 1995, a new series called Clarissa Now was shot for CBS. The pilot was never picked up as a series, but it was shown a few times on Nickelodeon after the end of the original series.  It revolved around Clarissa’s newspaper internship at a New York paper. 

Nickelodeon released the first season of the show on DVD in 2005, but never released the rest of the seasons. In the fall of this year, Nickelodeon began airing Clarissa reruns on its teen network.

So see, kids of the 2010’s or whatever this generation is called, our ‘90’s shows have serious staying power! Clarissa will tell you and your teen superstars and singing idols what’s really up.