When I find myself in times of trouble, I regress into the comfort of nostalgia. Hence, today I’m looking at “One Jem Too Many,” an episode of Jem and the Holograms from 1987.
Jem and the Holograms, more commonly known as Jem, aired in syndication on US television from 1985 to 1988. It was created by Christy Marx, a writer for the contemporaneous G.I. Joe cartoon, and the two shows share much of the same DNA: Both were based on Hasbro toys, both feature a wide array of surprisingly detailed characters, and both are completely, utterly, unabashedly bonkers. Jem centers around Jerrica Benton, no-nonsense CEO of the record label Starlight Music and managing director of a foster home for girls, who, with the help of iconoclastic hologram technology controlled by her earrings, can semi-magically transform into a pink-haired new wave superstar named Jem. Jem and her bandmates, the Holograms—Aja, Shana, Raya, and Jerrica’s kid sister Kimber—are locked in perpetual battle with rival girl group the Misfits (no relation), who constantly scheme to sabotage and/or outright murder Jem. That description does not do justice to the berserk lunacy of the average episode of Jem.
“One Jem Too Many” opens with Jerrica, successful music magnate and certified buzzkill, puttering around the foster home while engaging in her favorite pastime, i.e. complaining about her charmed life. The rest of the Holograms are heading off for a day at the mall, but Jerrica has no time for frivolous pursuits—Starlight Music’s quarterly tax return is due the next day. So while the Holograms shop ‘til they drop, Jerrica sits in her office and does her taxes by hand, because Starlight Music can afford a luxurious suite in a downtown skyscraper but can’t spring for a CPA. Which is something they absolutely should do, because Jerrica’s tax-filing strategy seems to consist of grabbing a sheet of paper from a tall stack, scribbling her name on the bottom of it, and moving it to another tall stack. I have to ask—Jerrica, my friend, did you get confused and think you were signing autographs?
She takes a quick breather to pop into an empty recording studio and sing a wistful song about how she wishes she led a simpler life (Jerrica’s signature character trait: perpetually beleaguered), which drifts into a music video sequence in which Jerrica-as-Jem prances around a forest while dressed as a Grecian goddess.
Jerrica’s terrible boyfriend Rio prowls around the studio, searching for Jem but settling for Jerrica. Oh, Rio, Rio, hear them shout across the land. Rio is the worst, and his romance with Jerrica is a stinky garbage heap that someone slathered in tar and set on fire. Rio, who has no clue that Jem and Jerrica are one and the same, perpetually cheats on his girlfriend—emotionally at the very least—with his girlfriend’s alter ego. The Wikipedia entry on Jem characters describes Rio thusly: “Despite his own apparent issues with dishonesty showcased in the form of his fling with Jem despite being in a relationship with Jerrica, Rio is portrayed as having some anger management issues,” and if eight million warning flags aren’t firing in your brain right now, we need to have a chat about what constitutes acceptable boyfriend material. Rio is a thousand miles of purple-haired bad road. He is the least impressive Rio in 1980s pop culture history, coming in far behind the Rio who dances on the sand in Duran Duran’s eponymous 1982 hit.
As Rio is leaving, Jem hops into his car and invites herself to lunch with him. This comes as a bit of a surprise to us viewers, who are hip to the idea that Jerrica = Jem, but Rio still hasn’t figured out that his girlfriend sometimes disguises herself as a hologram, and he’s perpetually horny for Jem, so he says sure. They head to the Red Rock, which, because this is 1987, is transparently modeled after the Hard Rock Cafe, whereupon the Fake Jem greets the maître d’ with, “Hey, Baldy!” and demands a table. Rio offers up a milquetoast protest of her bad behavior (“Hey, Jem, hang loose!”), whereupon Fake Jem hisses, “I’m a celebrity! They should pay me to eat in this dump!”
Fake Jem pitches a fit upon hearing all the tables are full; embarrassed, Rio assures the maître d’ that they’ll go elsewhere. “Like fudge we will!” Fake Jem snarls with enough vehemence that I audibly gasped while watching this episode, before realizing that fudge is not, in fact, any kind of expletive. Then she dumps a tureen of soup on a customer before wrestling a camera away from a paparazzo and hurling it through a window. When Rio urges her to simmer down, she tells him to take a hike: “I can always get a new flunky.” Rio could barely mount a protest when Fake Jem was dumping soup on innocent bystanders, but being referred to as a flunky offends him to his core. He flounces off.
Fake Jem moves on to a record shop, where she flies into a violent and destructive rage upon realizing her albums are being sold at a Jerrica-approved discount. “Let the mindless little twerps pay double!” yells Fake Jem, demonstrating a sturdy grasp of basic supply-and-demand economics.
Back at Starlight Records, Rio pops back into Jerrica’s office to complain to his girlfriend about how his other girlfriend is acting like an ass. Jerrica is suitably nonplussed to hear about her evil doppelgänger. The rest of the Holograms, who witnessed Fake Jem’s rampage at the record store, bawl Jerrica out for her presumed bad behavior; Jerrica insists she was in her office all afternoon, but the Holograms decide en masse that she’s lying. Look, Jem is a holographic projection, not a real person, and maybe it’s not out of the question that someone other than Jerrica would be able to create a Jem projection, and maybe Jerrica’s nearest and dearest should consider alternative explanations instead of jumping straight to the Jerrica-is-a-liar-and-probably-crazy conclusion.
The outfits on this show are always delightfully bananas, by the way.
Upon reaching a consensus that Jerrica is losing her marbles from too much work, the Holograms urge her to take the day off to go to the Music Distributors Show, because nothing calms a troubled soul like attending an industry trade show. The Fake Jem shows up at the venue and starts flipping over tables, à la Simon Le Bon in the “Hungry Like the Wolf” video.
Above Jerrica’s fervent denials, the Holograms assume she slipped away from the group, transformed into Jem, and went on a senseless rampage at the record show. Back at the foster home, Jerrica and the Holograms gloomily eat snacks while watching the news, which is devoting a hefty amount of airtime to Jem’s bad behavior: “The magazine Cool Trash has already sold a million copies of its Jem Goes Berserk issue,” exclaims the news anchor breathlessly.
Kimber is never my favorite Hologram, but I find her lunch choices here pretty irreproachable.
I’d also really like to subscribe to Cool Trash magazine, please and thank you, because I am the kind of person who lives for cool trash.
The news broadcast cuts to live footage of Fake Jem, who is behaving like a jerkwad at the glamorous premiere of a new film, the splendidly titled My Fist in Your Face. Faced with irrefutable video evidence that Jerrica is telling the truth—that there really is, in fact, an imposter Jem running around—the Holograms finally decide to rally behind their longtime friend and bandmate. Aja sensibly suggests reporting Fake Jem’s identity theft to the police, but Jerrica nixes this idea as being insufficiently reckless. Instead, she wants to lure the imposter out into the open. How? “By staging our biggest concert ever!”
Across town at Misfits Music, the Misfits’ nefarious manager, Eric Raymond, gloats that all the bad publicity will ruin Jem. The perpetually-scheming Pizzazz, lead singer of the Misfits, has recruited their top groupie Clash to pose as Jem, misbehave in public, and turn the Holograms’ fanbase against them. Clash whips off her mask in Eric’s office and reveals the ruse.
Just as an aside, I really like the way Clash keeps whisking off her Jem mask and wig and brandishing it aloft, like Judith with a freshly-beheaded Holofernes.
To celebrate their scheme, the Misfits sing “Congratulations,” an upbeat paean to the importance of self-worth, which features a chorus that goes, “Congratulations to me/Congratulations to meeeeeeee!” It is a universal truth that the Misfits have far better songs than Jem and the Holograms.
Jem’s big show draws nigh. While Fake Jem causes a distraction, Pizzazz tries to crush Jem by dropping part of the set, which is shaped like a gigantic castle, on top of her. Getting crushed by a fairytale castle would be a totally Jem-appropriate way to die, second only to getting impaled on the horn of a unicorn.
The Fake Jem lures Jem, the Holograms, and Rio aboard a nearby ferry, whereupon Eric Raymond calls upon his go-to henchman, Techrat, to sabotage the engine via remote control. I love that the vast and varied cast of characters in Jem includes a villainous tech-savvy henchman named Techrat. I love even more that he looks like this:
Drifting out to sea on a ferry with a sabotaged engine and no working radio, Jem is undaunted. She grabs an axe and swings it aloft. “We’ll chop up the deck and make a raft!” she announces to the group. It’s sort of a terrible idea, chopping up the deck of the damaged-yet-watertight boat you’re currently on to cobble together another boat out of loose boards and old tires, but axe-wielding get-down-to-business Jem is my favorite brand of Jem, so I say go with it.
So everyone chops up the deck of the ferry and straps together a raft, whereupon they paddle to shore. They flag down a passing tomato farmer and hitch a ride in his pickup to the concert venue, where Fake Jem is busy snarling insults at the roadies and ordering a bucket of caviar for her dressing room. I am fully on board with Fake Jem for the latter, but not so much for the former.
Fake Jem takes the stage to spew vitriol at her fans. She’s interrupted by the timely arrival of Jem and the Holograms, who expose her treachery, reveal her as Clash, and pass out tomatoes for the audience to chuck at her.
While Clash flees in disgrace, Jem takes the stage and sings “The Real Me,” a song with lyrics about the perils of having a misbehaving doppelgänger sully your good name, because Jem always comes prepared with a song for every occasion, no matter how outlandish. This is why Jem is a superstar.