"Nice tits. What's your name?"
--obnoxious seventh grader to 12-year-old Amanda
It began with Amanda wanting a bra. She didn't quite need it yet, but she'd attracted the attention of an older boy, a seventh grader, and persuaded her mom to take her shopping, where she was overwhelmed by an excessively enthusiastic sales clerk.
Insight Productions had intended "Thirty-two Double A" as a short film for tween-age girls; instead, it became a television series that lasted five years (1993-97) and took a pair of mismatched best friends, girly Amanda Zimm (Laura Bertram) and tomboy Elizabeth "Busy" Ramone (Lani Billard), from sixth through ninth grade. The show appeared on Canada's Global network and was quickly picked up elsewhere. Some broadcasters, most notably the Disney channel, censored its stronger moments. Ready or Not isn't exactly gritty, but it doesn't dodge adolescent realities. Over the course of its five seasons, Busy and Amanda experience first periods, date boys, walk in on Amanda's parents having sex, witness familial and marital strife, swipe a sex manual, play Spin the Bottle, discuss religion, discover masturbation, encounter prejudice, go to summer camp, play music, laugh frequently, ponder the death of a classmate they didn't much like, and are pestered by an annoying kid known as "Monkey Ears." Busy gets to be a bridesmaid, but finds herself at odds with some of the accompanying rituals and expectations. Amanda gets a part in a production of The Wizard of Oz-- as the tornado.
"That's way too complicated. I mean, is that only two people? What if you don't get this manual?"
Every week, then, brought a "very special episode," but the show's creator and head writer, Alyse Rosenberg, preferred a low-key approach to most topics, and the scripts found humour where possible. Ready or Not features stylizations, plot contrivances, and more than its share of cheese, but it approximates adolescence better than most commercial television. At its best, it was an after-school special with heart and plausible characters. Given Ready or Not's intended audience, obvious discussion points aren't the worst fault the show could have.
Cheesy dream sequences and funny fantasies occur frequently, especially in the early seasons. When an enthused Amanda leads a reluctant Busy to the pharmacy, Busy imagines herself screaming down the aisles carrying a box of tampons evidently designed for the Fifty-Foot Woman while Amanda merrily pushes a cart overflowing with hygiene products, and every boy in their sixth-grade class stands by laughing. Amanda's romantic fantasies, meanwhile, would have a Disney princess snickering at their naiveté.
"I can't believe Dom's having sex. Right here in this house. Wearing sunglasses!"
The lead actors play their characters believably. Zimm and Billard met at auditions, and bonded so well that those casting asked if they were already friends in real life.1
As they grow older, their very different personalities and interests become an increasing source of conflict, at times threatening their status as bestest friends. Amanda chases boys, prefers stereotypically feminine things, and gravitates towards the trendy, preppie kids. Busy plays sports and drums and while she dates, she seems less interested in either boys or the conventional trappings of popularity. Even in sixth grade she comes across as dykey.2 It might have been interesting if the show had pursued that direction and examined how their friendship would have responded to the difference in sexual orientation and the attendant social pressures. High school just by itself would have provided more opportunities for the separate social cliques that seemed to call to them. One feared that in four years they might pass in the halls, smile, and then reflect on how that girl had once been her best friend.
However (and perhaps wisely), the show chose to end the summer after ninth grade.3 Amanda's family is moving to the west coast, and the girls will be separated. We follow their last teen adventure together, flash back to their hitherto unseen first meeting in second grade, and then watch as they make a surprising, promising discovery. The series ends as did many episodes, with the actors improvising dialogue as the credits roll. We're left with the impression that the girls' friendship will be saved, ironically, by the fact of their separation. They'll follow their divergent paths in separate provinces and cherish their years together, preserved in memory, unblemished by later developments. Then, one day....
The past quickly turns to nostalgia, especially in pop culture. Reruns show just how much society and kid/teen culture has changed. In the mid-1990s, cell phones weren't the norm among young'uns and the 'net was only beginning to make its cultural impact felt. Ten years after its final episode, Ready or Not plays like a glimpse of a lost past, though its central issues remain relevant. A new generation of tweens and teens has discovered the show.4-- and it retains an appeal for a surprising assortment of older viewers who watch along with them.
1. Bertram has found more success as an actor, appearing in shows and films regularly since Ready or Not, most prominently as "Trance Gemini" on Andromeda. Billard took a hiatus, became a Reiki practitioner, and started acting again in the twenty-first century.
2.That perception, admittedly buoyed by popular stereotype, was widespread before Billard publicly acknowledged her lesbianism.
3. The show lasted five years but chronicles four years of the girls' lives. However, the seasons are short (thirteen episodes each).
4. At the time of this writing, BBC Kids is rerunning the show, and someone has uploaded the entire series at Youtube. The availability has given me a new appreciation for a fairly well-written show which I only caught a handful of times in its heyday.