Jem was a mid-1980s cartoon series in the United States about the all-girl rock band Jem and the Holograms and their rivalry with another all-girl rock band (the bad guys) The Misfits. The first-run episodes ran from 1985 to 1988. Like most cartoon series of the time (and, really, like most cartoon series made anytime) it was a vehicle for selling the toys based on the series. But Jem was something special, it was something more than just a series to sell dolls. It was one of the few of the time to have a somewhat involved back story and story arc, things not commonplace in children's cartoons until the mid-1990s.
Indeed, it is surprisingly highly regarded as one of the best such cartoons ever, going far beyond the usual animated tripe one might think it is at first glance. The drama in it is very mature for what was marketed as a kid's show: interweaving storylines, death of a parent (in the back story), a complicated romance, development of a charity organization, and smarmy corporate scheming. It was clear that the writers, directors, and producers actually cared about the product they were developing, not merely thinking of how to sell more of the Hasbro dolls.
Jem is actually the alter ego of Jerrica Benton, the owner and manager of Starlight Music. Her father Emmett died and left Jerrica a sophisticated holographic and intelligent computer named Synergy that helps her develop the Jem persona. Through makeup and holograms Jerrica transforms into Jem, following a popular theme in early-to-mid eighties cartoons: for instance, Prince Adam transforms into He-Man in He-Man and the Masters of the Universe. Jerrica's efforts to keep these two identities separate is complicated by the fact that Jerrica's boyfriend Rio is also attracted to Jem, not realizing that the two are one in the same. Also like He-Man, very few people beyond her bandmates know Jem's secret identity.
Speaking of them: the other characters in the Jem and the Holograms band consist of: keyboardist and lead songwriter Kimber Benton - Jerrica's younger sister, guitarist Aja Leith, and synth drummer Shana Elmsford (yes it was the 80's, after all). Aja and Shana were adopted sisters of Jerrica and Kimber so the whole band is basically an orphaned family of girls. So it makes perfect sense that one of the group's main concerns is to use profits from their music to fund the Starlight Foundation, a charity organization that takes in foster girls they affectionately call the Starlight Girls. The original location of the Starlight Girls was Jerrica's childhood home until it was burned to the ground by a henchman of Eric Raymond.
Raymond managed the Holograms' rival band, The Misfits. Most episode plots do indeed involve a nefarious plot by the Misfits to sabotage or upstage Jem's latest altruistic endeavor. The ruthless Eric Raymond is the true antagonist of the series, though; the Misfits are merely his pawns as he manipulated the rivalry to further his own agenda which was to gain complete control over Starlight Music. He had been a business partner of Emmett's and ran the company a short time after his death until he had a falling out with Jerrica over the direction of the company. The war between the Holograms and Misfits was actually a war between Raymond's stake in the company and Jerrica's.
The Misfits were lead by spoiled rich girl Pizazz (Phyllis Gabor) and also consisted of streetwise Roxy, kind-hearted Stormer (Mary Phillips) and a character that comes later in the series: British saxophone player and scam artist Jetta (Sheila Burns). The Misfits were always mired in some sort of contest including a race to sell enough records to earn a Gold Record or win a battle of the bands. Incidentally, Jem winning a battle of the bands concert is what helped them replace the original burned-down Starlight House. The winning prizes consisted of a mansion (that became known as the Starlight Mansion) and a lucrative recording contract offered by movie producer Howard Sands who would become one of the Holograms' biggest supporters, the yin to Eric Raymond's yang.
One of the biggest viewer draws to the cartoon was the music as it tried to tie into the whole MTV concept which, in 1985, was still fairly young. The show not only featured the bands performing but each episode had a two-minute music video. In another attempt to increase buzz about the show it tried its hand at showcasing catchphrases like "Showtime, Synergy!" and "Outrageous!" (the latter usually said by Kimber). The series was mostly marketed to young girls, but that was not always true.
The series was originally touted as a mix of action/adventure and fashion in an attempt to appeal to young boys as well. It was not always 30 minutes long, either. It began as a 15 minute cartoon before or after Big Foot and the entire collaboration was either billed as Super Saturday or Super Sunday depending on which market it was airing in. The slogan was originally "Jem is excitement...Jem is adventure!" different from "come on a be a Jem girl" which was ultimately used. All of these strategies to market to boys were eventually given up on.
"M" was the original name of the main character but Sunbow/Hasbro were unable to trademark a letter. Thus the name "Jem" (after trying out other names) was born. Other characters had different names during the show's Big Foot days. The first real episode of the series (with all the correct names) - "The Beginning" - aired on October 1, 1985. It began with Emmett's death (I don't remember if that was actually featured but it's unlikely that it was given that it was a kid's show) and the beginning of Jerrica's and Eric Raymond's power struggle. To save the company from being run into the ground by Raymond Jem and the Holograms is born after Synergy's discovery and the Holograms prevent The Misfits from being the face of Starlight Music. The first season only included five episodes. The final episode of the series aired on May 2, 1988, and it was entitled "A Father Should Be..." and it is about Starlight girl Ba Nee searching for her missing father. The entire run of the series was 65 episodes, with most of them (27-65) airing in the third and last season, 1987-1988. See here for an entire episode list.
Will Jem Ever Come Back?
Unlikely. Although many die hard fans are calling for a motion picture version, it has been over two decades since the show premiered and nearly two since it ended. Hasbro has been active lately in maintaining their trademarks and intellectual property rights but this could just be standard practice. Two volumes were released on DVD by Rhino but before they could release the second half of Season Three they lost the rights to the show. The rights are believed to have reverted back to Sony (who had absorbed Sunbow Productions and their entire library). Copies of the original DVD release can be found on the internet for a pretty penny and you can presently only get bootleg copies of the second half of the last season. Beginning in the Fall of 2004 Cartoon Network Australia began airing Jem on their Boomerang network. Signs that there is buzz once again about the show include mentions of the cartoon on Fox's The O.C. and Family Guy. And the indie band Freezepop, in their 2004 album, covered Jem's theme song in a bonus track.
But don't get your hopes up.