Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Clarissa Explains It All


Nowadays, marketing to the tween demographic is a no-brainer. Networks like the Disney Channel make a large chunk of their profits off a tween audience, and it's become generally good entertainment market practice to appeal to the eight-to-twelve set. Back in the early 90s, however, there had yet to be a major leap in marketing to preadolescents. There was a wealth of children's programming and teen-programming, but very little in the way of in beTween.

Nickelodeon was pretty pioneering in Tween entertainment, particularly with its popular sitcom Clarissa Explains It All. Clarissa Explains It All featured a star who was conveniently on the younger age of her teenage years, allowing the network to promote the program to teens and tweens alike.

Though the show confronted teen issues, it didn't do it in the Very Special Episode style so popular with contemporary family sitcoms. The stories were told through the lens of Clarissa's quirky and ironic personality, with a whole bunch of ridiculously awesome 90s fashion risks* thrown into the mix.

The show also featured an outstandingly catchy theme by Rachel Sweet, whose incessant na-na-na-nana-ing punctuated with well-timed "alright, alrights" and "hey cools" made it difficult not to want to at least hum along.



At the time I remember the incredible fervor with which I coveted her outfit in the opening sequence, though in retrospect it's a tad bit trampy. I had innumerable arguments with my mother about midriff shirts, as no doubt many young 90s girls across the country were having with their respective parents.

Here our parents were, thinking Nickelodeon was wholesome programming, all while its subliminally encouraging us to go seeking Clarissa-grade streetwalker boots, tights, and miniskirt combos. In all fairness, I still think she totally rocks it, so I suppose its moderate sluttiness is excusable.

Clarissa was famous for breaking the fourth wall with a frequency that would make Zack Morris blush. This wasn't an occasional wink or nod to the audience, she went all the way with Ferris Bueller-grade audience-directed monologues. It was almost as if she were just some friend of ours who happened to live in our television set. She was funny, she was honest, and most of all, she was an individual in every sense of the word.

From the very beginning, Melissa Joan Heart gave Clarissa that X factor of immediate likability. Watch her introduce herself in this segment of the first episode and just try not to think she's just a little bit cool. It's nearly impossible.



The first episode was a bit risque in terms of thematic content as it centered around Clarissa's plot to eliminate her irritating little brother. It doesn't exactly sound like the stuff great kids' programming is made of, but it managed to pull it off in a lighthearted and comic enough way to make it work and sufficiently endear her to us as a character.

We see many of the recurring gimmicks in the first episode, showing just how well-developed the series was upon its inception. The show made use of all sorts of visual aids that would handily appear in the right-hand corner of our screen, later the basis of CNN--the Clarissa News Network. She has a miniature alligator named elvis that lives in a sandbox in her room, and her best friend Sam stops by via a ladder hooked to her second-floor window. There were flashbacks and musical cues. It all flowed together nicely, creating an original work of kid-driven entertainment.


What I wouldn't give for a little headline image to come up alongside me as I address the audience directly.


The show was smart and fast-paced, and it talked to kids rather than at them. Sure, there were some hints of what is considered right or wrong, but it wasn't shoved down our throats After-School Special Style. This wasn't Full House or even Saved By the Bell. It wasn't about learning lessons, it was about commiserating with a preteen-to-teen-age character who was going through all the same things we were.

We'd all suffered her humiliations and dealt with similar growing-up traumas. Clarissa was a role model without being a Pollyanna. She wasn't necessarily who our parents would pick to guide us, and that's a lot of what we liked about her. She's who we would have chosen, after all.

It's also notable that Clarissa was among the first Nickelodeon female leads. It's nearly unthinkable in the days of Hannah Montana and its ilk that children's networks didn't see young girls as a legitimately targetable demographic, but in the early 90s it was still all shiny and new. Clarissa wasn't much of a girly girl, allowing her to appeal fairly well to both genders.


Clarissa totally had the best 90s style. Keith Haring t-shirt, open graphic neon button down, and coordinating scrunchie perched right at the top of her head. Pure 90s perfection.

Clarissa fakes sick to avoid a school play, laments being forced to wear an uncool outfit on picture day, yearns for her driver's license: in short, we didn't have to love her because she was extraordinary, but more because she was ordinary. For once, the networks had gotten it right and put one of our own kind out there saying the things that we say, doing the things we do, and being annoyed by the things that annoy us too. She was like a cooler version of our preteen selves. After all, she had her own theme song and news network; we couldn't exactly compete with that.




*Am I the only one who automatically associates the phrase "fashion risk" with the movie Girls Just Wanna Have Fun? It just makes me want to say, "You're taking a fashion risk, I like that. Just don't do it on TV." Anyone? Anyone? Just me? Okay then.

31 comments:

Nic said...

I absolutely LOVED this show. Everything about it. I couldn't get enough of it.

I wanted to be Clarissa. She was cool, pretty, had an alligator, and a guy friend who came into her room via a ladder! She was sometimes naughty, came up with the best schemes and ideas and had great fashion sense.

This has got to be one of my favourite TV shows of all time.

Adorably Distracted... said...

haha i wanted a boy to come in my room through a ladder forever because of this show!! lol and umm ferg-breath!! lol

Cee said...

This is by far one of my favorite shows of all time...however, I remember back when I watched it thinking Clarissa was so much older then me...now she looks so young! I had forgotten about the alligator!

Miss HoneyDew said...

WAY cool! I was OBSESSED with this show!

nikki said...

Right on! This show was the bomb. I watched it even when I knew I was far too old for it. (Thank god I had a little sister!) Total Sam crush here!

for the love of pictures said...

I was one of the unfortunate few who didn't have cable when this show was on. I did see one of two episodes at friends houses though, and remember that I did think it was cool.

Badass Geek said...

I'll admit, I often watched this show.... If only to get ideas on how to annoy and pester my sister. The brother was a genius.

Freck said...

Oh man, I loved this show. Absolutely 90s.

Melanie's Randomness said...

I was absolutely ADDICTED to this show!! Soo much, that I actually made my aunt wait hours with me when Melissa Joan Hart came to the Nanuet Mall in NY so I could meet her. Oh I <3 Sam. he was soo hot.

Oh so glad you guys did a mini tribute to her. Clarissa Rules!!

Kristina said...

I loved this show, I always watched it. Even my mom would get into it, although she tried to act like she didn't care, but she did!

lovelila said...

Every now and then, I'll still launch into this theme song. I loved this show!

Kate Gabrielle said...

OMG This was my favorite show ever when I was little!! I wanted to be Clarissa -- my parents actually bought me hubcaps for my 6th birthday because I wanted my room to look like hers :)

I was Nickeloden would release the rest of the show, so far we only have season 1 :(

La La La Leah said...

This was one of my favorite shows growing up!! Way cool thanks for the post! this and Salute your shorts!!

Merrie said...

Clarissa Explains It All and Hey Dude were THE BESt Nickelodeon shows.

I'm with you on the "Girls Just Want To Have Fun" reference. Did you hear they are doing a re-maik of the film? So, so wrong.

Carol said...

Oh I LOVED this show!!! I had the biggest crush on Sam!

Cafe Fashionista said...

I wanted to be Clarissa. I also wanted to have a little pool in my bedroom with a alligator (crocodile?) in it as a pet. I thought Clarissa was the most amazing person on the planet. Actually, I still do. :)

FabBlab said...

Hahaha great video of the show.

Annie said...

loved this show!!
never saw her pole dancing like little miss miley is these days!
crazy how times have changed ;)

mollymouse said...

One of my favorite 90's shows!! My sister bought the first season and we've been watching it over and over. So awesome!

Melissa Blake said...

Another one of my favorite shows! I forgot, though, was the guy friend who came through her window in love with her or the other way around?

I used to watch that every Saturday; what did they used to call that night of shows? Snick?? :)

LOVE your new header, btw! Very '90s, obviously! :)

Okie said...

lol...too much fun. Totally forgot about this show, but I remember it as a guilty pleasure back in the day (I was older than the target demographic by then, so it was definitely a 'guilty pleasure')

Juliana said...

Hi, I'm Juliana. The second I saw the title I starting singing the theme song in my head. I was really young when it was around, but I used to love that show!

Hanako66 said...

this show was so rad...I LOVED this!

Little Ms Blogger said...

Loved this show.

CAC muffin said...

Seriously one of my favorite shows right up there with hey dude
I wanted to be clarissa i thought she was SOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO COOOOL

Shoshanah said...

So many of these episodes seem to really stick out in my mind. The one where her and Sam rewrote their school song, the one where she wanted to go to the Pearl Jam concert the same day as her grandparent's party. Pretty much classic

Lauren Kelly said...

Seriously, I used to watch this show every time it came on!!! LOVED LOVED LOVED it when I was younger!!! :)

Lil' Woman said...

I loved Clarissa, except I could never understand how such conservative parents let a boy climb through their teenage daughters window....hmm!? :)

Cory said...

I LOVED this show. Back in the day it was my absolute favorite show. I remember going to Nickelodeon Studios at Universal Studios in Florida and seeing Clarissa's house (or at least the set)...I really wanted to go find Clarissa, but we weren't allowed to stray from the walking path.

I remember being distinctively sad when Clarissa was over...this was when I realized that TV shows didn't go on forever...sigh.

K @ Blog Goggles said...

Did I ever mention that this was probably my favorite tv show of all time? Seriously - I wish this was on iTunes, and I think I'd download it immediately. And start recreating every one of her outfits!

Legallyblondemel said...

Ah, how I wanted to be her. I spent hours staring at my bedroom windown, wishing that a cute neighborhood boy would just pop in; in retrospect, that doesn't sound quite right, but that's how it was at the time. Hannah Whatsherface has nothing on Clarissa.

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