Last year during season one of the pandemic, we were all scrambling to have something joyful, honest, and kind to get us through. Alongside the boom of Tiktok dances and banana bread recipes galore, it’s no surprise that shows like Ted Lasso completely took off and became the way that many people bonded. But a show that managed to have a similar impact, while also almost serving as a gem hidden in plain sight, is Netflix’s The Babysitter’s Club.
Based on the series of books by Ann M. Martin which debuted in 1986, this new take on the series has served as a reminder that coming of age stories about growing pains, and figuring out life remains timeless. Last year when I talked with Anais Lee about her role as Jessi Ramsey, she was excited about getting to be a part of a project that highlighted friendship and coming together. We only got to see Jessi towards the end of the season in the last two episodes where she and Mallory Pike (Vivian Watson) are inducted into the Babysitters Club after helping the club at camp but that was enough for viewers to immediately want more from two favorites from the books.
Especially after having to keep their roles a complete secret until the premiere of the show, they made for an exciting surprise for those who were hoping to see the two girls join in.
Thankfully, the show was renewed for a season two after setting up these characters and the next phase of the BSC. It was especially exciting for Anais and Vivian because The Baby-sitter’s Club getting a season 2 meant that the two of them got to explore their characters more while the show would also have more time to let Jessi and Mallory shine. “Coming onto the show last year, I had a pretty good understanding of Jessi because of my previous research by reading all of the Baby-sitters Club Jessi books,” she says. “I did a lot of research on her when I was cast in the role in season 1, so when I was filming the second season, I was already prepared to dive deeper into the role of Jessi Ramsey.”
Knowing that Jessi would have more dance scenes this season, however, also meant that some of her prepping included training ahead of time in pointe and ballet classes. For a character like Jessi who is quite the perfectionist and starts this season off adjusting to a new school where she’s no longer the best dancer in her class, it was crucial for Anais to be back in that mindset of a dancer and what being an incredibly dedicated dancer–who is often hard on herself–looks like when she also has a busy schedule trying to juggle multiple things.
[This season], Jessi realizes that she’s just a kid and she doesn’t always have to be the best at everything she does.
“Jessi realizes that she’s just a kid and she doesn’t always have to be the best at everything she does. Jessi has created this unrealistic standard in her head, where she has to be at the top of her class or she feels like she’s failed,” Anais discusses the episode “Jessi and the Super Brat.” We get to meet the rest of Jessi’s family in this episode as well and as supportive as they are of Jessi, she tends to apply pressure and huge expectations on herself to make both herself and them proud.
In the episode, she doesn’t get the lead in her school’s performance of The Nutcracker and she starts to wonder if she’s good enough to continue being a dancer. At the same time, she’s also babysitting Derek, Stoneybrook’s famous kid influencer who encourages her to pursue being an influencer and focusing on her brand as an effort to help her feel less overwhelmed. However, when Jessi tells her mom that she’s considering quitting dancing because she doesn’t feel like she’s succeeding the way she’s supposed to, her mom tells her no. “Even though Jessi doesn’t like it at first, she realizes what her mom said was right. She’s worked so hard on dance her entire life and she can’t just throw that away,” Anais says about Jessi’s wake-up call. “Her time with Derek also helped her realize that she’s just a kid and even though she isn’t the best in her class anymore, that doesn’t matter because if she loves to dance, she should do it.”
Learning to not be too hard on herself is something that Anais says she’s also learning to take for herself as well. “Jessi struggled with this, but she learned that she’s just a kid so she doesn’t always need to put so much pressure on herself. I realized I need to apply that advice to my real life as well.” At fourteen, Anais is not only an actress but a dancer and a model who has been working from a young age, so for her, her episode is especially poignant. “Jessi and the Superbrat” makes a point about how it’s necessary to support young people’s creative interests while still letting them be kids instead of concerning them to focus on chasing fame or trying to profit off of them.
[Jessi and Mallory] really look up to [The BSC] and they don’t want to let them down.
“Being an actress at a young age has taught me at early on how to be professional and how to get along well with others,” Anais says when I ask her about how this has maybe reflected in her own life. “I love acting, by having parents who help in supporting my career, I’m so glad I can pursue my dreams.”
Having support from their families is one of the many parallels between Anais and Jessi along with the two juggling having multiple interests. For Anais, she focuses on acting and dancing while also looking for ways to get more involved with social issues. For Jessi, her schedule is dependent on her family, dance practice, and now, Babysitters Club. While it’s often difficult to make time to take on babysitting assignments, Anais notes that Jessi will always make time regardless. “She does this because they are her best friends and she loves and cares about them. Kristy, Claudia, Mary-Anne, Dawn, and Stacey are like celebrities to Jessi and Mallory. They really look up to them and they don’t want to let them down,” she explains.
“From being on this show, I have gained an amazing group of girls that are always there for me and have my back no matter what. They are all incredible actors, friends, and people in general. It was amazing working with them for so many months,” she says. When she first booked the project, Anais was excited to finally work on a project where the cast was made up of mostly people her age. “We all learned how to riff of each other by improvising some lines, while we were filming scenes. We also worked well together and treated everyone on set with respect.”
I hope that people are able to see themselves represented in this show. I think the audience can relate to each of these characters and their struggles.
Working with the girls has been so fulfilling for Anais and the rest of the cast which shows on screen considering one of the driving parts of the show are seeing the girls bond, figure out life, and be there for each other. “My favorite scenes to film were the BSC meetings,” Anais exclaims. “They were so much fun to film because those scenes had all seven of us plus Claudia’s amazing room with the best snacks. Another scene that was so much fun to film was the scene with Mallory and Jessi when they were in Jessi’s dance studio/basement.” The scenes between Mallory and Jessi especially are special to Anais because as her best friend on and off-screen, Anais recalls the two of them laughing between takes as she taught Vivian ballet. She hopes to have more scenes with Sophie, remembering the scenes she had with her in the first season and how much of a blast it was to work with another one of her best friends.
“If we get so lucky to have another season, I would love for there to be an episode around the Black Lives Matter movement,” Anais says. In her interview with Naluda Magazine, Anais mentions that this past year motivated her to use her voice for change and figure out ways that she can fight for justice. It helps, that she’s now a part of the Babysitters Club legacy, which has been known for exploring themes around injustice and exclusion. The second season found themselves pushing even further into Ann M. Martin’s intention with the series while taking liberties with the source material including making Janine (Aya Furukawa) canonically gay, so it wouldn’t be unheard of for the show to shed light on what Black Lives Matters means to characters like Jessi and Mary Anne as Black girls and how their friends can show solidarity.
“It is a movement that I care a lot about and I would love to be able to do an episode bringing light to the situation and educating even more young people.,” Anais says.
“Another topic I would hope to see is bringing light to some of the standards in the ballet/dance world that can really impact one’s perception of themselves. Ballet can make some dancers focus too much on their weight which can result in unhealthy eating behaviors,” she adds. “As much as I love dance, it’s absolutely true.” She notes that not only is it an incredibly important topic to cover that could help a lot of young people but that there’s already BSC source material they can draw from with Jessi and the Awful Secret.
The show has already cemented itself as a comfort show for audiences of all ages. Adults who grew up reading the books have admitted to finding solace in revisiting these characters that helped shape who they are today while young people are getting to witness a show about characters their age/close to their age that doesn’t talk down on them or ignore how they’re processing the world. “I hope that people are able to see themselves represented in this show. I think the audience can relate to each of these characters and their struggles,” Anais says. “I think that’s why people find comfort in this show because it addresses topics people can relate to.”
Bonus Teenplicity Questions
Teenplicity: Since it’s a spooky season, do you have any Halloween/Fall traditions or plans to
celebrate this year?
Anais Lee: This year, for Halloween, I plan to spend the weekend with my friends watching Halloween
movies and going trick-or-treating. Some people say that as you get older you should stop trick
or-treating, but in my opinion, you can never be too old to trick-or treat!
T: If the Babysitters Club could do a group costume, what would it be and why?
A: I remember the seven of us were actually talking about what our group costume would be after
wrapping the first season. We all said we would be the characters from Strawberry Shortcake! I
would be Orange Blossom.
Season 2 of Netflix’s The Babysitter’s Club is now streaming.
(photo cred: Antwon Maxwell)