Skip to main content

TV show review: 'Clarissa Explains It All'

'Clarissa Explains It All' had a good role model for teenage girls

These three episodes from 'Clarissa Explains It All' are a blast from the past. 'Clarissa' was a show featuring an articulate, funny teenager.

This article was originally published to Helium Network on May 3, 2014.

Image: Actress Melissa Joan Hart, 2010, at Alice Tully Center - NYC. Image by: Joella Marano from Manhattan, NY. Wikimedia Commons. © Creative Commons 2.0

"Clarissa Explains It All" was a young adult sitcom on Nickelodeon with episodes created 1991-1994. It starred a young Melissa Joan Hart (b. 1976) who played an articulate, independent, sassy teenager. She had one close friend, a male classmate named Sam, who typically ascended to her bedroom unannounced via a ladder. The two of them often talked about their minor teenage mistakes, which naturally loomed large to them. Clarissa came off as cool without necessarily caring about whether she was popular.

Viewers may remember that Clarissa noticeably dressed in her own brand of mix-and-match '90s fashion with big dangle earrings. (See this 30-second promo spot.) Her parents were called Janet and Marshall Darling, and her younger brother, a pompous nerd in pressed shirts whose attitude and image countered Clarissa's, was Ferguson.

"Darling Wars"

Speaking to the camera, Clarissa says that the etymology of "sibling" traces back to "the Old English 'sib', meaning 'dork'." Her brother Ferguson enters, and she tells him, "Ferguson, you'll have to leave. I'm busy demonstrating the rules of sibling dynamics." This is just the beginning of the "I'm older"/"I'm smarter" bickering that explodes when their parents leave them home alone together.

Clarissa spooks Ferguson by telling him spooky stories in the basement during a thunderstorm. They pillow-fight and booby-trap the house with water balloons filled with paint. Ferguson photocopies Clarissa's diary. They learn that this behavior is not very worthwhile, but probably inevitable.

"A Little Romance"

Clarissa's longtime friend, Sam, has trouble dating. He describes his fiasco of the day: "All I said was: 'Let's go climb the water tower and watch for UFOs...Next thing I know, she's gotta wash her hair." Sam suggests to Clarissa that they go on a date, on the basis that they already know they are compatible as friends. Clarissa doesn't feel right about it, but she says yes. The next day, they go to the movies and then to a diner, but the atmosphere is awkward. Fortunately, they agree on this postmortem, and they decide to continue being friends. As a closing monologue, Clarissa says to the camera: "It's that age-old question that stumped Sartre, 'Dear Abby' and Julia Roberts: Can friends date? And once they do, can they still be friends?"

As a subplot, Clarissa's father and younger brother work themselves up into the ridiculously mistaken belief that a neighbor has murdered his wife.

"The Understudy"

For someone who says that "embarrassment is my least favorite emotion," the annual school play is not something to be looked forward to.

"The chance to humiliate myself by singing off-key in dorky tights in front of everyone's parents....Last year's highlight was when I fell through the backdrop of the Swiss Mountains during 'Edelweiss' in 'The Sound of Music'. Then there was 'Bye Bye Birdie'. My costume split up the middle when I hit High C. Bye-bye, any shred of human dignity!"

Sam passes on the good news to Clarissa: She's been assigned to be the understudy for the lead role in "The Pirates of Penzance." As the backup, Clarissa hastily assumes that "the potential for public humiliation has been completely eliminated," and she doesn't bother to learn her lines. Thus she makes the bed in which she will have to lie.

Still a good show?

Even though the clothing, sets, videography and limited special effects clearly date the show to the early 1990s, this adds a pleasing campiness to it today. Clarissa's quick wit may still be inspiring to young adults. However, the limited scope of her escapades, often set within her own home, do not hold much interest for adults.


Popular posts from this blog

Castration at the Battle of Adwa (1896)

On March 1, 1896, the Battle of Adwa "cast doubt upon an unshakable certainty of the age – that sooner or later Africans would fall under the rule of Europeans." In this battle, Ethiopians beat back the invading Italians and forced them to retreat permanently. It was not until 1922 that Benito Mussolini would again initiate designs against Ethiopia; despite Ethiopia's defeat in 1936, the nation ultimately retained its independence. "Adwa opened a breach that would lead, in the aftermath of world war fifty years later, to the rollback of European rule in Africa. It was," Raymond Jonas wrote, "an event that determined the color of Africa." (p. 1) It was also significant because it upheld the power of Ethiopia's Christian monarchy that controlled an ethnically diverse nation (p. 333), a nation in which, in the late 19th century, the Christian Emperor Yohannes had tried to force Muslims to convert to Christianity. (p. 36) The Victorian English spelli

Review of Cliff Sims' 'Team of Vipers' (2019)

After he resigned his position, Cliff Sims spent two months in Fall 2018 writing Team of Vipers: My 500 Extraordinary Days in the Trump White House . Many stories are told, some already well known to the public, some not. One buys this book, most likely, to gape at the colossal flameout spectacle that is Donald Trump, as with most things with Trump's name. Sims exposes the thoughtlessness, the chaos, the lack of empathy among his fellow insiders in the campaign and later in the White House, but he does not at all acknowledge the real consequences for ordinary Americans — there might as well be no world outside the Trump insider bubble, for all this narrative concerns itself with — and therefore falls far short of fully grappling with the ethical implications of his complicity. Previously, Sims was a journalist. "I had written tough stories, including some that helped take down a once-popular Republican governor in my home state," he says. "I had done my best to be

The ‘prostitute with a gun’ was a middle-class high school girl

On May 19, 1992, Amy Fisher, a 17-year-old high school student in Long Island, N.Y., rang the bell at the home of 37-year-old Mary Jo Buttafuoco. Buttafuoco stepped onto her front porch and had a brief conversation with the girl, whom she had never met before. Fisher then shot her in the face and fled the scene. Neighbors heard the shot and rushed to Buttafuoco's aid. She regained consciousness the next day in a hospital and was able to recall the conversation with her attacker. This information helped police to promptly identify and arrest Fisher. Fisher's explanation of her action shocked the nation. She claimed that she had been lovers with her victim's husband, Joey Buttafuoco, 36, since the previous summer when she was still only 16. While those who knew Buttafuoco believed him to be a pillar of the community, Fisher said he perpetrated auto theft scams. She claimed he introduced her to a life of prostitution, such that she wore a beeper to her high school classes an