Nickelodeon Heroines (1/3) Introduction

I don’t need an excuse to gush about the amazing show that is Clarissa Explains it All, but I was just talking about it with a friend, looked it up on Google and realized….this show turned 28 just 3 days ago! Damn. I need to say something. As one of only like 3 other people I know who remembers it, it’s my duty to give a little speech of remembrance here. It was always a favorite of mine as far back as I can remember; according to my mom, I always loved the show and would attentively watch it anytime it came on, even though (in her words) I “probably didn’t understand what was actually happening [due to my young age.]”

Rediscovering a Buried Gem

I’ll start off by saying this: it’s insanity to me that this show, one of Nickelodeon’s first big hits, cannot be found in its entirety through any official means. About five years ago, I got the urge to revisit Clarissa. The show had always been one of my favorites for as long as I can remember. For over a decade it was the live action 90s Nick show I missed the most–even more than Kenan and Kel, Pete and Pete or All That. So, for weeks, I tried to find anything online–DVD releases, streaming…but alas, I couldn’t watch the complete series anywhere. If it weren’t for this one vendor, whom I stumbled upon on the 12th, maybe even 15th page (!) of Google results, I don’t know what I would have done. Gone crazy probably. I took a chance and bought their bootleg DVD set, half-expecting a scam or box of anthrax to be delivered. But instead, literally on my 21st birthday exactly to the date, I got the greatest surprise ever–working DVDs in the mail!

(ASIDE: As it happens, that vendor disappeared shortly thereafter. I don’t know how many other people bought from them, but it’s a good bet it wasn’t very many. Since they’ve been gone, out of curiosity I tried combing the non-dark web again to see if any other sources have popped up in the ensuing years. Unfortunately, there’s nothing that I’m aware of. I may be one of an elite core who actually owns the entire series. Which, honestly, is really sad and inexcusable in an era where anything can be uploaded online for paid streaming at little cost to the network. In the information age, media should be available to the public. I don’t expect obscure shows to have mass market releases, but why not a made-to-order program or paid download?)

That summer, I had an awesome time revisiting a beloved childhood favorite every day after work. I’d get home, throw in a disc, step outside to smoke a bowl in my beautifully forested backyard, and then enjoy the trip down memory lane. I found that weed stripped away a lot of the cynicism and expectations I usually have when consuming media, making my perspective more open and malleable. Watching something like The Empire Strikes Back stoned was like seeing it fresh, getting genuinely upset at the Carbon Freeze scene even though I knew Han would be okay in the next film. It meant being blown away by the Darth Vader twist again, even though I’ve known what’s coming since childhood. As a result, cannabis helped me re-experience Clarissa with the innocence and immersion of a kid again. The so-so writing and usual tween show cheesiness wasn’t a hindrance, all that mattered was I got to rediscover a sincere labor of love from Mitchell Kriegman on its own terms.

There was a certain magic in that daily routine of watching the show after work, and the whole summer for me has a feeling of warmth surrounding it. This wasn’t just because of Clarissa either, although that certainly helped. It was also the last summer I ever spent at my childhood home, and the last I spent with my remaining high school friends. (The next year I opted to stay at college to take summer classes, and since then I’ve always stayed in the area.) Every night, whether I was out drinking at bars or house parties with my friends or staying late to close down the store, in the back of my mind I was still looking forward to catching another episode once I got home. Those stupid, magnificent DVDs were like the ongoing background noise, so much so that all my memories of those three months are inextricably linked to it. This was the last hurrah of my youth before things started getting more serious in school and transitioning.

Thus, Clarissa is the only TV program I can think of which occupies a special place of nostalgia in both my childhood and adulthood. Perhaps it’s fair to concede that there are far better shows out there, even just looking within the Nickelodeon canon. But nothing else that I can think of is as precious to me on a personal level. I will analyze the show itself in the next blog post of this series.

Rescuing Lost Media

The year is 2006. By this age, I’d stopped watching Nickelodeon regularly about two years prior, but still flipped through every now and then to watch Spongebob reruns or out of morbid curiosity for their new programs. This was around the time when Nick didn’t even know what they wanted to be anymore. They’d put something on the air, hype it up for months as a big deal, then drop it in a year with no warning for seemingly no reason. We would later learn it was because they expected every show to pull Spongebob numbers immediately, and the President, Cyma Zarghami wasn’t the best fit for the network to put it charitably. In the opinion of this 90’s kid, proudly watching Nick throughout my childhood, the station started going downhill from around 2000 on. But the Cyma Zarghami era (which coincidentally began the same year, 2006) was a runaway disaster which killed any remaining potential or goodwill the station had. Of course, that’s an editorial for another day…

In any case, one of the shows that came on at this time was Just for Kicks. It lasted one season, despite being pretty heavily promoted and seemingly well-liked. I remember the promos as charming and the girls seemed cooler than those found on its rivals like Zoey 101 or Unfabulous. My interest was piqued mostly because I’d never seen a show about women’s athletics before, and I also played soccer. Plus, on a more shallow note…my teenage self thought the actress Katija Pevec was attractive.

I watched the show a few times, considered it a cute guilty pleasure, and downloaded the first (and only) season on iTunes soon after. I binged the whole series exactly once, with my laptop in my bed on a Friday night. (I was a real swinging kid back then with a thrilling social life, believe me.) It wasn’t the greatest show by any stretch, but I nevertheless awaited the Season 2 which never came for a few months. I remember on the IMDb forums people were discussing when the new season might premiere–Nickelodeon sure as shit didn’t tell us anything. Then, as no new episodes came out, I eventually forgot about it along with the rest of the world. The series died an unsung death and then drifted off into obscurity, like so many other Nickelodeon programs in the first decade of the 2000s…

Exactly ten years later, I saw on the Lost Media Wiki that Just for Kicks was considered a lost program, and as a result I shared my copies to YouTube. Getting around the iTunes protection was a real hassle but I wanted the series to be saved–it deserved that much. (To this day, neither video has been flagged, indicating Nickelodeon itself doesn’t know or care about the show’s existence anymore.) I thought it was pretty funny how my teen crush and subsequent impulse buy literally saved something from being lost forever. Nobody on the wiki seemed to care all that much considering this wasn’t a particularly requested media or drawn out search like what happened with “Cracks” or “the Clockman” but I found the whole situation felt like something out of a book. Similar to those aforementioned Clarissa Explains It All DVDs, I was probably one of a very small number who ever bought the whole series of Just for Kicks on iTunes, as they were taken off the platform relatively quickly.

For old times sake, I rewatched the show recently as an adult, and recorded my thoughts. I will share that essay as the third part of this series, so stay tuned for that.

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