Clarissa Explains It All (1991 – 1994)


Clarissa Explains It All


Clarissa Explains It All was the first Nickelodeon show to cater primarily to a female demographic, with actress Melissa Joan Hart playing the network’s first female lead, Clarissa Darling. The overwhelmingly positive response from young girls planted the seed for many female-led successors on Nickelodeon in the years following its five-season run, such as The Secret World of Alex Mack and iCarly.

Clarissa Darling played by Melissa Joan HartClarissa’s format varied from the norm of other shows on the network in another way, too. Breaking the fourth wall in every episode, Clarissa would address the audience directly and discuss her problems, foreshadowing the "video diary" style of many youth-oriented television programs today. Clarissa was not your pretty-in-pink, run of the mill girly-girl that shilled Barbies and My Little Ponies to America’s blossoming young ladies. Instead, she was a headstrong, confident high schooler who said what she thought, wore want she wanted, and made an impression on a generation: girls don’t have to conform to the stereotypes placed upon them, even at a young age. Clarissa’s character further proved her badassery by creating computer games that would typically augment the storyline of each episode, in an era where girls were not very encouraged to keep up with technology, let alone learn to program.

Ferguson Darling played by Jason ZimblerThe pilot episode of Clarissa Explains It All was unconventional for kids’ programming at the time, addressing Clarissa’s attempts to "actually kill" her little brother Ferguson (Jason Zimbler), who would remain the primary antagonist throughout the series. In the end, her murder attempt was quite benign, and the rivalry between the two siblings was mostly lighthearted. Ferguson’s character was designed specifically to irk young girls of Clarissa’s generation. He was a Young Republican, idolized former president Ronald Reagan, and was constantly getting involved in bizarre get-rich-quick schemes when he wasn’t plotting against his older sister. Despite their animosity for one another, Clarissa and Ferguson spent a few episodes working together to achieve a common goal. One special episode even had Ferguson’s character take over the lead role for a storyline, and was called Ferguson Explains It All.

Clarissa & Sam Anders (Sean O'Neal)The other recurring male character on the show was Clarissa’s best friend and neighbor, Sam Anders (Sean O’Neal). Sam was a floppy-haired sidekick that served as the first celebrity crush for many girls of the 90s. If nothing else, viewers always hoped in their little preteen hearts that the two would finally have their romantic moment (they eventually did, and deemed it "disgusting" before swearing to a platonic relationship). Not to be out-quirked by Clarissa, Sam typically climbed a ladder into Clarissa’s window in lieu of using the front door. Luckily, Clarissa’s flower child parents were too busy cooking tofu and designing unconventional buildings to be concerned that a boy was sneaking in and out of the house on a daily basis.

Clarissa Explains It All broke a lot of boundaries for children’s programming. It dealt with the issues of sex, teenage drinking, shoplifting and bullying, among others. The topics were usually handled gently and with comedy, but few other Melissa Joan Hart as Clarissa Explains It Allshows at the time directly addressed problems like these. This type of honesty is what appealed so much to young girls dealing with these issues in their own lives. The morals of Clarissa’s stories were always palatable, primarily preaching acceptance–of those around us, and especially of ourselves.

While nominated for an Emmy in ’94, Clarissa never won any awards. To a generation of young women, however, its importance could never be discounted. Clarissa defined "quirky" and made it cool for a generation of girls who didn’t want to sacrifice their personalities and style to "fit in." She was unapologetically herself–exempting one episode when she assumed a rock & roll alter ego named Jade to impress a drummer (James Van Der Beek). Clarissa and her show let girls know that it was okay to be themselves and express their opinions without fear of being discounted. Plus, she had awesome boots.

Watch a promo for Clarissa Explains It All 

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