The show was about two teams answering questions and playing mini-games in order to connect the dots and guess the hidden picture that was displayed on a giant screen. The screen compiled of 16 smaller screens and for each correct answer, they would get to see a fragmented colored version of the hidden picture. If they chose a number that had the "Power Surge" challenge, they would play the game to win an opportunity to see the real section of the picture.
The first team to win would play the final challenge involving to find the missing pictures on the screen in 60 seconds or less to win money and various prizes.
The show was hosted by Mike O'Malley. This was his first appearance on TV. He was a pretty good host that shows him more on his goofy side. Nonetheless, he always had fun with the contestants. Not much to say about this show, but not really the highlight Nickelodeon game show that everyone remembered very much. Just a really basic kids' game show. Nothing special.
Now time for our main review. On March 23, 1991, Nickelodeon decided to release a new teen sitcom that the girls can sit down and enjoy. That show was Clarissa Explains it All.
The show was about a teenage girl named Clarissa Darling (played by Melissa Joan Hart) explaining about regular teenage problems directly to the audience such as acne, getting a driver's license, getting her first training bra, school, and boys. She discussed these topics in a way that girls can be able to relate with her. She wasn't a perfect teen; she's was just a regular teen. She has a very colorful style of clothes similar to Lisa from Saved by the Bell and Blossom from Blossom, she loved rock music like They Might Be Giants and Pearl Jam, she created computer games at a time in which girls playing video games was impossible to see, she believes in UFOs, she sometimes over exaggerates simple problems whenever she gets grounded or stay outside longer than her curfew, and she complains about her annoying brother Ferguson.
Ferguson (played by Jason Zimbler) is the younger brother of Clarissa and the thorn on her side. He sometimes plays himself as annoying, but never at the point in which you want to jump on the TV and kill him. He tries to get into get-rick-quick schemes to make a ton of money. Similar to Alex Keaton from Family Ties, he's also a Republican who respects Dan Quayle and Ronald Reagan. But never in a way that is too show off-y like Alex is. Although Ferguson and Clarissa get themselves into a lot of fights, they also collaborate with each other to solve each other's problems.
Clarissa's and Ferguson's parents Marshall and Janet Darling (played by Joe O'Connor and Elizabeth Hess) were your typical parents. Marshall was an architect who designs unusual buildings like the Fryfel Tower. He's a bit clueless when it comes to giving Clarissa advice. Janet is a teacher, an environmentalist, and an organic foodie who cooks healthy food for her kids. Most of the times they end up looking and tasting really bad such as the tofu sundae. For all you organic foodies and vegetarians, this was around the 90s in which they didn't present healthy food well. Please excuse the stereotypical discussions that tofu and vegetables are evil!
Clarissa had a best friend that would visit her from her window named Sam Anders (played by Sean O'Neal). He's a very optimistic guy who loves skateboarding and surfing. In some episodes, they would sit down and watch some TV. Sam would constantly visit the Darling family because his single mom was almost never around due to her being on the road with her Roller Derby team. His dad was a busy working sports announcer. Nonetheless, he was very supportive and fun.
There were other recurring characters in the show such as Clarissa's high school friends Hillary and Olivia. Also, there was the school bully Clifford Spleenhurfer (okay) who would constantly tease Ferguson around Season 1. In Season 2, she confronted him to stop teasing. Throughout the seasons, they even began dating at one point in Season 4. Clarissa and Sam even tried dating once, but declared it to be "weird" and "gross".
Throughout the show, we watched Clarissa grow from an 8th grader to a high school senior. The shows lasted for 5 seasons ending its run on December 3, 1994. But, at one point, it wasn't the end for Clarissa. Around 1995, a new spinoff show was made on CBS simply called Clarissa or Clarissa Now. The show was about Clarissa as a young adult moving to New York City becoming an intern for a local newspaper office.
The show was a disaster. It only lasted for a few episodes before it was cancelled due to low ratings. After Clarissa Explains it All ended, the actors went on to do different things.
Melissa Joan Hart went on to do other movie and TV roles like Sabrina: The Teenage Witch, Law & Order: SVU, Holiday in Handcuffs, My Fake Fiance, and Melissa and Joey. She's married to musician Mark Wilkerson and has two sons, with a third one on the way.
Jason Zimbler had done a lot of theater work after Clarissa Explains it All before becoming the co-founder of a theater company called The Re-Theater Instrument in Portland, Oregon. He's currently the software designer of HBO.
Sean O'Neal had done a few TV and movie roles such as Cop and a Half, Noir, RahXephon, and The Cost.
Elizabeth Hess is currently an acting teacher at the New York University, Tisch School of the Arts, and Fordham University at Lincoln Center.
Joe O'Connor had done other movie and TV roles such as Friends, Sabrina: The Teenage Witch, The Ice Storm, ER, Malcolm in the Middle, Mad Men, Castle and The Green Hornet.
Clarissa Explains it All was groundbreaking for its time for it to star a teenage girl as oppose to a teenage boy or a group of high school kids. It was the kind of show that girls can watch and relate to. Also, it had a bit of a following for boys. They knew that they were watching a girls' show, but there was something so real about it that made them want to watch. Boys didn't care if they were made fun of watching it. Think of it sort of like a precursor to My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. There was such a charm to the show that made both teenage boys and girls watch it and enjoy it. The show was created by Mitchell Kreigman, a former Saturday Night Live writer who wanted to create a show that was differed from other teen shows that were showing at the time. He succeeded quite well.
Overall, looking back at this show, there are a few things about it that are extremely dated. Especially the clothes, the technology, the pop culture references, and the slang. Looking back at it, it makes me laugh just looking at some of the clothes that Clarissa would wear. It looks completely ridiculous by today's standards.
Other than that, out of all the teen sitcoms that came out in the 90's, Clarissa Explains it All has aged quite well when it comes to the message that it delivers. Compared to teen sitcoms in the 90's like Saved by the Bell, Blossom, Beverly Hills 90210, and Full House, it was the most realistic. It had a teenager that wasn't too girly, too tomboyish, too odd, too quirky, or too materialistic. It was someone that was very tolerable that felt like a friend from school that everyone knew and loved. She worried about getting zits, she worried about getting boys, she's worried about getting a license, she thinks that her younger brother is annoying, she has friends, she has issues. Guess what? Those are real teenagers! Also, the parents are real, yet goofy at times, Sam is a cool optimistic guy despite having a dysfunctional family, and Ferguson had a pretty good balance of being annoying, conniving, and intelligent. It would be the stepping stone for other teen sitcoms starring female protagonists like The Secret World of Alex Mack, The Amanda Show, Zoey 101, iCarly, and Victorious.
As we go through some of the other shows throughout the tribute, you'll see that they would eventually make a change for the worse to get almost perfect looking pop stars acting like divas living completely unrealistic lives and hanging around with extremely annoying teenagers. As we look back at Clarissa Explains it All, we see a perfect way of how kids lived in the 90's and how to create a balance between making a show funny, yet realistic to the teenage world. I highly recommend checking this show out.
That's all for now. Tune in next time as we check out Hey Dude's superior concept of a summer camp teen sitcom Salute Your Shorts.
That's all for now. Hope to see you around Old School Lane soon. Take care.