Before Melissa Joan Hart (who was, unfortunately, unable to participate in this story) was a teacher on trial for daring to say that “God is not dead,” before she played a wise-cracking politician on Melissa and Joey, and even years before she was the world’s favorite iteration of Sabrina the Teenage Witch, she was simply known as Clarissa Darling, a spunky high-schooler with a best friend who refused to use doors because they were too restrictive, man (weird, right?) and the ability to create awesome computer games that perfectly simulated everything she was feeling despite having zero training in science or technology of any kind. (She also had a pet iguana named Elvis, which was pretty cool.)
Unfortunately, repeated watches of Clarissa Explains It All (and I own it on DVD) have made it clear that the show itself does not stand up to the test of time. But plot lines and love stories aren’t what matter. Because Clarissa was never about plot: It was about teaching you, the viewer, how to live your life to the fullest. And as a 13-year-old who begged for cable only to watch Clarissa impart these lessons upon me, it’s only fitting that we take a few moments and remind ourselves of the enduring teachable moments she gave us as we celebrate the 25th anniversary of the show.
Sometimes Just Doing It All (Alright, Alright) Is Too Much And We’re Allowed To Take A Break.
Most of us watched Clarissa sometime between applying for high school (if that was a thing in your town) and college (something that, unfortunately, is a thing in every town). In season three, Bustle points out, Clarissa had so many jobs that she almost died of exhaustion. Money’s great and all (and also very necessary if you want to keep your pet iguana in fashionable accessories), but sometimes you’ve just got to look around your well-appointed room (complete with window and computer) and recognize that the nap you’d rather take right now will lead to a longer and healthier life than walking all your friends’ and neighbors’ dogs.
Stop Giving People Advice.
Sounds strange coming from a show that’s all about a main character named “Clarissa” explaining it all, but it’s true: How many times did the advice our fair-haired heroine give turn out to be completely awful? She even got an advice column in the school paper and messed that right the hell up. As a wise friend once told me (not Clarissa), sometimes you just need to nod along and say “that sucks.” I’m sure both Clarissa and her very clever pseudonym–Alice B. Talking–would agree.
Never Date Your Best Friend (But It Can Be Okay If You Do).
We see TV shows where main characters date their best friends all the time and things generally go well. Look at Booth and Bones: By day they solve crimes middle-aged mothers love and by night they raise a child together! But when Clarissa and Sam went out on a date (It was the second episode on the VHS tape I forced my parents to get me for my birthday one year) things didn’t quite go as well as planned. They were perfect best friends (and the airplane simulator they went to on their date sounded sick as hell), but they just didn’t have that spark and that was all right. They still remained best friends and Clarissa taught me that just because you really want a pairing to happen doesn’t mean it has to. Of course, that didn’t stop me from rooting for Clarissa and Sam to give it another shot, but as a teen with about a million crushes a day it also taught me that not every romantic fantasy ended the way you might want it to.
Your Parents Are Cooler Than Your Friends’ Parents (Most Of The Time).
Remember when Clarissa ended up getting an internship with Sam’s dad and thought it would be amazing only to learn that being No. 2 to a sports writer just wasn’t what she wanted? No, Janet and Marshall Darling weren’t as cool as the young Clarissa hoped, but if there’s anything the many episodes where she tried to change them taught me, it’s that often your parents (even though they’re embarrassing monsters and health food nuts) are just as cool (or as lame) as everyone else’s. And they may have just a little something to teach you before you grow up completely. Let’s just hope that thing isn’t how to make a mung bean casserole.
Always Stand Up For What You Believe In (But Know Who To Call When You’re Arrested).
When Clarissa and Sam get busted for protesting animal abuse, it was all any of us could do not to stand up on our couches (not allowed, by the way, because those couches were expensive) and cheer for their victory. Finally, a character on television was teaching other kids that even if they weren’t adults they could still take part in the world and make a difference. Of course, we could have done with less jail and more cheering, but if there’s one thing this episode taught us is that all actions have consequences and you should know which parent is the least likely to freak out if they have to pick you up from jail. Hard lesson for a show that was made for kids.
Little Brothers Can Be Awful, But They Can Be Useful And Sometimes Grow Up To Be Okay!
Sometimes. Ferguson was pretty bad (although he didn’t crack an entire cup over my head like my own brother did), but as the series progressed, the writers made it clear that when they needed to, Clarissa and Fergie Ferg could work together to overcome any obstacle. Do I credit my excellent relationship with my formerly insufferable brother to Clarissa? Not completely, but she certainly taught me some compassion for the young, dumb, and full of misdirected rage at being the smallest sibling.
You’ll Get Over A Crush. It’ll Suck, But It’ll Happen.
It may be painful and it’ll feel like someone’s socked you in the stomach for weeks, but one of the most important things Clarissa taught me is that even the most painful bout of unrequited love will lose its sting with time. At 12, obsessed with Gina N. (who always helped me cheat on my tests but couldn’t love me back the way that I wanted her to), I thought nothing could temper the pain I felt inside. Twenty years later and married to a dude, I credit my bouncing back from adversity to watching Clarissa do the same thing. Thanks for always keeping it real, Clarissa Darling, I wouldn’t have gotten through high school without you.
If there’s one thing Clarissa taught us above all others–even as she was pretending to be someone else at a hip party–it’s that the people who love us will love us for us and not things that we pretend to be. So, sure, putting on a costume, a nose ring, and a French accent may make you the center of attention for one night, but who can keep that up? Especially when who you really are is a computer-loving nerd who just wants to chill and eat pizza while you moon over the local weather-man (yep, that was a plot point). But of all the things that make Clarissa cool, it was her owning of the fact that she was a dorky kid that made her the coolest. And it’s what made her the perfect role model for dorky kids all around America. Even now, as I’m faced with a big decision, I ask myself “what would Clarissa do?” And if it doesn’t involve in believing in myself, I give it up and take a nap. (But I sing the Clarissa theme song as I drift off. Alright? Alright.)
And Never Grow Up Too Quickly.
Too soon, we’ll stop being Sam and Clarissa and become Marshall and Janet. And while there’s nothing wrong with being the heads of household, if there’s one lesson Clarissa taught me (maybe even a little too late), it’s to enjoy the adventures that you can get into before you’re tried in court as an adult. That tidbit? Unlike the acting, still holds up 25 years later.