Tracy Beaker is BACK (again) on our screens, this time as a 30-something year old mum. Through the eyes of her daughter Jess, in this new series we’re introduced to Tracy’s new life as a working adult and single mum. What did our writers make of this first episode of My Mum Tracy Beaker, based on Jaqueline Wilson’s book of the same name? Read on to find out… (and possibly to make yourself feel very old.)
I came to the new series of Tracy Beaker with high hopes. And I clearly wasn’t the only one: On BBC iPlayer, My Mum Tracy Beaker was streamed 2.1 million times in its first three days of release. I’m guessing part of the reason viewing numbers were so astronomically so high for a cbbc show, is because it wasn’t just kids that were watching. Tracy Beaker was first aired way back in 2002. That means when I first watched the show, I was the ripe old age of 5, and I’m sure a huge chunk of viewers who eagerly tuned in this month were like me: well into their twenties or even thirties, mixed in with the *actual* kids watching this series for the first time.
This trend in TV and film isn’t new – reboots of old shows, made to be watched by now-adult OG fans and their gen-z counterparts alike, are all over our screens. The Muppets, Queer Eye, Crystal Maze, Sex And The City… the list goes on. But what all of these remakes seem to have in common (and what’s made them so successful) is that they’ve held onto the essence, the je ne sais quoi, whatever you want to call it, that made them a hit in the first place.
But watching My Mum Tracy Beaker, I didn’t get that. Maybe this is partly my fault for falling off the Tracy bandwagon once she hit the third or fourth regeneration. I haven’t seen any of either of the previous spin-offs, Tracy Beaker Returns, or The Dumping Ground, and maybe they would have eased me in more gently. Yes, I was just directly comparing this new series, in which we meet Tracy through the eyes of her 10 year old daughter Jess, to the old adolescent Tracy I knew and loved. But really, I think all this did was made me realise faster that this new series just isn’t very… good?
The storyline of the first episode centres around Tracy’s new relationship with ex professional footballer Sean. We’re told Tracy used to know him back in the day as ‘football’ – but I certainly don’t remember him from The Dumping Ground. Whatever happened to the Wellards? Where’s Lol, and Bouncer, and Dolly? Who’s this Sean bloke and what have you done with Crash??
Again, I’m aware that maybe this isn’t a fair stick to beat the series with; maybe for some unfathomable reason, the original cast didn’t want to be involved in yet another Beaker remake. But my point remains, that the makers of this series still could have done much more to keep the magic of the original. There’s none of the mischief and playfulness. The bedtime story Tracy tells Jess about her old life back in the Dumping Ground – about swallowing a worm to win a dare contest – only reminds me of everything that this new show is lacking. It’s too based in the real world. For one, there are none of the animated Nick Sharratt cartoons that perfectly complemented Jaqueline Wilson’s books and the old series.
Sure, it’s nice that Tracy is doing ok, and her daughter seems alright (if not a bit of a square). But it feels a shame that of all the places Jaqueline Wilson and the show’s producers could have gone with this, they showed Tracy in a world in which holding down a job and eventually finding a man to ‘complete’ your family still seems to be the end goal. I think really, I loved the Dumping Ground so much because of the way it celebrated chosen family, and the value of friendships and individualism… and to me, this new Tracy has none of that.
Dark curly hair, stripes and an attitude are instantly recognisable (unless you’ve been living under a particularly Jacqueline Wilson-free rock for the past ten years), and motherhood has not diluted Tracy Beaker. She storms around with her giant ponytail and I feel like I’m returning to something consistent and reliable. The world has changed much; this girl hasn’t.
It is strange to watch her with adult eyes. I confess Dani Harmer’s acting grates with me slightly. Compared to that of Jess’ teacher and Cam, Tracy attitude feels a bit like caricature – but I’ll shush, I’m not here to slate anyone’s acting. I remind myself this is a kids’ show. I’m bringing adult acting tastes to something that’s not aimed at me.
Or… is it? I’m part of a generation who grew up with Tracy, reading the books (smuggled down from the top of my parent’s wardrobe. The Story of Tracy Beaker was hidden from me until I was old enough to cope with how rude she was) and watching her grow up in the Dumping Ground. I can’t help but compare Jess’ childhood to the one I remember watching after school in grainy noughties colouring, and it’s wonderful to see Tracy in adulthood: a chatty, confident single mother.
Which brings me to the themes of this episode, i.e. money, and with themes of money brings discussions of …feminism and motherhood. Yep. Let me explain.
In this episode (spoilers) Tracy Beaker is offered the film-star life we saw her romanticise throughout childhood. It is launched towards her at speed: will she choose a shiny new life, where she and Jess want for nothing? Or will she prioritise a daughter’s need to feel listened to and put first?
Tracy is an individual, with wants BEYOND the role of mother. Nevertheless, she is responsible for ensuring Jess doesn’t feel side-lined. It’s complicated, yet it isn’t. I remind myself again that this is a kids’ show .
That being said, there’s only so far I appreciate the story of Nice Rich Man Comes Along and Solves Single Mum’s Problems. Surely they won’t advertise this storyline to kids in 2021? Aren’t we past that? It gives quiet echoes of Tracy’s abandonment by her mum. I remember her smelling bottles of nail polish to feel close to her mother, who was off with (presumably) a partner. Demonising mothers for showing individuality is archaic: Tracy’s mother wasn’t a villain for loving a man (I think ‘villain’ is the wrong term for Carly Beaker), and nor is Tracy – but there’s irony that her past was shaped by events that are in danger of repeating. When Sean or Football or whatever his name is materialises as guardian angel Mr Moneybags, I, an adult feminist, am praying she won’t choose him. I want her to forgo the childhood dream. Don’t do it Tracy, I whisper, Jess Beaker knows that love can’t be replaced by a big house with a swimming pool.
Obviously in real life there would be an in-between arrangement in which Tracy Beaker gets to enjoy both her daughter and a partner. There’s definitely more to unpack, but for now let’s remind ourselves for a final time, this is a kids’ show. For children. Which means it’s entitled to simplify themes which, in reality, are deeply layered.
The episode ends on a cliff-hanger, but I fully intend to find out whether the writers will champion a single mother’s independence, No Thank You Sir I Don’t Need Your Funds, or whether it champions Tracy as an individual beyond the role of mum. Thinking on the title of the show, I think I can make an educated guess.
“Do you know my mum Tracy Beaker?” Hell yeah I do, along with a mass of young adults who spent far too much time contemplating eating a garden worm. My whole house were beyond excited to check out the return of the infamous Tracy Beaker, queen of The Dumping Ground. The show is ultimately created for kids, but given the generational significance of the beloved character, I was convinced My Mum Tracy Beaker would pander to all my nostalgia needs.
We started off strong – Tracy was speeding around her estate, dogs running around her legs every which way. Within five minutes, we’d been gifted our first “bog off!” of the series. Jess’s beaming monologue about her mum which runs over the top of the opening is overflowing with adoration that will touch the heart of any Beaker fan. We instantly understand that Tracy has become the mum she always wished she had. I also really enjoyed how the opening sequence threw in a touch of meta comedy by playing with the fourth wall. According to Jess, everyone knows Tracy Beaker: the butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker, and let’s not forget the thousands of viewers streaming iPlayer in their living rooms. That’s a pretty hefty legacy to live up to though.
Writer Emma Reeves does a good job of maturing Tracy in a believable way. She still has the feisty Beaker edge, but instead of believing the universe has a personal vendetta against her, the fire is redirected into protecting her daughter. When Jess gets into some trouble at school, full Beaker mamma bear storms down the hall with synth music beating and Karen vibes blaring.
My main problem with the episode was the insane timeline that picked up pace drastically about halfway through. Suddenly, I felt like I was in a time warp. Was the TV glitching and cutting out whole scenes? I’ve witnessed relationships move too fast before, but Tracy Beaker moving into a footballer’s swanky mansion after seemingly going on one date trumps them all.
The episode tried to pack in so much plot that her character drifted into the background. Jess remained a central figure, but Tracy became a passive shadow of herself. The scene at the dinner table definitely didn’t hit home the way the creators intended. When Tracy snaps back to being the defensive, independent icon we know and love, the potentially powerful moment is ruined by her inconsistent character. I felt like the writers had a freak out and thought oh damn, we forgot to put more Tracy Beaker moments in this Tracy Beaker series. Better shove one in here. It didn’t have the payoff I needed. No one ate a worm, so what’s the point?After watching the episode, I dug out the original series from 2002. It was as brilliantly unpolished as I remembered. No doubt I’ll finish My Mum Tracy Beaker, even if it’s just to see Cam marry a woman, but this show has nothing on the original.
You can watch My Mum Tracy Beaker on BBC iPlayer here.