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Clarissa Explains It All

Not to be confused with Clarissa, a 1991 British TV series
Clarissa Explains It All
Created by Mitchell Kriegman
Starring Melissa Joan Hart
Jason Zimbler
Elizabeth Hess
Joe O'Connor
Sean O'Neal
Narrated by Melissa Joan Hart
Theme music composer Rachel Sweet
Anthony Battaglia
Willa Bassen
Opening theme "Clarissa Explains It All", performed by Rachel Sweet
Country of origin United States
Original language(s) English
No. of seasons 5[1]
No. of episodes 65[2] (list of episodes)
Executive producer(s) Mitchell Kriegman
Marjorie Cohn
Brown Johnson
Geoffrey Darby
Andy Bamberger
Location(s) Universal Studios
Orlando, Florida
Camera setup Multi-camera setup
Running time 22 minutes
Production company(s) Thunder Pictures
Original channel Nickelodeon
Picture format NTSC
Audio format Stereo
Original release March 3, 1991 (1991-03-03)[1][3] – December 3, 1994 (1994-12-03)[1][4]

Clarissa Explains It All is an American teen sitcom created by Mitchell Kriegman for Nickelodeon.[5][6] In the series, Clarissa Darling, played by Melissa Joan Hart,[7][8][9][10] is a teen girl who addresses the audience directly to describe the things that are happening in her life; dealing with typical pre-adolescent concerns such as school, boys, pimples, wearing her first training bra and an annoying little brother.

Clarissa Explains It All aired for five seasons and a total of 65 episodes[1] from March 3, 1991,[3] to December 3, 1994,[4] later going into reruns. Reruns of the show have appeared intermittently on TeenNick's channel block The '90s Are All That since July 25, 2011.[11][12]

In 2015, Mitchell Kriegman (the show's creator) released a novel, Things I Can't Explain, which serves as a sequel to the series. In the novel, Clarissa is now in her late 20s and trying to navigate life as an adult.[13]


  • Premise 1
  • Characters 2
    • Recurring characters 2.1
    • Notable guest appearances 2.2
  • Episodes 3
  • Home video releases 4
  • Production 5
  • Awards 6
  • Broadcast 7
  • In popular culture 8
  • References 9
  • External links 10


The main characters in the show are Clarissa Darling, her family (consisting of her father Marshall, her mother Janet and her little brother Ferguson) and her best friend Sam living in a small suburban town in Ohio. Clarissa also had a pet baby alligator named Elvis whom she kept in a kiddie-sandbox, who would appear sporadically in early episodes. Clarissa was credited with becoming the first Nickelodeon series to feature a female lead, which led the network to create other shows such as The Secret World of Alex Mack and The Mystery Files of Shelby Woo. Its popularity among both boys and girls also helped to debunk a myth that a children's series with a female lead would turn off boys.[14]

The final two seasons headlined the popular SNICK (Saturday Night-Nickelodeon) lineup, which was a lead-in to shows like All That, and Are You Afraid of the Dark? Clarissa dealt with normal adolescent issues such as first crushes, getting a driver's license, and preparing for college and working. These topics were dealt with far less dramatically than they were on other similar shows at the time (such as Full House and Blossom). For instance, in one episode Clarissa watches television nonstop for an entire weekend (as part of a research project) and begins to think she is going crazy after she tires; an obvious commentary on the "MTV generation" of the time. In another episode, Clarissa accidentally shoplifts lingerie, and the terms "hell" and "sex drive" were occasionally uttered during the show's run. A running gag highlighted Clarissa's sibling rivalry with her brother Ferguson, and their attempts to harm or even kill each other.

Unique to the show was its representation of each episode's theme by showing Clarissa tackling the episode's issue through a fictional video game.

The show's theme song was sung by singer/comedian/actress/writer Rachel Sweet. It consisted entirely of a melody sung on the syllable "Na," punctuated with the occasional "Way cool!" or "All right! All right!," and underscored by rhythmic instrumentation, ending with a resounding "Just do it!"


  • Clarissa Marie Darling (Melissa Joan Hart) – The title character, Clarissa is a smart, sarcastic and realistic teenage girl. Despite her rationalism, she often tends to exaggerate any problem she's facing. She was approximately 14 years old when the series began and was a 9th grader at Thomas Tupper Junior High. Her interests include computer game programming, photography, journalism, and rock music. Though she is usually mild-mannered, she can be just as selfish and calculating as her younger brother Ferguson. Clarissa is best known for her unique fashion sense, typically involving very colorful, mismatched clothing.
  • Ferguson W. Darling (Jason Zimbler) – Clarissa's younger brother, a mischievous redhead. He and Clarissa continually antagonize each other. She refers to him with several epithets such as "Ferg-face", "Fergwad" or "Fergbreath." He loves money and comes up with get-rich-quick schemes. He is also a Young Republican who idolizes Dan Quayle and Ronald Reagan. He goes to school with her and is about one or two years younger than her. Despite their rivalry, they occasionally collaborate, usually to the advantage of both. Unlike Clarissa, however, he does not seem to be very popular at school.
  • Sam Anders (Sean O'Neal) – Clarissa's best friend and confidant. Generally more optimistic and upbeat than she is, he often asks "What's the worst that can happen?" He is perhaps best known for entering her second-story bedroom with a ladder after a distinctive guitar chord plays followed by Clarissa's "Hi, Sam" greeting. He is smart and polite, and enjoys skateboarding. His parents are as mentioned in the pilot, divorced.
  • Janet Darling (Elizabeth Hess[7]) – Clarissa's mother. She is the only family member Clarissa sees as a voice of reason and thus she seeks advice from her occasionally. She is a teacher who works at a children's museum. She is also an environmentalist and an organic food enthusiast who often cooks bizarre meals.
  • Marshall Darling (Joe O'Connor) – Clarissa's father. He is an architect who designs unusually shaped buildings, mostly retail and tourist attractions (such as the "Fryfel Tower"). Clarissa sometimes comes to him for advice, but he is less reliable in this role than Janet. He often calls Clarissa "sport", seldom addressing her by name. He and Janet are former flower children from the 1960s.

Recurring characters

  • Aunt Mafalda (Heather MacRae) – Clarissa's Canadian aunt whom she can't stand and tries to get rid of in two episodes in the first two seasons.
  • Clifford Spleenhurfer (David Eck) – Initially a bully who harassed Ferguson in season 1, he developed a crush on Clarissa when she stood up to him. She later misses his affections in season 2 and they begin a relationship which ends in season 4. He appeared in a total of five episodes, the most of any recurring character.
  • Dr. Festerspoon (Bob Noble) – The family doctor, who appears in two episodes in seasons 1 and 4.
  • Hillary O'Keefe (Sara Burkhardt) – Clarissa's friend from Thomas Tupper High, who appears in four episodes in seasons 2 and 3.
  • Debbie Anders (Susan Greenhill) – Sam's estranged mother who is often on the road with a traveling women's Roller Derby team. She appears in a third-season episode where she tries to take custody of Sam and make him move to Seattle and again in the fourth season when she stays with the Darlings and becomes a burden.
  • Olivia DuPris (Nicole Leach) – Another one of Clarissa's friends from high school, who appears in seasons 4 and 5.
  • The Soapersteins – The Darlings' mostly unseen next-door neighbors, referred to continually throughout the series. The mother and daughter appear once in season 4, and the family's dog appears in season 5.

Notable guest appearances

These are other guest appearances, in single episodes by notable actors known for their other work.

  • Nancy Youngblut as Mrs. Cheesebrow, a school guidance counselor who tries to get Clarissa interested in "normal" activities in season 2.
  • Cassidy Rae as Elise Quackenbush, Sam's love interest in season 2.
  • Paul Kreppel as Joey Russo, Janet's old high school boyfriend in season 3.
  • Joanna Garcia as Fiona, Ferguson's love interest in season 3.
  • Michelle Trachtenberg as Elsie Soaperstein, the neighbors' spoiled brat whom Clarissa must babysit in season 4.
  • Jonathan Mangum as Clarissa's imagined blind date in season 3 (seen only in a fantasy sequence); the same actor is credited in the role of a waiter and in the role of a pizza man in a fifth-season episode.
  • Wayne Brady as the second pizza man that crossed Clarissa's doorstep in a fifth-season episode.
  • Sheeri Rappaport as Piper Henderson, Clarissa's globe-traveling friend who comes to visit in season 5.
  • James Van Der Beek as Paulie, a boy whom Clarissa attracts as her punk alter-ego Jade in season 5.
  • Shannon Woodward as Missy, a girl whose lost kitten Ferguson finds in season 5.
  • Patricia O'Connell as Kate Whitacre, a woman who reported a UFO sighting, whom Clarissa has been chosen to profile for the local newspaper in season 5.


Home video releases

The Complete First Season on DVD

Throughout the early 1990s a number of VHS tapes were released through Sony Wonder each containing 2 or 3 episodes, usually centered around a certain theme such as school, dating, sibling rivalry, etc.

In May 2005, the show's first season was released on DVD as part of the Nickelodeon Rewind Collection by Nickelodeon's parent company, Paramount Pictures.[15] The second season was scheduled to be released a few months later, but it was pulled from Paramount Pictures' release schedule To this date, there are no plans to release the series further on DVD.

Season one is also available on iTunes, Xbox Live, and the PlayStation Store. Many of the various episodes from the 5 seasons of the series are also available on Amazon Video.


Clarissa Explains It All was the second sitcom to premiere on Nickelodeon in 1991 after Hey Dude ended its run. It was one of seven new programs (three animated and four live-action) to premiere on Nickelodeon in 1991 when the network began producing more original programming. It outlived the two other live action programs; Salute Your Shorts, and Fifteen.

A pilot for a follow-up series, Clarissa, was shot for CBS in 1995, but was not picked up by the network. The pilot was shown on two occasions on Nickelodeon after the original series had ended production. The new series would have involved Clarissa's internship at a New York City newspaper. Comedian Robert Klein costarred in the pilot as the newspaper's editor. Supporting roles were played by Marian Seldes and Lisa Gay Hamilton. In 2002, Hart said that she would not be interested in a cast reunion project: "No. Shirley Temple taught me one thing. And that was once you finish a career, you move on." In her next television series, Sabrina, the Teenage Witch, her character actually did become a journalist.


In 1994, the series was nominated for an Emmy Award for Outstanding Children's Program. In addition, Melissa Joan Hart, Sean O'Neal, and Jason Zimbler also received multiple Young Artist Award nominations.[16] Melissa won three competitive Young Artist Awards during the show's original run,[17][18][19] as well as receiving the association's honorary Former Child Star Award in 2013 for her role as Clarissa.[20]


Clarissa Explains It All aired in reruns on Nick from 1994 to 1999, a second time in 2001 as part of the TEENick block, and a third time in 2004 as part of U-Pick Live‍‍ '​‍s Old School Pick. It also aired on The N from 2002 to 2003.

Clarissa Explains it All returned in reruns to TeenNick on July 25, 2011 as part of its The '90s Are All That block. The show aired at 10 PM (Pacific) 1 AM (Eastern) with the first episode having been 'The Understudy' from Season 2.[11][12] TeenNick replaced the show with Rocko's Modern Life on September 5, 2011. The series returned to The '90s Are All That from September 26, 2011 to October 6, 2011, when the show was replaced with Hey Dude. The series returned to The '90s Are All That on TeenNick the night of December 31, 2011 with the airing of the series finale at a special timeslot, 11:00pm, for celebrating the end of 2011, and aired on the block again the morning of January 1, 2012 at 1:00am with the airing of the series premiere to celebrate the beginning of 2012. Clarissa aired on The '90s Are All That again, with a marathon on the night of December 30, 2012, for the block's Holiday Gift Guide marathon week special. Then, Clarissa returned yet again to The '90s Are All That with a marathon of the show every night from January 21, 2013 to January 27, 2013.

In popular culture

  • The New York electropunk group, Mindless Self Indulgence referred to the show in the song "Clarissa" from their 2000 album Frankenstein Girls Will Seem Strangely Sexy.
  • There is an indie rock band called Clarissa Explains It All.
  • The TV show Melissa & Joey, which stars Melissa Joan Hart, features a character with a blog titled "Lennox Explains It All", a nod to the show.[21]
  • The New York City based art rock band, Ravens & Chimes has a song entitled "Clarissa Explains It All" on their 2012 album, Holiday Life.
  • Comedienne Stevie Ryan parodies the show in episode 5 of season 2 of her VH1 series Stevie TV.
  • The show has been featured in an online meme-based campaign to bring attention to racism, called "Clarissa Explains White Supremacy".[22]
  • In 2015, show creator Mitchell Kriegman wrote a novel, Things I can't Explain: A Clarissa Novel, described as a "re-imagining" of the show.[23]


  1. ^ a b c d "Clarissa Explains It All". CBS Interactive. Retrieved 12 October 2015. 
  2. ^ "Clarissa To Explain It All For Final Time". Orlando Sentinel. December 17, 1993. Retrieved 2010-09-03. 
  3. ^ a b Television section, New York Times, March 17, 1991, and March 23, 1991.
  4. ^ a b TV Week guide, September 29 – October 5, 1994, Bryan-College Station Eagle.
  5. ^ Lipton, Laura (March 17, 1991). "Nickelodeon gets inside the head of a 13-year-old named Clarissa Darling". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2010-09-03. 
  6. ^ Witchel, Alex (August 25, 1991). "UP & COMING: Melissa Joan Hart; The Melissa Inside Clarissa Explains It All for Us". New York Times. Retrieved 2010-08-10. 
  7. ^ a b Hinman, Catherine (June 22, 1991). "Clarissa She's 14, Hip And Hot The Spunky Tv Teen Has Captivated Viewers And Put Orlando-based Nickelodeon Studios On The Sitcom Map.". Orlando Sentinel. Retrieved 2010-09-03. 
  8. ^ Minor, Debra K. (February 12, 1991). "New Nickelodeon Show To Be Produced Here". Orlando Sentinel. Retrieved 2010-09-03. 
  9. ^ Shrieves, Linda (January 3, 1993). "Melissa Explains Clarissa". Orlando Sentinel. Retrieved 2010-09-02. 
  10. ^ "Clarissa Explains It All". CBS Interactive. Retrieved 12 October 2015. 
  11. ^ a b Smiley, Brett (March 10, 2011). "Nick At Nite For Twentysomethings On The Way". Retrieved 2011-05-22. 
  12. ^ a b Rice, Lynette (March 10, 2011). "TeenNick goes retro with '90s programming -- EXCLUSIVE". Retrieved 2011-05-22. 
  13. ^ "Clarissa Darling grows up in novel 'Things I Can't Explain' -". Retrieved 12 October 2015. 
  14. ^ Holbert, Ginny (September 29, 1994). "Clarissa's Grown Up And Gone // Nickelodeon Sends Off Its Star After 3 Years". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 2011-03-10. 
  15. ^ "Clarissa Explains It All - Season One (1991)". 
  16. ^ at IMDB.comClarissa Explains it AllAwards for
  17. ^ "13th Annual Youth in Film Awards". Retrieved April 25, 2013. 
  18. ^ "14th Annual Youth in Film Awards". Retrieved April 25, 2013. 
  19. ^ "16th Annual Youth in Film Awards". Retrieved April 25, 2013. 
  20. ^ "34th Annual Young Artist Awards". Retrieved April 25, 2013. 
  21. ^ "Melissa & Joey". ABC Family. Retrieved 12 October 2015. 
  22. ^ Clarissa Explains It All' -- Even White Supremacy"'". Huffington Post. January 12, 2015. 
  23. ^ "Things I Can't Explain Publisher Website". 

External links

  • Clarissa Explains It All at the Internet Movie Database
  • Clarissa Explains It All at
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