by Emmi Kurowski
1988. Stephen Hawking publishes A Brief History of Time. George H. W. Bush is voted in as President-elect. The Winter Olympics are in CANADA (debuting the first Jamaican bobsled team – yeah, like Cool Runnings, AND self-taught Eddie the Eagle – yeah, like Taron Egerton). The Body Rap toy sweeps the nation (fur-real – look this up). However, most importantly, America’s favorite girl next door, Alyssa Milano, stars in THE only workout VHS tape you will ever need: Teen Steam.
My sister is eight years older than me. She is still very youthful (I love you, Sarah)! But she was the prime age to get in on the Teen Steam craze. Was it a craze? I dunno, probably not. But it was a fixture in our house. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a tad trepidatious to be googling “teen steam”. I’ll probably delete my browser history, just to be safe. But as soon as I saw that VHS cover, I was washed away by a flood of memories.
Let’s talk about this cover, shall we? How could I start with anything other than her clothing? To be quite honest, I’m still rather resentful I have to dress as a professional businesswoman every day. So many normie skirts and slacks and blouses (Look, wearing this clothing day after day has forced me to use words such as “slacks” and “blouses”!) I long for the days when I could skip about in freewheelin’ clothing like Alyssa Milano. To be fair, I never dressed like this. I would most likely have been wearing a hockey jersey tucked into Bongo jeans pulled up to my chest, secured with suspenders. Evidently I was extremely concerned that my pants would drop to my natural waistline. However, look at her outfit here. Why do I acccctually want to sew a ton of buttons onto a pair of jeans now?? And belts? Sooooo business casual (bidness cazh). Keep dem pants up with a periwinkle blue bandana, what else? Now the shirt (shirtS?), I cannot identify with. It would be a nightmare if I attempted to wear that mess. But the pom poms on the sleeves? YES! I literally just made a t-shirt and glued 440 pom poms to it. I’m not joking. It says “Snuggie Police” in glittery fabric paint, but that’s a story for another time. Bracelets? Check. Accessories for days. Now just get yourself a Hollywood Bumpit for your hair and you too can achieve the Alyssa Milano Teen Steam look.
The colors on this case are just splendid. The red zebra print is just tearing across the cover. Basically it’s bright and exciting and…wait a second. Teen Steam record? Autographed photo? MORE Teen Steam products? Sarah – why did you not order these things? What merchandise am I missing out on?
No matter. The real journey begins when you pop this baby into your VCR.
My sister had a few workout tapes, I recall. Fur-sure she had the Cher one. And I have been known to don my track suit and let loose with the likes of Sal Pacino (yes, Sal) and Harry Hoffman (yes, Harry) when I dial in the tracking on my Richard Simmons and the Silver Foxes: Fitness for Silver Citizens tape (as recently as a few months ago with my brother in law), but nothing made quite the impact on me that Teen Steam did.
It starts with Alyssa sitting pensively on her bed. I applaud the fact that the set designers tried to make this look like an actual teen’s bedroom, and not just some box with tumbling gym mats strewn about the floor. However, Alyssa’s bedroom is a disaster! Make your bed, girl! Your friends are coming over! Do you need me to show you how to properly fold and put laundry away? Try using your dresser as storage, not as a clothes horse (anyone who knows me is laughing because I am THE worst at putting laundry away). And another thing – why is she wearing her shoes on the bed?? I understand that in America, many folks wear their shoes indoors. Fine. I don’t understand why, but go for it. But SHOES, on the BED? C’mon now!
Alyssa listens to her answering machine (ooh! Fancy!) and her one friend, Michelle is stressed to the max! She has to babysit and she is not impressed. Just as that message ends, wouldn’t you know it, Tiffanie calls Alyssa and she was grounded for bringing her date home! Uh oh! These girls have some definite teen steam that they gotta let out. How? Exercise!
Alyssa breaks the fourth wall, looking at the camera, exclaiming, “Another one of those days. I can feel the steam rising.” Instantly Michelle is there, in her workout cardigan, naturally. Stretchin’ and ready to go! Then, poof! It’s Tiffanie (or Tiff, as she is also known)! Alyssa looks so rad in her red and gold Adidas sneakers. No foolin’, I’d buy those today if I could find them in a store. I’ve searched for them. I dunno why there isn’t a blog or something tracing the origin of these sneakers. Perhaps I will have to do that research myself. As a child, it always annoyed me that Tiff wasn’t wearing sneakers. I didn’t like it. You think I’d be the opposite, as I’ve already expressed my bewilderment at the shoes in the house phenomenon, but the whole time I’m thinking, “Tiff. Where are yer Converse Star Techs?” Also, I notice belts. It hasn’t always been this way, but ever since my awesome friend pointed out the prevalence of unnecessary belts in a TV show we were watching (it doesn’t matter what show, okay? It definitely was not also marketed to teens…), I’m on belt watch 24/7. It’s like a collection in my brain. So you can imagine my delight at seeing not one, but TWO huge white “statement belts” worn by these girls to work out! Or maybe you couldn’t. ONE person could understand my delight. There is no need for these belts, they serve no purpose. Who needs a belt to hold up electric blue leggings? But they’re there, which pleased me. We’ve established the ladies are stylin’, now we’re ready to finally work out!
Before I wrote this review, I want you to know that I did indeed do the exercises - the whole tape, from the physician’s warning screen to credits. I wanted to be a part of Teen Steam, really experience what it was like for my sister and her friends to live through this in the 80s. There’s a lot of stretching, guys, and a lotttt of close quarters aerobics. But most of all, there is a LOT of finger snapping. I realized quickly that there is simply not enough finger snapping in my current exercise routine. Y’know how The Jets in West Side Story were serial snappers? You ain’t seen nothin’ yet. There is a snap between EACH movement. No kidding. I found myself snapping too. I think I got more into it! Seriously! I could feel my teen steam (er, 33-year old steam) rising away! There’s even a “toe rise rap”, complete with attempted beatboxing. But trust me - things kick into overdrive about halfway through the tape.
Push-ups and diagonal (not diagonal) leg lifts only go so far when you’re a teen. Sometimes the best way to let off steam (I’m not easing up on this “steam” business anytime soon) is to…dance!! In one scene, Alyssa walks over to her mirror, which we now understand has some kind of teleportative qualities! In a twinkle, Alyssa is whisked away to a darkened black and white alley that I suspect was Tim Burton’s biggest inspiration for Batman the following year. There are a lot of pipes, and large gears? Like you’d find in a clock tower. And of course, most of all, there is STEAM. Loads of steam. Van Halen music video levels of steam. In the shadows we see Alyssa dancing up a storm by herself. Then we meet all these teens dealing with stressors who one by one join the dance going on in the dirty Gotham alley. I’ll be the first person to admit that I am the worst dancer on the planet. I’m not exaggerating. I won’t do it. Don’t bother asking. I don’t mean to be dramatic, but I would, in fact, rather DIE than dance in front of people. This dance, though? Oh, I’m learning it. I’m putting up full-length mirrors and working night and day until I perfect these moves. Then you’ll see. I won’t have to hide anymore. There are definite nods to the Thriller video. At one point, she throws off her jean jacket into the air and now everything is in COLOR! Like Dorothy walkin’ out to Oz, but this time, it’s teens lettin’ off steam in the colorful gutter! When this is done, she simply walks back into her room! And is wearing her workout clothes again. Time to cool down!
After Michelle and Tiff go home a mysterious (not cute) boy walks through the mirror with Alyssa’s magical jacket. She basically says, “Oh hey, thanks,” like it’s no big deal mirror boi is here. He goes to exit through the mirror and is stuck! “How do you do that thing with your fingers again?” “Oh, you mean this?” *SNAP* He’s gone! Not since Mary Poppins has a snap of the fingers been so useful. Alyssa’s response is positively precious, “Well isn’t that effect……special?” – but you have to read that in Dana Carvey’s Church Lady voice. Oh 1988. I miss you.
My favorite part of this whole tape is the end music video, complete with behind the scenes footage. What. A. Delight. Here is where we get to see Alyssa “performing” theeee sassy Teen Steam theme. I have to be honest. Prior to this very day, I had not watched this in at least 25 years, but it made such an impression, I still remembered the lyrics:
Sometimes I feel like I’m living on the edge
Halfway in between a feather and a sledge (*note* my favorite line. SLEDGE)
My parents want an angel
My teachers want a brain
My friends just wanna party and it’s driving me insane
I feel the pressure from my family
Pressure from my friends
Pressure from inside of me
This is where it ends
GOTTA LET IT OUT
Steam – teen steam, gotta let it out
That was something. Will I ever watch Teen Steam again? Nope. Should you? Nope. Will I ever be able to forget it? Nope