Those of you who didn’t catch Popular during its two-season reign on the WB may have thought it was just another blink-and-you’ll-miss-it teen drama. Fortunately, now that the show is on DVD, you have a chance to discover that it’s one of the funniest, most unconventional shows on television.
Introduced in the fall of 1999, Popular explores the fallout that ensues at a fictional American high school when the leaders of two opposing cliques become reluctant stepsisters.
The popular group is comprised of queen-bee Brooke (Leslie Bibb), head cheerleader Nicole (Tammy Lynn Michaels), and sassy beauty-queen-wannabe Mary Cherry (Leslie Grossman), plus Brooke’s boyfriend Josh (Bryce Johnson) and his friend Sugar Daddy (Ron Lester). The outcasts are Sam (Carly Pope), Carmen (Sara Rue), Lily (Tamara Mello), and Sam’s best friend Harrison (Christopher Gorham).
The unpopular group’s view of the Glamazons (as the cheerleading squad is called) is summed up by Sam’s comment that “They’re like some bad Mariah Carey power ballad come to life.” Nicole charitably describes Sam’s friends as one of the school’s many “unloved alternate groups.”
Check out the show’s splashy opening credits:
Over the course of the season, Sam and Brooke’s parents meet, fall in love, move in together, and eventually marry — forcing a collision between the two groups that brings out the worst in everyone.
This teen dramedy developed a cult following for its wickedly funny writing, excellent cast, and ability to simultaneously spoof pop culture and worship it. It won the 2000 Teen Choice Award as the best breakout show and was nominated for the TV Guide Award for Favorite Teen Show.
Series creator Ryan Murphy went on to create Nip/Tuck (F/X) and Glee (Fox).
Unfortunately, Season Two of Popular got a little off-track and a little too bizarre for all but its most ardent fans. But that doesn’t detract from the beauty of Season One, which is truly a season to be savored by viewers of all sexual orientations.
Since there is a glut of TV shows on DVD these days, however, and only so many hours in the day, here are the top ten reasons why you should check out Popular.
1. Brooke and Sam’s Friendship
The evolution of Brooke and Sam’s relationship as they get to know each other and begin to see past their misconceptions is one of the better enemies-become-friends storylines on television. Their friendship and its disconcerting effect on their other friendships is explored in subtle, nuanced ways that avoid black-and-white answers and is realistically messy.
Sam (Carly Pope) and Brooke (Leslie Bibb)
More importantly, viewers exploited the perceived lesbian undertones in their relationship to launch many a Brook/Sam slash video or fanfiction story on the internet.
After the show was canceled, Murphy revealed that had the show been renewed for another season, he planned to have Sam come out as a lesbian.
The show’s legions of lesbian fans are still not over it.