Sunday, March 31, 2024

channel freakboy: POPULAR (1999-2001)

Poster for The Mismatched Couples Blogathon, hosted by Barry of Cinematic Catharsis & Gill of Realweegiemidget Reviews, March 29th - 31st, 2024, Shows a scene from the odd couple.
This post is part of The Mismatched Couples. Blogathon, hosted by Barry of Cinematic Catharsis & Gill of Realweegiemidget Reviews! 
Popular beginning credits shows Sam and Brooke looking at the camera.
created by Gina Matthew’s & Ryan Murphy 
With my apologies to Buffy and Dawson, out of all the WB series I watched back in the day, POPULAR was and still is my favorite!  This two season wonder was co-created by Ryan Murphy, the mind behind AMERICAN HORROR STORY and SCREAM QUEENS, and his twisted touch is present, especially in the first season.  The setting is Kennedy High School, where teen-angst is on display with a wildly satirical bite to its bullseye truth. 
The brunettes, Lily, Sam and Carmen
Team Brunette
It’s sophomore year for Sam McPherson, a brunette reporter for the school newspaper, and she is ready to make a fresh start.  She even encourages her widowed mom Jane to go on a singles cruise.  Meanwhile, Brooke McQueen, a blonde cheerleader captain, says farewell to her divorced dad Mike as he heads off on a business trip.  This lack of parental guidance provides the perfect opportunity to throw the first party of the year, thus securing and reinforcing the social hierarchy at Kennedy High.  
The blondes, Nicole, Brooke and Mary cherry
Team Blonde
Brooke is on top of this pecking order with her two main cohorts, cheerleader co-captain/manipulative witch Nicole Julian and ridiculously rich southern transfer/possible psycho Mary Cherry.  Also at Brooke’s disposal is her  jock boyfriend/aspiring musical thespian Josh Ford and his jock friend/aspiring white rapper Michael ‘Sugar Daddy’ Bernardino.  Sam rules the area between popular and unpopular with her hardcore activist friend Lily Esposito and her singing-dancing-wants to be a cheerleader friend Carmen Ferrara.  Also at Sam’s disposal is Harrison John, her supportive guy friend/golfer.  Meanwhile, butt bolo and forged doctor’s excuse seller Emory Dick unofficially heads the bottom of this Teen Beat cover model heap with chess aficionado Freddy Gong and the Tuna twins, inappropriately oversexed April and dirt eater May.  This unpopular quartet may be more entertaining than most of the main characters. 

Chaos erupts at Brooke’s party when Sam and her posse crash, but they aren’t the only uninvited guests.  Mike and Jane show up together with a bombshell.  These two available adults bumped into each other at an airport lounge, started talking and Mike decided to go on the cruise with Jane.  Now they are engaged!  If the parental units officially merge, Sam and Brooke will become sisters, a repugnant thought to both. 
Sam and Brooke, covered in food, glare at each other.
Teen war is hell
Brooke sees Sam as an intrusive wannabe who stirs up trouble with condemning editorials on the jock and cheerleader culture.  Sam sees Brooke as a stereotypical superficial teen who only cares about being popular.  How do these two smart young women handle impending sisterhood?  Well, not very well.  There’s an argument over the bathroom sink, a full-on school cafeteria food fight, a scheme to make it appear Mike is cheating on Jane and even a synchronized menstruation cycle smackdown in the girls luxurious lavatory named after actress Kim Novak.  After all of this, Brooke begins accepting the situation, but not Sam, who feels she is losing her mom to Brooke.  In a last ditch effort to stop the wedding, Sam runs away to find Brooke’s mother who left Mike when Brooke was just a kid.  This seems to help Sam understand Brooke a bit better. 

By the first season finale, Sam and Brooke have made peace with their merging families and maybe finally see that they are more similar than different.  Unfortunately, this détente may be short lived as they deal with an earthquake, a cheesy boy band, a terminally ill May Tuna, a double wedding, which includes Delta Burke and Erik Estrada as CHIPS star Erik Estrada, and the class possibly murdering their tough-as-nails biology teacher Bobbie Glass!  It’s a wildly hysterical episode that needs to be seen to be believed and ends with a life-altering wedding crasher! 
Brooke and Sam give each other a questioning look
Confused yet?
Season Two deals with most of the aftermath of that wild, wacky and wonderful fiasco, but overall isn’t quite as good as the first one.  The WB wanted more “real” teen drama and issues, which meant the satirical elements weren’t as fully blended in with the drama.  Brooke and Sam accept they are now family, of sorts, but continue having ups and downs with each other.  They even compete for the affection of Harrison John.  In my opinion, he plays them both, so they could do better.  The series ends with a cliffhanger over who Harrison chose and if Brooke survived being hit by a car driven by a drunk and vengeful Nicole Julian.  To keep with the blogathon theme, I should note the second season introduced Josh Ford and Lily Esposito as an extremely mismatched romantic couple, with overly serious results.  
Bobbie Glass looks serious
Satire is a serious business 
Since POPULAR mostly exists in a hyper-reality bubble and is a Ryan Murphy production, the acting ranges from sincere to over the top and women have the best roles.  Carly Pope (Sam) and Leslie Bibb (Brooke) give solid lead performances.  Sara Rue (Carmen) gives the series a relatable heart.  Tamara Mellow (Lily) is believable as a feisty activist.  Tammy Lynn Michaels (Nicole) and Diane Delano (Bobbie Glass) are incredible as they portray often brutally ruthless characters with vulnerability beneath the hard surface.  Props to Adria Dawn (April Tuna) for plunging full-throttle into awkward outcast geekdom!  Oh, and I must not forget the familiar faces who pop up as parents.  Peggy Lipton is aloof perfection as Brooke’s mother.  Alley Mills is sweet and understanding as Harrison’s mom.  Delta Burke is phenomenal as Cherry Cherry, the sharped-tongue beauty queen mother to Mary Cherry! 
Mary Cherry looks shocked and scared
Were  you scared I forgot Mary Cherry?
Speaking of Mary Cherry, i was obsessed with this southern fried psycho diva back in the day and I still am!  She carries around cyanide and vials of E. coli in her purse.  She longs to be a mismatched couple with Joe, her nickname for Harrison John.  She will do ANYTHING in her pursuit of fame, including lip-sync to “Rock Me Amadeus” by Falco.  She will even dye her golden tresses the color of dung, and get possessed by Barbra Streisand, just to prove popularity isn’t about hair color and to feast on a lobster.  Ok, fine!  I’ll just say it!  Forget about Sam and Brooke!  Watch POPULAR for Leslie Grossman as Mary Cherry and the tragically too few appearances by Delta Burke as Cherry Cherry!  You will NOT be disappointed! 
Mary Cherry and Cherry Cherry visit a plastic surgeon
Webbed fingers won’t fix themselves 
In conclusion…
I think POPULAR still holds up 20-some years later.  It’s funny, it’s daring and ultimately there is a heart beating underneath, even during its crazier moments.  So if you’re looking for a different kind of teen comedy-drama with mismatched couples, POPULAR may be the series for you! 

Thank you for reading or listening to my half-blind words. 

(SIDE NOTE: click the pic ⤵️ to read about a very POPULAR book…)

A book based on Popular

Freak Out, 


P.S. click the pic ⤵️ for a different WB series from another blogathon… 🛸
Liz and Max from Roswell

P.P.S.  Obsessively maladjusted fans, like me, will notice how I mixed and matched POPULAR character and actor names to create Leslie Johns and Joe Grossman in STURGEONS! 🤓📗
The book Sturgeons, the complete serials, by John L. Harmon


  1. This sounds like a crazy series! There are so many films/series in this blogathon I'd never heard of, and this is one of them. But your beguiling review has me tracking this down online... I don't see anything on YouTube (my go-to), but I'll look around. Thanks in advance!

    1. I know what you mean about so many unfamiliar films and TV series in this blogathon, which makes the theme a very good choice!

      I'm very happy to hear I've inspired someone to track down Popular! I purchased the DVDs back in the early 2000s, so if it's not on YouTube, I don't know where it is. Sorry but good luck! It's worth it!

  2. There's more mismatched couples in this series than you can shake a pom-pom at! It looks like Ryan Murphy was warming up for his American Horror Stories, especially with the Mary Cherry character: "She carries around cyanide and vials of E. coli in her purse." Great stuff!

    1. Well, it's probably no accident that Leslie Grossman, the actress behind Mary cherry, has appeared in multiple seasons of american horror story! She seems to fit in perfectly with Ryan Murphy's twisted vision! Thanks for stopping by, brian!

  3. This sounds a rollercoaster of a series and like something you would write. Like Ruth this sounds like one to track down and not just as Erik Estrada is in it - you are on my Day 3 post with this great choice. Hope you can join my Name blogathon and thanks for joing John, always good to have you on board.

    1. Thanks, Gill! A roller coaster is a great description of this series!

      I've been learning a lot about films and television I never heard of with this blogathon, so I appreciate being able to join!

      I mentioned to Rebecca about reviewing Annie for the name blogathon, and it sounded like a go!

  4. I think my head is still spinning after reading your impassioned description of the labyrinthine plot of this series, but I had fun reading it! Thanks so much for joining the blogathon, John!

    1. You're welcome and thank you, Barry! To make your head spin a little bit more, there's so much I couldn't squeeze in this review about this truly crazy series! Lol

  5. Oh this was a fun read and a great flash from my young adult past. I loved it. I loved this show. My love for Ryan Murphy's work started with this show! xox

    1. Thank you very much and you're very welcome for the flashback! I'm with you, my love of Ryan Murphy started with Popular and I'm happy Leslie Grossman pops up and some of his other stuff!

  6. Wow! To be honest I had never heard of this, but it sounds like a lot of fun and I'm kind of looking for series recommendations these days. So, I'm definitely curious. Thanks a lot for the excellent article, John!

    1. Popular is a lot of fun with some very memorable characters! I don't know if it's streaming anywhere but I have seen used DVDs on ebay.

      Thanks for reading! I greatly appreciate it!

  7. Oh my word, I remember this series. The first season was definitely the best.

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Rebecca and I wondered if you would remember Popular since you remembered Roswell.