Popular: The Complete First Season

I remember vaguely watching Popular when it aired about four years ago and I was never particularly impressed. It seemed to me a generic high school dramedy mixing elements of various other television series (think Ally McBeal crossed with 90210). But upon re-watching the entire first season on DVD, I have to say there is something unique about the series. The premise is basic: in the first episode, Sam "unpopular" McPherson (Carly Pope) and Brooke "popular" McQueen (Leslie Bibb) are forced together by the marriage of their single parents. This creates a season of societal war between Brooke and Sam's respective social groups. And, initially, it seems like we've see this all before: plots involving the race for homecoming queen and a student not wanting to dissect a frog, stereotypical characters like the fat girl, the cheerleader, and the jock. But then you start to notice a certain underlying social commentary to the series that is more sophisticated than you initially thought. The characters have some substance beneath their stereotypical facades and the plots — a shop teacher wants to get a sex change, one character has difficulty with the fact that his mother is a lesbian — are often very intelligent and mature. Even the comedy, which at times borders on bizarre (a season-long quest to kidnap Gwenyth Paltrow gets a little old), manages to create some very clever satire. But in the end, Popular seems to be caught between its typical teen comedy and much more intelligent social commentary. And the result, though worthy of your time overall, is a bit of a mess. The DVD set, containing all 22 of the first season's episodes, has few extras (there is commentary on only three of the episodes, though it is fairly entertaining nonetheless). But hopefully its release can give Popular a little more of the popularity it deserved. (Buena Vista)