A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this TV show.
By pointing out that both popular and unpopular kids can be prejudiced, the show encourages young viewers to look beyond labels and avoid making snap judgements. The show doesn't deny high school's strict social rules, but suggests that it's possible to break them.
Positive Role Models
The two main characters don't always make smart decisions and don't always realize they're in the wrong, caving into peer pressure against their better judgement or talking negatively about someone they haven't fully bothered to get to know. One struggled with anorexia/bulimia in the past and still has serious problems with body image -- despite the fact that she's rail-thin. Over the course of the series, the girls' heated rivalry cools to a tenuous friendship, but it takes a while.
Violence & Scariness
A central character's father died, leaving her mother widowed.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Some kissing and sexual innuendo (played mostly for humor), plus an ongoing plotline concerning a teen couple thinking about having sex. Teens talk about using condoms. Another character fantasizes about having a relationship with her male teacher.
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Some iffy words pop up, including "whore," "bone," and "rack." "Ass" is also used a good bit, as in "kiss-ass," "huge-ass," etc.
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Products & Purchases
Some characters name drop high-end brands like Gucci, Calvin Klein, etc.
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
On at least one occasion, teens get drunk on tequila; one drinks so much she throws up. The same teen throws a party with alcohol when her parents aren't home, but she gets caught. The prescription drugs Xanax, Prozac, and Valium are mentioned.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that this series follows a group of high school sophomores segmented into stereotypical "in" and "out" groups: blondes vs. brunettes, jocks vs. geeks, conformists vs. individuals, etc.; though the show is subtly critical of these stratifications. Characters use "ass" a lot to punctuate sentences (as in "Don't be such a kiss-ass.") and dish out insults like "skank-ho." One character is still recovering from a serious eating disorder and often obsesses about her weight; she's also considering having sex with her boyfriend, although both remain virgins. A few pricey brand names are mentioned, too, and some teen characters drink alcohol socially with no obvious negative consequences...other than throwing up.
Is It Any Good?
If you're an avid Glee fan, it won't take you long to realize that Popular sounds a whole lot like it, minus the singing. (And with good reason, since Ryan Murphy, who also dreamed up the adults-only Nip/Tuck, created both series.) In both shows, for example, you'll find a star football player who's considering sex with his virginal cheerleader girlfriend and secretly loves to sing. You'll also spot an aggressive, sexually ambiguous science teacher in Popular that clearly inspired -- but pales in comparison to -- Glee's Sue Sylvester (Jane Lynch), and catch glimpses of Glee's Mr. Schuster (Matthew Morrison) in one of Popular's overly dedicated student advisers.
When it originally aired in 1999, Popular only stuck around for two seasons and left its fans hanging with one heck of a cliffhanger that would never get resolved -- and that's a shame, because it was a pretty good show. It became a pretty great show, however, when Murphy added an infectious soundtrack, changed some of the central plot points and called it Glee. So maybe things do get better with age.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.