Edgy teen dramedy tries to spin a positive message.

What parents need to know

Positive messages

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.


A central character's father died, leaving her mother widowed.


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.


Some iffy words pop up, including "whore," "bone," and "rack." "Ass" is also used a good bit, as in "kiss-ass," "huge-ass," etc.


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.

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.

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What's the story?

Blonde cheerleader Brooke McQueen (Leslie Bibb) might be POPULAR. But there's no way she'll ever be friends with dark-haired alterna-girl Sam McPherson (Carly Pope) ... at least, not if Sam has anything to say about it. There's a social line drawn in the sand when the cheerleaders humiliate Sam's best friend Carmen (Sara Rue), and Sam and her friends declare an all-out war. But the battle stalls when the rivals learn that their parents -- Brooke's divorced dad (Scott Bryce) and Sam's widowed mom (Lisa Darr) -- plan to marry and make them step-sisters.

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.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about the show's portrayal of the high school social scene and whether it's been grossly exaggerated. Who are the heroes and villains supposed to be here? Does pitting overly simplistic stereotypes against each other -- ie., preppy, blonde cheerleader conformists vs.grungy, brunette alternative outsiders -- serve a certain purpose? Does it reinforce those stereotypes, or make them seem ridiculous?

  • What are the show's main messages when it comes to teen sex? Do you think the show handles the topic in a realistic way? Why or why not?

  • Why do you think this show only lasted for two seasons before it was canceled? Do you think it would have any fared better in today's media market?

TV details

Cast:Carly Pope, Leslie Bibb, Sara Rue
TV rating:NR
Available on:DVD

This review of Popular was written by

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  • Best: Really engaging; great learning approach.
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  • Good: Pretty engaging; good learning approach.
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  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

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