Popular Revisited

16 Dec

Popular cast during the second season

In September 2009, I received the entire series of Popular on DVD for my birthday.  I immediately consumed all the episodes and noticed how this show didn’t fit into the late 90’s line up for the WB because of how queer it was.  I initially planned on updating with some more observations, but PhD research got in the way and I didn’t rewatch the series for over a year.  Tonight, I had the sudden urge–no a craving–for some Mary Cherry so I popped in the DVD, and look what I found!

Let’s start with some background on the series, it was created by Ryan Murphy and Gina Matthews in 1999.  Yes, THAT Ryan Murphy of Glee and Nip/Tuck fame.  Like many out there, I, too, find Glee to be problematic, and although I still watch it, I have become disenchanted after this season.  However, after watching Popular tonight (nd I’m only into the 4th episode of season 1), I realized why I’m so bummed about Glee–it’s not Popular, but it wishes it was!

Let’s start with the first episode of Populr (and I believe you can find it on youtube).  You’re introduced to two different social spheres of the female leads: Sam (Carly Pope) and Brooke (Leslie Bibb).  Sam’s “unpopular,” a wannabe journalist, a bit of a bitch, and will step on her friends for her own selfish reasons (not putting in a good word for Carmen, because then she won’t be invited to Brooke’s party, which means she won’t get the story her ‘hot’ teacher wants her to get).  Her gang includes Carmen (Sara Rue): who doesn’t make the cheerleading squad because she’s ‘fat’, even though she’s the best dancer; Lily (Tamara Mello): a student activist who protests frog disection; and Harrison (Christopher Gorham): the token sensitive guy of the group, he was once friends with Brooke but she ditched him because he wasn’t popular.

Brooke is cheerleader, who’s so-called perfect life isn’t that perfect after all (her mom left and she’s a recovering anorexic).  Her posse consists of Nicole (Tammy Lynn Michaels): a major bitch only concerned with her popularity and making others feel bad; Josh (Bryce Johnson): the quarterback boyfriend who has to date the head cheerleader, though he secretly auditions for the musical and gets the lead (he comes with a ‘best friend’ Sugar played by Ron Lester who’s main purpose is to be the fat comedic relief–he’s a wannabe gangster) and Mary Cherry (Leslie Grossman): who’s well… as I’ve said, she’s basically a drag queen with some major Single White Female moments.

If you haven’t noticed, these are popular tropes who show up in every high school based TV series, but especially so in Glee.  Let’s see: Sam is the non-singing Rachel, Brooke is clearly Quinn (exchanging anorexia for pregnancy), Josh is Finn (the singing quarterback and who’s popularity is at risk?  Zac Efron, you owe your career to this show!), Carmen definitely shares some similarities with Mercedes sans the sassy “black-itude,” Harrison bares some similarities to Artie (though I don’t find Artie as sympathetic or empathetic as Murphy would like, Harrison is quite sweet), but instead of being in a wheelchair, Harrison gets cancer, Santana is the softer version of Nicole, and Mary Cherry is clearly related to Kurt (though Murphy sees himself in Kurt and thus Kurt has become an actual character and not a cartoon).  Oh, and let’s not forget Popular‘s cheerleaders!  Who do you think would win in a fight: the Glamazons or the Cheerios?

Teenage characters aside, in the first few episodes you have the skeezy Theatre teacher (aka Sandy the former glee club teacher–although Will is getting there) who is subsequently fired and disappears; Sam and Brooke’s parents, who spontaneously get married in the second episode, making Sam and Brooke Kurt and Finn (Sam’s mother even gives a near exact version of Carole’s speech to Finn about living after her husband’s death); and Bobbie Glass (Diane Delano) is the missing link between Sue and Coach Beiste.  However, I believe she is deserving of her own post.

There is nothing wrong with Ryan Murphy recycling characters or plot points from one show to another, as none of this was original back in 1999.  However, it is a shame that Glee isn’t living up to the Popular-esque potential demonstrated in the pilot.  At the same time, many of the complaints about Glee‘s second season ring true for Popular, which also suffered in the second season, so it really isn’t surprising how many “very special” episodes have already occurred this season.

And one last thing: check out the sweeps stunt at 2:30. 

Secret Life Close Up: Amy

5 Mar

Amy Jurgens (Shailene Woodley)

Well, it was over a month ago when I posted the last on The Secret Life of the American Teenager and I admit, I took a break from the show.  I can only take so much stupidity at a time before I get annoyed, but I always come back so I can shake my head and wonder if this is what teenagers are really like–or if this is how conservative TV execs want us to think teenagers are like.

This time, I’m going to focus on Amy Juergens (Shailene Woodley), the female protagonist who became pregnant after her first sexual encounter.  Many people have complained about the portrayal of pregnant women on Glee–that they are narcissistic, manipulative, and crazy bitches.  They order there significant others around, lie to them, and degrade them.  While pregnant women on Glee are pretty horrific, personally, I find Amy to be more obnoxious than any of them.  However, that’s probably because Amy does much of the same but without being “punished” for her behavior.

Unlike Quinn (Dianna Agron) on Glee, Amy’s parents are incredibly supportive (if equally slow on the uptake).  When Amy’s pregnancy is finally revealed, there is a blow up, but a fairly minor one, as her parents let her continue to live at home.  Compared to many pregnant teenagers, Amy gets off easy in the parental department.  Even her “annoying” sister (India Eisley) turns it around and supports her, but how does Amy repay them?  She plays the “poor pregnant teenager” card non-stop without accepting that she got herself into this situation.  Case in point: when Amy’s son’s nursery takes over her sister’s room, her parents turn the garage into a suite for Ashley.  Amy’s response is to stomp around saying how she’s being punished for having a child.  If not getting a new room (and not having to share a room with your baby) is a “punishment for getting pregnant”–I think most pregnant girls would sign up for that.

For a teenage mom, Amy is living a pretty blessed life.  Two fellow classmates help get her a job at the church’s nursery, and she gets free daycare for her son by working there.  Did she have to search or look for a job?  Did she have to struggle to find day care services?  Does she even really have to worry about money?  No, no and no.  Her parents didn’t even ask or force her to get the job, only encourage her to take it as free child care is hard to find.  Other than the basic maternal aspects of having a child (feeding, diaper changing, etc), Amy has very little responsibility for her or her son’s lives.  Yet, she is completely ungrateful for what she has and takes everything out on her family, friends, and boyfriends.  Even her baby daddy tows the line, but it doesn’t seem to be good enough for her.

To be honest, I do enjoy most things about The Secret Life of the American Teenager.  Yes, it’s very conservative in its sexual politics, and the story lines are clichéd, but I still find most of the characters endearing (if stupid).  However, it’s biggest (and most unforgivable) downfall is Amy.

The Secret Life of the American Teenagers

3 Feb

Teenage love affairs. L to R: Adrian and Ricky, Amy and Ben, Grace and Jack

Have you watched The Secret Life of the American Teenager?  I have and it’s probably one of the most unintentionally hilarious and infuriating shows out there.  Some how it’s attached itself to the inner masochist in me, because I love to watch it even though it’s absolutely painful.  Some people experience the same thing with Jersey Shore, but Secret Life is the one for me.  It has very few redeeming qualities (namely Mayim Bailik and Molly Ringwald), yet I can’t stop watching this train wreck.  There’s plenty I want to discuss/complain about this unrealistic piece of propaganda, but that would lead to an incredibly long post that no one would read.  Instead, over the next few days, I’ll be giving you a post on each aspect of this show.  Today, I want to start with female sexuality.

In Secret Life, good girls abstain and bad girls have sex.  If you have sex then bad things will happen to you.  Example #1: Amy Juergens (Shailene Woodley), a freshman in high school who has a bun in the oven thanks to one night at band camp with Ricky (Daren Kagasoff).  She’s the cautionary tale proving that sex leads to babies, and she won’t let anyone forget that.  She constantly warns her friends not to have sex or they’ll end up pregnant like her (with supportive parents who help take care of the baby, a boyfriend who proposes to her, and classmates who arrange free child care and a job.  BOO FUCKING HOO AMY JUERGENS!  But that’s the next post).  It’s only after many episodes of Amy’s whining, that one friend finally tells her that if you use protection there’s a good chance you won’t get pregnant–but of course the friend is quickly silenced and the topic of safe sex is never brought up again.  Basically, the lesson of the first season is: IF YOU HAVE SEX YOU WILL GET PREGNANT or become the school slut.

Speaking of sluts, Adrian (Francia Raisa) fills in that role.  She’s a majorette and Amy’s baby daddy’s fuck buddy (just get confused?  They try to make it confusing, but it’s really not).  Adrian just loves sex, she’s so sexual, she’s insatiable.  Blah, blah, we get it.  Honestly, I don’t know how she manages to have so much sex, go to school, get straight As, and be a majorette.  That girl is working it.  However, it comes at a sad price.  She has no friends, she’s always angry, Ricky won’t commit, and she ends up in couples counseling with him.  Of course, she uses sex to compensate for an absent father, a near absent mother, and various insecurities, but that’s not really until season 2.  In the mean time, she sexually manipulates Ricky, breaks up relationships, and pressures and ridicules every who isn’t having sex or enjoying it.  She’s supposed to be Amy’s nemisis, since Adrian is sexing up Ricky and Ricky knocked up Amy and all that jazz.  On the bright side, Adrian has managed to have plenty of sex and not get pregnant, so she provides an extreme balance to Amy’s stupidity.

Finally, there’s Grace (Megan Park), the perky, Christian cheerleader who is abstaining until marriage, or that was the plan.  She shares many similarities with Glee‘s Quinn (Dianna Agron), except instead of having sex once and getting pregnant with a guy who isn’t your boyfriend (that’s Amy’s schtick), when Grace finally has sex with her football player boyfriend, Jack (Greg Finley), her overbearing father dies in a plane crash.  Thus, Grace believes her sexuality killed her father, who continually told her the importance of abstaining.  She enters a deep depression (it lasts about half a season) and refuses to have sex with Jack ever again because sex kills!*  Although, I’m behind in episodes, so she may change her mind.  It is very important to teach teenagers that sex can be dangerous and but couldn’t someone get an STD/STI?  Did we have to resort to plan crashes?  However, Grace is my favorite of the three leading ladies, because her story is just so ridiculous, and I would probably feel the same guilt if I thought my sexuality killed my father.    So, I can’t hate on Grace too much.

It blows my mind that people are actually producing these characters anymore.  The whole show seems to have transplanted early 1960s characters into 2009/2010, and just barely updated the jargon.  Secret Life is teaching teenagers (especially young women) the most ludicrous, old fashion ideas on sexuality.  I don’t think high schoolers are mature enough for sex; however, some will and shouldn’t we at least present sex positive images to them?  Especially, positive images of female sexuality, which already has enough negative stereotypes that it doesn’t need any help from an ABC Family show.  I would love it if there was an episode where Adrian explains what sexual precautions she takes, because she could become a positive role model, instead of the man stealing “slut.”  Even Grace could turn it around and become a great character.  I don’t think Grace would need to have sex again to be a sex positive role model, but she does need to stop being pressured into sexual experiences, and should admit that she doesn’t feel ready.  It’s okay to change your mind, it’s okay to realize you weren’t mature enough.  It’s also okay to say no, even if you’ve already had sex.  That’s part of maturing and growing up, and what all the characters need to do.

*I feel so late 80s/early 90s AIDS PSA now!  If you can, watch an episode of the original Degrassi High when they do an AIDS awareness episode and you’ll understand.

Degrassi: The Next Generation Season 9

29 Dec

All photos from Degrassi on Teen Nick website

As I’ve already made clear, I’m not a fan of the big high school TV dramas.  I tried 90210 and Gossip Girl, but I am a fan of the Degrassi franchise.  From the original Junior High series with Voula, Stephanie Kaye, and Spike getting knocked up with Emma to the Next Generation, where we watched Emma and company completely screw up over and over.

Sadly, living in the UK, I’m a little slow on the Teen Nick line up (not to mention that “the N” became “Teen Nick”) and didn’t realize that the new Degrassi season had even begun, so this post may be a little late in the game.  However, as I caught up with the Season 9 premier last night, I was incredibly disappointed.  The original series (and the revival with The Next Generation) was created in response to shows like Beverly Hills, 90210, where the wealthy teenaged characters were played by 20-somethings.  Degrassi was created to show a more realistic view of high school life, but sadly, the popularity of Gossip Girl and 90210 is altering Degrassi, and not for the better.  After watching the first episode, I’ve identified the major changes, and ways to salvage this show.

Theme Song

As always, the hour long season premier provides drama, new characters, and a new theme song.  I was fine when they removed the lyrics and removed the school location from the opening credits.  Last season’s opener returned to the older style, but a crappy version of “Whatever it takes.”  I didn’t think the opening song could get worse, but this wannabe-punk version did.  If that wasn’t bad enough, they screwed it up again when they let some nasal cat with a guitar the ending credit song.  Honestly, how can one show screw up the theme song twice in one show? Solution: Cut the ending song and go back to any pre-season 8 version.

Gossip Girl-esque Siblings

The Diplomatic Siblings: Declan and Fiona

In regards to new characters, we’ve got Declan (Landon Liboiron) and Fiona (Annie Clark), Diplomatic siblings who are attending the public Degrassi Community School to promote their father’s political agenda (private schools = bad).  Obviously, Declan is bringing the Chuck Bass to Degrassi this year–just look at those eyebrows!  In the first episode he manages to help break up the “Degrassi’s It Couple” and help get one character addicted to meth.  Solution: Go Cruel Intentions (Roger Kumble 1999) with them.  Incest would be the final taboo for Degrassi.

New Girl Jenna

New Girl Jenna

There’s not much to say about Jenna (Jessica Tyler), other than she shouldn’t be allowed to sing.  In her first scene she says she’s so glad “the girls get along at this school” because her old school was “back stab high.”  She must have come from 90210 then.  Later on she says at her old school she was “such a boyfriend stealer.”  Well, then no wonder her old school was back stab high!  At the moment, her character is about as annoying as her voice.  The only bright side is Clare (Aislinn Paul) has a major girl crush on her.  Maybe they will be the next Paige and Alex.  Solution: Cut Jenna or have her and Clare go gay.

Peter and Mia

Peter and Mia

Peter (Jamie Johnston) is on a roll!  Last season started with his girlfriend Darcy (Shanae Grimes) ditching him to volunteer in Africa (or move to Beverly Hills to star in 90210–but whatever), and this season begins with Mia (Nina Dobrev) leaving him for a Parisian modeling gig (aka The Vampire Diaries).  Last season he comforted the loss of Darcy by rebounding with Mia, so what does he do this year?  He rebounds with crystal meth.  That’s right kids.  Peter’s a meth head.  Well, for only one episode, because addiction never lasts more than a week on this show.  On the bright side, his mother, Principal Hatzilakos (Melissa DiMarco) has returned from Regina to rule over Degrassi Community School once more.  Solution: Send Peter to Regina, or hook him up with Riley (Argiris Karras).

No More Liberty!!!!!

Liberty Van Zandt

The saddest thing of this new season is it seems the beloved Liberty Van Zandt (Sarah Barrable-Tishauer) is no longer with the show.  While Manny (Cassie Steele) and Emma (Miriam McDonald) are present in the opening credits, poor Liberty is no where to be seen.  I know she may have started as an annoying and nerdy 12 year old, but giving her baby up for adoption and watching the love her life die from a stabbing, really endured her to me.  I’ll admit, I tear up when she finally cries over J.T.’s  death in “The Bitterest Pill.”  Sadly, none of the other characters can replace her, but bravo to Manny for being promoted to the best character on Degrassi now that Liberty has finally grown up.  Solution: Really, there isn’t anything that can be done to replace Liberty; however, permanently adding Kevin Smith would be a good start.  Also, a vampire at Degrassi could be quite fun.

Well, there you have it.  The first episode of season 9 Degrassi: The Next Generation in a nut shell.  I only have on more thing to add…

Dear Television Gods:

please, please, please promote Spinner (Shane Kippel) to a real show!  All his other friends have left!  Craig (Jake Epstein) was on Broadway in Spring Awakening and Jimmy (Aubrey “Drake” Graham) is out of a wheel chair and up for a grammy, but what about poor Spinner?  The least you could do is send him to a grown up show.

Sincerely,

Liz Thrilla


Great. My secret weapon is PMS. That’s just terrific. Thanks for telling me.

4 Nov

buffy_the_vampire_slayer_1992-thumb-550x321-18443During the original run of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer series, there were two major camps: fans of the movie and fans of the series.  It’s died down since the series ended, but there are still rabid fans that despise the other incarnation of they’re favorite slayer.

Until the past few years, I was firmly in the movie fan category, and was a rather disappointed 12 year old when I first watched the series.  I remember reading about the new Buffy series in TV Guide, but when I first watched it 1997, I didn’t recognize it.  If you can’t tell, I love all things camp!  The more ridiculous and campy a movie or series is the more I’ll probably enjoy it.  The series was lacking the purple spandex and took itself far too seriously for my liking.  Then I just became anti-anything that had to do with the WB, so it took until the 6th season episode, “Once More with Feeling” for me to finally change my mind.  Through the years I’ve grown to enjoy and love the series, thanks to some research on Joss Whedon and the complete series on DVD.

I might love the series now, but I still prefer the movie–even if it’s a “bastardization” of Whedon’s original script.  I’ve found my favorite episodes of Buffy tend to be the most over the top ones.  For example, “Once More with Feeling” or the one where we follow Xander around for a night, while Buffy and Co. try to save the world in the subplot.  My love for the movie probably explains why I prefer Spike to Angel (not as a love interest) and the nerd villains of Season 6–because they capture the over the top humor from the original film.

I realize Kristy Swanson isn’t nearly as kick-ass as Sarah Michelle Gellar in the role, but she captures the frivolity of a cheerleader from the valley who’s realized her life plan–involving graduating from high school, going to Europe and marrying Christian Slater–has been permanently interrupted by a pre-determined destiny involving mythical creatures.  Of course, the difference in characterization is partially due to the fact the series and the film introduce Buffy in two very different places (in the series, she already knows she’s the slayer and has seen the destruction it causes to her, her family and her friends).

However, I must say the biggest reason I love the film was the way Buffy can sense vampires through menstrual cramps.  The character of Buffy was created by Joss Whedon as a response to the horror genre tropes, where bubbly, blonde “cheerleaders” are usually the first to die.  Buffy is unsuspecting and that is her appeal.  However, taking something that every woman deals with (menstrual cramps) and turning it into a super power to help her fight evil was brilliant.  I know I wish my monthly cramps would signal something more than the shedding of my uterus.  Don’t you?

Anyway, this stemmed from the news I just received (and I realize I’m probably slow to the game) that they are trying to “relaunch/remake” the film for 2012.  It seems it won’t involve the TV Series cannon nor Whedon in the production, which makes sense as his original script underwent so many changes to make it “lighter.”  However, I have one request: keep the cramps!

Popular: The WB at it’s Campiest

2 Nov

PopularI don’t know how many people remember the TV series Popular from the WB’s 1999-2001 seasons, but it’s an awesome gem that suffered an early death by cancellation. Before I get into the reasons I love this show, let’s go over the history of the WB circa 1999.

The WB launched in January 1995 and for the first two years didn’t really have any “hits” outside of 7th Heaven, and to a lesser extent the Steve Harvey and Jamie Foxx Shows, though I personally enjoyed Unhappily Ever After, and to a much lesser extent Sister, Sister. Then Buffy the Vampire Slayer aired in March 1997, which changed the WBs course forever. Instead of focusing on broad comedies or family oriented dramas, the powers-at-be decided to go for the teen market, and quickly following Buffy‘s success, they churned out Dawson’s Creek that catapulted the station and it’s stars to the stratosphere. Following James Van Der Beek and company, the WB launched Felicity and Charmed in the Fall of 1998.

The WB wasn’t the first station to reel in the teen market, but it was the first one to cater primarily to teenagers. Fox had Beverly Hills, 90210, but also The Simpsons, and Married With Children–while popular with the younger demographic, they weren’t aimed specifically at teenagers or about them. ABC had TGIF, but Sabrina, the Teenage Witch and Boy Meets World, didn’t have the bite that the hour long Dawson and Buffy had.

Dawson, Buffy, and 7th Heaven shaped every program the WB launched until it joined to form the CW Network. The “Dawsons” were shows about young adults, featured impressive dialogue for the character’s age groups, love triangles, relationship dilemmas, and never really found an audience beyond the teenage girl demographic. These included, Felicity, Young Americans (a Dawson’s Creek spin off), Hyperion Bay and D.C. (back-to-back shows with Mark-Paul Gosselaar that both failed), Glory Days (which could be considered a “Buffy” but it’s from Kevin Williamson), and One Tree Hill. The “Buffys” obviously had supernatural aspects and loads of action and included Charmed, Angel, Smallville, Supernatural, Roswell, Birds of Prey, Tarzan and a few others. Finally, the “7th Heavens” were family or generational dramas: Everwood, Jack & Bobby, Just Legal, The Mountain, and Related. Gilmore Girls is perhaps the only one I hesitate placing in the “7th Heaven” category, as the character development and dialogue quite easily fit in with the “Dawsons,” it’s ultimately about the family of relationships between Emily, Loralei and Rory.

So here we are, 1999 and the WB is in full swing, they launch a Friday night schedule: Angel, Roswell, and Popular. Although a dark comedy, Popular was generally scheduled around the other successful teen dramas, which did not make for good bed fellows. It was never very successful. It was pure camp at it’s best, and bad, forced drama at it’s worst. Personally, I believe the show was canceled due to the second season, which became a train wreck when the writers/creators/producers attempted to conform to the “Dawson” genre by adding drama and loosing a lot of the comedy. Of course, the comedy also suffered when Leslie Grossman negotiated her contract to allow her every 4th week off due to the intensity of her performance as Mary Cherry. Understandable, but with her out ever fourth episode or so, the writers, who relied on the character for most the humor, created dramatic story points to make up for it–unsuccessfully. However, while the second season was the final straw that canceled the show, I think the reason it was unsuccessful was because it’s gay.

I mean it. It might not have any openly gay main characters, but it has a gay sensibility, aka it’s one of the campest show’s I’ve seen on network television. Mary Cherry is a straight up drag queen, Ms. Glass (aka “Sir” aka “Claw) is a closeted, butch lesbian who deals with her own sexuality through the course of the show, and most importantly, it doesn’t fall into the homogenized “Buffy,” “Dawson,” or “7th Heaven” genres, which is why it’s the only WB show I ever watched (excluding Buffy which I only started watching a few years ago after it had been off the air). The only other show that ever attracted my attention like Popular, was the short lived Gross Pointe–a satirical look at Beverly Hills, 90210. Much like Popular, Gross Pointe parodied the other network shows.

This is only the beginning of a series of posts I will be writing about Popular. For my birthday, I received the complete series on DVD and I plan to write an article on the most notable episodes (if not all/the majority). Eventually, I might do the same with other WB shows, but seeing as I only have Buffy on DVD and I don’t know if I could ever get myself to watch even a whole episode of Dawson’s Creek, we’ll see how that goes.

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