So here’s why I think Ryan Murphy’s “Popular” got cancelled after only two seasons: falling ratings is one, yes, but the other reason could also be because while it had a great first season, it could not be sustained in the second season.
Here’s the thing that I don’t quite get: the second season starts off really nice and funny, with all the pizazz and in-your-face coolness that so defined season 1. So, where did it go wrong?
Well, half-way through the season, whilst trying to control myself from the incessant yawning-inducing episodes I was watching, I realized why: the season just didn’t seem as good as the first one. Now don’t get me wrong. It’s still funny, and the nasty, snarky banter is up to par with the first season, but there was still something missing. Maybe it’s because American high school TV shows always seem to have the need to come off as PSAs whenever they run out of good stories, rehashing the same old storylines from other teen TV shows that have come before it: Alcoholism? check. Domestic violence? check. Drug abuse? check. Cancer (or any variation thereof)? check. Drunk driving? check. Teen pregnancy? check. Pre-marital teen sex? Check. A discussion on doing it vs. abstinence? check. Some form of eating disorder? check. Death? check. Homophobia? check. Some form of coming out and a discussion of coming out? Check. Hate crimes? check.
If you think I’m kidding, please see previous American TV shows, re: Beverly Hills 90201 (the original one, not the remake), Party of Five (didn’t one of the characters used to be an alcoholic?), Felicity, and before that, when I was growing up, High School Confidential and Degrassi Junior High. We can probably go waaaay back and dig up some more of the same actually.
To illustrate my point, consider the following in the second season of this show:
1. Picture perfect all-American cheerleader, Brooke McQueen (Leslie Bibb) has an eating disorder.
2. Lily Esposito (Tamara Mello) has an addiction to cough syrup. It was just one gulp actually. In the Philippines, that would be considered experimenting, not an addiction.
3. Harrison Ford (Christopher Gorham) develops leukemia.
4. Nicole Julian (Tammy Lynn Michaels) finds out she’s adopted and spends the rest of the season looking for her biological mom.
5. Carmen Ferrera (Sara Rue) has an alcoholic mom and is a domestic violence survivor.
6. Mary Cherry (Leslie Grossman) has a tax evading mom and becomes poor.
7. Sam McPherson (Carly Pope) struggles with her interracial relationship with what seems to be the only black guy on campus.
And the bad thing is, when it all gets dramatic, the comedy falls flat, and just seems all the more appalling. In one episode, April Tuna (Adria Dawn, who looks like Tilda Swinton’s love child), the Star Trek loving, overachieving, socially inept geek from hell is mistaken for the one who dies in a car crash accident and people joke about it. That’s just in bad taste. The show really shines when it’s being satirical, ironic, hysterical, over-the-top,outrageous and campy. And who can resist camp?!?
I also did not realize how many stereotypes this show was perpetuating as well. You have the blonde, all-American golden-hearted jock football jock Josh (Bryce Johnson), the blonde, all-American cheerleader who wants to be taken seriously, Brooke (Leslie Bibb), the dark-haired geeky, rebel without a cause, Sam (Carly Pope), Sam’s geeky bestfriend who’s in love with her, Harrison (Christopher Gorham), the sexually ambiguous/ambivalent butchy chemistry teacher, Bobbi (Diane Delano)…the list could go on.
In fact, I just realized how much this TV show seems more like “Glee”, which is also a Ryan Murphy production. The football jock with the heart of gold is still there, so is the pretty, blonde, All-American cheerleader, the dark-haired geeky rebel (who now just happens to be Jewish), the sexually ambiguous teacher, except now she’s teaching PE. The token African American person in “Glee” is now a girl, there is a token Asian American girl as well and an Indian principal. The only thing that makes “Glee” interesting is the music and Kurt. We’ll see what else “Glee” can deliver this year.
“Popular” came out in 1999. “Glee” came out a good 10 years after.
It’s nice to know that the more things change, the more things stay the same.