The Show: The so-called thinking TV fan cheered and cherished Freaks and Geeks back in 1999, even though an equally zingy high-school hour went by almost unnoticed. The WB’s Popular crashed hots and nots when sophomore commoner Sam McPhereson (Carly Pope), scrappy writer for Kennedy High’s Zappruder Reporter, and Brooke McQueen (Leslie Bibb), affluent blond Glamazon cheerleader, become mortal enemies and impending half-siblings when Sam’s mom and Brooke’s dad get engaged. And forget conventional dramedy: Creator Ryan Murphy (who eventually earned a sleeper hit with his gleefully amoral Nip/Tuck) steered Popular into a bizarro world with an utter disregard for the conventions of common sense not seen on the small screen since Twin Peaks’ second season. Popular also delivered more nonstop wit per episode than an entire season of straight guys getting queer eyed.
Sam and her gang—nice boy Harrison (Christopher Gorham), unskinny cute girl Carmen (Sara Rue), and consciousness rouser Lily (Tamara Mello)—trade bitchy zingers and looks with Brooke’s inner sanctum—her quarterback boyfriend turned musical actor, Josh (Bryce Johnson), his husky teammate Sugar Daddy (Ron Lester), platinum queen bitch Nicole (Tammy Lynn Michaels), and the sublime creation Mary Cherry (Leslie Grossman), a nouveau riche Dallas girl recently arrived to this fictitious California sea hamlet who is half sass savant and half escaped lunatic. Each loathes the other—Sam pities Brooke and her friends as “some bad Mariah Carey power ballad come to life,” Brooke dismisses Sam’s gang as one of Kennedy High’s “unloved alternative groups”—and it makes for a monsoon of surreal dazzle, complete with dance sequences, musical interludes, cartoony sound effects, a woman’s rest room called the Novak and made up like a parlor room at an old Hollywood noshery, the best one-liners outside a drag show (Mary Cherry to peon Asian exchange student: “Let’s get one thing straight, China girl, the only thing exquisite at this school is my ass”), and in a bit of sheer genius, Delta Burke as Mary Cherry’s drill-sergeant control-freak mother, Cherry Cherry.
The Discs: All 22 episodes of the first season come spread over six DVDs, which for a TV series this little seen is gift enough (Earth to Fox: we want our Action DVD and we want it now), so there’s little bonus material. The lone extras are three cast/crew commentaries: the slow, season-setting pilot; the campy The Scarlet Letter-riffing “Caged!” episode where the girls disclose their shameful secrets; and the giddy “Hard on the Outside, Soft in the Middle” in which Lily is named “teen activist of the year” by a right-wing confab and during which she recounts her efforts to save a lobster, Li’l Eddie, from a dinner-plate fate.