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Popular (TV series)

Popular was a teenage comedy-drama on The WB Television Network in the United States, created by Ryan Murphy (Nip/Tuck) and Gina Matthews (What Women Want, Jake 2.0, 13 Going on 30), starring Leslie Bibb and Carly Pope as two teenage girls that reside on polar opposite sides of the popularity spectrum at their high school, but are forced to co-exist when their single parents randomly meet on a cruise ship and get married.

The show ran for two seasons on The WB from 1999 to 2001. Though a big hit with The WB's teenage audience during its first year, the ratings could not sustain the network moving it to Friday nights. Creator Ryan Murphy was promised a third season, but instead, Popular was canceled, leaving the final episode of the series on a violent cliffhanger which was never resolved.

Plot synopsis

Sam McPherson and Brooke McQueen, students at Jacqueline Kennedy High School, are polar opposites. Brooke is a popular cheerleader, and Sam an unpopular journalist. Their respective groups are forced to socialize when Brooke's father and Sam's mother get engaged, and the two girls reluctantly begin sharing a house.

The plot of the first season revolves around the girls' school life, rival friendship groups, their mutual animosity and their plan to separate their parents. At the end of the season, Sam finds Brooke's real mother and encourages her to come back to town, which breaks up the engagement and splits the new family apart.

By the second season, Sam and Brooke realize that their parents were happy together, and therefore team up to reunite them, a move which results in the girls slowly becoming close friends, and even referring to each other as "family", though tensions rise when they both get involved with the same boy. Also, a reversal of fortunes takes place, with Brooke resigning from cheerleading to focus on school issues and Sam experiencing a surge of sudden popularity at school. In the end of the second season finale — which turned out to be the unexpected series finale — Brooke is run over by a drunk and angry Nicole Julian.


Brooke McQueen: Brooke is the most popular girl at Kennedy High. She is beautiful, a straight A student, and a cheerleader. An only child whose mother abandoned the family when Brooke was eight years old, she lives alone with her father until the merging of the McQueen and McPherson families. Brooke becomes a half-sister to new born baby girl, MacKenzie, whom her step-mother gave birth to towards the end of the series. Though she strives to appear perfect, over the the course of the two seasons, Brooke reveals her anxiety and low self-esteem on a number of occasions. She struggles with both bulimia and unresolved grief over her mother's abandonment. Brooke spends a good portion of the series romantically involved with footballer Josh Ford, but also develops a relationship with Harrison John, a childhood friend from whom she had grown apart due to their opposite social status. She mentions "thinking about" an attraction to girls, though this was never developed further. Brooke is compassionate, kind, and socially aware, though occasionally lacks confidence in her convictions, and is capable of thoughtless and petty behavior when she is unhappy and ruthlessness when she is angry. Her complex and initially hostile/eventually close relationship with Sam McPherson is one of the cornerstones of the series.

Sam McPherson: Smart and pretty, Sam McPherson is strong-willed, articulate and very stubborn. An only child Sam's father died when she was fourteen, and she lives alone with her mother until the merging of the McPherson and McQueen families. After her mother gives birth to Brooke's father's baby, Sam becomes a half-sister to baby girl MacKenzie. Sam is one of the "unpopular" girls at Kennedy High, along with her best friends Harrison, Carmen, and Lily, a situation which changes when she and Brooke McQueen begin living together. Sam is the editor of the school paper (although as the series progressed, the paper ceased being mentioned) and often wrote stories that exposed hypocrisy and unfairness at Kennedy High. She dates football player George Austin, but eventually discovers feelings for longtime best friend Harrison John after he confesses his love for her. The series creator, Ryan Murphy, stated that had the third season been filmed, Sam would have struggled with her sexuality and realized she was gay. Sam is funny, passionate and has an oft-voiced social conscience, but is quick to anger and slow to let go of hostility. She is also painfully insecure and masks this with a prickly attitude. Her complex and initially hostile/eventually close relationship with Brooke McQueen is one of the cornerstones of the series.

Harrison John: Harrison John is a smart but socially awkward "unpopular" guy who lives with his gay mother after the divorce of his parents. Harrison has had a crush on Brooke McQueen since they were children, one that is eventually reciprocated, but ends up torn when he reveals that he also has long-held feelings for his best friend, Sam McPherson. In the second season, Harrison suffers from leukemia,and while in bed rest at the hospital, becomes good friends with his roommate Clarence. Sadly Clarence dies in "The Consequences of falling" but comes back as an angel, to provide a suicidal Harrison with reason why he should not jump off the hospital roof top. Harrison returns to his room later expecting to die, but survives after a bone marrow transplant from Nicole Julian. Popular but unstable cheerleader Mary Cherry has a crush on Harrison, who she erroneously and consistently refers to as "Joe". Harrison is often portrayed as both happy with and alarmed by the fact that his closest friends are all female, and struggles in his interaction with other guys, though eventually develops tentative friendships with popular footballers Josh Ford and Sugar Daddy. By the end of the series, both Brooke and Sam ask Harrison to the Junior prom but eventually realize that it wouldn't work. Harrison is then forced to choose between Brooke and Sam while they both sit across from him waiting for his answer. The audience never actually hears Harrison's answer but can only assume that he chose Sam after seeing Brooke's reaction.

Nicole Julian: Nicole Julian is a rich, power-hungry cheerleader who consistently manipulates others for her own gain, and is personally responsible for most of the major friction which occurs at Kennedy high school. She is the on-again, off-again best friend of Brooke McQueen. Early in the series, she reveals that she is jealous of Brooke by sleeping with Brooke's ex-boyfriend, Josh Ford, and would love her popular status. During the course of the show, Nicole displays her softer side on many occasions, revealing a surprisingly vulnerable and sad person underneath, due to her alcoholic mother's constant criticism and the discovery that she was adopted. Her devious tactics usually allow her to get her way, at the cost of alienating the other characters. When her Machiavellian schemes eventually fail her in the end, and Brooke has had enough and chooses her relationship with Sam over Nicole, an angry, drunk and jealous Nicole ends the series in a defining way by deliberately running Brooke down in her car.

Mary Cherry: Mary Cherry (always referred to by both herself and all other characters with both names) is an idiotic, bubbly cheerleader in the popular group. Mary Cherry comes from a very rich family, and as a result tends to be spoiled and rude to those who aren't popular, though she is exceedingly generous with her money. Mary Cherry has a long history of mother issues; her mother, Cherry Cherry (Delta Burke), often insults and degrades her even though she claims to love her. Mary Cherry's character is a consistent example of the series' brush with hyper-reality; she is seldom believable as an actual person, and is often referred to as "borderline retarded" by other characters, but appears as a great comic effect throughout the series. She develops a crush on Harrison, whom she calls "Joe" even though she eventually reveals that she does in fact know his real name. In the final episode of the series, it is revealed that she has a long-lost twin sister, "B.Ho", who was raised in the Bronx. After Mama Cherry chooses B.Ho over Mary Cherry, Mary Cherry becomes an orphan.

Josh Ford: Josh Ford is the quarterback of the football team and all-around "popular" guy of the school. He dates Brooke McQueen, Carmen Fererra, April Johnston and Lily Esposito and is best friends with Sugar Daddy. Josh is artistically talented and appears as the lead in two school productions, though struggles with his school work. Initially presented as good-natured but rather vacuous, Josh develops a social conscience due to his relationship with activist Lily, and helps her with various causes. Josh and Lily get married but struggle with both finances and the non-existent sexual nature of their relationship. In the final episode of the series, Josh and Lily realize that married life isn't what they thought it would be. After a bad day, Josh tells Lily that he doesn't think they will be okay.

Lily Esposito: Lily Esposito is an activist in every sense of the word. She's considered to be a part of the unpopular crowd, along with her best friends Sam, Carmen, and Harrison. She was confused about her sexuality, but eventually settled into a relationship with Josh Ford. Lily is a vegetarian and passionately committed to both animal rights and social causes. She marries her first love, Josh Ford, towards the end of the series but realizes that married life isn't what she thought it would be.

Carmen Ferrara: Carmen is a pretty but unpopular girl along with her best friends Sam, Lily, and Harrison. She is initially rejected from the cheerleading squad due to her weight, but later becomes co-captain of the Glamazons. She suffers a pregnancy scare and has an abusive, alcoholic mother. Carmen was a headlined character for both seasons, but her inclusion in main storylines diminished as the final season aired.

Michael 'Sugar Daddy' Bernardino: The wannabe-gangster of the popular group. He is best friends with Josh and is on the football team. He has problems with his weight and doesn't think he will ever be loved by a female until he meets and eventually dates exchange student Exquisite Woo.

George Austin: George is a new student at Kennedy High who dates Sam McPherson for a few months. Their romance ends abruptly when George walks in on Sam and Harrison kissing. It is apparent from the last few episodes that George was more invested in his and Sam's relationship than she was as she didn't even fight for their relationship after the kiss between Sam and Harrison.


There are total of 43 episodes, the 43rd episode ending in a cliffhanger.


Despite fitting into a rather common category, as a teen-centered mix of drama and comedy, Popular differentiated itself from its peers in its quirky, non sequitur humor and overall satirical approach to characters and story lines, a feature that would grow as the series progressed. Such elements included Mary Cherry's long-lost sister from the ghetto, B. Ho (and even their mother's name, Cherry Cherry); an occasion where both groups switched hair colors; Bobbi Glass's lost finger being replaced with a metal one complete with extendable pointer and knife attachments; and Josh's work as a window salesman. The show also utilized a variety of pop culture references and nonsensical jokes (for instance, April Tuna's reference to "getting some frottage" in the hall closet).

Points of Interest

The relationships of the cast were often ironically opposite to the relationships of the characters. Leslie Bibb and Carly Pope often laughed during scenes in which their characters fought, as they are real-life best friends, and said it was really hard for them to "hate" each other. Tammy Lynn Michaels, who played Nicole Julian, a bitchy cheerleader given to homophobic comments, is in real life the wife of musician Melissa Etheridge. The couple have infant twins, a boy and girl. Anel Lopez Gorham, who played popular Poppita Fresh, is in real life the wife of Christopher Gorham, who played unpopular Harrison John.

In the second season, there were some cast rotations that meant several characters were referred to, but never seen. Exquisite Woo (Michelle Krusiec), Poppita Fresh, and Adam Rothchild-Ryan (Wentworth Miller) are all listed as having won spots on the cheerleading squad, but none of those characters appeared during the course of the second season. Leslie Grossman didn't appear in several episodes, due to a change in her contract, which allowed her time off due to her workload on the show.

Leslie Bibb and Bryce Johnson both mention that while there was a constant stream of directors on the show, creator Ryan Murphy was always on set whenever Mary Cherry was in a scene in order to get Leslie Grossman to play the part exactly as he envisioned it.

The third season was in outline form when the show came to an end. If it had returned, Ryan Murphy stated that part of the season would focus upon family matters interrupting school, Sam realizing that she was gay, and a now-brunette Brooke wanting to be less popular. Around the middle of the season, an old-folks home would have bought the high school and all the kids would have gotten their GED's. The show then would have fast-forwarded five years to show the characters living together in Melrose Place - which Mary Cherry has purchased.


Actor Character
Leslie Bibb Brooke McQueen
Carly Pope Samantha 'Sam' McPherson
Tamara Mello Lily Esposito
Christopher Gorham Harrison John
Sara Rue Carmen Ferrara
Bryce Johnson Josh Ford
Tammy Lynn Michaels Nicole Julian
Ron Lester Michael 'Sugar Daddy' Bernardino
Leslie Grossman Mary Cherry
Lisa Darr Jane McPherson
Scott Bryce Mike McQueen
Diane Delano Miss Roberta 'Bobbi' Glass
Nurse Jessi Glass
Rock Glass
Uncle Tipton

Supporting cast

Actor Character
Alley Mills Robin John
Anel Lopez Gorham Poppita 'Poppy' Fresh
Adria Dawn April Tuna
Hank Harris Emory Dick
Diana Bellamy Principal Cecelia Hall
Robert Gant Vice Principal Calvin Krupps
Christopher Wiehl Leo Ferrara
Michelle Krusiec Exquisite Woo
Wentworth Miller Adam Rothschild-Ryan
Anthony Montgomery George Austin
Delta Burke Cherry Cherry
Mandy Freund May Tuna
Mitchell Manicone Larry Cherry (uncredited)

DVD releases

The complete series of Popular has been released on DVD in region 1 for the very first time by Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment (formerly Buena Vista Home Entertainment).

DVD Name Ep # Release Date
Season 1 22 September 21 2004
Season 2 21 March 8 2005

Awards and nominations

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Year Award Result Category Recipient
2000 Casting Society of America Nominated Best Casting for TV, Comedy Pilot
2000 GLAAD Media Awards Won Outstanding TV Individual Episode (For episode "Wild Wild Mess")
2001 Nominated Outstanding TV Comedy Series -
2000 Genesis Awards Won Television - New Series (For episode "Under Siege") -
2001 Won Television - Comedy Series (For episode "Joe Loves Mary Cherry") -
2000 SHINE Awards Won Comedy Episode (For episode "Booty Camp")
2000 TV Guide Awards Nominated Favorite Teen Show
2000 Teen Choice Awards Nominated TV - Choice Sidekick Ron Lester
Nominated TV - Choice Comedy
Nominated TV - Choice Actress Carly Pope
Nominated TV - Choice Actress
Won TV - Choice Breakout Show
2001 Nominated TV - Choice Sidekick Ron Lester
Nominated TV - Choice Comedy

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