I did not want to write this recap. Don't get me wrong, I'm not trying to compare it to the difficulty that Sep had writing about the death of Joyce Summers. It's not that I don't have the cynicism handy to snipe MBTV-style at this episode despite it's "heavy" subject matter -- it's just hard to express my contempt for these clichéd plotlines without worrying that I could cross a line and offend someone who actually related to this episode in a big way.
So let me explain where I'm coming from. This episode was a huge step backward for Popular. Despite my near-complete disgust with the show this season, I will usually concede that Popular is usually a great showcase for gay themes. Even when Popular is bad, there's still a gay moment or two there that even Will & Grace doesn't have the guts to pull off. The fact that these kids' chemistry teacher is of ambiguous gender and no one seems to notice or care too much is the very thing that warmed me to this show. While other, lesser shows would give a hermaphrodite (or whatever Chem "is") "very special episode" status, Popular has permanently woven Chem into the fabric of the plotline, and doesn't even make him/her a particularly likeable character either. That takes moxie. One of the greatest conceits of last season occurred during a "very special episode" in which another teacher prepared for a sex change, and his most outspoken critic was none other than Chem her/himself.
With shows available to us these days such as Popular, Will & Grace, and Queer As Folk, it's not hard to forget how much of a vast wasteland TV used to be in terms of gay subject matter. Back in the eighties, there were no characters on TV who "happened to be" gay, just gay characters -- usually played by a guest star in a "very special episode." As soon as said gay guest star died of AIDS, got beaten to death by gay bashers, or killed him- or herself after a single episode, you could almost hear the producers and writers sighing, "Oh, thank God, we don't have to write anymore dialogue for that character. She was tedious!" There were no cool gay people on TV. None of them had sex lives, dressed well, had snazzy lines, or handled their gay-related setbacks with any dignity or panache. Instead, they got down on their hands and knees and begged the other straight regular characters for tolerance, and then thanked them at the episode's end for finally coming around.