Welcome to Episode One of Popular, in which Sam acts like an idiot, Brooke stands up for her values (not), Josh tries out for the school musical, Carmen tries out for the cheerleading squad, and everyone gets at least one chance to run off in a snit.
The first thing I noticed about this remarkably uneven show was the wandering Muppet minstrel who was singing about Teen Issues and Young Womanhood while riding around in the back of the Chiquita Banana truck. Didn’t they outlaw singing in the backs of moving trucks when the Georgia Satellites faded from the scene? Anyway. The annoying folk singer’s chauffeur pulls up in front of Sam’s house and the camera swoops inside like Tinkerbell going for another bump of fairy dust, right through the front door, up the stairs, and into Sam’s completely gorgeous bedroom. Somebody wanted to make way sure that we understand that Sam is "eclectic" and "alternative," because the set designers did a whammy on this one -- embroidered pillows, cheap-ass imported candle holders, and even a stained-glass window. Thank goodness for the Urban Outfitters home decorating kit. A caption floats across the screen to let us know that it’s Monday, the First Day of School.
Mom rushes in, crying, "Come on, Sam! Time for school!" So far, so good. Sam sits up sleepily, looking like she’s just spent an hour with the Max Factor Bedhead Division. Puh-leeze. Nobody’s eyeliner can survive a night of sleep that well -- not even if it’s waterproof. Sam must have been dreaming of head lice again, because she scratches her head for, like, five minutes after she wakes up. Mom roots around in Sam’s closet for a while, then dithers off into the next room. Hello? That would have driven me absolutely up a wall when I was a teenager, but this must be one of those it’s-okay-I’m-friends-with-my-mom relationships. Sam grabs an open box of breakfast cereal from beside her pillow and gets up to follow her mom around. What kind of parent lets her kid sleep with a big ol’ roach magnet next to the bed?
Mom whines about how she’s not going to go on some cruise, Sam says, "Oh, you kid, you’ll be fine." Then, perhaps to get back at her mom for digging in her closet, Sam proceeds to root around in her mother’s suitcase, only to discover a framed photograph of Mom, Sam, and the Dead Guy, a.k.a. Sam’s dad. "It’s been two years, Mom, time to move on. Dad wouldn’t want you carrying him around like this." Now, I know that we have to establish the plot by any means necessary, but what fifteen-year-old tells her mom to get over her recently-deceased dad? What a cold harpy! Maybe they’re setting her up to be a sociopath, instead of just another poorly conceived, poorly developed piece of eye-candy. Not. Mom and Sam share a tearful moment, which is almost genuinely touching, except for the fact that there’s a marauding folk singer hanging around the upper window like a flasher on the subway.
In a just and perfect world, they would both dash for their respective cell phones and call the cops. Instead, Sam cleverly diverts the conversation away from shallow concerns like her dead father and focuses right in on the important issues: asking if she can get a tattoo. Mom says, "No," Sammie whines, Mom calls in her Cool Mom Cred by recounting the time last summer when she let Sam get a fuschia stripe in her hair. Unfortunately, little Sammie hated the stripe because, when she got to school, "Even the Special Ed kids had colored hair." Oh my. Yes, indeed. And we all know that there’s nothing worse than having something in common with the Special Ed kids, don’t we? I hate this whiny cardboard excuse for a human being already, and it’s only five minutes into the show. And how exactly is getting a tat going to make her different? Like every village idiot in America doesn’t have a Pepe LePew tracking smelly footprints across one ass cheek, or a Varga girl riding a freaking eight ball on a bicep? Even sorority sisters have tattoos these days.