Oh joy, another empty-headed series on the WB network about vain and vacuous teenagers who aren't assigned nearly enough homework. Instead, the un-arresting adolescents on "Popular" spend all their time worrying about social status and whether they are pretty enough.
The despicably trivial and baldly pandering series, premiering at 9 tonight on Channel 50, divides its youthful cast of characters not into freaks and geeks but into "The Populars" and "The Alternatives," though the Alternatives seem to have basically the same perverse value system that the Populars do.
Queen of the Populars is Leslie Bibb as Brooke McQueen, an attractive blonde whose diary entries include "How many calories in a grape?" and who hangs around with venomous pal Nicole, played by Tammy Lynn Michaels. Nicole has the cunning of Lady Macbeth and Linda Tripp rolled into one and serves as Brooke's unofficial spin doctor. She describes things as being "so last year" and "so Calvin," as in "Klein."
Nicole also worries that she and Brooke might be "wearing Monica kneepads for the rest of the semester." Ahem.
Meanwhile, over in the Alternative camp, leader Sam (as in Samantha) McPherson, played by Carly Pope, seems at least good-hearted, encouraging a fat girl named Carmen (Sara Rue) to follow her dream (however worthless) and try out for cheerleading. When she doesn't make the team, corpulent Carmen runs off crying in front of all her classmates, a scene that's apparently supposed to be tragique but is so maudlin it may make you burst into laughter.
You'll hate yourself for laughing, but then you'll probably hate yourself just for watching that much of the show. Watching even five minutes can be harmful to one's self-esteem.
Monumental crises of conscience are faced: Should the star quarterback and reigning dreamboat risk being thought gay by auditioning for the lead in "South Pacific"? Should the conscientious young woman in biology class voice her moral objections to dissecting a frog? And how can Sam get herself invited to the big "Phat Bash" party that Brooke is throwing Friday night?
Anyone who cares about the answers needs to investigate all the other possible ways of wasting precious time. Most alternatives are preferable. One gratuitous tasteless touch: The students attend Kennedy High and the school paper is called Zapruder Reports.
Chad Lowe, who popped up the other night in "Now and Again," pops up again, this time as a teacher at the school. Seems like only yesterday he was playing students himself--and on much better shows than this.
The WB would like to show 16-year-olds having sex but can't, so the sex scenes are quick fantasy sequences. Brooke and the quarterback are seen in bed, but motionless, discussing how ashamed they are that they haven't done "it" yet, especially since Brooke blabbed all over school that they did.
Your reporter may have confused Brooke with Sam at this point or at some other--but it probably doesn't matter because, let's face it, absolutely nothing about "Popular" does. The WB has barked up this tree so many times that the rotting branches are starting to fall off on its head. "When you're young, you're gold," or so say the new Abercrombie & Fitch commercials. At the WB, the gold is tarnishing very quickly.
'Work With Me'
Perhaps "Work With Me" came about this way: Kevin Pollak, the so-so stand-up comedian, saw how much money other stand-ups were making with sitcoms, called his agent and told him or her to come up with a sitcom for him. Unfortunately the sitcom isn't merely so-so, it's subhuman. Maybe not even that.
Pollak, whom no one will accuse of being another pretty face, plays a lawyer who throws a fit when he fails to make partner at his firm. So he moseys over to his wife's law firm and horns in there. The wife, played without distinction by Nancy Travis, asks him very early in the show, "When's the last time we even had sex?" because it's a law that sex must come up as early as possible in every single sitcom on the air. This one, premiering at 8:30 tonight on Channel 9, is just another loser to throw onto the ever-growing scrap heap of pitiful CBS duds. That scrap heap is becoming quite the awesome mountain.
"I am a horrible person," mourns the wife for no good reason as the show opens. "You need a spanking?" he asks hopefully. Oh good--not just sex, but kinky sex! Say, no wonder CBS executives gobbled this one up. At the workplace we meet the inevitable supporting players, who in this case, as on NBC's lame "Will & Grace," are funnier and more intriguing than the leads: Emily Rutherford and Ethan Embry as Stacy and Sebastian, who are madly in love but don't want it revealed.
Unfortunately, the writers have Sebastian say, "We'll be like Bert and Ernie, but without the gay overtones." Now why do they have to make a smutty joke that involves two characters from "Sesame Street"? Is nothing sacred? Is there at long last no decency? Has CBS no sense of--wait a minute, all these rhetorical questions were answered ages ago. And the answers aren't nice.
Eventually somebody in "Work with Me" says, "I haven't seen you this happy since the last time we had sex," and the studio audience laughs yet again at the funny funny naughty naughty word. You'd think that after half a century American television would be growing up, but this season's sitcoms seem more pathetically infantile than ever.