Monday, January 17, 2011

Is Glee Just Popluar (and vice versa)?

These past few weeks I've been devouring one of my Christmas presents - season one of Popular, a high school comedy-drama that ran for two seasons on the WB Network from 1999 to 2001. I watched a good bit of this show back then (though some of these episodes I had missed) and enjoyed it a lot. The dark comedy often shown on this show appeals to me greatly. No surprise as it was the brainchild of writer/producer Ryan Murphy, the mastermind behind FOX's very popular Glee. In watching these episodes, I can't help but draw some comparisons between the two shows.

The schools: we have Kennedy High School over on Popular and we have McKinley High School over on Glee. Very interesting in that both schools are named after US Presidents who were assassinated mid-term.

Cheerleaders: on Popular part of the focus is on the four cheerleaders in the Glamazons. Over on Glee part of the regulars are a trio of cheerleaders from the Cheerios. Both squads are lead smart blondes (Brooke McQueen and Nicole Julian/Quinn Fabray), both squads have a "quirky" blonde (Mary Cherry/Brittany) and both have a Hispanic/Latino female (Poppita Fresh/Santanna). Both squads also took on a male at some point (Adam/Kurt Hummell) and a heavy-set female (Carmen Ferara/Mercedes Jones).

The jocks: both shows feature the school's head quarterback (Josh Ford/Finn Hudson) that had interests in singing that eventually lead to shifts in their popularity status. Both are dumped by their head cheerleader girlfriends and end up dating less popular brunette girlfriends (Josh with Carmen and later Lily, Finn with Rachel Berry). Both guys had best friends on the team with rather dark, short/distinctive hair and who went by their nicknames most of the time (Michael "Sugar Daddy" Bernadino/Noah "Puck" Puckerman).

Teachers: both shows have short-haired female teachers who are very strong personalities (Roberta "Bobbie" Glass/Sue Sylvester). Both often use tactics to instill fear in their students, often yelling at them. And yet, both have vulnerable sides too that they keep hidden deeply behind their gruff exteriors.

White-guys-talking-gangster: Both shows feature white male characters that drop the hip-hop/gangster venacular ("Sugar Daddy"/Artie).

Christmas episodes: both shows did holiday themed episodes which drew very heavily (if not word for word in some parts) from other known holiday tales. Over on Popular, the "Down On Your Knees" episode was a wonderfully done homage to Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol", casting Nicole Julian in the part of Scrooge. Over on Glee, "A Very Glee Christmas" took part of its plot from the animated Dr. Seuss cartoon "The Grinch Who Stole Christmas" with Sue Sylvester playing the part of the Grinch, in green make-up and all.

Dream-sequences: both shows will have dream/fantasy sequences when something off the wall is needed to move the plot along. I attribute this to a style thing in Ryan Murphy's arsenal.

Character voice-overs: both shows occasionally use this narrative device, allowing us to hear the thoughts or internal monologue of a character. Again, I'd attribute this to a Murphy style thing.

Merged homes: Popular spent a lot of time on the dynamic of the merged-home with rival Brooke McQueen and Sam Pherson being forced to find a way to live together when their parents started to live together. Glee did this to a lesser extent with Kurt and Finn being forced together when their parents did the same. Both sets of teens got past their issues with one another and focused instead on the common interests/friends they shared.

Wrestling with sexuality: both shows did arcs with characters wrestling with their sexuality. This is pretty common for teen shows though, so it is expected.

Bullying: both shows too focused on bullying, particularly when it came tied with the above theme of sexuality. Glee in fact is going into greater depth on this in their second season. Dealing with intolerance is also pretty common for teen shows too. Knowing Ryan Murphy's past, this all makes sense though.

Similarly named restaurants: On Popular, a reoccurring restaurant is named "Croutons". Over on Glee, the kids are crazy about a place called "Breadsticks". Both places named after a baked supplement to main food - interesting. Ironically, there are restaurants by both names in California.

Music: Ryan Murphy also seems to have a knack at getting approval to use some incredible music in his shows. Popular used a lot of song snippets as background/scene setting music. Thankfully the DVD releases were able to keep all of these in tact. Over on Glee, the songs come fast and furious since the show is focusing on the glee club and thus the cast is always singing great covers of classic and current songs.

Gwyneth Paltrow: Ryan Murphy and company must have a strong fascination with this actress. The girls on Popluar are always name-dropping her in season 1. Over on Glee, Finn makes reference to her when suggesting a baby name to Quinn. Heck, the actress even shows up in season 2 playing Holly Holiday, everyone's favorite substitute teacher.

So, back to my subject question: is Glee just Popular (and vice versa)? No, not for me. Glee might have some satiric moments, but it isn't nearly as biting and dark as Popular eventually became. Still, both are fun shows and I enjoy them immensely.

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