Wednesday 11 May 2011

Popular - We have a firm commitment to disliking each other.

Popular: 1x06 Truth or Consequences
Brooke: Okay. I’ve been a little stressed lately, I’ll admit that. The problem is…
Sam: Her.
Brooke: Her. She’s the main reason why I’m coming unglued, you know. She’s a liar.
Sam: She’s the liar. She’s turning me into something I don’t wanna be.
Brooke: I was fine before she showed up. My dad and I used to be close but he started seeing her mom and now…
Sam: And now my mom and I barely even speak. My home used to be like my sanctuary and now I feel like a stranger there.
Brooke: You need to keep her away from me. Cause I have officially snapped. The next time when I fight back, it’s not going to be with cupcakes.
Sam: Oh, what are you gonna do Brooke, kick my ass with hair products?
Brooke: I’m sorry. You asked us a question?
Principal: Yes. How did this begin? 
Truth or Consequences is about how Sam and Brooke always inevitably clash and bring out the worst in each other, but it’s also an episode that examines how their relationship influences their respective groups of friends, and how their animosity is partly based in their fragile family situation. Both their parents are loving and try their best to provide a safe environment, but both Sam and Brooke are deeply insecure and fear abandonment – and seeing the one person they’ve relied on starting a new chapter in their life, and not really knowing how they will fit into it, unsettles them. Of course they are also annoyed that this also means not being able to avoid each other, but I see most of their actions motivated by their fear of somehow losing their remaining parent rather than the intense dislike both feel for each other. 
Sam has a tendency to mostly take out her frustration on others, while Brooke turns them inside – and she does, in this episode, as her faith in her dad slowly crumbles (especially when she finds out that they are not being completely truthful to her, and are sneaking around behind her back). Brooke also has the additional disadvantage that she is expected to be polite and academically successful – the latter puts her under more pressure in the episode than she can handle. Bobbi Glass surprised bio class with Mid Terms, and Brooke is her golden child, so much that not even her best friends who steal the test beforehand bother to offer it to her, both because they expect her to succeed anyway and because they think she would frown at their dishonesty.
The cheating of the cheerleaders leads to disastrous results for the rest of the class, since Bobbi grades on a curve (we don’t have this kind of thing here, but it sounds like it perfectly prepares kids for the dark and horrible world out there…). Sammy overheard the discussion of the stolen test earlier in the restroom and is set on bringing the cheerleaders down at all cost, but the more important question of the episode is: Did Brooke cheat too? She ends up using Harrison for her own agenda – he managed to sneak his way into the closed circles of the jocks (or rather, Josh and Sugar, who turn out to be quite decent when they are on their own), but his assignment of recording any possible evidence of cheating collides with his own realization that he might sincerely want to be friends with the two, especially when he hears (and therefore, records) Josh telling Sugar that he is disappointed in him for cheating on the test. 

Harrison: You know, Sam, as bad as cheating is, is taping stuff any different? In both cases you’re stealing information that doesn’t belong to you, and besides, the popular people are not all the monsters you’d like them to be. Just leave it alone.
Of course, Sam’s intentions aren’t entirely honourable once again, but on the other hand, the cheating did considerably hurt her friends, and the entire class of less privileged/cunning students (so the answer is: no, Harrison, it’s not the same thing). I think Sam goes too far when she actually ends up stealing the recorder containing the essential piece of information from Harrison’s locker, but the initial idea wasn’t exactly evil (just as I never felt comfortable with the fact that the show somehow made it seem like she was wrong in revealing the ridiculous cheerleading budget).
Just as Sam betrays Harrison when she uses the information he meant to withhold to preserve a friendship, Brooke breaks down. They are both facing different pressures and handling them differently, but this episode also brings the first moment of connection, when both of them realize that their motivations for many of their actions lie in what they perceive to be a less safe environment back home. 
Brooke: Don’t you ever get tired of hating me?
Sam: Sometimes. But then I remind myself that you’re a liar and that you and your father are ruining my life and that pretty much gets me right back on track.
Brooke: Sam, please don’t run this article.
Sam: Fine. I’ll do that when you finally step up and admit to my face that you’re a hypocrite and that you cheated on the midterm.
Brooke: Ok. I cheated. And I’m a hypocrite. I’m not myself anymore. I haven’t been. Since our parents got together. And this week it was the worst. I saw your mom and my dad in my kitchen and they had just had sex.
Sam: I saw them doing it in my house too.
Brooke: Did you feel betrayed?
Sam: Yeah.
Brooke: I tried to study that night but I couldn’t. And then the next morning I just felt all this pressure and I cracked and I broke into Nicole’s locker and I looked at the master for the bio test. Nobody knows but you.
Sam: Why are you telling me these things, you hate my guts?
Brooke: I guess in a strange way, you’re the only person that really understands what I’m going through right now.
Sam: Yeah. It’s not so easy when you start losing respect for your parents, huh?
Brooke: Especially when they’re the only one that you’ve got.
Sam: I’m not gonna run that article, Brooke.
Brooke: You know what, maybe you should. Sam, I cheated, and I deserve what I get.
Sam: No. I don’t think either of us deserves what we’re going through, you know.
Brooke: I guess.  […] Hey Sam. I was wrong about you. I’m really sorry.
The acting in this scene is fantastic. There’s a lot of “telling” in the scene, but the brilliance lies in the facial expressions. Sam still seems like she secretly hates being in this position because she feels that maybe she isn’t all that correct in all her assumptions about Brooke, but she is still the same stubborn person, so she can’t just give in (but she can when Brooke finally admits that she isn’t the perfect human being everyone makes her out to be). They have a genuine connection, both over the shared grief and their fear about the future. 
They have a genuine connection in this scene, but fate (and the logic behind the show) doesn’t allow their conflict to be over: Sam discovers that the plates for the newest edition are already out (PLATES! PRINTERS!), and she can’t redact the story. The inevitable happens the next day: the entire school knows that the cheerleaders cheated, and the unidentified blonde head of the conspiracy might as well with Brooke, not Nicole. Harrison loses his two new friends, and Brooke is more hurt over the fact that Sam betrayed her trust than over being revealed as a cheat. Nicole finds Brooke in the restroom, breaking down, and steps up in class when Bobbi asks who cheated. This is one of those small moments probably easily overlooked because Nicole could so easily be pigeonholed as a horrible person – but in fact, she isn’t, at least not where Brooke is concerned. 
Nicole: Is this the part where I’m supposed to apologize because I’M a teenager and under stress and nobody understands me? I’m not gonna do that, Principal Hall. Let me fill in on my world view: my dad cheated on my mom and vice-versa, I grew up with it. Recently I read that over 70 percent of this population cheated on their taxes. I came of age in a decade ruled by a president who told the nation that he cheated in various forms. He was never punished. His popularity ratings improved. So am I sorry I cheated? Hell no, I’m not sorry, I’m the norm.
Principal Hall: But you’re feeling stressed, correct? Overextended?
Nicole: I’m a Type A, absolutely.
Principal Hall: Perhaps I can lighten your load. As punishment for your cheating, I am revoking your participation in homecoming next week.
Nicole: You can’t do that.
Principal Hall: Oh, you watch me.
The piece of dialogue feels a little bit forced, especially considering how little we know about Nicole’s family (the episodes in which we find out more about her is one of the best of the show though) – it fits her character to state the uncomfortable truth. Principal Hall finds her one weak spot, too – she takes away the event that she cares about, because the one thing Nicole allows herself to care about loudly, not just quietly, is popularity. We’ll see the repercussions of this in the coming episodes, especially Nicole’s anger over being the only one who had to sacrifice something, since none of her friends stood up for her the way she did for Brooke. 
There’s a little fall-out for everybody. Josh is shocked that Brooke lied to him about cheating on the test (once again, the show sets him up as the unlikely conscience of the group and once again, it kind of bothers me). Harrison is angry at Sam for using him and costing him his new friends. Carmen is pissed at Emory for providing that excuse letter. Nicole is furious at everyone. 
Harrison: I’m so sick of you and your agenda. All you do is plot down to bring down Brooke McQueen. You’re possessed. If things are really so damn bad at home, run away. At least that would give us a break.
Emory: Damn, that is so cold man.
Sam: You know, Harrison, you lied too, you told me you didn’t have anything on tape but you did, so why don’t you climb down off your cross.
Harrison: You’re so upset with me because I dared to hang out with somebody not from this group, not pre-approved by you, and it makes you feel insecure because it makes you wonder if you don’t fit in.
Sam: Listen, social climber, if you’d invest half as much time to loyalty as you do brownnosing to people you don’t even know let alone like, we wouldn’t be having this argument.
Lily: You guys, come on, I can’t take this anymore, my nerves are fried, just stop it okay? Be civil.
And then, there’s a food fight, because sometimes there is no other way to sort out complicated relationships and conflicts. Brooke tells Sam that she is “through with you hurting me and the people I care about”, and Sam tells Brooke that she wasn’t fooled by her “sob story, you shallow vein cheer” – and then everybody joins them, carrying out their own little battles (remember: school is a battleground for your heart! – sometimes literally). 
After the fight, nothing is really sorted between Brooke and Sam. Instead, they get something they kind of wanted from the beginning – honesty from their parents – but it’s definitely not what either of them wanted to hear. 
Mike: The bigger higher truth here, you guy is, that Jane and I, we love each other. And we have a responsibility to express that in front of you, not behind your backs. Sam, I’m not trying to replace your father…
Janet: And Brooke, I’m not trying to replace your mom, I just want to be your friend.
Mike: Jane and I both feel that if you two can get past this pettiness and this territorial nonsense, you could be friends.
Brooke: Sam, side with me here, that is never going to happen. Tell ‘em.
Sam: Brooke is right. We have a firm commitment to disliking each other.
Janet: Okay, erm, we’ve told you the truth, so now we’re gonna tell you the consequence. Mike: We’re moving in together. Next week.
Janet: All of us.
DUM DUM DUM. Thus, the battlefield is extended. 

Random notes: 

Bobbi: I hear the moans and groans of your generation Y whining ‘Why Me’, even though you’re the most spoiled generation in history, I am the original town without pity people.

Emory Dick, a character we will get to know better eventually when Popular starts to examine the true “underclass” of the school (with very, very problematic and mixed results) offers fake instant excuse letters – Carmen takes one, and ends up with a “distended anus”. 

“Sourgrapes is a great color on you”

Sam: Those Abercrombie & Bitches are going down.

Sammy drives a brown original VW beetle. Adorbs.

As odd as Nicole's little speech about the President was, it also felt strange to remember a time when the worst complaint about a President was that he cheated on his wife. Between all the now slightly obscure pop cultural references and the way in which the clothes and the accessories sometimes seem dated, this was the first time that I really felt that Popular is from a different time (and it really frames the decade as the closing point to the little scene in the first episode of MSCL, when Angela's mum was so concerned about Chelsea Clinton's lack of privacy). 

I think it’s kind of adorable how in some of the shots during the food fight it’s just obvious that the actors had so much fun they forgot to act. 

Obscure pop cultural reference: 

Nicole: I think maybe it’s time for a little celebrity death match.

I definitely prefer Lily’s daydreams to the Charlie’s Angels (“Glamour of Farrah”) fantasies Nicole inspires in Mary Cherry and Poppy Fresh. 

Celebrity Death Match used to be an MTV show that pitted Play-Doh versions of celebrities against each other – it started in 1998 and ended in 2007. 

The flat thingy they stored the test on is a “floppy disk”, kids, and didn’t even have enough capacity to store one music file (not that we had digital music files, in the olden days). They were infinitely more practical than the short period of time before everyone started to use USB flash drives, when you had to burn a CD for every bit of data you needed to be portable. 

Obligatory movie reference: 

I guess this is just a reference to Truth or Dare, but I could be wrong. It’s also, or so Wikipedia informs me, a small town in New Mexico (ELEPHANT BUTTE?!), which I find kind of entertaining (and a 1997 movie with Vincent Gallo, but I think that’s actually really too obscure to have been on the mind of the writer).  

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