High School Musical: The Musical: The Series attempts to update High School Musical to 2020


Sierra Rossman

When my sister and I were younger we were obsessed with High School Musical. Now Disney+ is attempting to revive the series with a spin off show.

Disclaimer: The following review contains spoilers.

“We’re all in this together” is a line that instantly sparks a wave of nostalgia among many teens. As a kindergartener and third grader, my sister and I formed our idea of high school from the movie. The 2006 hit High School Musical left an impression of what high school would be like on many young children…and our parents who watched the movie about a dozen times. 

When the last movie in the series was released in 2008, fans were left still wanting more of the rambunctious Wildcats. Eleven years later, Disney announced a new streaming app, and with it, High School Musical: The Musical: The Series

The initial announcement drew excitement, but we were completely disappointed that the new series would not be following our original Wildcats or their descendants. The show would be about putting on HSM as a musical. 

Junior Tabitha Knedeisen was an avid HSM fan when she was young and was disappointed with the announcement.

“I was hoping that [the new series] would follow their kids and how their lives are in the same high school. I was disappointed that it was new kids, and I was really skeptical that it wouldn’t be as good as the original,” said Knedeisen.

Even with the big changes, High School Musical: The Musical: The Series does not completely miss the mark. 

The first season contains 10 episodes. 

The entire premise revolves around the love triangle of three high school students, Nini (Olivia Rodrigo), Ricky (Joshua Bassett), and EJ (Matt Cornett), that attend the school where HSM was filmed.  

Nini and Ricky dated for a year before Ricky needed a break, after not being able to say “I love you” back to Nini. Nini then went to a theater summer camp and met EJ, a tall, handsome, and talented athlete/actor who also attends East High. Nini and EJ have feelings for each other and ultimately, Nini and Ricky are over.

The three, along with several other classmates, audition for their school’s musical, directed by the overly enthusiastic new theater teacher, Miss. Jenn (Kate Reinders).

Although the focus of the series is supposed to be on the lovers’ quarrel, the other cast members  steal the show along with the Office-inspired filming. 

The first episode portrays a semi-realistic high school behavior. During a routine first-day assembly, the students appear disinterested and bored. This is a realistic reaction among students and is an unusual approach to showcasing high school life in contrast to the usual enthusiastic, rah-rah nature of many teen fiction media.

At this same assembly, the camera periodically zooms in on specific students’ reactions. This is a film style used in The Office, but the series uses the style infrequently enough for it not to feel like a complete copycat concept.

The auditions are the focus of the first episode. Ricky believes that auditioning for the Troy Bolton part will show Nini, who is auditioning for Gabriella Montez, that he cares about her. Although the idea is heartfelt, Ricky is totally unprepared. 

EJ, who is also auditioning for the role of Troy, auditions with the correct lines and prepared bars of the specified song. Ricky, however, is told to audition for the role of Chad. Since Ricky is even less prepared for a Chad audition, he goes off script and sings his own song. 

This would not be acceptable for a real audition. Ricky would be asked to leave if he did not follow the specific audition guidelines. Even if he wasn’t asked to leave, he would certainly not receive the lead role. For plot line convenience, however, Ricky does get selected to be Troy Bolton, which feels unnatural. 

Along with lacking theatrical accuracy, the show also falls short in keeping the language used by the characters fresh. High School Musical: The Musical: The Series was pitched by Tim Federle who is 39 years old. It can be assumed that the writers of the episodes are also around this age. Federle has not been in high school for roughly 21 years, and the “up-to-date” language feels forced in many parts of the series. 

During a time where Instagram is featured in the first episode, a comment can be seen that reads, “We stan a singer/songwriter.” Although this is language that many teens use, the placement of the comment feels as if the writers are trying to say that the series is relatable in an overly-obvious way. 

The series is not perfect, but it does touch on some more serious subjects that the original films did not. These subjects allow for the target audience to not be solely children, but to be for the fans that grew up with the movies and may be experiencing troubles of their own. 

In Episode 4, it is revealed that Ricky’s mom has been in Chicago so long because she and Ricky’s dad are separating, and she is moving. This completely crushes Ricky and causes him to find any excuse to not be at home. 

Divorce, unfortunately, affects many students today, so relating to what a viewer may be going through is a touching aspect that the series offers. 

The way the impending divorce is addressed between Ricky’s parents affects everyone in Ricky’s life, much like a real divorce would. The concept is thoroughly fleshed out and creates an excitement to see how the lead copes with the news. The exchange between Ricky and his friends is emotional and believable. 

The series also touches on the struggles of an LGBTQ+ student in high school. Carlos (Frankie Rodriguez) is openly gay within the theater community and begins to form a crush on Seb (Joe Serafini), a fellow dancer and participant in the musical. Carlos asks Seb to homecoming but is devastated when Seb does not show up.

Carlos believes the reason that Seb does not come to the dance is because Seb is afraid of dancing with Carlos in front of everyone. This assumption and fear is a reality that many LGBTQ+ students experience. The pressure of following the “status quo” can be intimidating, but Carlos takes an optimistic position on the issue and embraces himself as an individual. 

Self acceptance is something that many teenagers struggle with, so to actively showcase it in a TV show is a step in the direction of acceptance for everyone. 

The original High School Musical series was the perfect musical series for the early 2000’s time period. This was a period of optimism and positivity. As society has shifted since then, High School Musical: The Musical: The Series reflects the more pessimistic views of current times and is a great fit for 2019 and 2020.

High School Musical: The Musical: The Series is not an awe-inspiring cinematic experience, but it does not completely disappoint in what the goal is: to explore the concept of going to East High after High School Musical and put on the musical with the quirks of many personalities. 

The original high school musicals cannot be replaced or replicated, but High School Musical: The Musical: The Series is a satisfying expansion on the world that the high school generation grew up with and brings new life to the original movies for the new generations.