“High School Musical: The Musical: The Series” is a showcase of Disney’s up and coming talent beyond what we’ve previously seen.
|Aired||11/12/2019 – 1/10/2020|
|Genre(s)||Musical, Comedy, Drama|
|Miss Jenn||Kate Reinders|
|Big Red||Larry Saperstein|
|Carlos||Frankie A. Rodriguez|
This content contains pertinent spoilers.
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High School Musical: The Musical: The Series Season 1 Synopsis
Miss Jenn, who had her scene cut in the original “High School Musical” movie comes to the school the movie was filmed with the goal to host its first production of “High School Musical.” This task is complicated by a handful of things. The first being that Miss Jenn’s credentials to be a drama teacher are a bit fudged, not necessarily having the enthusiastic support of her peers and the administration, and then the kids.
Now, when it comes to the kids, while talented, they have a lot of drama or insecurities. Nini, for example, just broke up with her childhood sweetheart Ricky, is no dating EJ, an older boy whose moral compass is flexible, and Ricky is trying to join the play to win her back. Alongside that, when Miss Jenn gives the lead roles to Ricky and Nini, it caused EJ and the new girl, Gina, to plot behind the scenes. And on top of this drama, Ricky is dealing with his parents divorcing.
But, luckily, not everyone has a life that is so active. Ricky’s best friend Big Red just finds himself working the tech side of Miss Jenn’s musical, and meets a talented singer, who happens to be EJ’s cousin, Ashlyn, who he develops feelings for. Also, a young man named Carlos, who is Miss Jenn’s right-hand man, as he helps everyone master the choreography, he finds himself a potential dance partner who is a boy named Seb. A rural kid who knows he is the Black sheep of his family and doesn’t seem to necessarily be out yet.
Altogether, the production brings out the best of these kids professionally and exposes some of their worst qualities, but as they work and learn from one another, they become like a family.
Nini and Ricky, As A Whole – 85
What is a show that focuses on high school students without boy drama, right? Well, we get more than enough of that between Nini and Ricky, and there will undoubtedly be times when you think Nini should be with Ricky, EJ or, as Kourtney pushes out there, for Nini to just be single. Especially since Nini seems to mold herself to fit into the figure of what her boyfriend sees her as.
Yet, as much as you can envision Nini as a serial monogamous person, there is no denying that the way her and Ricky’s history is set up that you want them together. They’ve known each other since kindergarten, gave each other the names they’re commonly known as, and while Ricky has messed up, you can’t say any of his mess-ups are major. Granted, him joining the musical to win Nini back can be considered inappropriate, but who knows what he has done in the past when he upset her. Plus, not to encourage the behavior, you have to realize these characters are kids and Ricky losing his parent’s marriage meant Nini was the last stable thing in his life.
The Journeys of EJ and Gina – 84
EJ and Gina could easily be seen as the closest thing to villains on “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series.” EJ is the guy who won Nini by not so much believing in her, but by poisoning a girl. Then, when Ricky presented a threat, his jealousy led to him stealing phones and be willing to be part of Gina’s plan to make Nini jealous and possibly push Ricky out of the musical. Yet, in the end, he shows, despite how he was with Nini, and how Ashlyn paints him as a cousin, that he is capable of growth and not acting selfishly.
Then with Gina, while she isn’t taken to the heights she could have, you have to appreciate what was done. Her actions were understandable for, between Nini and herself, she was the more talented person. So her trying to use EJ to get Nini out of the musical was wrong, but compared to Kourtney and Nini stealing her stuff, and her not retaliating, you can see it wasn’t necessarily personal.
More so, due to her moving so often, and not getting the chance to solidify friendships, it pushed her to just focus on obtaining goals and the kind of credentials so that, in her adult life, she can have stability. And as she found herself willing to engage with Ricky and the others, you began to see why she focused on goals more than people. For with something happening with Ricky where it seemed like he could become some semblance of a boyfriend, then making the kind of friendships where she could have a sleepover, and then that being ripped from you, that’s devastating. So why even get comfortable with people, maybe develop crushes and friends, when you aren’t able to maintain them in any meaningful capacity?
Ashlyn and Big Red – 83
Together and as individuals, you have to appreciate what was done with these two. Ashlyn’s musical number, it will likely bring you to tears. Then when you add Big Red, who becomes her love interest, it makes your heart swoon a bit. And when it comes to Big Red, while he usually is portrayed to be the outsider that Ricky was supposed to be, seeing him break free of being Ricky’s awkward best friend and finding his own thing was so wonderful. In fact, I’d say Ashlyn and Big Red broke away from the person in their life who often got all the attention and found something that was totally theirs. Thus Ashlyn got the spotlight, Big Red found himself no longer living vicariously, and what they wanted from other people they found in each other.
Carlos – 89
What you have to love about Carlos is that he is a queer kid, a queer person of color, who is comfortable with that – even though from peers to even staff, he gets teased and bullied. Making it so, as much as you may want to feel for Ricky due to his parent’s marriage dissolving, it is Carlos who may pull on your heart strings. Between him and Gina, they’ll inspire tears, and for Carlos specifically, it is in taking note all he gains from working with Miss Jenn.
For one, she defends him in ways he may not consistently get defended by others. Also, she provided him the ability to take on a leadership role, be relied on, and show his talents in a place where they can be appreciated and treated with respect. And while we aren’t given the opportunity to meet or see his family, there is this sense that, considering his uncle allowed them to use a theater for the production, it is loving. Which for many queer kids, especially those who are Latinx or from Spanish speaking Caribbean countries, Carlos could be not just representation but maybe a sense of hope.
On The Fence
Wishing We Got More From Certain Characters – 75
The only parents we truly get to meet and know are Ricky’s. We sporadically get to see Nini’s grandmother, and see one of her two moms an episode or two, but never at the same time. As for everyone else? We see Gina’s mom for a single scene and Big Red’s at the end. This feels like a bit of a disservice for so much is rooted in who these kids’ parents are.
An example: Ashlyn pushes the idea EJ is treated as the star of the family and her the red-headed stepchild. Getting to see this in action would have added some oomph to the story. Getting to meet Carlos’ family could have furthered his narrative and helped show how important the musical was to him. Heck, us meeting Seb’s family and seeing how they interact with him, feel about the musical, and so much more could have had great value to the show.
Granted, what I’m speaking on would have required each episode to be an hour and maybe more dramatic than some may like, but it would have done the characters justice. Plus, with many of these actors not having the same resume as Sofia Wylie, in terms of starring in a notable show, it could further the idea of this show being a showcase for up and coming talent.
Kourtney – 74
My issue with Kourtney from the beginning is that she fits the Black best friend trope you’d think Disney broke when “That’s So Raven” came out. Yet, here we are, a heavyset Black girl, mid-key more talented than her demure friend, playing the backseat role and us barely seeing them have a life outside their friend. This isn’t to say Kourtney doesn’t get her chance to shine, on the rare occasion, and isn’t praised by Seb for her makeup abilities. It’s just, considering how Ashlyn was written, someone with a history of being in her cousin’s shadow but ultimately breaking out, there is a need to question why couldn’t Kourtney break out of Nini’s shadow?
Miss Jenn’s Drama – 70
On FreeForm, there is a show we love called “The Bold Type,” and the reason we love it is because it doesn’t show those who are in supervisory or mentor roles as messy. Human beings whose lives aren’t a silver staircase, yes. However, they aren’t shown as people who you question the positions of. When it comes to Miss Jenn, you do.
Now, in some ways, you get it, like her struggling to pay bills on a drama teacher’s salary. That makes sense. But in terms of her other antics and her trying to vicariously live through these kids, even if it requires lying or relying on them to bolster her position, it gets to be a bit much at times. And while I get the actress could use a boost to her career just as much as the kids, it just always seems so awkward when the adults on shows like this aren’t treated as strong supporting characters but wrestle to be seen as leads.
Rating: Positive (Watch This)
While easily comparable to “Glee,” but with original music, or last year’s “Rise,” but far less dramatic, “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series” carves out its own lane and shows a more equal value in its cast than the shows it can be compared to. This isn’t to say some may not be pushed more to the forefront than others, but for those who we consistently see, they do get their moment in the sun both as performers and as actors. Ultimately setting a foundation that makes you excited for what’s next and making it so you know the second season is going to be unbelievable.