It’s the start of something new. Disney+ is ready to take over the entertainment landscape. And one of the first shows to debut on the new streaming platform is “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series”. The first episode will be there when Disney+ launches on Nov. 12. But ABC, Disney Channel and Freeform will actually be airing it before then – this Friday Nov. 8 at 8pmET.
Let’s break down the title for a second. The original “High School Musical”, which debuted on Disney Channel in January 2006, was filmed at a Salt Lake City, Utah high school. The plot of this new series is: that high school has never actually performed a stage production of “High School Musical”. So the new drama teacher (an ex-Broadway star mimicking Kristen Chenoweth) decides to have “HSM” be their production this school year.
This series is done in mockumentary style (a worn-out device), with each principal member of the cast talking directly to the camera, sharing their feelings about everything going on. Ricky is an East High Junior. In the opening scene of the first episode (“The Auditions”), his girlfriend Nini breaks-up with him, after she got a new BF at Theatre Camp over the summer. When that drama teacher announces the “HSM” news, Nini and said boyfriend E.J. want to audition to be Gabriella and Troy. Ricky takes it upon himself to go for Troy as well, even though he has no musical theater experience whatsoever.
The relationship melodrama is pretty standard high school stuff (in real life and on TV shows and movies). There are a bunch of quirky characters in “HSM: TM: TS”. And there are some similar vibes to NBC’s short-lived “Smash” and “Rise”, along with Disney’s non-musical 2011 high school drama “Prom”. The scripts in the first two episodes (which were available to critics in advance) feature overly sentimental themes and some over-the-top stereotypical misfits.
BUT – if you grew-up in the midst of the “High School Musical” era and don’t wish to re-live it, this new series is not as painful to watch as you might think. That’s because the main stars, Joshua Bassett as Ricky and Olivia Rodrigo as Nini, are very likable and their musical performances of HSM earworms and new songs are authentic.
There are also a number of funny remarks that actually poke fun at the “HSM” franchise. Out of the gate with Disney+, The Mouse House isn’t afraid to take some shots at themselves. And Episode 2 (“The Readthrough”) brings-up an interesting point. The first “HSM” movie ends with Troy & Gabriella hugging, not kissing. I remember reading that Disney execs initially didn’t want Lizzie & Gordo kissing at the end of “The Lizzie McGuire Movie”, but I’m glad they changed their minds.
To my own surprise, I’m glad Disney went in this direction as their “HSM” revival, instead of the not-so-subtle “next generation” foreshadowing of characters in 2008’s theatrical third installment, “Senior Year”. “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series” acts a throwback with modern flare for the twenty somethings who thought they had “Stick to the Status Quo” and “We’re All in This Together” firmly out of their heads. It’s also relatable enough for contemporary audiences.