It has been 13 years since the world was introduced to East High and its eclectic group of Broadway hopefuls. Disney didn't know what it stumbled upon when High School Musical was greenlit for production, but the film would go on to become a bonafide phenomenon. Launching the careers of Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens, High School Musical wowed fans with its bold vision, and Disney+ hopes to do the same with its take on the franchise. And at two episodes in, it certainly feels like High School Musical: The Musical: The Series has its head in the game.
The first two episodes of the series provide a tasty peek at the mockumentary series which follows students attending the real East High School where the original High School Musical filmed. This sort of absurd setting gives Disney plenty of chances to reference the franchise all while building a new narrative for an equally new audience.
The show follows a junior named Nini who finds herself entering junior year on a high. After her ex-boyfriend Ricky asked to put their relationship on pause, Nini begins dating senior E.J. and looks to redefine her once shy self. When a new drama teacher named Ms. Jenn decides to put on High School Musical: The Musical as her first production, Nini aims to nab Gabriella while her new beau goes for Troy. But, as all things do, other forces get in the way of their plans, and one of them is none other than a changed Ricky.
At the surface, The Series feels familiar. Its mockumentary style is well-known by audiences at this point, but its quick cuts and quips will make many think of Ryan Murphy's Glee. The comparison is hard to avoid, given the shows' similar subject matter, but Disney picks and chooses when to use its one-liners. A particular joke about the High School Musical sequels had me rolling, and the show drops other zingers along the way.
As far as casting goes, Olivia Rodrigo is a gift. The actress beautifully balances her character's transition into a lead actress with Nini's cautious personality. Disney+ picked the perfect successor to Hudgens for Gabriella, and the rest of the cast fits well, too. Joshua Bassett will endear fans with his plucky determination to do Troy justice, and Kate Reinders' Ms. Jenn will remind everyone of their high school's drama teacher. That is, if their teacher were Kristin Chenoweth. To round out the stellar cast, Julia Lester absolutely nails her performance of Ashlyn, thanks to her comedic timing and powerhouse vocals.
It is clear Disney+ put careful consideration into how best to revive High School Musical for a new generation. Fans of the old films will love The Series for its respectful salutes to Efron's era, but there is plenty of new material for audiences to discover. In its first two episodes, The Series will leave fans impressed with its authentic feel, comedy, and quality. It is a production that seeks to redefine one of Disney's biggest franchises, and so far, it seems the series' cast and crew are together doing it right.
Rating: 5 out of 5
High School Musical: The Series hits Disney+ on November 12th.