The first season of the long awaited High School Musical TV series premiered on Disney Plus this fall, and came to its conclusion less than a week ago at the time of writing. The series was a meta-take on the beloved 2000s franchise, taking place in today’s world at the school where High School Musical was shot, East High. The story follows a group of high-schoolers as they work towards putting up the school’s first ever production of the stage version for HSM, centring mainly around Ricky and Nini, a former couple who are pushed into the roles of Troy and Gabriella. The season is 8 episodes long, each episode running for just under a half hour, and follows a loose mockumentary style, not unlike The Office. It stars Joshua Basset, Olivia Rodrigo, and Kate Reinders among many others in a large ensemble cast. The show was renewed for a second season before the release of the first.
I should clear up right away that I’m a big fan of the movies, being more or less just on the cusp of being old enough for them to have been part of my environment growing up. The nostalgia factor holds (anyone who knows me probably expected it to), but that didn’t stop me from being a little apprehensive for the show. I was always going to watch, obviously, but my expectations of the quality of the next piece of content to be chugged off the Disney pipeline weren’t especially high. That, however, was before the trailer came out. The trailer for this show exuded enough style and character to convince me that this show might be something to very legitimately look forward to. I found the concept original and interesting, and very allowing in terms of the variety of directions they could take from there. With measured expectations now, I went into the show.
And I was not at all disappointed. I should say, it’s not a critically amazing show. What it does do is provide the same HSM tone and feeling, while largely avoiding corniness and cringe. With the exception of a couple noteworthily meh moments, which, to be fair, they might not have been able to do anything about, the show is written pretty damn well with likeable, reasonably rounded characters and a decent plot-points that cement quite well executed development. Is it unbelievable? No. But, it’s undeniably good, and it’s really impressive how they’ve found a sort of middle ground between quality and plain old entertainment. The sense of humor is pretty good, it’s a funny show, though the mockumentary style is used less and less as the season goes on. I thought at first that Rodrigo, who plays Nini, was poorly cast, but, over time, the writing and her chemistry with Basset is just too good to resist. The general heart-warming cohesion of the ensemble is just as potent as it is in the films, while never getting lost in it. A lot of how good the show is can be chalked down to the idea, which I don’t think I ever saw coming. It felt like exactly the right way to bring the content back in a way that was relevant, not forced.
The music is pretty good, the originals as well as the renditions. It’s not musically interesting, in case that was what you’re looking for, but it does overcome the boundary of pop-ish music relatively often with the newer songs. Some of the performers were slightly strange musical choices, Matt Cornett was particularly awkward a few times and Rodrigo’s voice, while actually pretty unique, didn’t always fit. It wasn’t a theme, the music is generally a lot of fun, but there were a couple examples.
The characters themselves had really no business being as interesting as they were. Ricky and Nini’s relationship was sold as much as it ought to have been, by the script and their chemistry, but the Ricky and Gina angle was a pretty legitimately interesting dynamic to thread in there halfway through the season. The entire cast gets an adequate time in the sun, a pretty remarkable thing to achieve considering the shows runtime. Miss Jen’s character is maybe the least full on paper, but performed quite well by Reinders.
This show was a pleasant surprise more than anything else. From a concept that lifted the spirit of the originals films quite perfectly and allowed for a level of sincerity and quality that would never been allowed for in a direct sequel, HSMTMTS was a fun time which did exactly what it needed to do in terms of fan service as well as from a technical point of view. Is it incredible? No. But it is just right, and I thoroughly enjoyed watching the show unfold. I appreciated, as well, the weekly release format. Part of what makes the typically short runtime feel like longer is the fact that it wasn’t all shoved in our faces, and I appreciate any show that chooses to go back to the basics in terms of distribution. All in all, this was a fun one, and a must watch for any fan of the movies.
– Aman Datta
Aman’s Score – 76/100 Aryamaan’s Score –