The High School Musical franchise returns on Disney+ with a series set in the high school in which High School Musical was filmed, about regular high school kids who are putting together a school musical of High School Musical. Got all that? Ok, let’s continue.
High School Musical: The Musical: The Series (HSMTMTS) does a lot of things well and a lot of things quite standardly but also fails to really capitalise on a core audience, or rather fails to really capitalise on the right audience. The series initially goes for a quirky mockumentary-style series while weaving in some scripted teen relationship drama. This is all well and good as it’s targeting a specific audience and catering to it well. It may be dumb, but it plays into being cheesy so can’t really be faulted for being what it’s striving to be. Over time however, the series fizzles out the mockumentary-style humour and focuses more on the teen drama, which is why it begins to lose any incentive to keep watching.
It’s not an entertaining series in terms of its narrative. The story is very ‘young teen’ predictable with love triangles and subplots that have been seen and done multiple times, so I for one, wasn’t drawn in by it. Are there moments where the light-hearted nature of the story and the emotional content makes it briefly engaging? Yeah, there definitely are, but there’s not many of these moments, so the rest of the story just floats by. The characters are likeable, some definitely more than others, but the story, despite moments of heart, doesn’t get you so invested into any of them to where you are really following their journey throughout the season. There’s a couple moments of levity that work beyond just catering to the young teen audience, but overall, the whole thing I feel is marketed to too specific of an audience.
The tone of the show, the humour, the story, the characters… they’re all written aiming at that young teen audience. I understand the direction as the High School Musical franchise has always been marketed to that age range. However, the series plays on nostalgia quite a bit, which doesn’t add up when the young teen audience most likely won’t have seen the original film. Either an entirely new direction which doesn’t play on nostalgia of the original film or a series targeted at a bit of an older teen audience would have been a bit more focused than this final result.
Performance wise, the young cast is fine. There’s nothing too spectacular in terms of the acting, but I’d say the main four in Olivia Rodrigo (Nina), Joshua Bassett (Ricky), Matt Cornett (EJ) and Sofia Wylie (Gina) do well to hold up their character arcs and bring some light-hearted enjoyment and emotion to the show. Yes, the dialogue can get quite cheesy, but they’re young performers playing to how the characters are written and in the atmosphere of the show they fit in really well. The chemistry between Olivia and Joshua I will say is a strong point as if their chemistry doesn’t work then the whole show doesn’t work.
The story has its woes and the performances are fine but where the series stands out is with both the original songs and classic High School Musical songs. For the sake of nostalgia and nostalgia alone, having the original songs show up here and there is quite possibly the main, if not only, reason I continued watching. It’s like Glee but with High School Musical songs. The original songs too are also quite good, there’s a handful of them throughout the series and I don’t have a bad thing to say about any of them.
In the end, the music is the shining light of HSMTMTS, elevating the mood and using nostalgia to try and (successfully) rope in some of the audience who saw the original film. Unfortunately, the rest of the show aims at a younger teen audience and doubles down that in the story, characters and humour. That’s not to say it isn’t successful in that respect as it accomplishes exactly what it sets out to do, regardless of whether it’s the right decision. It may not be made for me, but if dumb young teen humour is your thing, there’s a lot to get out of this… and if you’re a High School Musical fan, there’s a little something in here if you can stick it out for 10 episodes. That’s why despite not loving all elements of the series, it’s a positive score for me.