High School Musical: the Musical: the Series has returned to Disney+ with the students of East High performing yet another musical, Beauty and the Beast. They must go toe to toe with North High’s own production to win a renowned theatre competition, while also dealing with events in their own personal lives.
The first season felt like it was held back by its more familiar and cliche plot elements, deciding to play it too safe when it comes to the central love triangle and all of the other teen drama surrounding that. However, this season has “broken free” from some of those familiar and predictable story beats for something that feels a little more original and has a much more organic flow. With the focus taken off that love triangle drama, there’s room for more of the ensemble characters to grow and get more screen time dedicated to furthering their individual arcs. It also takes some of the predictability of the series away by giving the writers more room to breathe with where they can take certain plot lines. That being said, not all of the arcs in here are engaging. There are some characters whose journeys are more eventful, and thus entertaining, but also a couple here and there that probably make good toilet breaks.
Gina (Sofia Wylie), for instance, gets so much more time to shine in this season to where she has, quite possibly, the most intriguing character arc. She is fleshed out a lot across each episode and we learn more about her goals, her family and even some relationship dramas. Most of the high-points directly involve her character, showing her importance to the integrity of the show. Then you have the two leads in Ricky (Joshua Bassett) and Nini (Olivia Rodrigo), whose combined arc is more or less at the forefront of the season, but drags through some early episodes. There’s this constant back and forth dynamic in their relationship that spans the first half of the season and feels like it’s dragging the whole show down. Sure, sometimes it is emotionally impactful, but otherwise it’s just treading familiar ground – which isn’t all that entertaining. So yeah, the freedom that the writers have gained to explore multiple story avenues is great, creating a good amount of fresh content, but not all those new directions are well executed.
Also, one of my gripes with the first season was that it was confusing as to who its intended target audience was. It played to a very young audience, while also throwing in a lot of old school High School Musical references. It was a weird dynamic. The good thing about this season is that it’s begun to forge a path of its own, not being held back by playing into HSM nostalgia and just focusing on moving forward. Aside from some similarities in tone, this season doesn’t really have many direct ties or nods to the original movies. Now, I do love some good High School Musical throwbacks, but if it’s at the expense of a good story, then no thanks.
As far as the humour is concerned, nothing has changed – and that’s fine. It’s still a lot of that cheesy, quirky teen humour – and that’s what works for the tone they’e going for. There may not be any big laughs or anything like that to go off, but it’s the small moments and elements of charm that do the series a tonne of favours. The music of the first season was obviously a highlight, and that’s the case here too. The featuring of iconic Beauty and the Beast tunes definitely plays to nostalgia, and it’s actually a lot of fun. Then there’s the original songs – largely sung by Olivia Rodrigo – that are all quite strong and nice little touches to accompany certain episodes. I guess it’s no surprise that the music in a “musical” is one of the highlights, but it should still be recognised.
Just as I felt after the first season, I have to say that the performances through this season are good, but not amazing. Everyone does a solid job as their respective characters, playing into the cheesiness of some of their dialogue and actually delivering some neat, touching moments along the way. Of course, Joshua Bassett and Olivia Rodrigo still exhibit a good amount of on-screen chemistry – holding together a number of scenes. Then there’s also both Sofia Wylie and Matt Cornett (EJ) who step up even more in this season to elevate their respective scenes and actually contribute to some of the more touching moments. There’s so many more I can mention here, but I’ll close out with Frankie A. Rodriguez (Carlos) and Kate Reinders (Miss Jenn) who bring this electric enthusiasm that no one else really seems to be able to replicate.
In the end, HSMTMTS refines its identity in this second season by honing in its tone and target audience, while enjoying the freedom to develop characters who were previously thrown to the sidelines. The overall narrative is a little more organic and it allows for a story that feels fresh and is much easier to get behind. That being said, it stumbles in the final episode – wrapping up the season in a way that felt abrupt, anticlimactic and overall pretty weak. Nonetheless, fans of the first season are no doubt going to get a good kick out of this one, and anyone watching for the sake of watching can expect the same as before. It’s a very lighthearted show with cheesy dialogue and silly humour, making it oddly charming and actually worth checking out.