Despite the fact that I was the kind of High School Musical fan who made her whole family participate in the dance-along version of the movie, I was very skeptical when High School Musical 2 came out. I didn’t trust a sequel to live up to the original.
And when High School Musical: The Musical: The Series was announced, I was just as reluctant to get behind it. It took five months and a pandemic to get me to click on the first episode, but by the end, I was hooked. It was the perfect reprieve from reality and a nice jolt of nostalgia.
Yet, I remained skeptical of a second season. East High’s production of HSM:TM:TS ended with season one. The shtick had been shtuck — where could they go from there?
But the first episode of the second season is solid and a good reminder of the joy HSM:TM:TS brought the first time around.
It’s definitely still cheesy, but not in a way that made me want to turn it off. And, unlike many shows, it gives me a sense the writers are actually aware of what teenagers are like.
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Kourtney (Dara Reneé) manifests her 2021 success through a vision board and Nini (Olivia Rodrigo) quips “Harry Styles could never” when Ricky (Joshua Bassett) sings her a heartfelt original song. Seb (Joe Serafini) decides to stick out an allergic reaction from the cashmere sweater his boyfriend Carlos (Frankie Rodriguez) gifts him, out of love.
“The writers do a good job about letting us just really showcase who we are,” Rodriguez said in an April interview. “I think it’s honest storytelling.”
This season also promises a bit more honest storytelling for characters other than Nini and Ricky, which will be a nice change. Though there were some subplots for the others in the first season, it was heavily centered on Nini and Ricky’s relationship.
Reneé shared her excitement for Kourtney’s development in an April interview.
“Season two really focuses on Kourtney as Kourtney — as her own individual,” she said. “Especially as a Black woman, we sometimes go through a category of being a sidekick or not having our own storyline and I feel like, season two, we really push for… Kourtney finding her own way without having to be the support of someone else.”
The performances in the episode aren’t quite as memorable as the first season’s, but the show’s still got a whole new season to prove itself.
I still have some doubts about where this season could go. So much has changed since the first season, both in real life and in the show. Rodrigo and Bassett dated and broke up. Rodrigo became a pop star pretty much overnight by writing about the relationship. A pandemic interrupted filming (which might explain why a season debuting in May starts with a holiday-themed group number).
In terms of the show, Nini is probably leaving East High to go to the youth actors’ conservatory of her dreams. Gina (Sofia Wylie) is still living at a friend’s house. And to cap it all off, the spring musical at East High is Beauty and the Beast, not HSM2 — much to everyone’s surprise.
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It will be interesting to see how they pull off a Beauty and the Beast season without forgoing the High School Musical angle the show is predicated on. Will there be more HSM songs or will they pivot to Beauty and the Beast? A “Be Our Guest/Fabulous” mash-up has a lot of potential, if you ask me.
The cast is confident in the shift to Beauty and the Beast.
“It was really interesting to do a musical that was on Broadway and see how we could exhibit around that franchise,” Reneé said. “It was so amazing.”
HSM:TM:TS season two has a lot to live up to when you consider the strong first season and original High School Musical trilogy.
But, as Serafini put it: “At the end of the day, we’re all still students at East High putting on a musical, which is really what High School Musical is all about.”