The start of something new: ‘High School Musical’ spinoff series combines the best of 2000s hit movie with modern teen dramedy

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It was definitely the start of something new when “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series” (HSMTMTS for short) debuted this weekend. The show was cute, reminiscent of “High School Musical” in its portrayal of teen relationships and had a good balance of comedy and drama. The Disney+ original series aired its first episode on ABC, Disney Channel and Freeform Friday, but new episodes will air only on Disney+.  

At first, I thought the show was very confusing. Was it some sort of remake of “High School Musical?” Did the kids know that “High School Musical” was a Disney Channel movie, or did they live in the world of the film? Were their lives supposed to mimic those of the “High School Musical” movie characters? And why was Disney making another spinoff anyway? 

Thankfully, the show does a good job of sorting this out quickly. The show’s characters are students at the high school where the HSM movies were filmed, so they know the story of HSM because they — like any other kids who didn’t live under a rock — grew up watching the movie. And so far it seems that they’ll be writing their own stories, not simply recreating a modern-day HSM.  

The characters, though lovable, were quite familiar. Nini (Olivia Rodrigo) is the shy but talented girl who wants to star in the musical. Gina (Sofia Wylie) is her competition: The girl who needs to outshine everyone else in order to gain attention and prove to herself that she is worthy. Ricky (Joshua Bassett) is Nini’s ex-boyfriend who suggested they take a break when she said “I love you” and who now wants her back. EJ (Matt Cornett) is Nini’s current boyfriend and co-captain of the water polo team, admired by all but jealous of Ricky. 

The plot of the show follows the four main characters as they prepare for the fall musical, which their new drama teacher has decided will be “High School Musical: The Musical,” since the school where the smash hit was filmed has never put on a production of its spinoff musical — excuse me, musicale.  

At first, I found the way the show was shot kind of weird. HSMTMTS is shot in a mockumentary style, like “The Office” or “Modern Family.” I expected the show to be shot in the same style as the HSM movies, where characters were unaware that they were on camera. 

However, this mockumentary style works for the story that the new series is trying to tell. It allows viewers glimpses into each character’s thoughts and feelings and gives a fuller sense of each character’s personality. 

Overall, the show reminded me of “Glee” but with Disney-rated drama. There’s various personalities competing for prime roles in the musical, and each character has different motivations and methods of getting what they want. Some petty drama will undoubtedly ensue, as well as some comic schemes and heartwarming reconciliations.  

I was glad to see that the series does not completely follow the plot or characters of HSM, and I think this decision will allow the writers and actors to create some new yet still beloved characters and stories. The first episode already has me rooting for Nini to shine in the musical and for Ricky to fix his mistakes and win her back.  

The show will feature original music, and I was already won over by the sweet song “I Think I Kinda, You Know” in the first episode, which Nini composed for her one-year anniversary with Ricky. The actors are all good singers too, and Bassett’s singing and speaking voice even reminded me of Zac Efron’s occasionally.  

Though Disney has been criticized in recent years for remaking its stories over and over again, HSMTMTS takes necessary liberties with its source material to create an updated, interesting spinoff. Fans of the original HSM will enjoy the throwbacks, and fans of teen dramedy will enjoy the familiar personalities and plots. HSMTMTS proves that we’re all in this together by accounting for new fan preferences and old fan favorites.  

Rating: 4/5 

Thumbnail photo courtesy of @highschoolmusical Instagram.


Stephanie Santillo is a senior staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at stephanie.santillo@uconn.edu.

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