×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

TV Review: ‘High School Musical: The Musical: The Series’ on Disney Plus

With:
Joshua Bassett, Olivia Rodrigo, Kate Reinders, Sofia Wylie, Matt Cornett, Dara Renee', Julia Lester, Frankie A. Rodriguez, Larry Saperstein and Mark St. Cyr.

At first glance, “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series” seems like a blatant cannibalization of a Disney property as required by a streaming service that depends on nostalgia. At second glance — well, that’s entirely accurate. To its credit, though, the show is upfront about it, delivering its gentle twist on an aggressively inoffensive franchise with a not-so-sly wink.

The new series, which launches Nov. 12 alongside Disney Plus as a whole, is neither a reboot, nor a revival, nor a sequel to the “High School Musical” movie trilogy. (The first two aired on Disney Channel in 2006 and 2007 before the third got a theatrical release in 2008, taking in $252 million worldwide.) Instead, creator Tim Federle made a cute mockumentary- style comedy about the students at the school where “High School Musical” was shot putting on their own rendition of the musical itself, treating it with the kind of reverence that usually belongs to an unimpeachable classic like “West Side Story.” It feels less like “High School Musical” than a sweet and very silly version of “Glee” — which, as best exemplified by the meta character of overzealous theater director Miss Jenn (Kate Reinders doing her best Kristin Chenoweth), is exactly what the show seems to be going for.

In order to keep the show grounded, or at least a bit less confusing than its cheeky title suggests, “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series” makes sure its main characters don’t stray too far from the property that inspired them. Where Zac Efron once played Troy, a frustrated basketball player with a secret musical talent, Joshua Bassett stars as Ricky, a frustrated skater with a secret musical talent. Where Vanessa Hudgens once played Gabriella, a sweet and determined singer, Olivia Rodrigo plays Nini, a sweet and determined singer. The complication the series throws at them is that they’re very recent exes, and Nini was hoping to star in the musical opposite her extremely earnest new boyfriend E.J. (Matt Cornett) before Ricky crushes the audition with a surprise serenade. With barely any time devoted to them as a couple, it’s hard to know exactly how hard to root for them to get back together, especially with E.J. giving Nini the support and devotion Ricky couldn’t. But they’re our Troy and Gabriella, so if the season doesn’t end with them getting back together to rapturous applause, it wouldn’t be very “High School Musical” of them at all. Disney Plus can’t have that.

In the first two episodes screened for critics, the series does try to make some adjustments to shake up the peppy clichés of the original. E.J. is a popular jock without any of the usual macho hangups that usually go with that role. The scene-stealing role of the fiercely ambitious Sharpay (originally played by Ashley Tisdale) goes to an equally ambitious, if quieter, boy. Nini has two mothers. And there’s one genuinely moving scene in which Nini finds Ashlyn (Julia Lester) rehearsing her own original song and joins in, their voices opening up to fill the cavernous auditorium with their palpable longing. These moments, however, tend to highlight the fact that other aspects of the show remain frustratingly similar to the movie’s overwhelmingly two-dimensional approach, like the fact of Nini’s best friend (Dara Renee) being a wary black girl without much discernible interiority of her own.

That complaint also goes for the fact that “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series” is, like its source material, bizarrely suspended in a timeless place. Beyond an Instagram reference here and there, its first couple episodes just doesn’t do much to reflect that the show is set well over a decade from when Efron and Hudgens first hit the stage, or make a case for why this story might be interesting to tell now beyond “people know what ‘High School Musical’ is and Disney Plus needed content.” To be fair, maybe that’s the only meaningful bar it needs to clear.

“High School Musical: The Musical: The Series” premieres November 12 on Disney Plus.

TV Review: 'High School Musical: The Musical: The Series' on Disney Plus

Production: Executive producers: Tim Federle, Oliver Goldstick, Bill Borden and Barry Rosenbush.

Cast: Joshua Bassett, Olivia Rodrigo, Kate Reinders, Sofia Wylie, Matt Cornett, Dara Renee', Julia Lester, Frankie A. Rodriguez, Larry Saperstein and Mark St. Cyr.

More TV

  • Imelda Staunton'Downton Abbey' photocall, Rome Film

    'The Crown' Has Not Cast Imelda Staunton for Seasons 5 and 6, Netflix Says

    Netflix is shooting down reports that Imelda Staunton is joining “The Crown.” “We are currently filming season 4 of ‘The Crown’ but have not commissioned any further seasons as yet, therefore any news on casting remains pure speculation,” a Netflix spokesperson said in a statement. Staunton, known to many as the despicable Dolores Umbridge in [...]

  • Baby Yoda The Mandalorian

    Baby Yoda Merchandise to Debut Ahead of Holiday Shopping Season

    Purchase Baby Yoda toys, you will. Fans of the breakout character from the Disney Plus series “The Mandalorian” have been surprised that there was no merchandise pegged to the character available upon the launch of the show, given that the Christmas shopping season is rapidly approaching. But according to an individual with knowledge of the [...]

  • Sean "Diddy" Combs Revolt TV

    Sean Combs Slams 'Illusion of Economic Inclusion' at Comcast Amid Byron Allen Fight

    Sean Combs has come out swinging against Comcast in a lengthy statement prompted by the cable giant’s legal battle with Entertainment Studios chief Byron Allen. Combs accused Comcast of maintaining “the illusion of economic inclusion” in its handling of a carriage agreement with Combs’ Revolt TV channel. Combs was critical of Comcast for failing to [...]

  • Oprah Winfrey during a tribute to

    TV News Roundup: OWN Orders Celebrity Relationship Series '#LoveGoals'

    In today’s TV news roundup, OWN orders a new unscripted relationship series and Disney Channel orders new seasons of “The Owl House” and “Sydney to the Max.”  DATES ABC will live broadcast the “2020 NCAA Gymnastics Championship Final” on April 18. The semi finals will air the day before at 1 and 6 p.m. ET. [...]

  • Sissy book cover

    Showtime to Develop Series Based on Jacob Tobia Memoir 'Sissy' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Showtime is developing a half-hour dramedy based on Jacob Tobia’s memoir, Variety has learned exclusively. Tobia is a non-binary LGBTQ rights activist, actor, producer, and author. Their memoir, “Sissy: A Coming-of-Gender Story,” was published earlier this year by Putnam Books at Penguin Random House. The series, currently titled “Sissy,” would follow Tobi Gibran, a non-binary college [...]

  • Invisible Stories from HBO Asia

    Singapore Festival: HBO Asia Tells ‘Invisible Stories’

    HBO Asia has expanded its burgeoning production slate with six-episode half-hour series “Invisible Stories.” The first two episodes of the show, “Lian” and “Chuan,” play at the Singapore International Film Festival on Nov. 28. The series is by writer and director Ler Jiyuan, who previously directed part of HBO Asia Original series “Grisse.” “Like 80% [...]

  • Jane Galloway Heitz

    'Glee' Actress Jane Galloway Heitz Dies at 78

    Jane Galloway Heitz, known for playing the character of Lillian Adler on “Glee,” has died, according to an obituary posted in the Chicago Tribune. She was 78. The actress only appeared in person twice on the Fox show, once in the pilot and on another occasion in 2015, as her character’s image appeared in a [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content