Hot Take: I’m 23 and Love High School Musical: The Musical: The Series
Once a Wildcat, always a Wildcat, amiright?
When High School Musical premiered on Disney Channel in 2006, it was a cultural reset. A musical about participating in the high school musical? Genius. And it was directed by the golden boy of Disney Channel: Kenny Ortega. Now, it’s been over 10 years since the HSM franchise ended and Disney gave us something no one knew they wanted or needed. A series about doing the high school musical that just so happens to be High School Musical. I don’t know what was going on in that boardroom, but inject it straight into my veins.
High School Musical: The Musical: The Series (HSMTMTS) premiered on Disney+ in 2019 and follows students at East High School, where High School Musical was filmed, as they put on a production of High School Musical: The Musical. The students are led by their drama teacher Miss Jenn, who was a background cast member in the original High School Musical and has been obsessed with the movies ever since. HSMTMTS is filmed in mockumentary style, similar to The Office, as the students navigate relationships and, of course, casting drama.
HSMTMTS is probably meant for kids, tweens and teens, seeing as it is rated PG and on Disney+. However, the storylines can suck you in and, let’s be honest, some of the songs are bangers. Not only does it give us covers of the original HSM songs, but we also get some great new material *ahem* “All I Want,” a.k.a. Olivia Rodrigo’s first hit.
The music is great and the story pays homage to high school theater in a way that I’ve never seen in a series. But the real reason I keep coming back every Friday is the characters. Each character has a well thought out storyline and develops a lot during the season. Even the supporting characters have ample screen time, unlike some HSM faves like Kelsey, Zeke and Martha. HSMTMTS doesn’t only follow the “Troy and Gabriella” (a.k.a. Ricky and Nini). The show gives viewers new stories like the relationship of Carlos and Seb and the importance of a girl gang in Ashlyn, Gina and Kourtney. Of course, it has hints of HSM with Sharpay-level cattiness and OG cast cameos that may border on weird, like the Lucas Grabeel dream sequence, but warm my heart.
Additionally, HSMTMTS is breaking a lot of Disney barriers in terms of on-screen representation. It’s no secret that HSM didn’t have the most diverse cast, so when Monique Coleman, who played Taylor, revealed that her character wore all of those headbands because the crew didn't know how to style black hair, no one was that surprised. However, it did spark important conversations about how far the industry has come since the first HSM was filmed. Now it seems that Disney is learning from their past mistakes. Of the 11 main characters in HSMTMTS five of them are played by nonwhite actors. Additionally, HSMTMTS tackles topics that most Disney shows and movies have not, including divorce, body image and sexuality. HSMTMTS’ diverse casting goes beyond the “token” character as well. There are two plus-sized characters, Kourtney (Dara Reneé) and Ashlyn (Julia Lester), whose storylines don’t center around weight, similar to Martha (KayCee Stroh) in the originals. Nini (Rodgrigo) has two moms who are introduced in the first episode. Seb (Joe Serafini) has always dreamed of playing Sharpay in High School Musical, and he does during the first season. Additionally, Seb and Carlos (Frankie A. Rodriguez) start a relationship during the first season, and the second season has been exploring the couple’s story more, especially since Serafini was upgraded from a recurring character to a main character in season two.
While the coming-of-age comedy may be meant for a younger generation, as a Millenial/Gen Z-er who has seen diversity on the screen grow with her, it’s kind of beautiful to think about what HSMTMTS is providing for kids. I wish I could say my high school theater department was filled with that kind of diversity and love and no judgement, but maybe, just maybe, HSMTMTS will help. Until then, I will be alternating between watching HSMTMTS and streaming SOUR.
Do you love HSMTMTS as much as me? Sound off on Instagram and keep an eye out for a special surprise!