This review contains spoilers.
For the past decade, teen shows have had a less than stellar reputation. They’re badly written and corny, as if to talk down to their young targeted audience. High School Musical The Musical: The Series is a surprising break in this trend and portrays the high school experience as it is now in the most authentic manner I’ve seen to date.
The show follows Nini (Olivia Rodrigo) and Ricky (Joshua Bassett), a couple who breaks up over the summer, because Ricky has difficulty processing his feelings and telling Nini he loves her back. Nini, who is a strong independent woman, realizes her worth and starts to date EJ (Matt Cornett), a boy who motivates her and shares the same love she does for musical theatre.
It is later revealed that Ricky has such a hard time processing his feelings due to the lack of love in his own household between his bickering parents. While I feel for Ricky and want him to get Nini back, I also feel for EJ and think that maybe he might just be the better man for Nini.
The best part about the whole situation is that there are no villains or heroes. The characters are written as real people instead of caricatures and stereotypes that teen media usually portrays. Everyone has their pros and cons and I’m torn over who to side with.
In a romantic gesture to get Nini back, Ricky performs the song Nini wrote for him in front of everyone for his audition to play the role of Troy in High School Musical The Musical, a movie he’s never seen since he apparently hates musicals.
But the kicker is, Nini stands her ground and tells Ricky she won’t stand for his B.S. I think that too often in romance, women are written as forgiving and understanding when we shouldn’t be. Nini is such a positive representation of how girls should react when they feel like they aren’t being treated or appreciated in the way they should be.
In the end, Nini gets the role of Gabriella, despite not trusting her abilities, and Ricky gets the role of Troy. I have no idea where this is going since Nini’s current boyfriend, EJ, has proven to be nothing but a perfect specimen of a boy, but I’m excited for the chaos that is sure to ensue.
I’m only two and a half years out of high school and this show made me feel so seen and heard in ways I’ve never felt before.
Teen media usually feels like it’s mimicking what being a teenager is actually like- I can tell that some old person at a desk decided this is what teens probably act and speak like, but it never feels natural.
Instead, the internet lingo they use feels instinctive where it’s placed and not overused or gimmicky. The humor is smart, dry and sarcastic and I love the way they utilized “The Office” mockumentary style camera zooms and side interviews.
Overall, I think what makes the show work so well is the casting. The cast of the show is actually in their teens instead of being in their mid to late twenties. I don’t know who decided that adults should be casted in teen shows, but it is always unbelievable and not relatable. Instead, everyone looks and are their respective age and come in all different races and sizes.
High School Musical The Musical: The Series brings a realness to the teenager experience that is rare in media. I hope it continues to be as good and insightful as it is in this first episode, because I’m ready for the journey and lessons these characters are bound to teach me.