The first season of High School Musical: The Musical: The Series took many by surprise. It wasn’t exactly Troy and Gabriella from the original trilogy, but Joshua Bassett’s Ricky and Olivia Rodrigo’s Nini roller coaster relationship was intriguing enough to hold audience’s attention. The special formula of this show’s success is the meta references to the original films, targeting kids new to the series and young adults who grew up with the originals, and knocking it out of the park with their two main stars.
After a sizable delay due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the second season of this Disney+ Original has finally kicked off. It’s really sad to say, but the magic from the first season may be gone. This is in part because the ongoing real-world drama between Bassett and Rodrigo that ignited her singing/songwriting career with hit single ‘Drivers License’ and debut album ‘SOUR.’ The fictional couple sparked a real-world relationship during filming of the first season, Rodrigo fell in love, and Bassett ultimately broke her heart. The songs in the album speak for themselves, but for fans that have followed the drama and Rodrigo’s music career its incredibly awkward seeing them be a couple on-screen.
Let’s put the real-world drama aside for the second. Episode 1 “New Year’s Eve” and Episode 2 “Typecasting” have been lackluster installments overall. The big reveal of “New Year’s Eve” was that instead of performing High School Musical 2 for the spring musical (after doing the original in the Fall), their theater teacher Miss Jenn (Kate Reinders) has decided East High’s production will be Beauty and the Beast. The second bomb-drop of the episode is Nini finally telling Ricky that she got into a performing arts school in Denver and has to move. This first episode was a warm-up for the rest of the season will be, but then in “Typecasting” the direction they’re heading isn’t all that interesting.
Nini is now in Denver at the performing arts school that teaches an incredibly ridged acting regiment. Ricky is still back at East High, deciding whether or not to continue performing for the school now that Nini is gone. Then, newcomer Lily (Olivia Rose Keegan) turns out to be a major snitch after not getting cast as Belle, calling rival school North High’s drama department. It was set-up in Episode 1 that Miss Jenn’s old boyfriend Zack (Dancing with the Stars’ Derek Hough) is the new Drama Teacher at North High School. They’re planning to perform The Little Mermaid this spring in hopes to win the Alan Menken Award for high school theater productions. Miss Jenn ultimately chose Beauty and The Beast in order to be taken more seriously and compete for the same award.
Despite the on paper drama, the characters themselves this season are simply one-note. The long-distance between Ricky and Nini isn’t exciting as they spent most of the first season apart, the North High rivalry is rushed, and Big Red (Larry Saperstein) and Ashlyn’s (Julia Lester) new relationship isn’t must-watch TV. Gina (Sofia Wylie) could offer an interesting wrinkle if she tries flirting with Ricky again while Nini is out of the picture.
“Typecasting” did offer a truly heart-warming moment when Ashlyn was cast as Belle, after assuming she’d be typecast. Lester has proven to be really talented throughout the musical numbers in HSMTMTS, especially paired with Rodrigo for the song ‘Wondering’ in season 1. Another strange element to look out for is that EJ (Matt Cornett) is Ashlyn’s cousin and also cast as Gaston… who’s madly in love with Belle. Awkward.
As this second season treks forward, look out for Nini to return to the fold in some way. Having her only interaction with Ricky and friends happening via FaceTime cannot last, and the overtly terrible school she is at makes it obvious her return may be sooner rather than later. The finale of this season is bound to be a music-filled blast, but the journey there doesn’t seem as promising as it was in the first season. For now, here’s a list of the Beauty and the Beast East High casting call:
Belle: Ashlyn, The Beast: Ricky, Gaston: EJ, Le Fou: Big Red, Babette: Gina, Chip: Seb (Joe Serafini) Lumiere: Carlos (Frankie Rodriguez), and Mrs. Potts: Kourtney (Dara Renee).