The following includes spoilers for High School Musical: The Musical: The Series Season 2 Episode 3 “Valentine’s Day”
The latest installment furthers this season’s emphasis of placing more of the focus on other characters besides Ricky (Joshua Bassett) and Nini (Olivia Rodrigo). Kourtney (Dara Renee) takes over as the assistant manager of Big Red’s family pizzeria, which is one of the more strange directions they could’ve gone with this character. Firstly, Kourtney seems like the last person I’d imagine managing a pizza shop, and secondly isn’t she supposed to be like 15 or 16 years old?
The slightly more intriguing part of Kourtney’s new job is her interactions with Howie (Roman Banks), a long-time employee at the pizzeria. Howie starts off think Kourtney is just the next in a long line of new assistant managers bringing in their new ideas, but Kourtney’s adjustments work and win him over. Understanding how this show operates, look out for this to be the next teenybop relationship.
Two other characters who have been thrust to the forefront this season have been Big Red (Larry Saperstein) and Ashlyn (Julia Lester). During “Valentine’s Day” there are two struggles going on that finally impact each other at the end of the episode. The first is that Big Red is trying to create an over-the-top Valentine’s Day gift for Ashlyn because he doesn’t feel worthy enough to be dating the lead in the musical. On the other hand, Ashlyn is still dealing with the fact that she doesn’t even feel worthy of being Belle in Beauty and the Beast. They eventually talk it out when Big Red attempts to execute his big Valentine’s surprise, both coming to the heart-warming realization that they’re both scared for different reasons but they have each other.
Back to the A Plot, Ricky and Nini both tried to surprise each other on Valentine’s Day, just to realize they both traveled at the same time and are still equally far apart. The long-distance relationship is beginning to feel strained and audience members haven’t seen them face to face since Episode 1 (there was a brief flashback scene in Episode 2) of this season. Besides their long-distance struggles, Gina (Sofia Wylie) has now officially entered the fold and has made this a love triangle in the making.
After Gina goes over to visit Ricky because she was sad her mom (who moved away) hadn’t gotten her anything for Valentine’s Day, Ricky texts her thanking her for their chat earlier. Ironically, a box of chocolates arrived at Gina’s doorstep around the same time and she assumes they’re from Ricky. Gina decides to later reply to Ricky, thanking him for the chocolates, but then receives a text from her mom revealing that the sweets were from her. Awkward.
Fortunately for this episode, it features arguably the best scene in the season so far. Ricky and Nini both try calling each other and leave voicemails at the same time. During the voicemails they perform the individual songs that they had written for one another and they perfectly overlap to make another awesome Nini and Ricky duet. This is where this series shines brightest and it’s a shame the real-world drama between Bassett and Rodrigo is ruining some fans’ experience.
A couple of other plot points to this episode was Seb (Joe Serafini) not knowing what to get Carlos (Frankie A. Rodriguez) for Valentine’s Day (spoiler alert: he figures it out) and rude-girl Lily (Olivia Rose Keegan) tells Miss Jenn (Kate Reinders) she’s transferring to their rival North High. A possible shoo-in for Ariel in their Little Mermaid production?
In the end, this season isn’t offering as interesting a plot as the first did between Olivia, Ricky, and EJ (Matt Cornett). Never mind the fact that EJ has practically zero purpose in this season so far. The hyperspeed rise to fame by Olivia Rodrigo may play into some of the lack of enjoyment of this season as after her first album “Sour” released, her toned-down Disney character isn’t as interesting. This shouldn’t fault the show but it’s hard to ignore that Bassett and Rodrigo’s love story has become more enticing than Ricky and Nini’s.
Hopefully the season will get back to what works, focusing on this semester’s musical (and the North High rivalry) and developing a new love triangle between Ricky, Nini, and Gina that will have fans invested and calling Ricky/Bassett even more of a traitor.