“When I heard that the high school where “High School Musical” was shot had never staged a production of ‘High School Musical: The Musical,’ I was shocked as an actress, inspired as a director and triggered as a millennial.” The opening line from East High’s drama director Miss Jenn (played by Kate Reinders) both introduces the basic plot of the show and leaves a bitter taste in my mouth. Ricky (Joshua Bassett) tries out for Troy in an effort to win back his ex-girlfriend, Nini (Olivia Rodrigo), who is auditioning for Gabriella. When the cast list is announced, the student body is shocked and the cast must work through their personal issues and love triangles to put on a great production.
When I heard that Disney was going to remake “High School Musical” as a series with none of the original cast, I was also (in the wise words of Miss Jenn) “triggered” as a Gen-Z kid who grew up watching the movies. To me, Disney remakes (i.e. “Aladdin”, “Cinderella”, etc.) have never fulfilled my high expectations left by the originals because they try to be realistic and modern, and “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series” was no exception. Even in the first episode, I felt overwhelmed by the choices made by the directors to make the show relevant and diverse. Don’t get me wrong, I want to see more inclusion in television as much as the next person. But when they’re throwing in supporting characters of color, LGBTQ+ and feminism in the pilot, it seems like an inauthentic way of gaining recognition and praise from the media for being “woke,” almost like they’re checking off the boxes on a list. For example, as an introduction to a scene, Nini’s best friend Kourtney says, “And so I say to my mom, ‘Looking this fabulous while also fighting for intersectional feminism is my summer job.’” Characters and lines like that are simply placed in the background or in passing to hint that they’re there, but without any relevance to the plot or further development.
Overall, the rest of the show wasn’t too disappointing. Of course, it pained me a little bit to see someone other than Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens sing “The Start of Something New” but the show seemed very similar to “Glee”, complete with the documentary style of filming, musical numbers, drama and overly-enthusiastic director. The acting wasn’t superb in any way, but the songs were executed well, and the plot wasn’t too cringey. Maybe the rest of the show will prove to be worthwhile, but for me it only validated that Disney originals should be left alone.