Photo: ‘High School Musical: The Musical: The Series’
‘High School Musical’ is a cultural touchstone for a large percentage of Gen Z and millennials who were raised on Disney Channel Original Movies. The High School Musical franchise moved from TV screens to theaters and back more content continued to be released and successful. So, when it was announced way back in 2017 that Disney+ would be delivering even more HSM content, an unsurprisingly large audience was already hooked.
The show was set to follow a group of students that attended the real East High, Salt Lake High School East, the school where High School Musical was filmed. The familiar sets wouldn’t be the only thing tying the series to the movies, though. The students the series follows would be putting on their own production of ‘High School Musical: The Musical’, the stage adaptation of the first film (hence the title ‘High School Musical: The Musical: The Series’). And that’s exactly what the first season brought us.
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‘High School Musical: The Musical: The Series’ – Where Did We Leave Off?
When season one was airing there was a lot of debate happening online regarding the content for season two. Season one covered the fall musical, ‘High School Musical: The Musical’, and we knew season two would follow the spring musical. So, it’d make sense that season two would be based on ‘High School Musical 2’, but that wasn’t the case. Season two followed East High’s production of ‘Beauty and the Beast’, and, just like any good high school theater production, there was plenty of drama to go around.
Season two introduced the rival high school North High, which also decided to produce ‘Beauty and the Beast’. The school’s high budget and impressive cast was a point of high tension as both schools decided to enter the Menkies, awards given to high school theater productions of Alan Menken musicals. Meanwhile, Nini (Olivia Rodrigo) has left East High to attend a performing arts school in Denver, but she feels isolated there and eventually decides to return. However, eliminating the distance isn’t enough to save her relationship with Ricky (Joshua Bassett), who decides to give Lily, a North High student a call in the season finale. The season finale also brought us EJ and Gina’s first kiss, a culmination of a season’s worth of will-they-won’t-they and misunderstandings.
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Season 3 Episode 1: Happy Campers
The episode opens with EJ, Ashlynn, Gina, and Carlos all heading to Camp Shallow Lake for the summer. A quick roll call reveals that Nini is busy with her moms, Ricky is with Lily, Seb is working at his farm, and Big Red is working as well. The group is excited because the camp is hosting a secret celebrity, which is why they decided to tag along (it was established in season one that EJ and Nini were the only campers in the group). The campers turn in their phones, further disconnecting the camp gang from the rest of the Wildcats.
Back in Utah, Ricky is preparing to go on a jet skiing trip with Lily and her family, but the air is heavy with awkwardness. Lily is more focused on making TikToks than spending time with Ricky and, shockingly, doesn’t even remember his name. They split before they can get anywhere near a jet ski. Nini is also preparing for a trip, going to California with her moms. Even though she’s back at East High Nini still feels disconnected from her friends and is struggling to write music even though she’s working with Gina’s brother, a music producer.
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Back at camp, we find out the celebrity guest is Corbin Bleu who played Chad in the original High School Musical trilogy. He announces that the camp will be putting on a production of Disney’s ‘Frozen’ and the production will be filmed for a docuseries on Disney+. The camp director was under the impression that Corbin Bleu would be directing ‘Frozen’ instead of just directing the docuseries, leaving the show directorless. That is, until EJ is given the role. At the very last second, Ricky shows up to camp.
The Start of Something New
It makes perfect sense that the first two seasons of ‘HSMTMTS’ took place during the school year, rather than the more traditional approach of one season per year. First, we aren’t following the academic calendar or a calendar year, the Wildcats are operating on theater time, so if there are two musicals per year, there’s one season per musical. Also, the show needed to stay at East High to establish itself as more than a ‘High School Musical’ spin-off. The gradual move from being in East High and producing ‘High School Musical’ to being in East High with a different show to now being away from school and away from HSM was genius.
The first two seasons built the viewers’ investment and care for the characters outside of where they go to school and what show they produce. Now, we can care for them in new environments, even if they aren’t all together. The new environment is an opportunity for change and diverting from the path we’ve come to expect in season two. It also allows for a seamless introduction of new cast members, which is needed as much of the previous seasons’ main cast has moved to recurring roles.
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What’s Next for Nini?
Anyone who knows anything about music in the past year or so knows Olivia Rodrigo’s name. She shot from Disney’s star to global superstar overnight when her first single ‘driver’s license’ was released. Her rocketing into the mainstream caused people to question whether or not she’d return to her roots, but she did! Nini has a recurring role in season three; the writers took extra care to make sure she wasn’t haphazardly written off, so we’ll need to tune in each week to see what they have in store for Nini.
Cast & Crew
Cast: Joshua Bassett, Sofia Wylie, Matt Cornett, Julia Lester, Dara Reneé, Frankie A. Rodriguez
Created by: Tim Federle
By Lara Glennon
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Lara Glennon is an aspiring screenwriter looking to share her love and passion for all things film and television. She aims to use her writing to shine a light on artists who are working to make change, both in media and in the world. The Hollywood Insider’s focus on substance over gossip is perfect for Lara, as she wants to highlight the good in the world and those who create it. She enjoys spending her time creating and consuming art, searching for unique voices and ideas in media.