Without a single member of the original “High School Musical” trilogy, Disney waved its magic wand once again to give us a program we never knew we wanted. If you get past the layered and convoluted title as well as the promotional hashtag; #HSMTMTS, you will most certainly enjoy the program that was absolutely made to lure my generation to Disney’s new streaming platform, Disney+. Let me lay this out for you, because the concept is really not that confusing once it is explained, but you may need to re-read the sentence a few times before it clicks. “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series” is about what would happen to the lives of teens currently attending the real East High, where Disney Channel’s “High School Musical” movies were filmed, if they were to put on a production of the movie “High School Musical” as a musical. Got it?
I am reluctant to judge programs by their pilot episode because what happens in that first episode is so different than what a show may actually be about — pilots primarily function as an establishing episode, where you get a taste of each of the characters. The plot of this episode creates the storylines that will drive the rest of the season. It is not until the audience sees how the plots established in this episode are carried out over the remaining episodes of the season that they can reach a verdict on whether or not “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series” is worth trying to understand.
This show is set in the real world in which “High School Musical” remains a cultural phenomenon of successful television movies starring Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens, where real kids are putting on a stage production of those real movies. Comically, these fictional students happen to fictionally go to the real school used as the set, which has everyone talking about “High School Musical” on the set of “High School Musical.” When I put it like that, it sounds like a recipe for another disastrously-made program in an age in which good television is increasingly hard to find, despite more television than ever before being produced. This is far from the case. The pilot extremely self-aware and comic. The tone, which is established by the ridiculousness of the title, drives home the point of the series and why it works — moments range from silly, sarcastic and serious in the same way when you are a teenager that everything feels like life or death.
The show stars a group of exceptionally talented teenagers, most of whom I have never heard of, and might be more talented than the original cast. Nini (Olivia Rodrigo, “Bizaardvark”) and Gina (Sofia Wylie, “Andi Mack”) are just two of the standout performances from Disney alums. Could this be their breakout role, introducing them to an older television audience? Also, Seb (Joe Serafini) is a University of Michigan alum. So, go blue.
The show simultaneously pokes fun at the absurdity of high school, theater people, Disney and show business. You name it, the show has it. The parallels to the original plot of “High School Musical” are prevalent, which kind of makes this “High School Musical,” but reimagined through the lens of “The Office.” And as crazy as it sounds, somehow … it works. There is no other program with multiple colons in its title that I would recommend watching. But it was impossible to ignore what was right in front of me: The charm of “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series.”