Disney+’s High School Musical Show Is Better Without The Movie Connections

High School Musical: The Musical: The Series season 2 is moving on from its connection to the movies. Here’s why that’s better in the long run.

High School Musical: The Musical: The Series is moving on from its connection to the movies in season 2, which is better for the show in the long run. Blending musical dramedy and mockumentary elements, the spinoff debuted on Disney+ in November 2019. Its first season focused on a group of theater enthusiasts that participate in a staging of High School Musical at the school where the movies were filmed. Coming into its sophomore installment, it looked like a given that the show would continue the trend by shifting the focus to High School Musical 2.

Briefly, during the premiere of HSMTMTS season 2, it seemed like the spinoff was headed in that direction. The episode, titled “New Year’s Eve,” sees drama teacher Miss Jenn (Kate Reinders) shopping around for costumes befitting the High School Musical sequel. Upon running into her ex-boyfriend Zack (played by Derek Hough), she abruptly changes course. After learning that Zack, a successful Broadway actor, is in town to direct a rival school’s production of The Little Mermaid, Miss Jenn decides that her East High students will perform Beauty and the Beast instead. This shift is, in several ways, to the benefit of HSMTMTS.

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Related: Glee vs High School Musical: Which Was Better

It makes sense that the spinoff would move on from its connection to the movies. The link was never that vital from a narrative standpoint. The series never seriously argued that Ricky (Joshua Bassett) and Nini (Olivia Rodrigo) were analogs to the leading couple played by Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens. It similarly never made much of a case as to why Seb (Joe Serafini) was chosen for the role of Sharpay. The fact that the show featured a staging of High School Musical never factored into the first season of HSMTMTS in a major way. If anything, the franchise was most frequently acknowledged in a winking and sort of mocking fashion: As a background dancer in the first High School Musical movie, Miss Jenn was considerably more invested in staging an authentic recreation than anyone else she encountered. It was a good joke, albeit not the kind that could sustain multiple seasons of a spinoff.

high school musical - cast

HSMTMTS has been more focused on its main cast, often using its namesake IP as background. Much of the drama in the first season hinged on Ricky’s troubles at home, dealing with the fact that his parents are divorcing. The series also devoted time to Gina (Sofia Wylie), demonstrating how the transfer student wasn’t as calculated and cruel as she hoped to present herself. While there was a question of whether the characters would successfully recreate High School Musical, the stage play itself was often secondary and even tertiary to what the students were going through in their personal lives.

The introduction of Hough’s character as a potential antagonist provides the opening for a little more balance. Establishing a competition between two schools early on, and giving the story personal stakes, in addition to a potential prize, adds an element of intrigue to whether the students succeed in their staging of Beauty and the Beast. It also gives the series more of a narrative drive beyond the relationship drama which defined large swaths of season 1. Crucially, it allows the writers to look outside of a jokey meta premise they never really exploited as much as they could have. It’s possible that the spinoff needed its franchise connections to justify being one of Disney+’s first original TV shows. But looking ahead to its future, High School Musical: The Musical: The Series should be able to stand on its own.

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