Tuesday, November 12, 2019

REVIEW: 'High School Musical: The Musical: The Series' - The Underdogs Become the Musical Leads in 'The Auditions'

Disney+'s High School Musical: The Musical: The Series - Episode 1.01 "The Auditions"

Ricky decides to audition for East High's fall musical, "High School Musical," in an effort to rekindle his relationship with his ex-girlfriend Nini.

In 2018, there were 495 scripted shows airing amongst the linear channels and streaming services. The way people are consuming content now is so different than it used to be. It happens according to one's own schedule. As such, there is less necessity to provide ample coverage of each specific episode in any given season from a show. Moreover, it is simply impossible to watch everything. As such, this site is making the move to shorter episodic reviews in order to cover as many shows as possible. With all of that being said, here are my thoughts on the series premiere of Disney+'s High School Musical: The Musical: The Series.

"The Auditions" was written by Tim Federle and directed by Tamra Davis

This show presents a very artificial world. There is always some sense of that in the entertainment industry. The viewer is watching a scripted story take place featuring actors playing characters while writers and directors present the situations in the most dramatic or comedic way possible. However, this show seems to put another layer to that distance between the audience and the characters. That may be a pointed statement about how the social media generation processes the news of the world and interacts with other human beings. However, it's mostly just annoying to watch because it all presents as a meta gimmick that continually winks and nudges to the audience who understand the film franchise that inspired this show. High School Musical had a huge cultural impact. It produced three movies and a musical adaptation. And now, this television show aspires to create a new version of the story while also probably taking itself way too seriously. Everything is essentially informed by how all of this can be seen through the prism of High School Musical. That may be a tall ask because the teenagers of today may not have the reverence for it in the same way that those who were in high school when it was originally released. The show may capture the truthful spirit of only theater nerds caring about what the next musical will be. That's just one corner of a learning environment. The new drama teacher, Miss Jenn, doesn't understand why this isn't a bigger deal. This school should be a landmark because it's where the movie was filmed. But she comes across as so broadly defined. She's essentially a punchline of someone holding onto past glories while failing to project any sense of authority of control over her life. That's depressing and unfortunate. It provides no clear direction or vision for the series. It's simply one woman's passion that does get a select group excited about what may happen. And yet, the show has to go into fantasy sequences in order to truly highlight just how special all of this can eventually become. That's the moment where it becomes clear that Nini will be cast in the lead role. But again, that was somewhat expected as the outcome. The same is true of Ricky being cast as the leading man despite his overall disinterest in musicals. The exes really are the focal point for the series. Ricky believes they can pick things up where they left off before she left for theater camp. Meanwhile, Nini is heartbroken because Ricky dumped her because he refused to open up and express his love. Sure, it's weird that Nini posts a video on Instagram professing her love for him in song and then watches him watch it. That is disingenuous and doesn't create a true sense that love is present in this relationship. It's simply teenagers going through the motions of what they think is suppose to be happening in their dating lives. That has the potential to be refreshing. It's simply a matter of life-or-death to these teens. That's unfair. It may be relatable. However, it mostly paints a picture of Ricky being incredibly clueless and still finding a way to fail upwards. He is late for the audition. He fails at handling any of the dialogue. And yet, he can sing an emotional sing that has personal resonance for Nini. That shouldn't be seen as successful. It shouldn't secure this role for him. It also somewhat takes away from Nini's own accomplishment. She gets the proud solo where her talent is showcased and widely accepted. Meanwhile, Ricky coasts along without having to work for it simply thinking he knows how to win his ex-girlfriend back. That's controlling to an extent. But again, it's a sense of artificial drama because the show has cast Ricky and Nini as the romantic leads of the musical while her new boyfriend will play his best friend. It's all insanely heightened but without any specificity or substance to it. The show wants to be a fun showcase that pays homage to the past. But it doesn't really strike new ground in a way that has anything new to say about life as a teenager. Nor does it feel like anyone is particularly having fun. Every moment of levity is forced while the reach for grounded emotions comes up short.