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5 Things That High School Musical: The Musical: The Series Gets Right About High School

By Ashvini Giridaran

With the holiday season officially wrapped up (no pun intended) and school back in session, many who celebrate Christmas are returning with an assortment of new gizmos and tchotchkes. One of the most popular gifts this season among shoppers has been a subscription to the hot new streaming service, Disney Plus, which features all things Disney, including all movies of the Marvel Universe, the Star Wars films, and the series and films of Disney Channel, a.k.a. any and every Gen Z’s childhood.

One of Disney Channel’s most monumental productions was High School Musical, a smash-hit film series that officially commenced in 2006 it follows the lives of Troy and Gabriella, two star-crossed lovers, as they attempt to navigate their high school lives, up until their graduation in 2008, in movie musical form. For kids to teenagers alike (I can attest, as a kindergartener at the time), the film was an iconic piece of 2000s culture.

With the rise in spin offs on popular 2000s pop culture (see Gilmore Girls Revival or the reboot to Veronica Mars), fans of the original movies have been demanding that some sort of spin-off also be created for High School Musical. It seems, after (now) 14 years, Netflix has finally delivered…in the form of a fictional TV series shadowing teenagers who attend East High, the school in which the fictional HSM movies were filmed, as they attempt to stage a theatre production of the High School Movie films with the new Drama teacher hire.

Despite the high production value and hype surrounding the series, at first glance, High School Musical, The Musical: The Series is viewed as any other one of today’s major dramas evidently made for teens by older adults in the writer’s room.

One of the members of the main ensemble is literally depicted saying “I’m dying…I’m deceased” in a happy/nervous context, teenagers are shown driving around in sardonically unrealistic vehicles such as a brand new Jeep Grand Cherokee (it's for the endorsement, I know, but this could have easily been incorporated as context into the character’s lifestyle/home life) or a small classic car of a tangerine hue.

At one point, the main character, Nini, urges her then-boyfriend, Ricky, to unlock his phone, only to find, unbeknownst to him, a post on Instagram of her singing an original song called “I think I ‘you know’…” for their one year anniversary. At this point, Ricky stares, completely astounded, at this post (which is he is tagged in, mind you…and has also been commented on by MULTIPLE of his and Nini’s friends), totally dumbfounded by what Nini has told him, in spite of the fact that, at this point, they have dated for a full year.

In addition to depicting today’s teens in a facet which insinuates that they are incapable of expressing “real” emotions like love without a technological intermediary, HSM, The Musical: The Series disappointingly gives into the exhausted “sassy black friend” trope in which the confident, funny, and intelligent African American best friend of Nini, Kourtney, has an entire story arc which seems to situate around serving her best friend and being Nini’s personal cheerleader.

However, after watching 7 episodes of the series, I have come to the conclusion that the show, when watched in its entirety, actually pulls off the same morally-uplifting and empowering effect that Disney films seem to have on a person. In fact, I now strongly believe and insist that in spite of these flaws, the show shouldn’t be removed off of one’s Watch Next Queue, because there is a lot that High School Musical, The Musical: The Series does get right about being a high schooler in this day and age and there is a lot I think today’s high schoolers need to hear.

With that said, here are 5 things HSM, The Series: The Musical gets right about high school today.

1. The STEM Teacher that is Superior™

Okay, now let’s be real, every single high school has one of these teachers. In the show, the STEM teacher Mr. Mazzara, following all of the buzz surrounding the school’s production, goes on a mini-rant about how STEM is what will provide kids with job-worthy skills in the future. While the characterization of Mr. Mazzara is dramatized, the assertion that STEM subjects are the most important at school or the most useful is definitely something that many high schoolers have and/or will encounter in today’s culture.

2. That “Dirtbag” That Everyone Swoons For At First

E.J. from the show, as of the second episode, is a prime example of that one kid with a strong, friendly, honourable persona that is actually rooted in complete “dirtbagness.” There are things that he does that are super adorable and cute such as when he encourages his girlfriend Nini to be brave and audition for the lead role, however, all of the rosy appeal in those moments is gone when he turns around and clarifies himself, stating things like “we only play to win, baby.” I don’t necessarily think this is attributed to him being a bad person, but just being someone who has yet to fully find himself outside of “winning” and mature a little.

3. We All Need to Stop Seeing Ourselves Through Another’s Eyes

There’s this one brilliant moment in the series when Kourtney, Nini’s best friend, confronts her about how “ever since [she] discovered boys [she’s] only been seeing [herself] through their eyes.” I think this is something that every single high schooler needs to hear, regardless of context. Being in an environment filled with thousands of other kids all trying to find themselves and figure out who they want to be can be so confusing. However, at the end of the day, we are all at school to fulfill this stage of life on this pathway that is completely our own. We need to choose to appreciate and believe in ourselves, first and foremost.

4. What Real Teens Look and Act Like

I think it was last Tuesday when I decided to watch the trailer for the 4th Season of Riverdale and let me tell you, I nearly spit out my tea when I realized that only now, 4 seasons later, have Archie Andrews and the squad reached their senior year of high school. In other words, they chased serial killers and started their own speakeasies when they were just 15 and 16 years old. So if you happen to be the odd teen that cannot relate to the proceedings of Riverdale, I urge you to check out HSM, The Musical: The Series where teens act *gasp* their age.

5. It Gets the Life of a Production Right

Although I can’t directly speak to the behind-the-scenes of school productions, as a certified band nerd, I can wholeheartedly attest that this program really hits the nail on the head when it comes to what it’s like working together in the Arts to put on a show. Responding to the comment made by Mr. Mazzara that I mentioned earlier, the Arts are incredibly important because they are what allow us to develop empathy. Works like The Crucible and The Glass Menagerie teach us about the world we are surrounded by and ultimately helps an individual become a wholesome person through messages about teamwork, dedication and discipline. The relationship that the kids develop with Ms. Jenn is one that mirrors a relationship that our bands share with our own music teachers at this school. Teachers, more than helping us put on a show, instill their confidence, trust, and faith in us…driving us to be the best we can be.


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