Musical movies of the early 2000s defined an entire generation through unforgettable choreography and catchy songs that still manage to sneak into our playlists years after their releases. Netflix’s new musical TV show, “Julie and the Phantoms,” falls in line with the lovable elements of these iconic films, yet is distinctive in its mature themes and relatable characters.
Based on the Brazilian series “Julie e os Fantasmas,” “Julie and the Phantoms” follows Julie (Madison Reyes), a young musician grappling with the loss of her mother. As she struggles to work through her grief and reconnect with music, Julie is acquainted with three ’90s boy band members who have been dead for 25 years. Joining forces to make music, Julie and “the phantoms,” Luke (Charlie Gillespie), Alex (Owen Joyner) and Reggie (Jeremy Shada), embark on an artistic journey that forces their newly established band to evaluate the coexistence of life and death.
The show’s executive producer and co-director, Kenny Ortega, knows what it takes to craft a perfect musical sequence. Having choreographed classic musical movies such as “High School Musical,” “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” and “Dirty Dancing,” Ortega has spent his career shaping some of the most iconic musical moments in history. “Julie and the Phantoms” certainly doesn’t lack these scenes; thankfully, they occur in every episode.
The show’s first of many performances is “Now or Never,” a pop song with a ’90s rock aesthetic from the phantoms’ original band, “Sunset Curve.” This performance establishes the show’s lovable ambience, introducing viewers to the musical moments that weave in and out of the nine episode season.
Each song possesses a sense of purpose that goes beyond face value. Songs such as “Wake Up” emphasize Julie’s personal connection to music; it utilizes no gimmicks or choreography, but still feels large in its depth and emotion. Other numbers such as “I Got the Music” make use of complicated dance moves and enthusiastic energy, bringing joyful fun and catchy beats to mundane school hallways.
The captivating songs and vibrant choreography comprise the most memorable moments of “Julie and the Phantoms,” making up for the cheesiness of some of its humor. As a family-friendly show, “Julie and the Phantoms” often relies on the over-the-top cliches you would expect from its paranormal story — supernatural special effects, arrogant villains and many, many ghost puns. Though initially this can be a bit overbearing, the show’s charm makes up for the majority of its silly moments.
Interspersed within each episode are poignant themes that drive the show’s heartwarming elements forward. Julie and each of her ghost bandmates suffer from loss and grief in vastly different ways, something the show explores with delicacy and extreme care. It holds maturity in its approach to these topics, portraying the immeasurable sorrow that comes with tragedy while celebrating the friends and family who are there to support Julie along the way.
Julie often looks for signs from her departed mother, wondering why the ghosts of a ’90s boy band come to guide her instead of the person she desires. Julie finds hope when connecting with Luke, one of the phantoms who feels extreme guilt for not rekindling a relationship with his family before his tragic death. With excellent performances from Reyes and Gillespie, this plot point provides emotion and a vague sense of existentialism as they each express shared forms of mourning through their art. Music speaks to the pain rooted in each character; it becomes an outlet for Julie and her band to push through their suffering and find joy in their respective forms of living.
As their band comes together and finds confidence in its music, “Julie and the Phantoms” feels reminiscent of the feel-good classics that came before it. With thought-provoking messages, complex characters and songs that will stick with you once you’ve finished the season, “Julie and the Phantoms” is sure to inspire a new generation to “stand tall” when times get tough.