Start of something new: ‘High School Musical: The Musical: The Series’ starts 2nd season with optimistic enthusiasm 

Illustration of the High School Musical: The Musical cafeteria
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In an era in which reboots and spinoff series dominate television, it may come as no surprise that the iconic “High School Musical” film trilogy has inspired a television show: “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series.” The first season premiered in late 2019 and concluded with East High’s production of “High School Musical” — a chaotic performance full of romantic tension, musical numbers and plenty of drama to carry the show forward to a second season. The second season of the series does not follow the formula of its preceding season; the teenagers do not perform a stage version of “High School Musical 2.” Instead, the first three episodes reveal that this season will be the start of something new. 

The season two premiere, “New Year’s Eve,” finds the East High drama department in its element, performing a holiday song to advertise its club on Instagram. But as the Wildcats kick off the start of their winter break, they face their own respective drama. Ricky (Joshua Bassett) and Nini (Olivia Rodrigo) are back together, but Nini’s admission to the Youth Actors Conservatory, or YAC, complicates their relationship. Instead of telling Ricky about her decision to leave East High, she keeps this secret and allows him to idealize their future. 

Meanwhile, in preparation for the new year and the subsequent announcement of the spring musical, the ensemble attends a party hosted by Ashlyn (Julia Lester) and Gina (Sofia Wylie). With full confidence, the two roommates and the rest of the Wildcats contend that the next musical must be “High School Musical 2” following the success of their performance of “High School Musical” in the first season. 

Yet, an altercation between Miss Jenn (Kate Reinders), the East High drama teacher, and Zack (Derek Hough), the drama teacher at North High, leads Miss Jenn to scrap her plans to direct “High School Musical 2.” Instead, after discovering that North High will be competing in the Menkies (the Alan Menken Awards for Excellence in High School Musical Theater), Miss Jenn decides that they will be putting on “Beauty and the Beast” in order to compete against North High’s “The Little Mermaid.” 

Following the performance of a medley of “High School Musical 2” songs at Ashlyn’s party, Miss Jenn breaks the news that they will be breaking free from tradition and will, instead, perform “Beauty and the Beast.” The new year brings more unwelcome surprises as Nini reveals to Ricky and the rest of the Wildcats that she will be moving to Denver to attend YAC. 

And with that, it’s time for auditions! Episode two, “Typecasting,” showcases the nerves of audition season, as the East High Wildcats get their heads in the game to perform songs from a tale as old as time. Yet, the feat to secure the lead role proves to be strenuous, as a new student at East High, Lily (Olivia Rose Keegan), ambitiously attempts to be cast as Belle. Meanwhile, Nini finds that YAC may not be the perfect school for her after all; the strict atmosphere of the prestigious boarding school does not match her bright personality. 

Love is in the air at East High in episode three, “Valentine’s Day,” but not everyone has a night to remember. Nini returns to Salt Lake City to surprise Ricky while he simultaneously visits Denver to surprise Nini at YAC. Despite their consistent attempts to reunite, the pair falls short and, instead, must perform songs they wrote for one another over the phone. Played together, the songs intertwine to form a cohesive unit, separated by their respective lyrics. 

Though many other couples face distinct challenges, perhaps one of the most surprising developments of this episode was Gina’s attempt to confide in Ricky about the isolation of Valentine’s Day. When a box of chocolates is left on Gina’s doorstep, she recalls Ricky’s prior comfort and assumes the gift must be from him. After thanking him for the gesture, a text from her mother reveals that she had supplied the Valentine’s Day gift, leaving Gina thoroughly humiliated. 

As cheesy as “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series” can be, the first three episodes of season two highlight its strength as a series; it doesn’t need to rely on the narrative or the music of “High School Musical” in order to keep audiences engaged. The cheerful enthusiasm and admittedly binge-worthy drama of the series is enough to keep watching every week; you can certainly “bet on it.” 

“High School Musical: The Musical: The Series” is streaming on Disney+ every Friday.

Sarah Runyan covers television. Contact her at [email protected].