Belen Yudess ’25
High School Musical: The Musical The Series (HSMTMTS) debuted its third season on July 27 of this year. This season followed the current East High Leopards (they’re not actually wildcats) to Camp Shallow Lake, a performing arts summer camp. Just that alone should be a sign of the fruitiness ahead.
In the most meta plot that came to Disney in a fever dream, Corbin Bleu from the original High School Musical franchise, makes a special announcement. The camp will be putting on a production of Frozen, and the rehearsals and inevitable drama will be filmed for a Disney+ documentary.
Why does anyone watch this ridiculous show? How do you keep track of the ever shifting relationships? Could my suitemates hear my high school friend and I cracking up at 2am while groupwatching the season finale? These are all questions you, and definitely my mom, may be asking.
As a dedicated fan, I personally cannot tell you why I watch. Maybe it’s for the sheer outlandishness of the dialogue, (“I just feel naked without my angst,”), or the Gleek in me craving abrupt singing battles. What I do know is that on the eve of July 26 I anxiously awaited season three’s arrival and began, as the trailer so optimistically announced, a “summer we all remember.” And oh, how it was.
The first dramatic change of the season is the absence of the show’s original protagonist: Nini.Nini decides to miss camp and heads off to California with her moms for a fun vacation and to explore her abilities as a songwriter. At the end of her three episode stunt, Nini realizes that she has outgrown East High, leading to her decision to permanently move to California for her senior year. Although Nini’s absence and inevitable departure from the show left a sour (get it?) taste in the mouths of many fans, this plotline was a strong move for her character. Nini is determined to discover her artistry apart from her relationship with her ex boyfriend Ricky (played, of course, by Joshua Bassett). This storyline depicts the confidence that comes from self-growth, and empowers young adults to go after the future they see for themselves.
Down a leading lady, Gina (Sophia Wylie) becomes the main female protagonist. Wylie absolutely shines in this new role, nailing her basketball inspired duet with Corbin Bleu, proving the latter can in fact, dance.
However, she is not given the chance to explore her own identity or relationship with EJ (Matt Cornett) without a love triangle being imposed. After several awkward interactions and intimate moments with Gina, Ricky realizes his feelings for her. How convenient that Gina is cast as Anna, and Ricky is cast as Kristoff in the Frozen musical. EJ is subsequently cast as Sven, making for some excellent pictures of Cornett in a reindeer costume.
This imitates the exact plotline of the first season, in which EJ must play Ricky’s best friend while his relationship, originally with Nini, crumbles around him. ‘A billion sorries,’ EJ. The entirety of the second season was devoted to EJ and Gina’s budding relationship and individual growth. Through their friendship, EJ becomes less shallow, and Gina realizes the value of trusting others. All of this work and build up is wiped out by the first couple of episodes when Gina begins flirting with Ricky to get EJ to pay more attention to her. Although I am not EJ’s biggest fan, he does his best to support Gina in her first main role, while also directing Frozen with no adult guidance.
But just like with Nini, EJ does not stand a chance against Ricky’s sensitive and attentive nature. Gina eventually breaks up with EJ, and two episodes later, shares her first kiss with Ricky. No time for a break up song there! In repeating this plot line with the same two male characters, Gina’s development seems dependent on EJ and Ricky. Her relationship is no longer a facet of her character, but the purpose of her character. Gina, and even Ricky and EJ’s, unique personalities become unimportant in their relation to one another.
Despite the messiness of the show’s predominant straight couple, the queer couples and characters are absolutely thriving! One of the positive critiques HSMTMTS has received is its inclusion of queer characters by queer actors. With the show featuring a cast that includes more queer identifying actors than straight individuals, the wildcats are embracing their pride both in and outside of the classroom!
The past three seasons have fostered the growth of Seblos, the ship name for Carlos (Frankie Rodriguez) and Sebastian (Joe Serifini), who are depicted as bold, loving, and excellent duet partners. Their relationship is accepted and celebrated by their family and friends, which allows them to showcase their individual comfort with their sexualities. Although it is important to represent the coming out process and the different realities concerning queer relationships, it is good to see positive inclusion of LGBTQIA+ characters normalized in shows meant for younger generations. This pattern was continued with Maddox (Saylor Bell) who makes a few iconic coming out jokes, and casually mentions her relationship with her ex-girlfriend, Madison (JoJo Siwa).
Throughout the season, Maddox is seen to hold a torch for Ashlyn (Julia Lester). Although this plotline seems to follow the gay girl in love with the straight girl trope, it quickly becomes camp (get it?) when Ashlyn realizes she is queer. After constantly snapping at Val (Meg Donnelly) Ashlyn realizes she is lashing out due to her misunderstood crush on her (sorry, Maddox). Ashlyn’s eventual realization of her queerness does a good job of showing the sometimes slow, and often confusing process of understanding those feelings.
Although it is not clear whether she wants to pursue a relationship with Val, Ashlyn decides to break up with her current boyfriend, Big Red (Larry Saperstein), to explore her sexuality. But after hearing Big Red confess his undying love for her, she forgoes this plan and stays together with him. Ashlyn seems excited to learn more about her queer identity on her own, but after this conversation, she falls into the safety net of her relationship. Coming out does not immediately solve everything. It is ok to be uncertain about what’s next and to take time to learn about what this identity means. Ashlyn is allowed to want to begin this journey individually, but the traditional Disney ‘happy ending’ seems to hinder her ability.
But to turn coming out into the new couple’s tennis, Big Red decides to follow suit. In his minimal appearance in the season, Big Red takes the common “I’m (insert name here) and you’re watching Disney Channel” template, and uses it to come out as bi in the last minute of the final episode: “I’m Big Red, I’m Ashlyn’s boyfriend, and I’m bi!” In trying to provide queer representation, Disney rushes through coming out scenes and developments that give almost a comical edge to the experience they had inherently normalized. Big Red’s coming out also seems like a way to enforce the idea that Ashlyn and Big Red’s relationship is queer. Although Ashlyn’s decision to remain with Big Red seems forced, she represents how one is still queer, even when dating a straight member of the opposite sex. Big Red’s sudden and unnatural coming out is framed more as a reinforcement of his relationship identity, rather than a declaration of his own.
Although this season did have some kinks in the road (probably the same one Nini drives on to get back to California), it does feature some incredible songs and quotes. Maddox, her brother Jet (Adrian Lyles), Carlos, and Sebastian’s cover of Camp Rock 2’s “Wouldn’t Change a Thing” is an upbeat ode to the strength of love. And Nini’s original song “You Never Know” is a reminder to enjoy one’s youth and the adventures of growing up. The audience was also blessed with the vision of a clueless Ricky asking whether he and EJ would play, “friends, enemies, or *lovers*” in the musical. Season 3 of HSMTMTS is like the mystery of the woman in the woods: strange, a little too fantastical, but always ends in a laugh.
Image Source: TV Insider