The Wildcat crew from East High is back in full force with the third season of Disney+’s High School Musical: The Musical: The Series and this time, it is all about summer camp. After last season’s successful staging of Beauty and the Beast, the second generation of Wildcats is going away to Camp Shallow Lake for the summer, where they have the task of being the first high school group to be granted a license by Disney to perform Frozen: The Musical.
The kid’s rehearsals and presentation of the play will be shot as a documentary, which will premiere on Disney+. Yes, the same platform that distributes the show now plays a part in it. While previous seasons had been sneaky about the world these kids live in, season three goes off script and becomes completely meta.
It had been previously established that the actual High School Musical movies existed within this show, to establish that these were regular high schoolers who had grown up watching the franchise. But now, Disney+ and The Walt Disney Company are real for them, too. And in this new context, they tease around the idea of the characters not knowing they are on the platform themselves.
The addition of an extra layer of meta doesn’t affect the show negatively, it merely intensifies the tongue-in-cheek humor the show is known for without being annoying. The characters are still at the heart of this story, and over the past few years, the story has allowed the characters to take the lead and tell their stories at their own pace.
But this new season is full of intriguing changes, including how the character dynamics work this time around. The group that goes to Shallow Lake, including EJ (Matt Cornett), Gina (Sofia Wylie) and Ashlyn (Julia Lester), takes the lead as the main focus of the season, while a secondary plot regarding Olivia Rodrigo’s character, Nini, unfolds in the background. It’s nice for the show to have its characters sharing the spotlight, in contrast to how Nini, Ricky and Carlos were the obvious focus of the first season.
Jesse Tyler Ferguson is introduced as Nini’s biological father, through his role as a donor to Nini’s mothers. As a charming guest, Ferguson allows the show to momentarily focus on something other than the action of summer camp, while being a good match for Rodrigo’s own brand of comfortable humor.
It certainly is refreshing to see High School Musical: The Musical: The Series deal with increasingly complex matters, as the show trusts that its young audience is growing up alongside it. It was strange how lightly Nini reacted to meeting her biological father but, then again, it wasn’t something that could’ve been possible at all just last season. This show has always dealt with simpler emotional conflicts such as moving away from a hometown, or Ricky confronting the divorce of his parents. But Nini meeting her biological father as well as Ashlyn having an identity crisis represent deeper, more mature problems for these characters as they come of age.
Back at the summer camp, the new setting serves as a wonderful change of scenery for the story. There is nothing wrong with the squeaky floors back at East High, but summer camp brings new possibilities for having fun, such as bonfires with spooky stories, singing in a swimming pool and the rehearsals for the play taking place in a barn.
While taking the summer trip to Shallow Lake, Sofia Wylie continues to stand out as Gina, improving on the character’s growth over the course of the show. It is remarkably easy to see the girl we met during the first season living a new life after the lessons she learned in drama club. Added to that, she shines due to her chemistry with the rest of the cast. Her relationship with EJ is cheesy teen romance at its best,and you can’t help but root for her to get the leading role in the Frozen musical.
As for the musical numbers, the show doesn’t disappoint. The dancing and singing isn’t designed to look spectacular, but as a summer camp full of theater kids who believe they perform ten times better than they actually do, it’s very convincing. The tongue-in-cheek fashion in which the original High School Musical 2 tunes are integrated into the episodes does not overstay its welcome, thanks to the cast’s charisma and spark. If you are watching the third season of a show based on this Disney channel franchise, the groove of the soundtrack knows what you like by now.
Nevertheless, this season takes a long time trying to give each main cast member a musical number of their own. This isn’t a bad idea in and of itself, as they are very talented singers, but unfortunately it takes so much attention away from the story that they might as well interrupt the program with adverts.
The third season of High School Musical: The Musical: The Series is a joyful return for the teens of East High. With an interesting new place for summer adventures, heartwarming friendships between the characters, and emotional musical numbers, the Wildcats continue to be a lot of fun.
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The third season of High School Musical: The Musical: The Series is lovely, fun and exciting. The Wildcats know how to bring drama to theater camp.
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