DHere’s a clear business calculation for a particular segment of streaming television, especially as new platforms are pitted against Netflix: Dust off something from the content library (as HBO says, regrettably, Considering the Harry Potter movies); extend or simply resume the premises by pre or post or a side letter; and fill anywhere from six to 10 chapters.
It’s the formula that gives us hot IP-based shows like Hulu’s How I Met Your Father, HBO Max’s new Gossip Girl, Netflix’s Cobra Guy, and even more successfully, Disney’s High School Musical: The Musical: The Series. The 1978 teen classic Grease has undeniable nostalgia and generations of musical theater familiarity. So, Grease: The Rise of the Pink Ladies , a new Paramount+ prequel series whose charms — a typically successful cast, relentless energy, a solid appreciation of female friendship — get lost in subpar musical numbers and standard-quality streaming TV bloat.
By that I mean a very general and frustrating tendency — there are 10 50-plus minute episodes (five of which are available for review) when halfway done — and it leans toward excess for its musical theater ambitions. There’s more intense choreography, some scarier and less imaginative scenes, and more memorable songs per episode (pop songwriter Justin Tranter composed about 30 original numbers for the show).
Rise of the Pink Ladies, created by Annabelle Oakes (a writer/director of Weird and a writer/producer on Minx, Awkward and Transparent), at least gets to the premise very quickly: it’s 1954, four years before the events of Grease, and a rising star at Rydell High School. There is war. (Vancouver, the filming location of many teen shows, stands somewhere in California; the original Rydell was on Venice Beach.) The good girl is Jane Fasciano (Marissa Davila), daughter of a half-Italian father and Porto. Ricken’s mother, a middle-school-aged French older sister and recently moved from New York, is going steady with golden boy Buddy Aldridge (Jason Schmidt); Both aspire to run for Student Council and President respectively.
And that won’t last long, thanks to the evergreen rumor mill. Following an ambitiously measured and rigorously choreographed A remake of Grease is the word, Jane and Buddy are seen in the back of a car. He brags and looks good, and she’s labeled an unelectable whore. Through a crisis of conscience and anger, Jane runs for office anyway, and brings together the wrong crew in the process. The recalcitrant, Rizzo-esque Olivia Valdovino (Cheyenne Isabelle Wells), blacklisted for a rumored affair with her English teacher (Chris McNally), doesn’t know how to handle the show; one-handed fashionista Nancy Nakagawa (Tricia Fukuhara), abandoned by her boy-obsessed best friends; and hammy tomboy Cynthia Stunowski (Ari Notardomaso), who aspires to join the T-Bird gang of Mexican-American/Jewish greasers led by Olivia’s brother Richie (Jonathan Nieves).
In this prologue, the T-Birds and the soon-to-be Pink Ladies define a more openly inclusive and laid-back Riddle against the white, straight, country-club productions of Buddy and his sarcastic cheerleader ex Susan (Madison Thompson). ) It’s a lot of boy-and-girl talk, surface-level racial and gender politics, primary-color moral dilemmas, and campy riffs on ’50s iconography (the second episode opens with a somewhat catchy number of hyperbolizing stereotypes). It’s enjoyable as a teen comedy, with a deep roster of lovable characters. (Even the members of the production team are likable, especially Buddy, who is painfully good-hearted and conscientious, especially as he befriends his shy, bookish neighbor Hazel (Shanel Bailey. Rydell.)
It works less well as a musical. The numbers have a glossy sheen, all musically side by side with a pop flavor, and are often understated and exaggerated. It’s hard to distinguish any voices, or some of them sing (especially Jane). All the instruments filmed are lip-synched, but it sounds a little more like the music is shellacked than it works.
Still, it’s not a total whiff, even for the obvious nostalgia-inducing. Oakes injects low-stakes, lighthearted fun into the action, like a whimsical rotating camera to spin a bottle. Pure visual pleasure that comes from exaggerated high school scenes and flashes of confidence, like Pink Ladies make and Strat. But that’s minutes in a series of hours. I love the original Grease, but it’s hard to imagine anyone but the most die-hard fans.
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