I think at this point it may be fair to say that High School Musical: The Musical: The Series is one of the very best teen series that Disney has ever produced. It is brilliantly written with seasons-long emotional payoff, filled with absolutely genuine teenage drama and comedy alike, and has produced to absolute stars as of yet in pop sensation Olivia Rodrigo and broadway star Julia Lester. HSMTMTS Season 3, without a doubt, takes the cake as the most nuanced, fun, and irreverent season yet.
Sure, I’m biased. I have a tilt towards anything that takes place as summer camp. But how can anybody resist the allure of two weeks away from most adults with your best friends doing what you love in the confines of a tightly knit space? I was worried at first that the limited scope of the season and its reduced main cast would stand in the season’s way. But fortunately, instead, this smaller core group was winged by some excellent new characters and an atmosphere that can only be described as High School Musical 2 meets Camp Rock in the best of ways. In fact, I would say that the narrow camp focus offered more opportunities for character growth than ever before in a way that only a summer away can.
What I’ve often admired the most about HSMTMTS is its approach to relationships. Rather than a more typical high school story where you have your different cliques, a hard line between your archetypes, and scorned romances remain so indefinitely, this show is genuinely about one really great group of friends who love each other despite their differences and regardless of their pasts. In particular, Ricky (Joshua Bassett) and Carlos (Frankie A. Rodriguez) have a really sweet relationship, despite being completely opposite personalities. And not in the hamfisted, patronizing kind of way where one is clearly in a more dominant social sphere than the other. They’re just as good friends as the rest are with each other. The same can be said of how Gina (Sofia Wylie) went from outsider to sisters with Kourtney (Dara Reneé) and Ashlyn (Lester). Or how Ricky and EJ (Matt Cornett) still get along well and have huge respect for each other despite constantly crushing on the same girls and often butting heads. They’re just a precious group to watch.
And since the show does away with some of the typical teenage drama, it means it can get into some deeper business. Each character really has their opportunity to shine hard this season, including all of the newcomers. Jet (Adrian Lyles) and Maddox (Saylor Bell) have some really satisfying arcs and are fun characters to watch all season. And Val (Meg Donnelly) really impressed me as a character who you expect to be the troublemaker of the season but actually ends up being nothing close to it and instead is really instrumental to much of the growth the younger characters. The show is also finally getting a bit more queer, which is great both on account of its being about theater kids and that kid’s shows need more queerness. But while the plots around this all work well (and contain a solid guest role), the language they use to describe some of the queerness could do with being a bit more overt. I think they are going for a “I’m still figuring this out for myself” notion on paper, but in practice it just comes off a bit too much like Disney is afraid to say “gay” out loud.
The absolute best arc though is Kourney’s. She has had an ongoing struggle with anxiety and while I can’t necessarily say that she always wows me with her acting as much as she does with her singing, a moment where she and a younger Black camper have a conversation about therapy had me in tears. You so, so rarely get to see genuine conversations about anything in kid’s shows, let alone about mental health, and certainly not about therapy. It’s not a one-off moment either. It’s built up hard over the whole season, even going back to Season 2. But its culmination is perfect and I truly hope that it’s a development that helps other young kids and young Black girls in particular know that it’s okay to seek professional help for things that are hard.
Another part of HSMTMTS Season 3 that worried me at first was the return of Corbin Bleu as himself. He’s really annoying, frankly, in the first few episodes of the season. Which is on purpose, of course. He’s playing a caricature of a celebrity who’s gotten too full of himself for who he is as he directs a documentary about the camp’s performance of Frozen The Musical. But his appearance throughout the season made for some of the absolutely most mind-bendingly meta moments on television.
I mean, try to follow this: HSMTMTS Season 3 is a TV show done in the style of a fake documentary (a la The Office) where made up kids who go to the real high school that High School Musical took place at are putting on the “first-ever” high school performance of Frozen The Musical, and so Corbin Bleu from High School Musical, who is played by Corbin Bleu who was in the real High School Musical, is filming a documentary for Disney+ (not a real one, just in the show) about their musical. And in one of the best episodes of the season, all of the characters in the show pretend to be fake versions of themselves to help make the documentary spicier (a la Real House Wives). It’s a totally absurd concept for a series that pokes fun at its confusing meta nature repeatedly and simply chooses to embrace it. And it’s in this embrace that Bleu’s character becomes less of an annoying egotistic director and more of a fun part of an ever increasingly convoluted concept (just wait until you hear what the next season is about).
My only two real struggles this season were the obvious differences in quality in some of the actors’ singing, and the way that Nini (Rodrigo) is handled early on. It’s clear that some of the actors are stronger singers than others. Which is fine, I’m not necessarily here for amazing singers, this is a Disney tv show after all. It’s just that when you have the likes of a Julia Lester or even Joshua Bassett, who require little editing to sound excellent, next to some folks who are quite autotuned, it’s a bit obvious. Fortunately, the musical numbers this season all kick butt visually when they’re not my favorte renditions of certain songs. The original songs too are all pretty fun in addition to the various Disney songs.
It’s Nini’s role in the season that I just wish had a tad more to it earlier on. Olivia Rodrigo is on a rocket path to pop stardom right now and is focusing on her music career over her acting, which is absolutely fair. Sour was the album of the summer last year and I hope she continues to put out excellence. She also didn’t want to just leave the show without a proper sendoff, so she appears in select moments. The earlier ones though are designed really more to conclude her character arc than they are to serve the season as a whole. I wish that there was some way or another these moments could have been integrated more. However, her final sendoff is spectacular and well-deserved. I can’t help but notice who she doesn’t share the screen with, and how little she shares the screen with anybody for that matter, but that’s perhaps not as obvious to those less attuned to her drama.
HSMTMTS Season 3 is easily its best yet and undoubtedly propels this show into my favorite Disney teen shows ever. It has pretty much everything you can ask for from drama to comedy to serious lessons and good representation of topics rarely broached in kid’s TV. I absolutely hope that this level of excellence can continue once the magic of summer ends and senior year begins next season.
HSMTMTS Season 3 is streaming now on Disney+. Watch now with our affiliate link.
HSMTMTS Season 3
HSMTMTS Season 3 is easily its best yet and undoubtedly propels this show into my favorite Disney teen shows ever. It has pretty much everything you can ask for from drama to comedy to serious lessons and good representation of topics rarely broached in kid’s TV.