High School Musical: the Musical: the Series is able to walk an interesting line in between being goofy and fun, while never seeming unrealistic in its plots. Most teen dramas borderline into a bit outlandish territories, including plots about serial killers or stalkers like Derek in One Tree Hill or Riverdale. But High School Musical: the Musical: the Series isn’t like that, and the show uses that to its strength. Perhaps there is no better example of this than Season 2 Episode 4, “The Storm.”
A huge theme in this episode is one that will be relatable to many people regardless if they’re in their 20s or in high school: the fear of not realizing your dreams. Both Nini and EJ’s plots are heavily tied to this central theme, and both do great work with the premise. For EJ, the “star player” and the all-around good student didn’t get into Duke like his family before him. It’s a huge source of discomfort for him and it causes him to get quite down in the dumps during the episode. His ex, Nini gives him a little pep talk, but it’s Mr. M’s speech that is a real shining moment here.
Mr. M tells EJ about the time he didn’t make it into Cal Tech and though it was a crushing blow at first, he doesn’t feel the sting of that rejection anymore because time went on and he found his own path. So often in these teen dramas all the students get into their dream schools no matter how unrealistic it is for most people to meet those goals — heck, Quinn Fabray made it into Yale in Glee.
Sure, shows are escapism so it’s nice to see our favorites achieve their dreams, but there’s also something nice about seeing real problems dealt with and represented. Not every viewer is going to get into their dream school like EJ, and knowing that this kind of grief is only in the moment is a really neat thing for a teen drama to tackle.
Nini’s plot about YAC also deals with similar important themes, only instead of Mr. M serving as her guiding compass, it’s Ms. Jenn. It’s no secret that Season 2 thus far has dealt with Nini feeling underwhelmed and trapped at YAC, something she previously thought was her dream school.
When she takes an impromptu visit back to East High, the snowstorm sees her getting stuck on the road with Ms. Jenn. The two talk about Nini’s life and attempt to catch up, and Nini essentially lets it slip that she isn’t enjoying YAC very much. Ms. Jenn tells her about the time she realized Broadway wasn’t her dream, giving Nini something to really think about before heading back to the bus station.
Like EJ’s plot, this is a really realistic plot and it’s something that will hit home for so many viewers. Despite being so young, there’s a lot of pressure to have our lives figured out when we’re finishing high school (even more so once we start college). But so often, we turn back on our plans. When I started college I was sure I’d be a lawyer — and now I know my path is as a writer. It’s such a hard question to ask yourself “is my dream really my dream after all?” but it’s one that’s incredibly important. It makes this episode of the show one of the more serious ones in the series thus far.
Ricky is clearly struggling with the concept of Nini moving back to Denver — and Gina’s feelings for him are certainly still present. When Ricky heads to the bus stop to catch up with Nini before she goes back to Denver the viewer is treated to an Olivia Rodrigo solo performance, a new song called “Granted.” Olivia is certainly the breakout star of this show, but this song is another she can add to her lists of successes — seriously, it’s like Olivia Rodrigo can do no wrong.
Nini on the bus is one of the greatest scenes of the show to date, from Rodrigo’s song to the snow globe motif and the clear tension of wanting to see her get off the bus, it’s just great.
With Nini back at East High, new drama will likely unfold in the Gina/Ricky/Nini love triangle but it’s certainly interesting to ponder how the show will tackle that. Season 2 Episode 4 deals with some important questions that will really hit home with a lot of viewers and the show handles it with a kind of grace teen dramas don’t usually have.
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