‘High School Musical: The Musical: The Series’ Season 4 Review: A Shaky Start Finds Its Footing


This review was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, the series being covered here wouldn’t exist.It’s time for the Wildcats to take their final bow as High School Musical: The Musical: The Series returns to Disney+ for its fourth and final season. The last time we saw the musical misfits, they weren’t soaring or flying down the halls of East High, but rather, roasting marshmallows and channeling their inner Elsas at Camp Shallow Lake. In Season 3, the gang headed to camp over summer break where they put on a production of Frozen, but the stakes were higher than ever before. In a bizarre twist of events that could only happen in the world of High School Musical, Corbin Bleu himself (yes, the Chad “WHAT TEAM?” Danforth from the original trilogy) is directing a docuseries that follows the Wildcats during their musical production.

Season 4 picks up at the start of a new year with the Wildcats still reeling from the aftermath of the docuseries. Gina (Sofia Wylie) and Ricky (Joshua Bassett) are, for all intents and purposes, the new “it” couple, but they are keeping their blossoming romance a secret. Ashlyn (Julia Lester) is still trying to figure out who she is and what she truly wants following her queer awakening at Camp Shallow Lake. Kourtney (Dara Reneé) is basking in her newfound 15 minutes of fame from the documentary while also moving full speed ahead with college applications. Carlos (Frankie A. Rodriguez) and Seb (Joe Serafini) are struggling to deal with the fallout from the shady docuseries trailer that made it seem as if Carlos cheated over summer break. Meanwhile, we also see the return of a few new faces from Season 3, including Emmy (Liamani Segura), and the brother/sister duo Maddox (Saylor Bell Curda) and Jet (Adrian Lyles), all of whom have found their way to East High.

Season 4 also brings back some fan-favorite legacy characters, including Bleu, Monique Coleman, Lucas Grabeel, Kaycee Stroh, Bart Johnson, and Alyson Reed. The original Wildcats have returned to East High to film the newest entry in the High School Musical film series, High School Musical 4. In order to make the movie seem as authentic as possible, they’ve asked Miss Jenn’s (Kate Reinders) drama kids to appear as extras in the film. Of course, this creates an opportunity for endless shenanigans as the Wildcats try to balance their filming for HSM4 with Miss Jenn’s theatrical production of High School Musical 3 — or as she calls it, “a period piece from 2008.” Just when you thought High School Musical: The Musical: The Series couldn’t get any more convoluted — and somehow get away with it — Season 4 pirouettes into the room and throws confetti in your face.

RELATED: ‘High School Musical: The Musical: The Series’ Season 4: Release Date, Trailer, and Everything We Know

‘High School Musical: The Musical: The Series’ Doesn’t Fix Season 3’s Biggest Problem

Gina (Sofia Wylie) and Ricky (Joshua Bassett) smiling and singing in High School Musical the Series Season 4
Image via Disney+

With the Wildcats back at East High, Season 4 is already a step up from Season 3. A fairly indispensable part of the formula that makes a show as outrageously titled as High School Musical: The Musical: The Series actually work, is its high school setting. The series, unfortunately, lost a lot of its charm in Season 3 with the gang’s vacation off campus to Camp Shallow Lake, especially with several of its major characters largely absent. Therefore, seeing the Wildcats back in the halls of East High this season is certainly a welcome sight. Unfortunately, though, Season 4 doesn’t rectify all of Season 3’s mistakes.

What has always made High School Musical as a franchise so unnervingly charming is its small stakes. It’s about kids literally putting on a high school musical production, but acting like their whole entire life depends on its success. Tears are shed, friendships are fractured, romances blossom and crumble, but at the end of the day, the show must go on. And on it does, usually with subpar original songs that are just catchy enough to add to your guilty pleasure playlist (with the exception of the original film, which is objectively peak musical cinema). The school musical goes off with a bang, the curtain closes, and all the kids have learned something new about life, somehow. It’s so damn endearing in a way that it has no right to be.

Season 4, unfortunately, often forgets this formulaic necessity. Just as in Season 3, High School Musical: The Musical: The Series tries to go too big — it’s no longer about kids simply putting on a school production, but rather, kids getting their chance at fame. Admittedly, this worked perfectly fine with Olivia Rodrigo’s Nini, but there’s always one character guaranteed to go off to do bigger things. And in Nini’s case, it was inevitable with Rodrigo’s immense popularity skyrocketing with “Driver’s License,” and then, of course, Sour. But it doesn’t work when it comes to the entire cast — especially when it happens twice. Season 3 saw the drama kids filming the docuseries, and Season 4 sees them on the set of High School Musical 4. The days of the Wildcats freaking out over auditions for the school musical are long over, and that’s to the show’s detriment.

‘High School Musical: The Musical: The Series’ Season 4 Is Best When It Remembers Its Roots

High School Musical The Series Season 4 cast cheering and wearing graduation robes
Image via Disney+

That being said, Season 4 does take a welcome pivot midway through, keeping in mind this review only covers the first 6 episodes. Once the series turns its focus back to its characters and their legitimate real-life dilemmas outside of “fame,” this is where it shines. Ashlyn’s journey to understanding her sexuality and Kourtney’s painstaking college decisions, for instance, are a highlight in this season. Even Ricky, who the series often gives nothing to do except be a sulky boyfriend — or worse, be a single guy who disrespects others’ relationships because he wants to be with a girl who isn’t single — is actually given more depth this season. When the series remembers that Ricky has serious flaws, from abandonment issues to an unclear sense of his own future goals, this is when Ricky actually becomes interesting.

As always, the least interesting aspect of the season is the central couple — but that’s okay. It doesn’t matter who the couple is — Ricky and Nini, Gina and EJ (Matt Cornett), and in this case, Ricky and Gina — the storyline surrounding the main couple is simply never as compelling. But like with its previous seasons, Season 4 manages to give the side characters enough depth to carry the narrative. Miss Jenn, in particular, remains the heart of the series. Her comedic timing is still impeccable, and her love for “her babies” feels so genuine that it’s hard to watch her lose so much time with them, especially in their senior year, due to the movie’s shooting schedule. That being said, the season still gives her a few sweet one-on-one mentor moments with her Wildcats that remind us how far the drama club has come since Season 1. There’s also a special appearance in one episode from a character whose growth is perhaps the best in the series across all the seasons.

Overall, Season 4 of High School Musical: The Musical: The Series doesn’t start off on quite the right note, but finds its footing in the second half as it remembers what makes the series so quirky and heartfelt, to begin with. The music isn’t necessarily as catchy as it was in the first two seasons, but there are some memorable duets, particularly one featuring Lester’s Ashlyn, who showed from the beginning with “Wondering” that she is the most underrated of the Wildcats. This season’s strength, however, remains with its characters, particularly when they find their way back to their home — the East High stage, taking one last bow after their final high school musical.

Rating: B-

The Big Picture

  • Season 4 of High School Musical: The Musical: The Series brings back the charm of the high school setting, which was lacking in Season 3’s off-campus storyline.
  • The show veers away from its small-stakes formula by focusing on kids’ chances at fame rather than a school production, which is to its detriment.
  • The show’s final season shines when it focuses on character development and real-life dilemmas, such as Ashlyn’s journey of self-discovery and Kourtney’s college decisions, while Miss Jenn remains the heart of the series.

High School Musical: The Musical: The Series‘ fourth and final season premieres on Disney+ on August 9.

Las Vegas News Magazine

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