It’s time for the Wildcats to say their final goodbyes to High School Musical: The Musical. The Opera: The fourth and final season of the series comes to Disney+. The last time we saw the musical misfits, they were toasting marshmallows and channeling their inner Elsas at Camp Shallow Lake, not soaring or flying along the hallways of East High.
In Season 3, the gang went to camp over summer vacation to put on a Frozen play, but the stakes were higher than ever before. Corbin Bleu (yep, the Chad “WHAT TEAM?” Danforth from the original trilogy) is directing a docuseries that follows the Wildcats during their musical performance, in a weird twist of events that could only happen in the universe of High School Musical.
Season 4 begins in the new year, with the Wildcats still recovering from the fallout from the docuseries. Gina (Sofia Wylie) and Ricky (Joshua Bassett) are the new “it” couple, but their growing romance is a closely guarded secret. Following her gay revelation at Camp Shallow Lake, Ashlyn (Julia Lester) is still struggling to figure out who she is and what she genuinely wants. Kourtney (Dara Reneé) is enjoying her newfound 15 minutes of fame from the documentary while simultaneously rushing through college applications.
Carlos (Frankie A. Rodriguez) and Seb (Joe Serafini) are dealing with the aftermath of the dodgy docuseries teaser that implied Carlos cheated during summer vacation. Meanwhile, a few new characters from Season 3 return, including Emmy (Liamani Segura) and the brother/sister combination Maddox (Saylor Bell Curda) and Jet (Adrian Lyles), who have all made their way to East High.
Bleu, Monique Coleman, Lucas Grabeel, Kaycee Stroh, Bart Johnson, and Alyson Reed are among the returning heritage characters in Season 4. The original Wildcats have returned to East High to film High School Musical 4, the latest installment in the High School Musical film series. They’ve invited Miss Jenn’s (Kate Reinders) drama kids to act as extras in the video to make it look as realistic as possible.
Of course, this opens the door to limitless hijinks as the Wildcats attempt to juggle filming for HSM4 with Miss Jenn’s theatrical performance of High School Musical 3 — or, as she refers to it, “a period piece from 2008.” Season 4 pirouettes into the room and tosses confetti in your face, just when you thought High School Musical: The Musical: The Series couldn’t be any more complex — and still get away with it.
Season 4 is already a step up from Season 3 with the Wildcats returning to East High. The high school setting is a crucial component of the formula that allows a program with such an absurd title as High School Musical: The Musical: The Series to work. Unfortunately, the sitcom lost a lot of its charm in Season 3 with the gang’s off-campus trip to Camp Shallow Lake, especially with some of its important characters completely absent. As a result, having the Wildcats return to East High this season is a nice sight. Season 4 does not, however, correct all of Season 3’s errors.
The modest stakes have always made High School Musical as a series unnervingly attractive. It’s about kids putting on a high school musical performance while acting as though their entire lives depend on its success. Tears are shed, friendships are shattered and love develops and crumbles, but the show must go on. With the exception of the original film, which is indisputably peak musical cinema, it goes on, generally with terrible original songs that are just catchy enough to add to your guilty pleasure collection. The school musical concludes with a boom, the curtain falls, and all of the students have learned something new about life. It’s adorable in ways that it has no right to be.
Unfortunately, Season 4 frequently overlooks this formulaic need. High School Musical: The Musical: The Series, like Season 3, tries to go too large — it’s no longer about teenagers putting on a school play, but about kids earning their opportunity at stardom. This worked extremely well with Olivia Rodrigo’s Nini, but there’s always one character that goes off to accomplish larger things. And, in Nini’s case, it was unavoidable, given Rodrigo’s enormous fame exploding with “Driver’s Licence,” and then, of course, Sour.
However, it does not function when applied to the full cast, especially when it occurs twice. In Season 3, the drama kids were filming the docuseries, and in Season 4, they were on the set of High School Musical 4. The days of the Wildcats flipping out over auditions for the school musical are long gone, and it’s hurting the production.
Having said that, Season 4 does take a refreshing turn midway through, and bear in mind that this review only covers the first six episodes. When the sitcom returns its attention to its people and their genuine real-life challenges outside of “fame,” here is when it shines. This season’s highlights include Ashlyn’s struggle to accept her sexuality and Kourtney’s agonizing college selections.
Even Ricky, who is frequently given little to do but be a sulky boyfriend — or, worse, a single guy who disrespects other people’s relationships because he wants to be with a female who isn’t single — is given more complexity this season. Ricky becomes fascinated when the series recalls that he has severe problems, ranging from abandonment issues to an imprecise understanding of his own future ambitions.
The primary relationship is, as usual, the least engaging component of the season — but that’s good. Whatever the coupling is — Ricky and Nini, Gina and EJ (Matt Cornett), or in this case, Ricky and Gina — the backstory around the primary couple is never as intriguing. However, like with previous seasons, Season 4 manages to provide enough complexity to the secondary characters to support the plot. Miss Jenn, in particular, remains the series’ beating heart.
Her comic timing is still flawless, and her affection for “her babies” is so real that it’s difficult to watch her miss out on so much time with them, especially during their final year, owing to the film’s production schedule. Having said that, the season nevertheless provides her with a few beautiful one-on-one mentor moments with her Wildcats, reminding us how far the drama club has progressed since Season 1. A character whose progress is possibly the finest in the series overall seasons makes a special cameo in one episode.
Overall, High School Musical: The Musical: Season 4: The series doesn’t start off on the right foot, but it gets its feet in the second half by remembering what makes the series so unique and poignant in the first place. The song isn’t as infectious as it was in the first two seasons, but there are several great duets, especially one with Lester’s Ashlyn, who proved right from the start with “Wondering” that she is the most underappreciated of the Wildcats. This season’s strength, on the other hand, remains with its characters, especially when they return to their home — the East High stage — for one more bow after their last high school musical.