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It’s now or never, Wildcats. High School Musical: The Musical: The Series‘ fourth and final season soars and flies with its dedication to community and nostalgia. The second half of the season, especially, packs a wistful punch that encourages everyone to soak up that this is the last time these characters are all in this together.
The same can’t be said for the High School Musical cast members, who (in part) return for High School Musical 4: The Reunion.
While exciting to see Corbin Bleu, Lucas Grabeel, KayCee Stroh, Monique Coleman, Bart Johnson, and Alyson Reed revisit East High, their returns don’t quite live up to the hype in HSMTMTS Season 4’s promotion. Their best scenes are heartfelt but short-lived, like Miss Jenn’s ties to Alyson, Kourtney & Monque’s pivotal and grounded conversation, and, of course, Lucas playing Ryan Evans in an out-and-proud relationship (!!!) with an unnamed partner (Glad Seb joked about this later!) played by none other than Scott Hoying.
Though unfortunate, the OG cast members’ limited presence gives the season more room with HSMTMTS‘ Wildcats. With an eight-episode final season, the show carries the weight of many storylines that only somewhat reach their potential. New characters, like Dani and Mack, don’t stand in the way of character arcs but facilitate them — Mack more. Even then, so much of what HSMTMTS Season 4 attempts to execute feels rushed and incomplete by the end. The episodes breach depth and meaty stories for favorite characters and relationships but back away before committing to their exploration.
Here Comes Kourtney Greene
Where HSMTMTS doesn’t do this is with Kourtney Greene. Her arc is most consistently defined and explored across the season. It rarely treads water. Instead, it literally takes Kourtney to new places to explore the intricacies of her character and her future. Dara Reneé does some of her best work in the series this season. Her performance of “Jump” in 4×05, “Admissions,” is one of the standout musical numbers of this final outing.
The only real snag to Kourtney’s store is her dynamic with Jet, which is inconsistent at best. It’s already challenging to understand if a romantic relationship should happen between the characters because there has been no confirmation of if or why Kourtney’s relationship with Howie ended after HSMTMTS Season 2. Then, Kourtney visibly moves on from whatever romantic feelings she may have for Jet after 4×03, “A Star Is Reborn,” so it’s awkward to watch Jet pine for her all season.
However, that pining is valid. HSMTMTS Season 4 highlights how great Kourtney is at every turn, but it does so most effectively in a flashback during 4×06, “Trust the Process.” That episode is chock-full of tear-worthy scenes that feel most attuned to Season 4 being the show’s last. One shows Kourtney and Ashlyn meeting for the first time, and they’re defined as “Nini’s best friend” and “EJ’s cousin.” Watching them grow out of those supporting roles and into stars in their own right has been one of HSMTMTS‘ best moves.
All the Romantic Drama
Alternatively, inserting a cheating storyline in its final season that involves two characters who receive little to no screen time in its third and fourth seasons is not a good move.
While understandable to give Seblos more drama and make the break between Ashlyn and Big Red more unavoidable, the characters don’t need the storyline to get from A to B. Seb and Carlos have the embedded drama from the documentary, and Ashlyn and Big Red’s break-up is inevitable after HSMTMTS rightfully emphasizes and explores Ashlyn and Maddox’s connection — one of the best new relationships on the show. So, it’s nice that Seb and Carlos get their first duet out of it during “Trust the Process,” but the drama still feels unnecessary — mainly because of how limited Seb’s role is this season.
If the show — and the characters — had more time for this story to brew and the tension to pull authentic angst and reactions from everyone involved that don’t reach rushed resolutions in such a short time, HSMTMTS could have played this plot better. Instead, it’s strange that pivotal moments, like Big Red’s “Bi origin story,” take place off-screen with seismic impacts on one of HSMTMTS‘ most significant relationships. Season 4 is missing out on those character-centric scenes that could make this play out better.
It’s Rina’s Time to Shine — Finally
On the other hand, this final season knows that Ricky and Gina’s slow-burn dynamic has reached its relationship status, and HSMTMTS uses every romance trope in its arsenal.
From the recognizable theme in the score to the intentional (and brilliantly executed) parallels in “Maybe This Time” in 4×01, “High School Musical 4,” HSMTMTS leans into Rina’s long-awaited time as a star couple. Consequently, a majority of the season comes back to them, giving their arc some of the most depth the eight episodes have to offer. Ricky and Gina rarely go too long without communicating, so nothing truly shakes Rina’s core. Instead, every episode represents the couple’s strengths. HSMTMTS even uses flashbacks — and a bit of rewriting history — to detail how meant to be Ricky and Gina are.
This final season fans Rina’s slow burn into a flame, making its choice to adjust and minimize EJ and Gina’s romantic past to uplift Rina — and Ricky — even odder.
For instance, contrary to his comments in 4×04, “Trick or Treat,” Ricky and Gina didn’t start dating at the beginning of the summer because, as Season 3 shows, for better and worse, Gina and EJ dated then. Plus, even during Gina and EJ’s best episodes, the story signals that Ricky and Gina will eventually have their time. While seemingly inconsequential, that blurry timeline makes Ricky and EJ’s scenes in “Admissions” all the harder to believe.
EJ’s New Role
Season 3 attempts to mine at the potential that EJ and Ricky have to be friends or “brothers,” but it does too little too late for Season 4 to run with it.
That last-pitch effort to break the boys away from their romantic partners and into good friends loses nearly all momentum with EJ’s minimal appearances in Season 4.
Matt Cornett brings a(n even more) mature version of EJ to the screen. However, this new phase of life plays more as a cautionary tale than sage advice. EJ repeatedly expresses how much better he’s doing in college — away from his father, dating Val, and balancing his work/life schedule — but there’s an overall somber tone to his wistfulness. Instead of digging into what that state means for EJ, HSMTMTS uses it to serve Ricky’s arc.
Because Ricky is a series regular and a prominent focal point, the function of those scenes makes sense. The same is true of EJ and Gina in “Night of Nights,” which starts as a lovely scene of mutual understanding that Cornett and Wylie play beautifully. The risotto joke is odd, considering how this season undercuts Ricky and Gina’s past relationships. Ultimately, it’s bittersweet that the only brief times the final season gets to spend time with EJ — a part of HSMTMTS‘ original Core 4 — is when he’s a sounding board.
EJ’s perspective feels especially pressing due to Season 4’s reflection on East High’s past, present, and future. Although, the eight episodes don’t shift to the latter, aka Emmy, with any undivided focus until “Dreams Don’t Die” in “Trust the Process.” Until then, her sporadic appearances play more as jokes than a passing of the baton, possibly because of the episode order and HSMTMTS not continuing past Season 4.
There’s not enough time for everything HSMTMTS Season 4 has to offer because these vibrant characters are bursting at the seams with opportunities. HSMTMTS 4×07, “The Night of Nights,” and 4×08,” Born to Be Brave,” which work as a two-part series finale, show that Kourtney and Jet have such potential that the season could have utilized more. Similarly, Ashlyn and Maddox’s relationship would only benefit from consistent screen time across the eight episodes. Beyond romantic pairings, Season 4 misses out on diving into Jet and Maddox’s dynamic and Ricky and Big Red’s friendship until “Born to Be Brave.”
Even so, HSMTMTS‘ final two episodes strike effective emotional chords with meta speeches that tap into the finality of it all. The returns of Andrew Barth Feldman as Antoine or Andy and Jason Earles as Dewey Wood are heartfelt and hilarious. Ricky continuing Nini’s opening night tradition is a sweet way to include Olivia Rodrigo’s legacy on the show — as well as the cast’s latest rendition of “Born to Be Brave.”
Notably, the series finale hits the right notes in the long-awaited love confession from Ricky and Gina with “Love You Forever.” The episode even dials more into Rina’s soulmate’s connection with the message on the tag of Ricky’s hat. It’s a grand gesture that ties back to their beginnings, which HSMTMTS does well in its final outing.
That final curtain call during the Wildcats’ production of High School Musical 3: Senior Year is as tear-worthy as the one from the film, but it’s recognizably different, speaking to HSMTMTS‘ ability to make a beloved franchise its own for four successful seasons.
As Ricky and Gina express in their speeches, this fictional theater program created a community that changed these characters forever — for good. So did HSMTMTS.
Since 2019, across four seasons and 38 episodes, this show has created a community through its dramedy mockumentary style (Ricky pointing this out couldn’t be more perfect!) storytelling. With a talented cast and crew, who deserve to be paid fairly, HSMTMTS joins the ranks of YA shows that speak to their audience rather than down to them, with thoughtful stories that represent a wide range of lived experiences. Whether discussing its heart or its humor, there’s no denying that High School Musical: The Musical: The Series has left a lasting Wildcat paw print on the HSM franchise.
Other Fabulous Moments:
- The initial title card being so close to the HSM one
- Miss Jenn name-dropping Kenny Ortega
- Alyson Reed saying “Wildcats”
- Carlos’ skater boy
- Finally learning Seb’s last name
- Every time Ricky looks into the camera
- All the flashbacks in “Trust the Process”
- Miss Jenn telling EJ he would make a good teacher
- Everyone recognizing Gina as a star
- Miss Jenn and Mr. Mazzara finally getting together
What did you think of High School Musical: The Musical: The Series Season 4? Let us know in the comments below!
Every episode of HSMTMTS is streaming on Disney+ now.