GREASE: RISE OF THE PINK LADIES (2023)
Season One [The First 5 Episodes]
Aired On: Paramount+
Release Date: 04/06/23
"A spinoff of the original John Travolta and Olivia Newton John 1978 musical."
5 episodes in…
It’s no secret that Hollywood is out of fresh ideas. In case the constant flow of new reboots, remakes, and/or requels isn’t a big enough hint, studios are running through content so quickly that they are desperately trying to find ways to make older franchises both relevant and profitable again. As unwelcome as most of these retreads usually wind up being, not all of them are bad. Paramount’s new series Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies is a prime example.
Set four years before the iconic musical, Rise of the Pink Ladies follows four female students who struggle to fit in at Rydell High. Marisa Davila plays the first lead we meet, an ambitious good girl by the name of Jane Facciano. Cheyenne Isabel Wells plays Olivia Valdovinos, a well-intentioned student whose name has been ruined by rumors of a relationship with a teacher. Tricia Fukuhara plays Nancy Nakagawa, a perfectionist who wants only to focus on her dream of becoming a fashion designer. And Ari Notartomaso plays Cynthia Znudowski, a girl who desperately wants to be a part of the testosterone-driven group Danny Zuko is destined to lead: the T-Birds.
All four characters couldn’t be any different from one another, yet it’s those differences that bring them together. When the series begins at the start of the school year, all four have their own plans to climb the social ladder. One by one, however, they start to fall. On the way down, they recognize a common enemy: the school’s current body of popular kids. Rather than try and fit in, they band together and create their own group to redefine the very idea of popularity. And so The Pink Ladies are born - sort of.
Admittedly, the series’ plot feels slightly inspired by that one High School Musical song, “Stick to the Status Quo.” That’s not just because all four of the leads are in very distinct boxes when we meet them, but because they’re peers keep trying to stuff them back in those same boxes. It’s not a con, but rather an ironic comparison considering that without the original Grease, High School Musical might not exist.
One actual con, however, is how quickly the show nods and winks at its “predecessor.” Without giving too much away, in the first five episodes the audience is introduced to some familiar faces. As innocent as any of those Easter eggs are though, they make the series feel a bit overindulgent - meaning that the show is so determined to remind the audience that it’s a part of something bigger that it sometimes loses sight of how great it is on its own.
Fortunately, as a result of its overzealousness, the main story is paced out quite nicely. As a result, some of the most obvious and inevitable plot points - even something as simple as the girls conquering the school - get the spotlight they deserve. For example, it isn’t even until the end of the second episode that you see the ladies dawn the iconic pink jackets. And it isn’t until the fifth episode (which we were able to screen up to) that it feels like the ladies are finally on the brink of true change.
Now, there’s no denying there are many similarities between the classic and this show. For example, the songs are certainly still “electrifying.” The choreography, while just a little more expansive thanks to modern technology, is just as awe-inspiring. But above everything, the performances are simply star-making. Unlike the original, each character is given enough time to be fully fleshed out thanks to the format. Although the story starts by mostly centering around Jane, it eventually follows everyone equally. One of the best arcs involves Tricia Fukuhara’s Nancy. On top of being a young lady in the 1950s, she faces double the doubt and discrimination as an Asian American. When we first meet her, she actually already belongs to a friend group composed of fellow Asian American girls. After they reject her for being too serious about her goals, she finds solace as a member of the Pink Ladies. Of all the characters and journeys the series takes us on, Nancy’s is a reminder of the power of the positive and negative relationships we navigate - one of the key reasons audiences resonated with the original in the first place.
At its heart, Rise of the Pink Ladies is about what it means to not only have friends but strong female friends. That’s not to say that there are no other shows about the importance of female friendship. There just aren’t any who do it like this. Similar to how Grease examines the 1950s through a 1970s feminist lens, Rise of the Pink Ladies examines the 1950s through a modern feminist lens. The result? A brutal, yet bright reminder that fashion may have been the only thing to change.