The East High Wildcats are back (and with a longer title than ever!) to bring us High School Musical: The Musical: The Series: The Holiday Special.
Now streaming on Disney+, the joyous event finds the cast of HSM:TM:TS performing a series of festive jams — including classics like “Little Saint Nick” and “Feliz Navidad,” as well as “The Perfect Gift,” a new song written by series star Joshua Bassett — from what feels like every corner of the world. So, how did the whole thing come about?
“I had this crazy plan that someday we would shoot a High School Musical Christmas movie with the cast,” showrunner Tim Federle tells TVLine. “We were a couple of months into quarantine, and I knew we would be returning to Salt Lake to start shooting Season 2, but it still felt pretty dire. No one had really cracked it. So I said to Disney, ‘What if we used this natural separation to our advantage and got to know the actors behind the characters? When I was a fan of teen shows, I would read any interview I could that would tell me just a little bit more about the actors. And as soon as I looked at the brilliant actors that we have, the songs just fell into place.”
And this is where Federle reveals himself to be a time wizard: “I thought, ‘If this lands around the holidays in 2020, we’ll all be so Zoomed out as a society,’” he says. “So even though I pitched the special over the summer, I fought hard to not have the cast shoot themselves on iPhones. That made it 100 times harder, but hopefully it’s something that will stand the test of time.”
One of the most stirring performances comes courtesy of Olivia Rodrigo, who introduces Joni Mitchell’s “River” to a new generation of viewers. And if you think the setting of her big number looks familiar, you’ve got a good eye. Or you just watch a lot of reality TV.
“We shot that in the middle of a heatwave in front of the Bachelor mansion in Malibu,” Federle says. “It was the only location in Los Angeles that was available at the height of quarantine. It just makes me laugh that Olivia looks into the fountain, and I’m like, ‘The number of Bachelors I’ve watched walk past that fountain…’ We’re really carrying on the legacy.” Check out her performance below:
The special also gives us our first look at HSM:TM:TS‘ second season, much of which has already been filmed. “We’re still working on the last couple of episodes,” Federle says. “We always have some surprises up our sleeves.” But fear not — the coronavirus won’t be one of those surprises.
“We made a game day decision where we were like, ‘Let’s let Grey’s Anatomy do that. They’re going to do it really well. That’s their world,’” he explains. “By the time we premiere, I truly do believe that we as a world will be on a better track. I don’t know if people will want to tune in for a half hour every week to be reminded of what we just came out of. So you will not see masks in Season 2, other than potentially a Beast mask.”
What’s your favorite number from the holiday special? Grade HSM:TM:TS:THS below, then drop a comment with your hopes for Season 2.