Paramount+’s Musical Drama Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies Is Not Worth Your Devotion

TV Reviews Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies
Paramount+’s Musical Drama Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies Is Not Worth Your Devotion

In the second grade, I was so obsessed with the 1978 movie musical Grease that I dressed up like a Pink Lady for Halloween. I remember walking into my elementary school with my tiny pink jacket on my shoulders and cat-eye sunglasses on top of my head, feeling like the coolest kid in school. I only bring this up to prove that I’m serious about the Pink Ladies, but much to my dismay, Paramount+’s Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies is not. 

This musical prequel series takes place four years before the original film, and follows Jane (Marisa Davila) as she attempts to save her reputation after it was besmirched by the rumor mill surrounding her and her boyfriend Buddy’s (Jason Schmidt) after school activities. She eventually links up with other social outcasts like ascot-wearing Olivia (Cheyenne Isabel Wells), fashion-guru Nancy (Tricia Fukuhara), and tomboy Cynthia (Ari Notartomaso) to try to change life at Rydell High School for the better for everyone. Featuring social commentary sometimes missing from the original movie and a few musical numbers per episode, this series from Atypical and Transparent’s Annabel Oakes reimagines the original film, the characters, and storylines within it for the modern day—with little success. 

Like most attempts at prequels these days, Rise of the Pink Ladies would have been much better off if it had been allowed to just be its own separate thing. Because, just on its own as a ‘50-set musical series that chronicles outcasts attempting to change the status quo, it’s not all bad; without the shadow of Grease hanging over it, the music is fine and sometimes even good, the characters are interesting, and the series’ attempt at engagement with the era is admirable. However, it’s just not Grease, and it’s worse for being attached to it. For starters, the first episode (titled “We’re Gonna Rule the School,” as all episodes are named after quotes from the film) features a number of call-backs to the original, but unfortunately, each of those reminders just made me want to turn off this series and watch Grease instead. The opening episode features multiple mooning gags, clear homages to the original film, but the joke being used twice in the first episode alone feels symbolic of these nostalgia-bait prequels: offer up something familiar and do it again and again, with diminishing returns each time. Like the fake film grain effect put over this digitally-captured series, much of its homages and callbacks feel like nothing more than cheap imitation. 

The musical numbers within the series are fun, but the style of music leans much closer to modern Broadway pop (or something out of an Old Navy commercial) than anything resembling songs heard in either Grease or the era at large, making it stand out both in its “franchise” (Grease 2 included) and amongst other ‘50s-lampooning musicals. Though, perhaps the most egregious way Rise of the Pink Ladies engages with the original film is in its most blatant connection: Jane is Frenchy’s older sister. This tether to the original film through an adorable middle school-age Frenchy is sweet, but it also creates a distraction that I just could not shake while watching. How do the Pink Ladies go from being these, frankly, nerdy outcast types trying to make positive change in the school and run for Student Body President to the untouchable and unaffected cool girls allergic to school spirit that we see in Grease? It offers an unavoidably depressing ending already built-in: after everything Jane goes through and all the friends she makes and changes she tries to impart, her little sister and her friend Betty are still outsiders by the time it’s their turn to rule the school (being a Pink Lady is still a radical act within the film, after all), but they’re not inspired in the slightest by Jane’s efforts to make Rydell a better place. 

Maybe worst of all is that so much of this series also just feels too safe and similar to other teen dramas, hitting the same beats we have seen time and time again. One of the Pink Ladies spends a majority of these first five episodes available for review longing for a previous relationship with a teacher, one that she desperately wants back. It’s a tired storyline that we have seen in far too many teen dramas, and Pink Ladies offers nothing new to the conversation that those series haven’t already (at least so far). Even removed from the Grease of it all, Pink Ladies is unimaginative more often than its creativity shines through. 

However, despite all of its downfalls, Pink Ladies still has a lot of heart and is incredibly earnest in the story it’s trying to tell. When it does engage with elements of modernization through its leads regarding gender and race, it sometimes finds something meaningful to say (even if the execution is clunky and sometimes preachy), and it really is nice to see diversity added to one of my favorite films. The leads are charming and very talented singers, and Jackie Hoffman is perfectly cast as Assistant Principal McGee. If you can manage to separate it from the original film (or, better yet, if you have never actually watched Grease before), then Pink Ladies can be enjoyable. Though, with the shadow of the original film casting long over each of the first five episodes, it’s difficult to sever that tie, even if it would be most beneficial for the show to be consumed without much thought to what comes next. Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies is a lot of things, but it’s unfortunately not worth being hopelessly devoted to.

Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies premieres Thursday, April 6th on Paramount+.

Anna Govert is an entertainment writer based in middle-of-nowhere Indiana. For any and all thoughts about TV, film, and the wonderful insanity of Riverdale, you can follow her @annagovert.

For all the latest TV news, reviews, lists and features, follow @Paste_TV.

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