Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies is a musical series that takes place four years before the original movie “Grease.” Set in 1954, before rock ‘n’ roll ruled Rydell high, before the T-Birds were the coolest in the school, four fed-up outcasts, Jane (Marisa Davila), Olivia (Cheyenne Isabel Wells), Nancy (Tricia Fukuhara) and Cynthia (Ari Notartomaso), dare to have fun on their own terms, which sparks a moral panic that will change Rydell High forever. Battling the school’s increasingly conservative rules and the community turning on them, the four girls decide to change things with Jane becoming the first woman to run for class president.
Given the political themes in the 1950s and the lack of women’s rights, Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies had a difficult task in making the show enjoyable to watch while not ignoring the key issues. Somehow, showrunner Annabel Oakes finds a way to make the show comedic while also not turning away from issues such as racism and gender equality in the 50s.
Combined with the vibrant sets and costumes, Oakes found an incredible way to balance the hard-hitting issues with the backdrop of some very catchy, and hilarious songs. Given that the series is set in the 50s, viewers won’t be able to ignore some startling similarities to the modern day problems people face today. From the different standards that women and men are held to and the slut shaming that often happens in today’s society. Despite the costumes and the sets, it’s startling how those problems are not as outdated as some may think.
One of the best things about the show is how it stands on its own. Yes, there are a few Grease references, more so in the pilot, but after that, the characters make you forget about the original movie all together. One of the best and seamless introductions to our new leading ladies is their rendition of ‘Grease is the word’ with the drive-in as the backdrop. Each leading lady gets their own verse and when they come together, their voices blend perfectly together. It’s a fun way to introduce each character and their dynamic before they even come together as a group.
All the characters are complex, which is a refreshing change from the original movie. The girls aren’t solely focused on getting a boyfriend or conforming to standards set by others. The complexity extends to the side characters such as Hazel (Stanel Bailey), who’s introduction is captivating and heart-warming. Even when she is in the background, Bailey delivers a brilliant performance throughout her scenes.
While the first episode is great, the series does dip in the middle as it does struggle with its storyline. It’s clear that while there are supposed to be four main female characters, Nancy and Cynthia are the two pink ladies who are almost forgotten. Nancy is the fashion-forward pink lady and while her voice is brilliant, the writers didn’t do this character any favours as they made her the cheesy, parody of herself. Cynthia, on the other hand,
doesn’t get much time to shine. Yes, her focus is to be in the T-Birds but when the character feels too much of a girl to be included with the boys, and too much of a boy to fit in with her female friends, her character shines almost always when she is given the chance.
In a market full of adaptations and reboots, a musical comedy seems like a risky move. There have been many failings in the genre of musicals, but Rise of Pink Ladies seems to have found a great way to do it. The majority of the songs are catchy, but what sets them apart from other musical tv shows has to be the sets and the choreography. Having great singers perform the songs is only half the battle, but Rise of Pink Ladies somehow manages to do these performances that feels like it belongs on a stage. Their sets vary from massive group numbers to a simple duet in episode five that has simple sets but it works tremendously. Not only can these songs feel like they deserve to be on the stage, viewers are given a treat to some expertly executed choreography that will keep the viewers eye focused on their screen.
The most valuable character (MVC) would have to go to Olivia. While Olivia is not the leader of the pink ladies, Olivia is a key part in the group. From giving the girls the courage to speak out against certain issues, to supporting them without any hesitation, Olivia is an insightful character with one of the best voices on the series.
Overall, it is hard for a musically driven show to shine, especially when it is based off a much-loved musical but Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies almost does that flawlessly. From more complex characters with drives other than gaining a significant other, to catchy songs that highlight the era while giving it a modern take makes for a great series to watch. Paramount has a hidden gem in Rise of the Pink Ladies, and I hope that the series gets its much-deserved renewal.
Episodes 1-5 were streamed for review. Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies releases on Paramount+ on 6th April 2023.