Fall of the Pink Ladies

The ‘Grease’ prequel show no one wanted or asked for is here

It seems unlikely that anyone was deep-diving reddit boards trying to figure out how wholesome Rydell High School ended up with a girl gang, but Paramount+ is all about answering questions no one ever asked. Rise of the Pink Ladies, a world-building prequel for the Grease universe, answers questions no one wondered about. As a play, movie, or TV special, Grease works quite well as an insular tale of heteronormative young love in the 50s, when everything was more innocent, and probably never needed a cool origin story.

Rise of the Pink Ladies, however, wants viewers to understand that the idea of Sandra Dee’s happy, wholesome America only existed for people who happened to belong to the right socioeconomic class while while also possessing the correct skin tone and sexual preferences. But at the same time, the show begs us to escape into a candy-colored dreamland of simple musical fun. In the right hands, these disparate objectives could perhaps mesh into a joyful, yet thought-provoking social commentary, but this particular effort fails to find its harmony.

The first mistake Rise makes is to set the story prior to the events of Grease. Sure, Grease 2 takes place four years after Danny and Sandy drove their car off into the sky, so jumping forward more would place any adventures firmly into the 1960s, where The Outsiders will forever rule. But, still. By dropping these characters into a world that is historically mere moments past internment camps and school segregation, while also ignoring what that feels like for the kids in the aftermath demonstrates a complete failure to understand why the youth needed empowerment in the first place. If they’d set the show was set in the 1960s, Rydell High could’ve been ripe for social change brought on by a truly new kind of singing, dancing, and audience-mooning students.

The specifics of the time period aren’t the only thing weighing down what should be an airy concoction of fun. With the choice to make Rise of the Pink Ladies a prequel, there came a need to cram in future Rydell High icons as their pre-Grease selves. Thus, we get a lot of assistant principal McGee struggling to maintain order and yearning for school leadership, and glimpses of junior high nerds Fran and Betty, who will one day blossom into Frenchie and Rizzo. None of this enriches the story the way world-building should; it comes across as a weird, pointless gimmick.

But perhaps the worst decision of all was the choice to stretch Rise of the Pink Ladies into ten agonizingly long episodes, when the original Grease worked just fine in under two hours. The storylines are at once drawn out and underbaked, while the anemic, autotuned musical numbers fail to invigorate this bloated, overdone production.

In spite of the weak material, the cast gamely works their little groove things off to infuse this show with vitality. As vice principal McGee, Jackie Hoffman continues her quest for scene-stealing world domination, while still paying a fine homage to Eve Arden’s original. Johnathan Nieves ably swoons around like a dreamy teen Bruno Mars as the leader of the T-Birds, and Cheyenne Isabel Wells does a fine spin on the girl so pretty no one realizes she’s smart, too. But the best find here is Ari Notartomaso as plucky tomboy Cynthia, who absolutely pops onscreen every time they pop onscreen. Ultimately, these Pink Ladies may end up ruling the school, but it’s unlikely they’ll ever rule our hearts.

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Paula Shaffer

Paula Shaffer has worked on shows for a variety of networks including ABC, Hulu, A&E, HGTV, and WeTV. Her family zom-com script, Chompers, was a selected work of the Stowe Story Labs Feature Campus in 2021, and a 2022 semi-finalist in the Emerging Screenwriters contest, which led to placement on the Coverfly Red List.

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