(WTVO) — A prequel to the classic movie “Grease” debuted this week on Paramount+, and is set to explore “sexual orientation, gender expression and racial identity,” according to its creators.
“Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies” is set in 1954 before Danny and Sandy attended Rydell High School. In the new series, four female students band spark “a moral panic” in an effort to form a band, and become the founding members of the high school social clique known as the “Pink Ladies.”
Show creator Annabel Oakes told the Daily Beast that when she was initially approached to do a reboot of “Grease,” her reaction was: “‘I said, “Grease? No! Grease is perfect.’”’ And I really meant it. Like, I did not want any part of this. I was like, “What a sick, sad money-grab from a major studio exploiting their IP.'” .
“‘Grease’ was the ’70s commenting on the ’50s, and they were telling really subversive, stories about the ’50s from a ’70s point of view. And now we are in the 2020s, and we get to comment on what they said in the ’70s and the ’50s, which is a cool experience,” Oakes told Forbes.
Oakes then said the original film was antiquated in some of its views, and “some lyrics [in the movie] are problematic, but we reference those in the pilot, and you’ll see us open us the lens of ‘Grease’ through taking a deeper look at those.”
According to the Daily Mail, the classic song “Greased Lightning” has been reimagined to center around “tomboy” character Cynthia, who is played by non-binary trans actor Ari Notartomaso.
“Queerness, gender nonconformity and transness throughout time hasn’t always been exactly the same,” Notartomaso told Deadline, mentioning that her character originally wanted to join the all-male T-Birds.
“Our characters will get to experience from a different lens and how those experiences overlap with others with a marginalized identity,” Notartomaso said. “I think we have the opportunity to represent another struggle that overlaps with things we’re dealing with today like racism.”
Cynthia will be joined by half-Latina, half-Italian Jane (Marisa Davila), the older sister of original film character Frenchie; Mexican American student Olivia (Cheyenne Wells); and Japanese American Nancy (Tricia Fukuhara).
The Daily Mail reported that the third episode of the show revolves around racism at Rydell High, in which rich white country club founders become animated out of an oil painting and sing about white supremacy.
The song “In the Club” reportedly includes the lyrics, “When you’re in the club, we’ve got each other’s backs. As long as you’re not Jewish, Asian, brown or Black, single woman or gay, on the wrong side of they.”
“All teenagers deal with moral panic, it was just a different moral panic in the ’50s than it is now. Rock and Roll was a moral panic, [there was panic] about gender-bending and race-mixing and women not acting like ladies, and all of that stuff exists today,” Oakes said.
The series was originally set up at HBO Max and then moved to Paramount+.
The first episode premiered on April 6th to tepid reviews from critics.
The Guardian called the show “the TV prequel nobody asked for,” saying the show had “subpar musical numbers,” “some cringe-y and underbaked imaginary sequences, and several forgettable songs per episode.”
USA Today said “‘Pink Ladies’ is such a mighty morass of bad ideas that its hard to keep it all straight.”
Decider said the musical “feels like ‘Glee’ with poodle skirts,” saying the songs are “unmemorable, sound too generic and modern.”