It’s Gonna Be Different This Year – Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies (2023) Series Premiere

Revisited a much-loved pop landmark from the heart of the Baby Boomer era with a pointedly more diverse cast and a stronger focus on the female point-of-view, Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies feels like it was explicitly (if not expressly) designed to inflame our current culture wars and drive the anti-“woke” crowd absolutely insane with aneurysm-inducing outrage. Judging by the initial reactions to the show, mission accomplished on that!

Never mind, of course, that even the original Grease was, in its way, always a story of female empowerment, as goodie-two-shoes Sandy found her true and better self by rejecting societal conformity and embracing her bad girl side. No, apparently, all even many of its fans remember from Grease was John Travolta being a stud and singing about making chicks cream.

Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies (2023) - The Mean Girls
Title:Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies
Episodes:1.01 – We’re Gonna Rule the School
1.02 – Too Pure to Be Pink
Release Date: April. 6, 2023
Watched On: Paramount+

I’m going to admit up front that I’m not the target audience for a Grease reboot. I’m not particularly a fan of musicals or of the original movie. For a long time, I frankly couldn’t stand it. My wife loves it, however, and I suppose my resistance has softened a bit over time. I probably should revisit it. (Hell, I probably should have done so before this spinoff premiered.) For what it’s worth, I did enjoy the first season or so of Glee, which I’d say is what this show is really trying to be successor to.

Rise of the Pink Ladies is a prequel set in 1954, four years before the original film. Although Danny and Sandy aren’t around yet, we learn about halfway through the pilot episode that a couple of supporting characters are meant to be younger versions of Frenchy and Rizzo. The lead this time around is “Plain” Jane Facciano (Marisa Davila), a nerdy new girl at Rydell High who gets ostracized from almost the whole school after being slut-shamed for going all the way with popular jock and class president Buddy (Jason Schmidt), a crime that she technically didn’t actually commit. Her attempts to clear her name put her into the orbit of several other girls who have similarly found themselves outcasts from all the popular social circles. Per the show’s title, they seem destined to band together and become the first members of The Pink Ladies, Rydell’s infamous bad girls club.

While she presents as blandly white, Jane has a Puerto Rican mother with skin significantly darker than her own. Other characters on the show comprise a decidedly diverse mix of Black, Hispanic, Asian, and other ethnicities, plus a tomboy named Cythnia who’s almost certain to be outed as a lesbian (and is played by actor Ari Notartomaso, who identifies as non-binary). Not all of them are outsiders. In fact, just about every social clique in the school has members from a variety of races or minority groups, none of which are commented on by any of the characters.

So, yes, Rise of the Link Ladies is super-“woke.” Anyone inclined to be offended by that will find a bounty of things to complain about.

Quite honestly, I won’t deny that the casting is a little distracting, considering the story’s setting in the early 1950s, a time when racism, homophobia, and other bigotries weren’t just common but the accepted mainstream norm. Even if a whitebread American high school like Rydell might have had Black and Hispanic students, they likely wouldn’t have palled around all that much with the white kids. The idea that a snooty white Mean Girl would happily be seen hanging off the arm of a Black football player is… well, not very historically accurate for the period.

On the other hand, this is fucking Grease, and since when has anyone believed that was a historical docudrama? Let’s be real here. Grease has always presented a fantasy version of the 1950s that never existed in reality. Why should we begrudge a cast of any color or identity from wanting to play-act in that world? How pathetically petty and small-minded is that?

Paramount has obviously poured a lot of money into Rise of the Pink Ladies. The musical numbers are elaborate, well-choreographed, and clearly expensive. The actors are all good singers and performers. The songs are perfectly catchy, if not necessarily as iconic as “Greased Lightnin,” “You’re the One That I Want,” or “Hopelessly Devoted to You.” The story may be a bit melodramatic and heavy-handed with its themes, but that’s not in the slightest bit atypical for the genre (and was certainly true of Grease as well).

Will the series be a big hit for Paramount+, or will its flagrant controversy-baiting doom it to a backlash it can’t withstand? I have no idea. As I said, I’m not especially invested in Grease one way or the other. This show wasn’t made for me in the first place. But I don’t hate it. Should it be successful, I’ll support it until such time as it grows repetitive and tiresome (as Glee did in its later seasons). We’ll see how long that takes.

Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies (2023) - Cheyenne Isabel Wells as Olivia

Video Streaming

Paramount+ streams Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies in 4K HDR. The series is almost entirely framed at an aspect ratio of 2.40:1; however, the second episode contains a few brief split-screen montage shots that extend beyond the 2.40:1 area to fill the 16:9 frame. When viewing this on my Constant Image Height projection screen with that extra height cropped off, the shots appeared a little cramped but were still watchable. Considering that they each only last a couple seconds, this was a better compromise than shrinking the entire episode down to 16:9 size.

Image sharpness is generally pretty good and the colors are quite vivid, especially the rich reds of the school letterman jackets. At the same time, the photography is quite grainy, and I suspect artificially so in some sort of attempt to evoke the period setting or the original movie. The grain doesn’t look natural. It’s very coarse and has a texture more of video noise. The streaming service’s heavy compression may have something to do with that.

The Dolby 5.1 soundtrack is surprisingly bassy for a streaming show. The first song, a new performance of the “Grease” theme, has very strong, boomy bass. Some of the later tunes are a little more restrained, but others are just as aggressive. If sometimes fun, the mix is kind of obnoxious, and leaves the lyrics sounding muddy and buried by the low-end. For a musical, I’d prefer something better balanced with more emphasis on fidelity.

One thought on “It’s Gonna Be Different This Year – Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies (2023) Series Premiere

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s