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Things Only Adults Notice In High School Musical: The Musical: The Series

As a spinoff of the hit Disney Channel movie franchise, "High School Musical: The Musical: The Series" is a kid-friendly show about music, friendship, young love, and all the trials that comes with it. It's full of comedy, drama, and musical numbers that everyone can enjoy, but it also holds a lot of nostalgia for the folks who grew up watching the "High School Musical" trilogy back in the mid-2000s.

Many "High School Musical" fans are adults now, and they're bound to have a different viewing experience than the younger crowd while watching the spinoff series. In fact, there are many details and instances throughout the series that only adults might pick up on. Whether it's specifics from the original movie, cameos from Disney Channel stars of the past, or something that makes the charismatic drama teacher feel old, there's much more to "High School Musical: The Musical: The Series" than children might realize.

It's set in a different city from the movie

The plot of "High School Musical: The Musical: The Series" centers around the fact that the characters attend the same school where the movie was filmed. This is true in real life, too. Both the movie and series were filmed at East High School in Salt Lake City, Utah. This means that the setting for the series is also Salt Lake City, which is confirmed in the show as it's mentioned a handful of times.

However, despite being filmed in Salt Lake City, the movie is set in Albuquerque, New Mexico. That said, if the film didn't explicitly put the text across the screen or have Gabriella mention that she had just moved to Albuquerque, it would have been hard to tell where Troy and Gabriella's love story took place. It's unclear why Albuquerque was specifically chosen over Salt Lake City as the movie's setting since it doesn't affect the plot in any significant way. In fact, fans introduced to the franchise through the series will probably assume that movie was also set in Salt Lake City instead of Albuquerque.

The amount of LGBTQ+ representation

Many of us grew up with little or no LGBTQ+ representation on our screens. However, times are changing, and we're seeing more and more love stories outside of straight couples in media these days. This shift extends to family-friendly shows like "High School Musical: The Musical: The Series," which features multiple characters from the LGBTQ+ community.

The most prominent LGBTQ+ couple since the start of the series has been Carlos, the musical's choreographer, and Seb, who lands the role of Sharpay. They dance together at prom, share a few on-screen kisses, and have a sweet "rich boy, farmer boy" storyline. Later, in Season 3, we're introduced to Maddox, who briefly reunites with her ex-girlfriend, Madison, who is memorably played by Jojo Siwa. Maddox also shows subtle interest in Ashlyn, who develops a crush on Val and realizes she's bisexual. Similarly, Ashlyn's boyfriend, Big Red, comes out as bi at the end of Season 3. Meanwhile, Nini goes on a trip with her mothers to meet her donor, which gives us a picture of an LGBTQ+ family in addition to all the young love in the community.

While children today might view this as the norm in the media they consume, this wasn't the case for older generations. For that reason, the increased representation in pop culture is more apparent and a bigger deal to adults watching "High School Musical: The Musical: The Series" than it might seem to kids.

The Armie Hammer references

Although the series mostly focuses on the lives of the students at East High, there are a few teacher and parent characters to whom adults can relate. One such character is Miss Jenn, East High's drama teacher. During the auditions for Season 1's musical, Miss Jenn makes a specific comment after E.J. sings "Start of Something New" in Episode 1. She says, "Well, excuse me, Armie Hammer just called. He wants his jawline back," which is immediately followed by a cut to E.J.'s confused face. Armie Hammer's name is brought up again in Episode 8 when E.J. sneaks a peek at Miss Jenn's notes in which she writes that he's the "next Armie Hammer."

Miss Jenn's Armie Hammer comments won't mean anything to anyone who doesn't know who he is. As an actor in films like "Call Me by Your Name" and "Death on the Nile," Hammer's work isn't exactly suitable for younger audiences. He's also been accused of sexual assault and many other disturbing allegations, which have essentially forced him out of the spotlight. Considering all that, it's not surprising if younger fans have the same confused reaction as E.J. when hearing that name. Needless to say, Miss Jenn's Armie Hammer references didn't age very well.

Gabriella's phone existed before the iPhone

In the second episode of Season 1, Miss Jenn pulls an old cell phone out of a cardboard box and shows it off to the Drama Club. Seb genuinely asks if the electronic device is a garage-door opener, which makes Miss Jenn stare at him in disbelief. She then clarifies that it's the same phone Vanessa Hudgens used while playing Gabriella in the film. In the following episode, Mr. Mazzara, a STEM teacher at East High, asks Miss Jenn about the phone. After Miss Jenn gets the phone's name wrong, Mr. Mazzara confidently informs her that it's a Palm Treo 600. He knows this because he used to own one himself.

Interestingly enough, Gabriella's Palm Treo was a common smartphone to have before the likes of the iPhone even existed. While the iPhone made its debut in 2007, the "High School Musical" film was released the year before. Seeing Gabriella's phone tossed around through the series is a throwback to that transitional technological period between flip phones and the more advanced touchscreens that younger generations have grown up with today.

The jokes about High School Musical being a period piece

When it comes to putting on a production, costumes play a huge role in establishing the time and setting of the story. As a member of the costume crew for East High's production of "High School Musical," Kourtney is initially under the impression that there's no need for costumes in a story about other high school kids. However, Miss Jenn considers "High School Musical" a period piece and urges Kourtney to be a little more creative in the Season 1 episode "Blocking." Later, when picking out costumes for their second musical in Season 2's first episode, Miss Jenn and Carlos again refer to the film as a period piece.

Generally, when we think of period pieces, the first things to come to mind might be "Downton Abbey" or "Titanic" rather than films set in the 2000s. Moreover, the "High School Musical" movies are set in the same time period they were filmed in, so they can't really be called "period pieces." Still, the 2000s definitely had some specific fashion trends that can be included — like Troy's haircut and Taylor's headband — so Kourtney and the costume crew have a lot to work with.

Martha Cox makes a brief appearance

Since "High School Musical: The Musical: The Series" is a spinoff, it's not surprising to see a few appearances from the actors who starred in the original movies. So far, Lucas Grabeel and Corbin Bleu have had a chance to sing in the series. Grabeel, who plays Ryan Evans in the movie and himself in the series, appears in Miss Jenn's dream when she begins to doubt herself in the Season 1 episode "The Tech Rehearsal." Bleu — who plays Chad Danforth in the movie — comes in later during Season 3 where he directs a documentary of the musical held at Camp Shallow Lake.

While Grabeel and Bleu both have scenes that are impossible to miss, there's another "High School Musical" star whose cameo in the series is much more subtle. Kaycee Stroh, who plays Martha Cox in the movie, appears in the Season 1 episode "What Team?" If you missed it, she shows up during the school board meeting regarding Miss Jenn's fate as a teacher. After the kids perform a song to save Miss Jenn from being fired, Stroh kicks off the celebration with her iconic "pop and lock and jam and break" dance moves. 

However, her appearance isn't explicitly acknowledged until the Season 3 episode "No Drama," when Ricky reveals that she "disappeared like a beautiful mist" before he had a chance to hug her at the school board meeting.

The soap opera star in Season 2

With a school rivalry brewing, Season 2 introduces a few new characters, including Zack Roy, Howie, and Lily, who are all from North High. Lily first appears at East High early in Season 2. After failing to land a role in the school's next musical, she's quick to transfer over to North High to join forces with Miss Jenn's ex-boyfriend and rival, Zack Roy. Over the course of the season, Lily sabotages East High's musical by posting viral videos, intensifying the rift between Ricky and Nini, as well as stealing an important prop on the day of their performance.

Lily's villainous cutthroat behavior is similar to another character who Olivia Rose Keegan has played in the past. Before "High School Musical: The Musical: The Series," older viewers might have seen Keegan play Claire on the soap opera "Days of Our Lives." One of Keegan's most memorable moments as Claire comes when she sets a cabin on fire in a failed attempt to kill her own aunt. 

While Lily never goes that far, she does bring a good amount of pettiness and drama to the series.

They slipped in a Hannah Montana song

As a Disney show, "High School Musical: The Musical: The Series" features plenty of music from other Disney movies outside the "High School Musical" franchise. In Season 2, East High and North High both put on productions for "Beauty and the Beast," so they naturally sing a lot of songs from the princess film throughout the season. Season 3 is set at a summer camp, so we get to hear some "Camp Rock" songs in addition to songs from their "Frozen" musical. Many of the song choices seem to fit right into the plot of the series, but one is not as obvious as the rest.

In the Season 2 episode "The Quinceañero," the kids throw a surprise party for Carlos. As Carlos' boyfriend, Seb prepares a special speech and performance for the birthday boy. After confessing that Carlos is his hero and inspiration, Seb sings Miley Cyrus' "The Climb" from "Hannah Montana: The Movie" because the couple shares a love for "powerful ballads originally sung by iconic women." Although Seb never mentions the name of the song or artist, people who've seen the 2009 film will likely be able to identify it right away.

E.J. and the college admissions scandal

In Seasons 1 and 2, E.J. is the only senior in the Drama Club and therefore is the only one looking into colleges. With grandparents and parents who all went to Duke, E.J. has his heart set on attending the prestigious university and is absolutely devastated when he's rejected. After talking with Mr. Mazzara in the Season 2 episode "The Storm," E.J. accepts his fate and decides to work on himself some more.

Unfortunately, E.J.'s father isn't as accepting of his failure to continue the family tradition of attending Duke. In Episode 8, E.J.'s father shows up to class as a guest speaker, presents his son with a Duke sweatshirt, and announces that he's been accepted into the university after all. This catches E.J. by surprise, but his father whispers that he "made a few calls" and "they changed their mind." While E.J.'s father certainly doesn't mention anything about bribery, this scene might remind folks of the college admissions scandal involving wealthy parents like Lori Loughlin who secretly paid big money to get their children into top colleges. 

E.J. hasn't always made the best decisions in the series, but he has a good head on his shoulders and understands that college acceptance is something that should be earned and not bought. His new plan is to take a gap year, although his dad still wants to send him off to Caswell Success Training School.

Scary Movie isn't nearly as old as the students think

In Season 2's "Spring Break," school is out but the drama club still meets for a quick video call with Miss Jenn. When Ashlyn and E.J. join the call, they talk about the "old" movies they've been streaming while housesitting together. One of the movies they watch is the 2000 horror parody "Scary Movie." E.J. calls the film "a classic," while Seb says he's never heard of it. Nini also comments, "You guys are watching like, old, old movies," to really emphasize how the teens perceive media from the 2000s.

This conversation makes Miss Jenn feel old, which a lot of adult viewers can probably relate to. In the eyes of adults, films from the '60s and the '70s, like "Psycho" and "Dawn of the Dead," would be considered horror classics, while "Scary Movie" is seen as a parody of more contemporary horror cliches. To be fair, the first "Scary Movie" was released before the East High students were even born, but most adults would still find it a bit of a stretch to call it old.

The Hannah Montana actor in Season 3

Unlike the first two seasons, Season 3 of "High School Musical: The Musical: The Series" doesn't take place at East High. Instead, the kids spend a few weeks of their summer at Camp Shallow Lake where they meet new friends, celebrity documentarian Corbin Bleu, and camp counselor Dewey. Disney fans who watched the hit "Hannah Montana" series over a decade ago might recognize the actor who plays Dewey as Jason Earles, who appeared in the older series as Miley's older brother.

Earles only makes a few small appearances during Season 3, but that's not all he's done for "High School Musical: The Musical: The Series." According to People, Earles has been on the set of the series since the very beginning as a mentor for the young Disney stars. His role behind the scenes revolves around ensuring that the cast is in a "very safe environment" with "all the resources that they need for their mental health and their professional development."

All the reality show references

With the intentionally shaky camerawork and frequent one-on-one interviews with the characters, "High School Musical: The Musical: The Series" is classified as a mockumentary that follows the East High drama club as they prepare for and put on various musicals. Season 3 adds another layer to the mockumentary by bringing Corbin Bleu and his cameraman to film a documentary of the "Frozen" musical being performed at Camp Shallow Lake. From there, we get a bunch of reality show references that are more likely to land with older viewers.

In "No Drama," the cameraman, Channing, claims he was part of the production crew for Nick Viall's season of "The Bachelor." Taking cues from "The Bachelor," which is a reality show known for its intense drama, Channing suggests that the camp needs a bit of chaos to make the documentary more interesting. He later references "Survivor: Nicaragua" and "Big Brother," two more reality shows with a lot of backstabbing and interpersonal conflict.

To satisfy Channing's craving for petty drama, the kids decide to each take on roles based on reality show tropes, such as "the one with a dark past," "the bad boy," and "the one who's there for the wrong reasons." Carlos cleverly introduces this plan as "The Real Campers of Shallow Lake," which takes inspiration from "The Real Housewives" franchise. Even though reality shows are generally intended for older audiences, most of the campers seem to enjoy playing their roles in such dramatic fashion.