Centered around the Rydell High School students in the early 50s prior to Sandy Olsson (Olivia Newton-John) and Danny Zuko’s (John Travolta) arrival into the fold, the series chronicles the lives of four girls who band together after falling victim to Rydell’s increasingly conservative rules. When one of them decides to run for class president, the school is shaken up as students, parents, and teachers start to reveal how far they’re willing to go in order to keep the academic environment “traditional.”
Once you find out what Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies is about, you can’t help but wonder how a series about women in the 50s would manage to keep an upbeat and fun rhythm. After all, teenage girls hardly had room to be themselves at a time when women were told how to behave at every second. The solution that showrunner Annabel Oakes found was to make the show happen in what feels almost like a parallel universe so that it can both exist and be a comment on the 1950s world. That way, the series finds a surprising number of connections between the “old-fashioned” society depicted in the story and what girls and women go through to this very day.
What’s most shocking to realize is that throughout the first five episodes of Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies, Jane (Marisa Davila), Olivia (Cheyenne Isabel Wells), Cynthia (Ari Notartomaso), and Nancy (Tricia Fukuhara) are exposed to situations that we all know should feel outdated by now, and yet… they feel pretty modern considering real-life events. Seeing a group of girls behaving in an “unladylike” fashion is still a bit of a shock, as well as witnessing male and female students be held to different standards. Not to mention that girls still get reprimanded for operating outside of traditional gender roles in 2023 — almost 70 years after the events of Pink Ladies take place.
Of course, creative freedom allows the series to have the group of girls surviving situations that would make them absolute pariahs in the ’50s, but that’s about the only way you can acknowledge the issues of that era and still keep the story light. Being anachronistic doesn’t harm Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies at all as it is a joy to see the girls standing up for themselves in situations where they got to decide if it is a big deal or not. Not only that, Pink Ladies runs rings around the vast majority of teen shows by making its characters take responsibility for their actions, talk out their issues, and solve their problems before things get out of hand. This is another great win for the series, which suggests the screenwriters are taking the hard route to building conflict, rather than relying on misunderstandings and failure to communicate to create artificial rivalries between the characters.
Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies puts on a show in every aspect. The series kicks off with an elaborate musical number filled with one-take shots that introduce the main cast with a bang. What’s even more surprising, those elaborate scenes and song sequences are not limited to the first episode. They happen again as the series progresses, which shows the cast and creators are committed to bringing it 100% every time.
The cast of Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies is also in incredible sync. Not only do the four protagonists display charisma and energy in every moment, but they are also surrounded by an incredibly talented supporting cast. Josette Halpert takes the comic relief aspects of her character Dot and runs with it, nailing her role in every scene even when she’s in the background, while Madison Thompson finds ways to make Susan escape the cheerleader stereotype, including finding new and delicious ways to be mean. If there’s one thing that could impact this first season of Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies negatively, it is the inclusion of Hazel (Shanel Bailey). She is captivatingly introduced in the third episode, but then is kind of forgotten in the subsequent two, as if the show doesn’t know what to do with her or might be waiting to give her an episode to shine. It’s clear that the series wants to paint her as an outcast, but simultaneously, her character is rendered extremely likable, which makes her isolation from the rest of the group feel forced most of the time.
The feeling you have after getting halfway through Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies is that you just want to spend more time with those girls, and you almost wish 22-episode seasons were still a thing so you could watch the characters existing in this world for as long as possible. There are plenty of Grease references to go around – some characters that suddenly fly into the sky, people singing to the stars, the T-Birds and Pink Ladies themselves — but the show hardly depends on them to work. Rather, it builds upon the Grease mythology to make us see the true potential of the Pink Ladies. Whatever happens next, they’ve made history already.
Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies premieres April 6 on Paramount+.