“Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies” Carries the Torch of the Classic Movie Well

Like it or not, “Grease” is now a universe, and it has its own extended timeline that begins with “Rise of the Pink Ladies” and ends with “Grease 2.” That’s not particularly bad thing, especially if you loved “Grease” as much as I do–even though I’ll never budge on “Grease 2.” I still consider that movie to be immensely awful. As for “Rise of the Pink Ladies,” it’s a very good prequel series. It’s flawed, sure, but at the end of the day, it might achieve its goal of bringing in a new generation of fans. The majority of “Grease” was spent mainly following around the T Birds and focusing on their struggles with rival gangs. Although the Pink Ladies are there a lot of the time, there isn’t real emphases on their whole group dynamic.

“Rise of the Pink Ladies” ventures to explore the origins of the female gang and why their members take the name so seriously.

The ten episodes limited musical series takes place four years before the original “Grease” before we met Danny and Sandy. In 1954, before rock ‘n’ roll ruled, before the T-Birds were the coolest in the school, four fed-up, female outcasts dare to have fun on their own terms, sparking a moral panic that will change Rydell High forever.

“Rise of the Pink Ladies” isn’t a serious or dramatic exploration of the universe, even though you can consider it a teen soap opera. The tone is tongue in cheek and a la the original “Grease,” much of it is comedic in tone and considerably light hearted. The writers and producers base a lot of their framework of this story on the movie adaptation of “Grease” and not so much on the original stage musical. That’s made wholly apparent on the appearance of familiar locales from the movie, as well as some winks here and there. The series even opens with a lavish new version of the “Grease” theme song.

The choreography (by Jamal Sims) and music (Justin Tranter) are pretty fantastic at times, even though there are clunky musical numbers here and there. They have to fill ten episodes with music and dance numbers, so I don’t totally begrudge the writers, sadly though, there isn’t a single “Summer Nights” or “Hopelessly Devoted” to be found. In either case I found the first five episodes to be a breeze to sit through, and that’s thanks to the great cast. Marisa Davila as Jane is primarily the center of the show, a former geeky student who rises to popularity after students discover she’s dating the high school jock. Cheyenne Isabel Wells as Olivia fills the Rizzo role, portraying a Latina student who is given a bad reputation after an incident.

There’s also Ari Notartomaso, who is the highlight of the series, playing a tomboy anxious to become a T-Bird. The fourth of the group, Nancy, played by Tricia Fukuhara is the least developed of the characters. She barely gets any real focus despite the writers placing a lot of significance on her molding of the Pink Ladies. It’s a shame she doesn’t have a ton of sub-plots or real dramatic weight. “Rise of the Pink Ladies” can feel confused at times, and packs in a ton of sub-plots in five episodes. I barely had a lot of time to catch up with the foursome, and they introduce a new character in the third episode, who adds to the mess. No disrespect to Shanel Bailey.

As a huge fan of “Grease” (it’s a childhood favorite), I approached “Rise of the Pink Ladies” with as open a mind and as much optimism as possible. After five episodes I was entertained in spite of its flaws, and I hope it takes off. I’m ready to finish off the first season and see where the entire saga of the Pink Ladies is headed.

Premieres Thursday, April 6th exclusively on Paramount Plus. New episodes will be available to stream weekly on Thursdays.