Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies review - Overlong prequel gets grating fast
The charm of the film gets lost in this 10-hour, overwhelming prequel series.
Do you remember when, while wrapped up in the magic of 1978 movie musical Grease, you started to wonder about the organisational history behind the girl gang the Pink Ladies? No? Well, Paramount Plus is here to give us all the answers anyway.
To do so, the streamer has provided us with Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies, the ultimate example of IP exploitation at its most brazen.
The series follows Jane, Olivia, Cynthia and Nancy, four young woman who were at Rydell High in 1954, four years before the events of the original film.
Jane decides she wants to run for class president, but after a series of knock-backs and aggressions from both the boys at the school and the school's social structure itself, the four girls decide to team up and start, you guessed it, a girl gang.
Cue plenty of shenanigans, musical numbers and dance sequences as the original Pink Ladies learn to become their authentic selves and stir up some trouble along the way.
Now, don't get me wrong - just because the premise of a series appears to have been born out of corporate content management rather than creative vision doesn't mean it can't have merit, and Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies definitely does.
The production design on the series is colourful, visually engaging and impressive. The performances are strong and work well within the world that has been created. There's a lightness of touch to the tone but it isn't afraid to delve into more serious topics.
The biggest problem this series has is its runtime - with episodes clocking in at just under an hour each, and the first season consisting of 10 episodes. That's a whole lot of Grease.
The first film worked partly because it was concise. Clocking in at under two hours, it allowed viewers to dive into a stylised version of the '50s, get caught up in an engaging love story with two likeable characters and then get out of there.
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In this series, the charm of seeing young actors giving it their all as a host of stereotypes (the jocks, the nerds, the greasers, etc) – but for the most part acting nothing like normal human beings – wears off fast. Everything's just brimming with a sense of 'too much' - too much energy, too many fast-talking quipsters, too many quirks. It's all a little try-hard.
It's a clear-cut example of a premise which should not have stretched beyond its limits into a different format. As a play, this sort of thing works well - you have to sell everything to the back of the house so the performances have to be heightened and audiences buy into the tropes because of the environment.
As a film, you can get caught up in the magic of cinema for a couple of hours, being whisked back before it all gets a bit sickly. As a series, it's just quite grating, particularly when the episodes are so overlong. If they were 25 minutes each it might have been an easier sell.
It also would have meant the whole thing could have been packed with fewer, more memorable songs. For the most part, the new tunes are serviceable, and there are some impressive dance sequences to go alongside them. But some rely too heavily on clunky metaphors and wordplay, and others are simply forgettable.
After watching the first batch of episodes, it's clear the best of the bunch is still the one song transposed from the original film, Grease, which is used to open the series.
Rise of the Pink Ladies also attempts to modernise the original film's premise and tackle social issues head on - an admirable endeavour, but the emotion just doesn't hit as well as it should because everything still feels surface level and more about plot and message than character.
Rewatching the Hopelessly Devoted sequence from the original film recently reminded me just how much genuine warmth and sentiment has been lost here, partly because the series spreads itself so thinly, trying to tackle every social issue at once while also introducing us to an inordinate amount of characters.
Of course, when it comes down to it, I'm sure this series will find its audience, whether that's musical theatre super-fans, Grease obsessives or simply anyone who connects with this brand of stylised, modernised period piece.
But for me, the whole thing felt like an answer to a question nobody had asked, and spoiling a good thing by giving us far too much of it. As it turns out, the heightened world of Grease and the serialised TV format simply do not go together.
Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies will stream on Paramount Plus from Friday 7th April 2023 – get Paramount Plus for no extra cost on Sky, or get a seven-day free trial of Paramount Plus on Amazon Prime Video.