‘HSMTMTS’ Boss Reveals the Only ‘Mandate’ of Season 2’s Relationships

Matt Cornett, Olivia Rodrigo, Sofia Wylie, Joshua Bassett standing next to each other singing in High School Musical: The Musical: The Series - Season 3
Spoiler Alert
Disney/Fred Hayes

[Warning: The below contains MAJOR spoilers for the High School Musical: The Musical: The Series Season 2 finale “Second Chances.”]

It’s the finale of High School Musical: The Musical: The Series and there’s a lot to unpack. Among the highlights: The Wildcats come together in high spirits at Slices, Nini (Olivia Rodrigo) has a new opportunity with Gina’s (Sofia Wylie) producer brother Jamie (Jordan Fisher) that could potentially change her life, Gina and EJ (Matt Cornett) finally get together in an adorable embrace, and Ricky (Joshua Bassett) decides to unexpectedly reach out to this season’s nemesis, Lily (Olivia Rose Keegan).

And what better way to get the inside scoop on everything than to turn to showrunner Tim Federle? TV Insider spoke with him about where the Disney+ series left off, the powerful visual of the cast in their Season 1 costumes coming full circle, and more.

How do you feel about the season finale? Is there anything you want to relay to fans?

Tim Federle: It was really emotional to see those four characters back in their first episode costumes. “Second Chances” is also a metaphor for the fact that during a pandemic we got to go back to work and make this season of TV and it was hard but certainly not as hard as the incredibly brave people who are trying to keep our world country safe and healthy. We appreciate them for watching.

Why did you have the four characters show up in their first season costumes?

TV is such a visual medium that I thought that bringing them back where they started would be instantly emotional and reflective for an audience that stuck with us for a couple of years. What’s cool about musicals is that you get to sing about big emotional things that are embarrassing to say out loud, whereas, in a song, you can sing them. No matter how much you grow, no matter who you get over, break up with, or fall in love with anew, I think there’s something about where you started that is really powerful. I thought putting them back in those costumes would be powerful.

season two episode twelve EJ leaning against a locker with gina outline in the background

Disney/Fred Hayes

Despite the stresses and hardships the Wildcats go through to put on a show worthwhile for the Menkies, they decide to drop out of the competition. Did the competition bring the group closer together?

I think it brought them closer together because they had to kind of fight it out. They lost sight of why they do the show in the first place, which, at its simplest, is because they like being with like-minded people in a world that can feel alienating. I think the way it brought them closer together was in realizing that their values as a group are actually aligned. At the end of the day, as a team, they come to realize that it’s not about accolades or awards or followers or competitions. It’s about what we’ve got in this room right now.

There are also a lot of new budding romances and some failed attempts at past ones. What was it like trying to develop or shape these relationships in the show and throughout the season?

It’s fun because the actors are so skilled that they can play anything that you throw at them. We started in the writers’ room with one simple mandate: We wanted Seb [Joe Serafini] and Carlos [Frankie Rodriguez] to have the most old-fashioned, traditional, healthy relationship other people look to as goals. Aside from that, everything was up for grabs. One of the challenges of writing a TV show is that when you don’t know how many seasons you’ve got, you’re taking the best guess at where the end game is. It’s fun to make a mess a bit because that’s the reality of being young: figuring out who you love and how you love. Ultimately, I’m not sure if we’ve landed exactly in the configuration these couples will land in.

High School Musical The Musical The Series Season 2 Finale

Disney/Fred Hayes

Is there a specific reason why you wanted Seb and Carlos’ relationship to be portrayed as healthy as possible to viewers?

I certainly didn’t grow up with that as an example. In fact, when I was watching high school shows, I think queer relationships and queer characters in general were either jokes or weren’t portrayed at all. In order to break some stigmas and portray what the future might look like, you have to fight it off and own it. And that felt important to me because history is full of every single type of traditional straight relationship you could possibly imagine in our mass media. There are just far fewer examples of healthy queer relationships between young people.

I’m also especially curious as to like what Miss Jenn (Kate Reinders) will do about Mike and Benjamin. Talk about that love triangle or what you hope for Miss Jenn?

I’m ready for Miss Jenn to settle down a little bit, pick a lane, and just relax. She’s got this like hummingbird metabolism, where she can never stop. She came back to East High at the beginning of this year out to prove something, which is that she may be a failed actor, but she can succeed at something. Now that she’s got two solid productions under her belt, and at least two suitors pursuing her, she needs to calm down. 

season two episode twelve mr.mazzara and miss jen talk at slices

Disney/Fred Hayes

This season we see Nini forge new paths for herself, especially at the end with the call with Jamie. What is this new chapter for Nini? What kind of future do you hope for her?

The Nini journey this season was about the fact that whether you’re young or not young, a lot of us say these things like, “Tomorrow I’m going to be better about X,” and then we go right back to our old patterns. Nini in Season 1 was like, “I’m done with boys,” and then one episode later, she’d be crying over boys. We’re not going to tell the edgiest teen stories, but I do think we have the chance to tell healthier stories. Without turning it into an after-school special, I wanted to show the audience that Nini was genuinely putting herself first.

Ricky has gone through a lot as well. He struggles a lot with change in his own personal life and with those he’s close to. Why is that? What advice would you want to give him?

He’s grown up in the same town with the same best friend, Big Red, and the same girlfriend, Nini, since he was really young. He’s like many kids of divorced parents, struggling with that picture-perfect family unit falling apart. Rather than giving in to change, he resists, fights it, and doesn’t understand why people change. My advice to Ricky would be to see a therapist and that change is inevitable. The only thing that’s truly ever constant is change, which is painful. It’s painful when you’re young. You’re trying to change everything and figure out your future and try on different identities or you’re trying to cling to what feels safe.

Disney/Fred Hayes

How do you decide that these are the stories and things you want to portray in the series? Where does the inspiration come from?

A lot of it comes from the writers’ lives. We’ve all graduated high school and had our hearts broken, changed our dreams, or stuck firm to our dreams. The other trick is we look at literally the weather. In the second half of the year in Salt Lake City, what are some natural markers? It snows a lot here; it’d be fun to do a storm episode where everything comes to the surface, or winter. The other thing that’s nice about doing a show with an opening night is that there’s a built-in clock. 

Moving forward, is there a story, message, or representation that you would want to include?

There’s a lot. It’s the age of anxiety and young people are, for very good reason, incredibly anxious about climate, politics, and inequality. I would love to carve out stories about how these young people deal with anxiety but against the backdrop of a fun show about musicals. I would love in Season 3, should we get one, to flex our musical muscles and remember that for a lot of people, this is a comfort show and you don’t always need to cry to have a good time.

What do you want fans to take away from Season 2?

The main thing is that we live in a world that likes to rank things because it’s hard to get attention once you rank things and declare your favorite things. I hope what people take away is that the most important thing is that you just find your people that really understand you. I think that’s more important than a ranking or an award and I hope the Wildcats demonstrated that.

High School Musical: The Musical: The Series, Streaming Now, Disney+