Review: Netflix’s hauntingly good new show: ‘Julie and the Phantoms’

Kenny Ortega’s spooky twist on the classic high school musical

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Courtesy of: Netflix PR

Julie and the Phantoms introduce themselves for the first time at a school assembly.

In a world on fire (literally and figuratively), it is natural to seek out any form of comfort available. For me, that means reverting to my childhood and revisiting Kenny Ortega’s classic movies.

In the 80s, Ortega became a household name among movie nerds as the choreographer responsible for the dance scenes in some of the most iconic teen movies of all time: “Dirty Dancing,” “Ferris Bueller,” and “Pretty and Pink.”

Ortega’s added director to his film credits with the 1993 movie “Hocus Pocus.”

In the early 2000s, Ortega directed and choreographed famous DCOMS (Disney Channel Original Movies), the High School Musical trilogy, the Descendants trilogy, and “Cheetah Girls 2.”

Filmmaker extraordinaire Kenney Ortega has returned with a new Netflix Original. Following up his work on the Descendants trilogy with “Julie and the Phantoms.”

After her mom’s death, Julie (Madison Reyes), the once aspiring teen musician, is about to give up on music entirely. That is until she discovers a 25-year-old rock album by the once up-and-coming band Sunset Curve in her mom’s former studio.

The Sunset Curve bandmates Luke (Charlie Gillepse), Alex (Owen Joyer), and Reggie (Jeremy Shada) rise from the grave and walk right into Julie’s life, after being dead for 25 years, to help bring music, and their souls, back to life.

“Julie and the Phantoms” is perfect comfort viewing because it is the definition of a cringe binge: a show so cringy that you can’t help but to watch episode after episode after episode. And secretly enjoy it.

A cringe binge is a way to escape the trouble of the world, and laugh at the simplicities of captivatingly cringy content.

‘Julie and the Phantoms’ is the perfect cringe binge that certainly will boost your spirits.

Here are three reasons why you should watch Netflix’s enchanting show “Julie and the Phantoms.”

The Kenny Ortega Recipe

Ortega’s continued success over the last four decades is the result of his time-tested filmmaking recipe. With each film, Ortega adds a pinch of this and a scoop of that to create a viewing experience that feels at once familiar and comfortably nostalgic.

An Ortega film can be spotted from miles away. Each film, more or less, includes a musically talented male lead with brown hair, a blonde girl bully with a difficult home life which grants her a minor redemption arc, and a brunette Hispanic female lead who is shy and was at one point afraid of singing. These main characters are supported by a best friend (usually a POC) who is essentially just a hype man for the main character and doesn’t seem to have a life outside of being a “best friend”, an LGBTQ+ blonde male, and the guy who is really, really dumb (like can’t comprehend a single thing kind of dumb).

These high school aged characters are paired with the catchiest songs in the entire world and the dramatics are dialed up to eleven (I mean come on “It’s Over” from “Cheetah Girls 2”. Please calm down, it’s not that big of a deal).

This tried and true recipe creates the Kenny Ortega brand that we know and love. It is why a show in 2020, “Julie and the Phantoms” can feel so comforting, it reminds you of when you watched “High School Musical” for the first time.

Ortega knows his audience: teenagers. By creating for the same age groups for almost 40 years, he is able to create a nostalgia factor that is embedded in all of his films.

Ortega’s perfection even shines even in his flaws. His films typically feature subpar, Disney Channel acting. These below average acting performances only add to the charm of his films.

There is something magical about the self awareness that viewers experience when watching a film like “High School Musical.” You know it’s technically not a good movie, but for some reason you can’t look away.

While the acting is ordinary at its best, the music in Ortega’s work is really the key to his continued success. It is extraordinary. Ortega’s movies feature head banging, body shaking, feet tapping, earworm music that will have you singing and dancing for days.

This recipe is baked deep into “Julie and the Phantoms.”

The Music

As a choreographer at heart, it is not surprising that music is the glue that holds Ortega’s “Julie and the Phantoms” together.

With at least two songs an episode, these spooky tunes will haunt your mind for days. Despite being a show for teens and tweens, anyone can connect to the meaningful lyrics of songs like “Wake Up” and “Unsaid Emily.”

“Wake Up,” a song written by Julie’s mom, encourages Julie to “relight that spark” and find her voice that has been lost in the silence. “Unsaid Emily” is a tragic tale of a boy who left before he could say goodbye. Despite the fun and upbeat energy, the show handles heavy and emotional topics through its musical numbers. You may think you are clicking play on a silly teen show, but you’d be surprised by the emotional rollercoaster you are strapping yourself into.

It’s not all sad, though. Songs like “Now or Never,” “All Eyes on Me,” and “Finally Free” will make you want to get up and boogie.

The Casting

But even the chillingly good music wouldn’t be as successful if it wasn’t for the deadly talented cast. The cast dynamic brings so much love and energy to the screen that makes you genuinely care for the characters.

From karaoke to concerts, the stars of “Julie and the Phantoms” have spent quite a bit of time together, bonding as not only castmates, but as friends. The palpable friendship between the band shines through in their performances, making the characters extremely lovable.

The show also features a diverse cast that includes people of color, members of the LGBTQ+ community, addressing real teen issues like mental health. For years, Netflix has created show after show that emphasize a large range of ethnicities, social issues and sexualities.

“Dear White People,” “Sex Education,” “Atypical,” and “Never Have I Ever” are just some of the Netflix Original shows that highlight a diverse cast. “Julie and the Phantoms” is another addition to Netflix’s inclusive content, with two women of color and two openly gay men as the show’s stars.

With only eight episodes ranging from 24 to 38 minutes, Netflix’s cringy “Julie and the Phantoms” is totally bingeable.

“Julie and the Phantoms” is an impeccable cringe binge that will make you pull out your silly bands, slap bracelets, and smellable pencils to reminisce on the simpler times of the early 2000s, while still being able to experience a new and scarily entertaining twist to a high school musical.