By Emma Ralls
Kenny Ortega, best known for directing Disney’s “High School Musical” and “Descendants” trilogies, “Hocus Pocus” and much more, has done it again.
His latest project, a nine-episode Netflix original series, “Julie and the Phantoms,” has become a smash hit since its debut on Sept. 10.
Despite being intended for a young audience, adults have also become quite obsessed with the musical comedy-drama and have already begun campaigning for a second season.
But what is it about “Julie and the Phantoms” that has pulled such an interest from viewers?
“Julie and the Phantoms” is a show about Julie Molina, played by Madison Reyes, who is struggling to play music again after the death of her mother a year ago. After playing an old CD of her mother’s, three teenage ghosts from 1995, Luke, played by Charles Gillespie, Reggie, played by Jeremy Shada, and Alex, played by Owen Joyner, suddenly materialize in her garage.
The boys died the night of their band’s groundbreaking performance at the Orpheum. Their deaths involved tainted street hotdogs, and they cannot be seen by living people, excluding Julie, unless they perform together. Julie befriends the ghosts and forms a band with them, Julie and the Phantoms.
Everything the four have worked hard to build is jeopardized when a powerful ghost, Caleb Covington, played by Cheyenne Jackson, sets his sights on the boys becoming his new house band for his Hollywood Ghost Club. Julie, Luke, Reggie and Alex must soon figure out what the boys’ unfinished business is. Otherwise, Luke, Reggie and Alex could blink out of existence entirely.
Cast and characters
Ortega casted phenomenal actors to fill the roles of his characters.
Reyes’ portrayal of Julie is among these examples.
Reyes was just a high school student in Pennsylvania, until she landed the role of Julie through a nation-wide casting call. The call sought a musically-gifted, Latina teenager.
“I tried to give [the audition] my all, which was hard because I had [freshman year] finals,” Reyes said in an interview with The New York Post. “When I did get the callback, Netflix and the others were very caring, like ‘Let’s get you to finish school first, and then we’ll have you come out.’ I finished my finals, and the next day, I was on a plane to Los Angeles.”
The characters are just as intriguing as the cast and are incredibly diverse. One of the standout characters is Alex, the ghost drummer, who has been affectionately dubbed as the “emotional one” of the group.
Besides Joyner’s impeccable delivery of his lines and musical talent, Alex is being applauded as an amazing representation of the LGBTQ+ community in current media.
“The way that Alex deals with his issues — including finding acceptance from his chosen family, instead of his given family — is a cool thing for kids to see,” said Joyner in an interview with TVLine. “You’ve got your friends, too, and you can lean on them.”
A large aspect many people love about “Julie and the Phantoms” is the dynamic relationships between characters. The romantic pairings in the show are truly swoon-worthy. There is a love triangle between Julie, her long-time crush, Nick, played by Sacha Carlson, and Luke. It is clear that the show’s two fan-favorite couples, however, are “Juke,” Julie and Luke, and “Willex,” Willie and Alex.
Julie and Luke not only connect through music, but sparks begin to fly outside of music too. The issue is that Julie is alive, and Luke is a ghost, so neither can touch the other without physically falling right through. Regardless, their feelings are undeniable, and fans hope to see their relationship develop more in a second season.
Willie, played by Booboo Stewart, and Alex literally collide on the street, and there is an instant connection. Throughout the show, the two become quite attached to one another. The conflict lies with Willie’s soul belonging to Caleb, and his involvement with Alex puts him and his friends in jeopardy.
Besides the romantic pairings, the friendships in the show are just as enjoyable to watch. The brotherly bond of Luke, Alex and Reggie is the source of much of the humor throughout the show, and the found family that is Julie and her phantoms is heartwarmingly sweet.
It’s not just the acting that has attracted so many viewers to “Julie and the Phantoms” but the superb music as well. Season one’s album has 15 songs and has met overwhelming success on streaming services.
Each episode in the series is named after one of the songs on the album. The songs range from romantic ballads, like “Perfect Harmony” to head-bopping pop rock, like “Now or Never.” The song “Wake Up,” sung by Reyes, has reached over 4.5 million plays on Spotify.
Be it the music, the relationships, the characters or the plot, there is something for everyone in this family-friendly show.
There hasn’t yet been an official announcement about another season.
Until then, the first season of “Julie and The Phantoms” is streaming on Netflix.