Julie and the Phantoms: a ‘Bright’ spot in a difficult time

The Netflix musical comedy series

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The Netflix musical comedy series “Julie and the Phantoms” covers deep topics of grief and loss while also providing a much needed break to audiences.

*minor spoilers ahead*
There have been a lot of different TV shows that have come out over the last few months. One which you may or may not have seen is the Netflix musical-comedy series, “Julie and the Phantoms.” The series follows Julie (Madison Reyes), a teenage girl reeling from the loss of her mother the year before the start of the narrative. Since music was a big part of her relationship with her mom, she is unable to play until she meets Luke (Charlie Gillespie), Reggie (Jeremy Shada) and Alex (Owen Patrick Joyner), ghosts who were in a band but died 25 years earlier. Julie is the only one who can see the ghosts, except when the four of them play music together.
The show is directed by Kenny Ortega (also the director of the “High School Musical” movies), so at times the show has a Disney channel vibe. This is especially true in the school scenes and the classic “mean girl” character, Carrie (Savannah Lee May), and the over-top best friend character, Flynn (Jadah Marie).
The actress playing Julie, Madison Reyes, is actually 16, which is very refreshing since we are all used to seeing our generation constantly represented by 30-year-olds with six-packs pretending to care about prom. That being said, the actors playing the 17-year-old ghosts are a bit older than their characters; Charlie Gillespie (Luke) is 22, Jeremy Shada (Reggie) is 23, and Owen Patrick Joyner (Alex) is 20. Even though the actors are a little older than their characters, it is totally worth it because of their talent.
The first few episodes of the nine-episode series can feel a little slow, but it picks up quickly and by episode seven, it is flat out addicting. Along with being very successful with its light, goofy aspects, the series also navigates its emotional depth incredibly well. Julie and her family are still struggling with their grief, and this is shown very honestly and realistically. As well as the struggles of Luke, Reggie and Alex as they process their own deaths and everything they lost.
The music is a central part of the series and it does not disappoint. All the performances are really fun to watch, and all the songs are excellent and extremely catchy. It has been weeks and I still have JATP songs stuck in my head. All the songs are prerecorded in a studio, which can take away from the realism of the show, but that ship has already sort of sailed since the show is about a ghost band. However, one definite plus in terms of realism is that all the actors in the band actually play their instruments. No fake piano playing here.
Another high point of the show is that the character Alex is openly gay and has a love interest in the show, Willy (Booboo Steward). It is great to see such positive queer representation, especially in a show marketed to a younger audience. Along with the relationship between Alex and Willy, the chemistry between all the characters is undeniably good. The cast spent a lot of time together before shooting and their bonds show in their performances.
Is it a bit campy? Yes. Are the ghost laws confusing? Absolutely. But that does not take away from the joy that this series gives. It embodies some of the best parts of musical shows and is emotionally fulfilling. It is joyful, fun and sweet. And right now, at least for me, I can’t think of much more to ask for.

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