High School Musical: The Musical: The Series brought its second season to a close on July 30. After a successful show, the Wildcats decided to pull out of the Menkies. Gina and EJ finally got on the same page about their feelings, and Nini made a call that could change her life forever.
HollywoodLife got the chance to speak EXCLUSIVELY with showrunner Tim Federle about all that went down in the season 2 finale. He revealed why we didn’t get to see Gina and EJ’s kiss, how “Second Chance” came about, and what some of his plans for season 3 are. He also weighed in about Rina and Nini’s future after Olivia Rodrigo’s life-changing year. Read our Q&A below.
Fans have been waiting to see a development between Gina and EJ. She tells him that she wants him to be her first kiss. We see them running toward each other, but we don’t see the kiss! Was there a discussion about seeing Gina and EJ kiss?
Tim Federle: There was but I feel like first kisses are a really big deal for people, whether they’re good or not so good. There’s some part of me that felt like, let people fill in the blanks themselves and maybe reflect upon their own first kiss. Also, the tension of keeping something offscreen I think can be fun.
Before this happened, there was that great scene between Gina and Nini after EJ calls off their date. I thought that scene was such an incredible moment for both Sofia [Wylie] and Olivia [Rodrigo].
Tim Federle: Sofia is such a gifted actor, and she was crying so hard in that scene. I actually walked into the room where they were shooting it and I kneeled down and said, “Do you need to take 5 minutes?” She looked at me with tears in her eyes and she smiled and goes, “No, this is my favorite thing.” She just taps into something so real, but she’s able to not be herself. It’s crazy to watch when you’re at the monitors because she just brings it every time. I’m really proud of that scene and how Joanna Kerns directed that scene. It just was really cool.
I think “Second Chance” may just be my favorite song of the season. Nini, Gina, EJ, and Ricky’s voices harmonize together so seamlessly in that song. How did you get to those 4 being in this last song together?
Tim Federle: We’ve never done a quartet and, in fact, pop music does not have a huge history of quartets unless it’s like a boy band or En Vogue or somebody doing tight harmonies. We really wanted to do 4 separate points of view that overlapped. We went out to a bunch of songwriters. Sometimes you go right to Olivia or Josh [Bassett] and you’re like, “This is a song for Nini. Can you try [to write]?” And they always write these amazing songs. This one had enough scope that we really wanted to go out and just find the best songwriting team. It was Mitch [Allan], Chantry [Johnson], and Michelle [Zarlenga]. It was really emotional. You never know when you make a season of TV if you’re going to get another season, so I felt like if this is the last episode of the whole series, which I hope it’s not, I thought it would be really emotional and full circle for the audience to see those 4 actors, back in their pilot costumes, reviewing the past, and also looking forward. It’s actually my favorite song of the season, too.
Obviously, we don’t know yet about season 3. Do you know where you would want to pick up in a third season?
Tim Federle: I always like picking up right where you left off because I think that’s the nature of streaming TV today, which is very sensible. But that being said, a show like Fargo will do these crazy things. I have a couple of ideas for season 3, but ultimately it’s got to start at that greenlight so I’m hoping to get the chance.
I think things are left more open-ended for Nini than anyone else. She makes that call to Jamie, which Gina says could change her life. What would be your plans for her? Olivia has become one of the biggest pop stars in the world. Were things left open-ended intentionally for Nini because of that?
Yeah, I think they were. I think things are open-ended actually for a number of characters just because you want the maximum flexibility going forward. Look, I have so much respect for Olivia as a songwriter and as a human and what her own dreams are. I love High School Musical with Olivia. I think Olivia is a massive part of our success, but I think season 3 is sort of a TBD in terms of where Nini’s journey would go.
Jordan Fisher makes his debut as Jamie in season 2. I know he has loved the show since the very beginning. Would you want to bring him back? There could be more for him with Nini making that call.
Tim Federle: I love Jordan. I was a fan of Jordan as a performer, and then by the end of his one day on set I was like, “God, this is the greatest human in the world.” There would always be an open door for Jordan Fisher. I think the complicated thing about Jordan is everybody wants Jordan, so he’s got a lot of balls in the air. He has so much going on. There are some really cool stories we could tell. Certainly with Jordan and all of our characters but also with Gina. I think that Sofia is such a compelling performer. The whole cast is exciting to write for, but Sofia really just has this inner light that’s so powerful that just makes you want to write for her more and more and more.
So what you’re saying is if we get to season 3, we’ll see a full-fledged Gina and EJ relationship?
Tim Federle: I think you’ll see full-fledged Gina everything. She’s still in high school, and there’s a lot that Gina needs to discover about herself and other people. I think certainly the end of season 2 sets up the fact that I think there’s a lot she needs to figure out about EJ.
By the end of the finale, Ricky has called Lily to possibly give her a second chance. Does Lily still have ulterior motives with Ricky? He still doesn’t know she stole the harness.
Tim Federle: He doesn’t. Ricky’s such a boy sometimes. I think sometimes when you see somebody on a TV screen, you shout at them, “Why are you doing all these stupid things?” And then when you step back and think about a real-life 17 or 18-year-old kid, we all did a lot of things that we sort of look back and go, “What were we thinking?” So Lily is definitely tricky, and I never think that what she says is exactly what she means, but she is so fun to write for. The actor Olivia Keegan just brings so much depth and fun villainry that I definitely think there’s more story there than we’ve gotten to tell.
I gasped when Miss Jenn snapped and told Ricky to go “jump off something” in the heat of the moment. Talk to me about getting to that point with Miss Jenn.
Tim Federle: We wanted to do a season where Miss Jenn flew too close to the sun and was ultimately brought back down to earth by the kids. I think that when you have big ambitions for young people… I guess I kind of relate to this. I would never tell somebody to jump off something. We all knew that was insane. But when you have really big ambitions for young people and you see their potential before they do, you want so badly for them to succeed. I think for Miss Jenn, this was the season where she went too far, both because she sees how gifted these Wildcats are but also because she had some water that wasn’t quite under the bridge with this ex-boyfriend. She very much turned this competition into something way too personal. Ultimately, the journey of realizing we can step out of this competition because we’ve got each other, for as cheesy as that is, I think it’s really true. I think award shows are not particularly healthy, even though I understand why we need them to sort of drive coverage and attention. I think Miss Jenn, as always, learns something important from the kids over whom she’s purportedly the leader.
Ben really makes a play for Miss Jenn. In the finale, we also see Ricky’s dad with Miss Jenn at the show was well. If there’s a season 3, would this be a love triangle to look out for?
Tim Federle: I think possibly. I feel like this season she had a love quadrangle. I think Miss Jenn’s ready to choose a lane. I think the audience is probably ready for that as well. I think she’s got really good options and really good guys who are really into her, so hopefully, she makes the right call.
I feel like she’s been waiting for Ben to say something, but that’s just me.
Tim Federle: I think she has. I also think she’s a performer at heart, and I think performers have a sort of flirtatious side inherently, so hopefully, she hasn’t led him on. I think there’s definitely something there between them.
This season’s musical was Beauty and the Beast. If there’s a season 3, would you want to have another set musical or touch on different ones. If you picked up where you left off, it’s still just after the spring production.
Tim Federle: I know. Choosing the musical for the show is hard because there are so many possibilities. You can go way, way off, you can go High School Musical 3, you can create a new musical. I think at the end of the day, the music is a really cool storytelling component of the show, but I really think it’s about the character dynamics. It’s like Gina and Ricky, Nini and Ricky, and it’s Big Red and Ashlyn that I think the audience really tunes in for. That’s a big decision we weigh in heavily when choosing the next show.
This season featured a lot of Gina character development. Is there another character you’d really like to peel back the layers on moving forward?
Tim Federle: It’s one of the reasons I was so glad to really dive into Kourtney’s story and Carlos’ stuff. I was always kind of a character actor, sidekick type myself, and a dancer in the chorus. I never really felt like I had lines, and so I know that everyone is sort of the star of their own story. I think I’ve said that to you before but I believe it. Given enough time, the answer would be everybody because I think they’re all really interesting as actors and characters. Sofia has such a sparkle, and she has such depth. There’s something really fun about Gina because she’ll stop at nothing to get what she wants, and yet she’s got this really tender side. If Sofia wanted to star in everything I’d ever do until the end of time, I’d be really happy.
Gina and Ricky had sprinkles of looks and glances in season 2, and they did have that one flashback confession. What are your thoughts on the Rina fandom?
Tim Federle: Sofia has chemistry with like a lamp. She’s just that kind of actor. That’s an incredible fandom. Man, they are passionate, and I really respect the passion that they have for that couple. I guess what I would say about Rina is, I think the reason people go to their high school reunions, even 50 years later, is because you never really graduate from high school. I do think there’s a lot between those two characters that is very much still on the table, even if they’re not quite ready to see what that actually means.