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In the wild era of peak TV, High School Musical: The Musical: The Series has been one of the consistent bright spots since its premiere in 2019. After 4 seasons of epic musical moments, laugh-out-loud scenes, and jaw-dropping drama at East High, the Wildcats of the Disney+ series are taking a final bow with the final season’s premiere on August 9. HSMTMTS boss Tim Federle told HollywoodLife that the final season is a total “celebration.”

High School Musical
The cast of ‘HSMTMTS’ season 4. (Disney)

He opened up in our EXCLUSIVE interview about ending the show after season 4 and how he told the cast. He teased the aftermath of the shocking Disney+ documentary, and what’s to come for Ricky and Gina after their game-changing kiss. Plus, he addressed the returns of High School Musical alums and hinted at possibly more original stars showing up. Read our Q&A below:

Obviously, it’s a little bittersweet because it’s the final season. I could watch these characters for the next 10 years. They could stay in high school forever. How long have you envisioned season 4 being the final season? 
Tim Federle: Heading into season 4, I had a hunch. And then midway through production, this may sound counterintuitive, but the vibes were so good on set that I remember calling Disney and saying, ‘I’m going to turn in the final script, and when you read it, it’s going to feel like the end. That’s on purpose because after 4 years it’s time to graduate.’ But also, I wanted to go out on top in a real mode of celebration and with the opportunity to complete the story sort of on our terms with real endgames. So I’ve known for a while, and I told the principle cast. I took them out to dinner the night before the final table read, and I was like, ‘Every last table read of the season, we all cry a little bit because it’s the end. I just want to tell you guys it actually is, and we should hold each other up tomorrow and go out on top.’ They just really delivered and I hope the audience really feels that when they watch the show.

So the cast didn’t know it was the final season until that last table read.
Tim Federle: They suspected because they could see where the stories were going. But yeah, it was sort of official at the end of the season, and that allowed for some real closure that we got to kind of say goodbye and thank you to Salt Lake City and to the franchise at the end, rather than kind of going off into the world and crossing our fingers. So yeah, like you said, it’s bittersweet, but mostly really sweet. I think 4 seasons is a miracle.

Over the course of 4 seasons, had you always had a specific ending in mind? Or did it not come to you until you were writing this final season?
Tim Federle: Plot-wise, not a specific ending. But I think emotion and message-wise, I wanted to say whether your cast is the lead, whether you actually go to Broadway, whether you just take theater class to learn how to talk in front of a group of people, and then you become a surgeon or a car salesman, whatever it is… Hold your people up and find your people. That was really the message, which is find your mentors. Find your Miss Jenns. I think that really feels like, without giving anything away, I think that’s really a theme at the end of the series. But yeah, in terms of some endgame couples, this was the intention for a while and people are going to have to tune in to see what that means.

Sofia Wylie
Sofia Wylie and Joshua Bassett as Gina and Ricky. (Disney)

The end of last season featured the release of the bombshell documentary and not everybody got the best edit. What does the fallout of that look like for the East High kids when we pick up?
Tim Federle: I think, as always, it’s more emotional than literal. So yeah, of course, Kourtney sees it as a real opportunity to become a star. I think Gina and Ricky, who are really making a go at being an official couple, there’s some question as to how’s the world gonna handle this after that wild edit. But I also think, as important as that documentary was and as explosive as it is for them, once they return to high school, they’re back to some of the high school worries about college and relationships and grades. I wanted to make sure, for as meta as our show is, I still want it to be relatable to kids out there who aren’t actually in documentaries and aren’t actually famous. Because I think we all want the same things, which is acceptance and love and opportunity.

Speaking of Gina and Ricky, the ending of last season was everything that I ever wanted and more. The whole season was a will-they-won’t-they, and that’s pretty much been their vibe for the past 3 seasons. But then they had that kiss, and you mentioned a little bit about how they’re sort of adapting to high school with the relationship. Are they going to be happy for a bit, or are they going to be hit with challenges right away?
Tim Federle: They’re hit with challenges for sure. Many of them external. This is what I think about Ricky and Gina: they’re the right couple, and the question of the season is, but is this the right timing? Because on stage, as in life, timing is everything. That’s the fundamental question, but gosh, they’re really good for each other, and I just hope they can figure that out.

Like I’ve said before, Sofia [Wylie] and Josh [Bassett] have some of the best chemistry that I’ve ever seen.
Tim Federle: It’s unteachable. It’s unusual what they’ve got, and they’re such good friends. They so hold each other up off camera that I think they just, again, [it’s] the miracle of 4 seasons, they’ve seen each other through ups and downs. I think they really trust each other on camera, so it’s a beautiful thing to watch. There’s some super swoony, romantic date night-y things coming up this season that I just can’t wait for the audience to see.

Musical moments, I’m sure.
Tim Federle: I can promise you a duet.

One of the best aspects of last season was Ashlyn really discovering her sexuality. I think that is such a relatable thing for teens and kids these days. What does that journey look like for her in this final season?
Tim Federle: Her identity is such an evolving thing, as so many of ours are these days young or not, that we absolutely explore it. I think one of the interesting things we explore is that I’ve heard when people go on cruise ships, they make best friends, and then they get home and they’re like, ‘I don’t actually even like that person. We were just on a cruise ship.’ So what Ashlyn needs to figure out is how much of that freedom and identity she discovered at summer camp she’s able to integrate back at school, particularly with her ongoing relationship with the incredible Big Red. Her identity is a big part of it, and I think the story is told beautifully. I will say, Julia [Lester], no one brings a story like this to life like Julia, and she’s got some real, heartfelt moments. They’re beautiful.

There was some scene last season. It was like, ‘Oh, that’s what it felt like.’ The way that she emoted that was chef’s kiss. It was gorgeous.
Tim Federle: That was written by Chandler Turk, one of our writers, and Julia just really got it. I remember before season 3 calling her and saying, ‘I want to be really, really professional right now and ask you a straightforward question, which is, if the writers’ room wanted to explore Ashlyn’s queer bisexual identity, are you comfortable with that?’ And Julia burst into tears and said, ‘It’s everything I ever wanted, and I feel so honored.’ At a time when I think queer people and many minorities and underrepresented groups feel threatened, it is really special that we got to tell these stories on Disney+ because, at the end of the day, it’s a big family brand. And by the way, queer people, myself included, we are in your family. We want the same things you want, so Julia nails it. Frankie [A. Rodriguez] nails it. Joe Serafini nails it. They’re a really special group. Larry Saperstein as Big Red has got some really special stuff this season. I think for that audience, which I know is big for us, they’re going to I think feel seen I hope this season.

Corbin Bleu
Corbin Bleu and Monique Coleman return in the final season. (Disney)

My final question is, I know that we’re getting Corbin [Bleu], Monique [Coleman], Lucas [Grabeel], and others back from the original franchise. I know people are going to ask: was an invite extended to all past members of High School Musical to return in season 4? 
Tim Federle: Yeah, an invite was extended. It’s a wonderful group of people, all of them, including Kenny Ortega, by the way, who set the whole franchise up so beautifully. Look, people should tune in August 9 on Disney+ and see who shows up. But what I’ll say is, I really believe the reason the show, thank goodness, ended up going 4 seasons is because of Ricky and Gina and Kourtney and Ashlyn and Carlos and Big Red, and it’s because this new generation of kids is so darn talented that we miraculously won over a new group of people who I think showed up originally to check it out and see what we were doing with the franchise, but I think stuck around for this incredible cast. And that’s what I’ll say about that.

I know you’re dropping all at once versus weekly. Is there a point to that? 
Possibly. I mean, I think the big point to that is it’d be really cool to get a really nice, big audience for this last season and send this franchise back into the vault for a minute the way it should, which is that it was the franchise that made musicals cool again. As someone who was not cool in high school and still isn’t, I’m so grateful that High School Musical came around and said to people, ‘It’s not so weird to sing and dance and, in fact, it’s beautiful. And so no matter what, I hope our audience tunes in and really feels that celebration.

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