When he arrived on the set of “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series” to film the show’s second season last year, Joshua Bassett felt determined to send “laughter, joy and relief” to viewers grappling with pandemic fatigue.
It’s safe to say he and his cast mates have delivered. For Season 2, “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series” has upped the ante both visually and dramatically. The Disney+ series — which puts a mockumentary twist on 2006’s “High School Musical,” which starred Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens — follows a group of young thespians at Utah’s fictional East High School.
This time around, the teen troupe is at work on a production of Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast,” though that tale as old as time can’t compare to the behind-the-scenes drama taking place on the show. Offstage romances abound, most notably between skateboarder-turned-leading man Ricky Bowen (played by Bassett) and theater devotee Nini Salazar-Roberts (Olivia Rodrigo).
“In Season 1, Ricky did a lot of running away from his problems, and I think in Season 2, he’s really trying to face his fears,” Bassett, 20, told HuffPost. “Even though he’s trying his best, he falls on his face, but really does have the best intentions. He’s still a teenage boy who’s figuring this whole high school thing out.”
The choice of “Beauty and the Beast,” meanwhile, turned out to be a full-circle moment for the actor, who played Chip in a community production when he was 11. (Spoiler alert: In the first three episodes screened for press, his role this time around will involve a giant fur wig.) “That show has a special place in my heart,” he said. “So I’m super stoked to bring those songs back and do them in our own ‘HSM’ way.”
By all accounts, “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series” has been a star-making vehicle for Bassett, who made his television acting debut in Fox’s short-lived “Lethal Weapon” series in 2017. The Oceanside, California, native has spent the first half of 2021 amid a frenzy of media scrutiny after Rodrigo released her smash single, “Drivers License,” in January.
Many fans interpreted the song as an ode to a real-life, behind-the-scenes romance between her and Bassett, and their subsequent breakup. (Rodrigo’s subsequent singles, “Deja Vu” and the just-released “Good 4 U,” also allude to heartbreak and have kept the TikTok crowd buzzing.)
And earlier this week, Bassett — who has been romantically linked with “Girl Meets World” actor Sabrina Carpenter — went viral after he gushed over “hot” Harry Styles in an interview with Clevver News that he deemed “my coming out video.”
On Tuesday, he posted a note to his social media platforms clarifying his remarks somewhat but notably did not label his sexuality. “It’s OK to still be figuring out who you are,” he said at the time.
Fortunately, Bassett doesn’t seem fazed by the attention. “People are going to have their opinions on who Ricky and Nini should be with,” he said. “It starts to bleed into real life, and people make assumptions about what they want to happen. I can’t take it personally, because it’s not founded in truth. Most people are making theories up. They’re just not informed.”
Fans seeking insight into his life, he said, would be best served by checking out his new music. In March, he released his six-song debut EP, and last week, he showcased his musical versatility with the anthemic, made-for-summer single, “Feel Something.”
“Music has always been fundamental to who I am,” he said. “It’s cool to go from playing Ricky to making honest songs from my perspective and get into the part of my life that’s emotional and difficult. When you’re writing music, you have a chance to really say something. It’s forced me to grow in a lot of ways. I’m really not afraid to throw paint at the wall and try a bunch of new things.”
And, of course, there’s Season 2 of “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series,” which Bassett hopes will resonate with those who’ve experienced a “perspective shifter” of a year amid the COVID-19 crisis.
“I’m thankful to have this group of people and the foundation we have as a family,” he said when asked about the challenges of filming in a pandemic. “We had each other and had to push through and make some sacrifices, but it was worth it because of how special the show is, how special our family is.”
“This season is about what really matters outside of competition and education at the end of the day,” he added. “That’s family, the people you love and who you really are, who you choose to be every single day.”
New episodes of “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series” premiere Fridays on Disney +.