Updated: Dec 11, 2020
This review includes minor spoilers from the series Julie and the Phantoms.
For my birthday last summer, the only thing I really wanted was a Netflix subscription. I’d been stuck in my house since March due to COVID-19, and was bored out of my mind. When I did finally get Netflix, the first (and only) thing I did was watch cartoons, because I didn’t have the energy to watch something that was live-action.
Julie and the Phantoms, a Netflix original musical comedy based on the Brazilian show Julie e os Fantasmas, has been the first live-action show that’s caught my attention in months. It’s quickly become a comfort for me because of its fun premise, stellar songs, and great acting.
The show takes place in Los Angeles and centers around musically gifted 16-year-old Julie Molina (Madison Reyes), who finds an old CD by a band called Sunset Curve in her late mother’s studio. She ends up releasing three 17-year-old ghost boys from the mid-nineties out into 2020. The boys, Luke (Charlie Gillespie), Reggie (Jeremy Shada), and Alex (Owen Joyner), were in Sunset Curve together when they were alive, and died right before what was supposed to be their biggest performance.
They help Julie get back into music, which she had been avoiding because of how much she associates it with her mother, and come together to form the band Julie and the Phantoms. Though Julie is the only one who can see them most of the time, everyone can see Luke, Reggie, and Alex when they perform with her.
The show was directed by Kenny Ortega, best known for his work with Disney Channel on all three High School Musical movies and all three Descendants movies. Julie and the Phantoms was the first of Ortega’s long list of projects to feature a canonically (meaning explicitly confirmed in the show) gay character (Alex), despite queer-coded characters such as Ryan Evans of HSM, Audrey of Descendants, and many more appearing in his prior works.
While watching Julie and the Phantoms, it’s easy to tell that the actors gave their all to their performances. Although it’s a show for preteens, every scene that needs to be - and even a lot of them that don’t - is teeming with real emotions. Emotionally charged scenes from the series include the one in which Julie sings again for the first time since her mother’s passing, the one where Julie confronts the Phantoms about ditching their performance at her school dance, and the one where Julie gives Luke’s mother a song that he had written for her while he was still alive (the song is called “Unsaid Emily”, and it’s a real tear-jerker). If you decide to give the show a watch, definitely look out for these scenes, as they are proof that the actors performed marvelously (Madison Reyes and Charlie Gillespie especially).
The most important relationships portrayed in the series are all healthy and realistic: Julie’s relationships with her father and brother are incredibly endearing; the way that the boys and Flynn hype her up is engaging, and the support that Luke, Reggie, and Alex give each other throughout the series is refreshing.
While “Unsaid Emily” was by far the saddest off the JATP soundtrack, all of the songs pack a nice punch (except, in my personal opinion, for the ones sung by Carrie and her band Dirty Candy), even if some of them do sound a bit like stereotypical made-for-TV-movie songs. Songs like “The Other Side of Hollywood,” sung by Cheyenne Jackson’s character, Caleb Covington, and “Now or Never,” sung by the boys’ original band, Sunset Curve, make you want to jump up and dance. Songs like “Wake Up” and “Flying Solo” are sweet and moving. All of them easily get stuck in your head.
The only real problem with the show is that Julie and Luke are clearly being set up as love interests for the (still unconfirmed) next season. There’s nothing wrong with the relationship dynamic itself or the way that the actors portray the characters, as the actors are phenomenal and the relationship makes some sense from a narrative standpoint; rather, the problem lies in the age of the actors. Reyes is 16 (almost 17), while Gillespie is 23. Setting two characters up together when one of the actors is a minor while the other is an adult is a horribly wrong move. As much as I wish I could get behind the “ship,” because the way they portray Julie and Luke’s relationship is honestly enjoyable, it’s practically due to the gross feeling that settles in the pit of my stomach when I recall the actors’ ages.
Overall, the show is a fantastic escape from reality with fleshed-out characters that feel real and musical sequences that’ll make you smile, and if you’re looking for something fun and easy to watch, definitely give Julie and the Phantoms a shot.
Julie and the Phantoms can be streamed on Netflix.