Brazilian children’s television series Julie e os Fantasmas receives an Americanized remake in Netflix’s Julie and the Phantoms. The brainchild of legendary choreographer Kenny Ortega, Julie and the Phantoms tells the story of performing arts high schooler Julie (Madison Reyes). She lost her passion for music following the death of her mom. Little does Julie know that her life is about to make a change when she meets Luke (Charlie Gillespie), Alex (Owen Joyner), and Reggie (Jeremy Shada). Through a series of events, the quadrant of musicians ends up forming a band called, you guessed it, Julie and The Phantoms. Here’s the caveat, though, the guys are actually ghosts who died twenty-five years prior.
I’ll have to be honest and say that I almost didn’t watch the show. Despite my fandom for Kenny Ortega’s choreography across film and television, had it not been for the COVID pandemic and theaters being closed, I wouldn’t have given Julie and the Phantoms a second look. As a man in his late thirties, I doubt that I’m in the series’ intended audience. To my surprise, the first episode pulled me in, and I binged the entire series over two days.
Newcomer Madison Reyes is a real find, and I was surprised to learn this was her first role. Reyes never portrays the role of arrogant or overly smart. Instead, Reyes gives us a true to life teenager looking to find her voice. Her relationship with her best friend Flynn (Jadah Marie), her dad Ray (Carlos Ponce), and little brother all come off as natural. As does her relationship with her former friend turned enemy Carrie (Savannah May).
Luke (Charlie Gillespie), Alex (Owen Joyner), and Reggie (Jeremy Shada), who make up the Phantoms are also useful in their roles. The show-runners also avoid an overage of fish out of water jokes. One would expect an abundance of one-liners from the boys who died in 1995 and return to 2020. Outside of a reference to the Star Wars prequels and a hack named Jar Jar Binks, the show just relies on natural chemistry from the trio. Like Julie, the boys also have their own frenemy to deal with in the form of Caleb (Cheyenne Jackson), a fellow ghost who wants to use the boy’s power for his own evil deeds.
Naturally, given Ortega’s musical background, the show is filled with numerous musical performances, all of which are catchy. Throughout the series, my son mentioned he felt like he was watching High School Musical and reminded him of Ortega’s connection to both shows. I also enjoyed seeing Flynn (Jadah Marie) as a DJ #blackgirlmagic.
If I had one small compliment of the show, it would be the lack of backstory for all of the boys in the band, but hopefully, that’s explored in season 2. I also wasn’t too fond of Julie’s aunt or her human love interest, as the actors didn’t bring anything to their performance.
While I don’t foresee Julie and the Phantoms winning any awards, the show is an enjoyable series for the family to watch together, and I anxiously await season two.
Final Grade B
The first season of Julie and the Phantoms is available to stream at www.netflix.com/julieandthephantoms