Saturday, December 19, 2020

Julie and the Phantoms 1x01 Review: "Wake Up" (Tell Your Friends) [Contributor: Jenn]


“Wake Up”
Original Airdate: September 10, 2020

I am not the target demographic for Julie and the Phantoms, but that didn’t stop me from devouring and falling head-over-heels in love with the series. We’re talking about picking out china patterns and searching-for-a-house-together kind of love. With the kind of charm that director Kenny Ortega is known for, this teen/family show focuses on Julia Molina (Madison Reyes), a young woman who’s grieving the loss of her mom who died a year ago. When three ghost boys named Luke, Alex, and Reggie (Charlie Gillespie, Owen Joyner, Jeremy Shada) who died in 1995 show up in her house, Julie begins to find the courage to play music again.

So let’s dive deep into the show over the course of these reviews and talk about all the things that make it so endearing and important. Oh, and if you’d like to listen to two hours’ worth of a podcast about it, you can also check out our bonus episode of The Community Rewatch Podcast where friends and I covered all things Julie and the Phantoms.

For now, just sit back, relax, and grab a snack... anything other than a street dog, that is.

GRIEF AND HEALING THROUGH MUSIC

The most important thing about the pilot is that we learn Julie’s grieving the loss of her mother. She’s in the music program at her high school and since her mother’s death, Julie has been unable to play. Unfortunately, her grace period is running out and if she can’t actually perform, she’ll be kicked out of the program. When Julie sits down at the piano, she’s unable to play and runs from the classroom.

Later on, Julie’s dad confronts her about her decision to give up on the music program. He knows his daughter well enough to know that music isn’t just what bonded her to her mother — it’s the thing that makes her come alive. And that theme of music being life-giving and healing continues throughout “Wake Up.” When Luke, Reggie, and Alex realize that when they play their instruments, people can hear them, Luke is elated. He tells Julie that it’s the most alive they’ve felt since they died. They’re still able to do the thing they love and were born to do. Luke then makes a pretty poignant mini-speech to Julie about how they could never be able to give up the thing that makes them come alive, no matter what. They’re artists; it’s who they are and music is what they were born to do.

But interestingly enough, Julie lies to the boys when they ask her about the piano in the studio. She tells them that she doesn’t play and that she isn’t a musician. I think so much of Julie in the pilot is incredibly relatable for anyone who’s ever struggled with grief. She keeps her head down and a hat on in the hallways at school, preferring to be as invisible as possible to everyone besides her best friend, Flynn (Jadah Marie). Julie has lost herself. Her grief is very valid and real, of course, but it’s also trapped and immobilized her. Imagine that Devil’s Snare plant from Harry Potter. Julie’s grief is like that; she’s trying to avoid it and fight it but all it does is grip tighter and tighter. The only way to survive a Devil’s Snare, as Hermione Granger will remind you, is to do the exact opposite of what you want to do: stay still. The way we survive grief is to feel its snares tangled around us and feel the weight of that deeply, but to not let it claim us as its next victim. We sit in grief, and we let ourselves feel it. We don’t fight it; we work through it.

But Julie’s pain, like the Devil’s Snare, is squeezing the very life and light out of her. And it’s taking away the one thing in life she was born to do and loves doing: music. That’s what makes the storyline in “Wake Up” extra beautiful. Until the moment Julie sits down at the piano to play her mom’s song, she does not really know how to feel her grief while also expressing it in the art form that brings her the most joy.

Eventually, Julie recognizes the truth in the lyrics of the song her mom created: grief is a part of you. If you’ve ever lost a person you love, you know that the grief never really goes away. But the lyric: “And I use the pain, ‘cause it’s part of me” reminds us of the truth that there is power in our pain and there is purpose beyond it. Julie’s pain and her loss is part of what makes her a fully-realized human being; her grief is part of what makes her who she, Julie Molina, is. There is no one like her. And she uses pain and emotion to connect to herself and others through song. When Julie takes her mother’s advice and takes the first step — the small step on the path toward healing — she is empowered to take the next one. And then the next one. And so on.

“Wake Up” (the song, not the episode) brings Julie from darkness to light quite literally. It’s such a stunningly directed number, and I love that we begin to watch the morning light burst through the studio just like the light that had been dimmed in Julie bursts forth through her song. Madison Reyes is an incredible singer and actress already, and this number made me clutch my heart because of how deeply I felt connected to Julie in the moment.

But that’s not where we end: we end with Luke, Reggie, and Alex watching the performance from behind Julie. They’re as proud and in awe as we are; the girl they thought didn’t sing not only can sing well, but she can channel the kind of emotion and power that moves people (and ghosts). That’s why I love that we get the chance to see Julie’s dad and her little brother, Carlos, react so sweetly and softly to Julie singing again. They’re proud, yes, but there’s something else there too. They’re watching a person they love bloom and heal. It’s a beautiful sight, truly, when you can visibly see someone come into their own as a person.

The episode ends with the boys watching as Julie finishes her song, and when I first watched the pilot, I immediately went on to the next episode. I was enraptured by Madison’s voice and couldn’t wait to see where the story would go.

If you haven’t yet watched Julie and the Phantoms, please do. And then come back next week for my review of “Bright”!

Hitting the right notes:

  • Musical breakdown: “Now or Never” is really great, and I appreciate the commitment the boys had while standing under those 90s-style lights. Also I can’t wait to belt this out loudly at a concert someday. “Wake Up” stunned me in the best way possible, and now the only reason I can’t listen to it more often is because it’s my wake-up alarm. I kid you not.
  • The clever joke of the hotdog place being called “Sam and Ella’s” was not lost on me.
  • If you notice in the background when the boys are eating the hotdogs, you can see a missing poster for Luke that his parents put up. You’ll learn the heartbreak of that during “Unsaid Emily.”
  • “Hey underachiever.” “Hey disappointment.” Their friendship is everything to me.
  • “You know they’re gonna get married and have a bunch of unholy babies.”
  • “I have been crying for 25 years?! HOW IS THAT POSSIBLE?”
  • “You’re a good brother, but that’s not gonna work.” “I tried.”
  • Fun fact: Alex was the first character I connected with! Immediately I knew I was going to love him. Also confession time... I may have thought that the show was going to set Alex up with Julie until we learned in the next episode that Alex is gay. I still want Alex and Julie to have more scenes together as friends though. Maybe in season two, Netflix?
  • The final shot of “Wake Up” with the boys appearing in the background gave me chills. It still does.

What did you all think of “Wake Up”? Sound off in the comments below!

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