A cute ‘90s ghost band poofs into 2020 teenager Julie Molina’s life. Julie’s the only person who can see them, people can hear their music, but when they play music with her they’re visible to everyone. Wild antics and deep emotions ensue.
That’s a very quick rundown of the (fairly) new Netflix show “Julie and the Phantoms,” which released its first season, consisting of nine half-hour long episodes, Sept. 10. It may technically be a children’s show, but I haven’t loved a show this much in a long time and I’m 22.
It’s a family friendly show filled with bright, complex characters that make me laugh one minute, swoon the next and then ugly cry right after that. It’s funny without being cheesy. It’s sad without being depressing. It’s hopeful without being too unrealistic (of course, there are going to be some unrealistic parts – it’s about a girl and her ghost band after all).
This series quickly turned into my comfort show, because I could trust it to stay true to the beautiful cast of characters it has created. There’s so much light shining through, and I didn’t realize how desperately I was craving a story like this.
“Julie and the Phantoms” is what the planet needs right now, and that’s only been made clearer with all the positive attention it’s been getting in the last month and a half. I’ve never been this happy watching a series before, and I find it near impossible to choose a favorite character because they’re all just so good.
There are many reasons why I think people should tune into “Julie and the Phantoms,” but I’ll stick with 10 (spoiler free):
1. Diversity/Puerto Rican lead
One of the beautiful things about “Julie and the Phantoms” is that almost everyone who watches this show can see themselves represented in a natural, organic way. There are no big speeches or deep messages about race. It just is. It’s natural and shows how the world looks around us. The casting is incredible and every actor fits their role perfectly. I love them all so much.
The power Julie has in this show cannot be contained (just look at her as the sunshine she radiates in the gif above). She’s a born performer, and her light only exudes further when she sings. She’s our lead and she’s Puerto Rican. The show also delivers a stunning cast who play scene stealing, complex characters. I also want to note how great it is to see actors who look the age they’re playing. There’s so much young talent out there.
2. Gay representation
Did I mention there’s an openly gay drummer? Alex doesn’t have a long, coming out journey or a tragic love story in this –– all of which are common tropes for LGBTQ+ characters in stories.
He knows who he is. His friends know who he is. They support Alex and get excited with him when he gets a crush. The show also briefly mentions how his family reacted poorly to finding he was gay in the ‘90s. It’s a show that’s hopeful but still touches on the terrible things people can face on a daily basis.
“Julie and the Phantoms” is playing a large role in normalizing the community. It’s so fun seeing Alex navigate his feelings for a certain guy (no spoilers!) and be so honest with his emotions. He also has one of the best storylines of the season and some of the best lines.
3. Defies toxic masculinity
Along with having an openly gay main character, the other guys on the show also defy toxic masculinity. The guys hold hands with each other, hug, cry, open up about their feelings and even talk about their real chemistry with each other.
There are so many group hugs and moments where the guys call each other family. They’re not afraid to show their emotions or flirt with each other. That’s still not a very common thing to see on TV in 2020. It took me by (happy) surprise and made me fall in love with the show even more. Even the popular “jock” at school acts on his feelings in a mature, kind way. I may hate that dude’s hats, but he’s a stand-up guy who I respect.
All of the guys are amazing, really. I’m glad a younger generation gets to grow up having these role models on their screens to show them it’s important and normal to express your feelings. It’s also good for older generations watching it to see this normalized. It will help promote change.
4. Promotes healthy relationships
I can’t explain how good it feels to see a show promote such healthy relationships. The parents are actually really encouraging and supportive, unlike many parents who seem annoying and controlling in shows with a younger target audience. I love Julie’s dad. Okay, there I said it.
The show doesn’t ignore family drama, however. It also dives into what happens when parents don’t accept their childrens’ passions and a wedge gets between them. “Julie and the Phantoms” shows the power that comes behind communication and forgiveness, and that’s beautiful and important.
I also love Julie’s relationship with her best friend Flynn. They’re always there for each other. Flynn called Julie out right away for lying to her about something, and they made up through communication. There are also some unrequited crushes that are handled in really mature ways.
“Julie and the Phantoms” is really about the power of friendship. Our relationships with each other fuel us, save us and bring us back from the edge (cheesy I know, but it’s true). Whether it’s familial, friendship or romantic, this show handles its relationships with such grace. I love to see it.
5. Hopeful, bright, funny
The strong, healthy relationships make my heart sing, and so does the tone of the series. The characters bounce their energies off each other in so many bright, hopeful ways. I go from giggling, smiling uncontrollably to holding my heart saying “awww.”
The show proves that people can do anything they set their hearts and minds to. Yes, things can be difficult, but we can get through it together and we’re never alone. We can also have fun with our pals along the way, dance ourselves into mischief (I’m looking at you, Alex) and encourage the heck out of our friends with some zingy one-liners.
“Julie and the Phantoms” was the comfort show I needed this year. It gives me hope and makes me want to hug my friends and family. I genuinely feel better after watching an episode. Julie is truly such a good friend who puts them first and goes out of her way to make them feel comfortable. She also recognizes when she needs a breather by setting healthy boundaries with people. It’s really admirable and reminds me that there’s still good in the world.
6. Deals with grief and breaking mental health stigma
Along with all the happy cuteness, “Julie and the Phantoms” also delves into grief and the difficulties of moving on.
We find out right away that Julie’s mom passed away about a year before the start of the first episode. Julie then briefly, off-handedly mentions how she went to therapy because of it. The ghost boy band also navigates through their losses, such as their lives (they’re dead, folks), parental relationships, childhood homes and dreams. The characters don’t bottle up their emotions. They openly discuss them with each other and through the lyrics in their songs.
It’s normalizing the grieving process, therapy and talking about our feelings with our friends and family. “Julie and the Phantoms” is breaking the stigma that often surrounds mental health by having male and female characters –– younger and older –– dive into their feelings. I can’t even count how many times I cried watching this. It’s impossible not to tear up during “Unsaid Emily” or when Julie talks to her mom. I also love how Luke, the show’s “bad boy,” has such a big heart while still dealing with the losses he experienced when he was alive.
7. SO many theories
A strong plot accompanies the strong character development. It’s mysterious, elusive, nerve-wracking and a little spooky for this time of year (there are ~ghosts~).
There are also so many Easter eggs and theories in this show. I have so many predictions and questions.
Why did the boys come back as ghosts after dying 25 years ago? Why are the boys connected to Julie? Who was Julie’s mom? What is the boys’ unfinished business? What was life like for Alex being gay in the ‘90s? Why is there a missing person’s sign of Luke hanging above his head while he’s eating a hotdog in 1995? When did Caleb die? Is Willie connected to a living person we know? What is Reggie’s backstory?
I desperately need answers.
8. A killer soundtrack
If the relatable characters and mystery-inducing plot isn’t enough to pull you in, then maybe the killer soundtrack will.
There are one to two original songs in every episode, and it’s really difficult to come up with a favorite. Luckily, I don’t have to and will continue to have the soundtrack on repeat on my phone every day.
There are fun, pump-up jams like “Now or Never,” “Flying Solo,” “All Eyes on Me” and “Edge of Great.” Then you have the heart-wrenching solos like “Wake Up” and “Unsaid Emily.” We also can’t forget the beautiful duet of “Perfect Harmony,” which was written by the show’s actors Charlie Gillespie and Madison Reyes.
There’s bound to be a song that gets you amped. However, I recommend waiting to listen to the soundtrack until after watching the show. Each song is really meaningful to the episode it’s in and is bound to spoil you.
9. Quotable dialogue
In between the songs we have hilarious dialogue that I will continue to quote to my heart’s content. It was so hard for me to pick gifs for this list, but this was probably the one I struggled with most to narrow down. How do I pick just one line? I settled on the one I relate with the most. Thank you very much, Flynn, for saying what we’re all thinking. My love for those boys knows no bounds.
Alex and Reggie also have great lines like Alex freaking out over the fact he cried for 25 years (a total mood). While being funny, the dialogue also feels pretty natural. Their conversations sound similar to conversations I have with my friends.
10. Directed by Kenny Ortega
(Quick note: Why aren’t there more gifs of Kenny Ortega??)
I couldn’t talk about “Julie and the Phantoms” and NOT talk about Kenny Ortega being its director (I trust that man with my life). Ortega pours himself into everything he creates and his track record proves that. “Hocus Pocus,” “Newsies,” “High School Musical (1-3),” “Cheetah Girls (1-3)” and “Descendants (1-3)” are some of the most popular movies he’s directed.
There were definitely moments in “Julie in the Phantoms” that gave me real “Hocus Pocus” and “High School Musical” vibes, and I’m oh so thankful. However, I’m well aware that I went into this show already a super fan of its director and maybe my bias comes out every once in a while, but I am grateful Ortega is in charge.
No matter what’s on his resume, it’s safe to assume he will take this show seriously, provide quality content and have a successful run with it. I can see “Julie and the Phantoms” really take off and become a classic for a younger generation (much like “High School Musical” was for mine).
I could go on and on about how much I love this show. There’s so much hope and laughter that fill up the scenes without ignoring the omnipresent realities so many people face. It’s not afraid to dive deep with important conversations, which I feel gets lost in some children’s shows.
It’s also pretty new, so people who start it now can really feel like they’re at the start of a strong fandom that’s growing every day. I see more and more people talking about “Julie and the Phantoms” online, and that’s because it resonates with everyone. That’s powerful. That’s beautiful.
Watch “Julie and the Phantoms” on Netflix, and don’t forget to “tell your friends!”