Today is the debut of season three of High School Musical: The Musical: The Series on Disney+. But is it also a farewell to Olivia Rodrigo’s character Nini? Here’s the tea.
Last week, showrunner Tim Federle seemed to indicate that this season would be Rodrigo’s last. Speaking with ET Online, he shared that with her meteoric rise to popularity following the release of her album Sour, some decisions needed to be made about her future on the show.
“I think she’s ready to explore the world outside the halls of East High,” Federle said of Nini’s arc. “And Olivia herself was having such a monumental explosion in the music industry that it felt like the right thing to, frankly, work with Olivia to say, ‘How do we get you out there into the world with us taking a little bit more of a backseat?’ Which we were all proud to do to support her.”
As a result, this season became about saying goodbye to Nini in the right way.
“It’s about trying to give her character a proper send-off while also leaving room for other characters to really step into the fray and step into the spotlight,” said Federle. “And personally, it’s a joy to see Olivia’s music explode in such a big way. It was so fun to have her back and reminisce on the beginning.”
Speaking with Entertainment Weekly, Federle clarified his statements further.
“The reality was, she had this album that did pretty well. Not sure if you’ve heard of it, it’s called Sour. [Laughs] And the world was clamoring for [her] tour. From a pure logistical standpoint, the idea of Olivia doing the entire season and doing her tour was immediately looking impossible. But she was and is such an important part of the DNA of the show that it also didn’t feel right to not give an explanation for where the character of Nini went,” explained Federle.
This season will see Nini on a personal journey, seeking answers about her own identity.
“The writers started talking a lot about identity and about how when you’re a kid who comes from a particular type of background, in her case having two moms, what other questions might you have about your backstory? That inspired her season,” shared Federle.
He added that it’s a great opportunity to show off Rodrigo’s acting chops.
“Olivia is such a good actor, which I think it can be easy to overlook that because she’s a world-class songwriter, but Olivia’s actually an amazing actor,” he said.
As for what this all means for season four? Federle says he’s not exactly sure.
“We are early enough in the season 4 writers’ room that I’d be lying if I told you I had an exactly right answer for that.” However, he made it clear that she would always be welcome. “I would never say never to Olivia, and I would never use the word ‘last,’ because I hope the show goes on and on and on and we get like a [Grey’s Anatomy] ‘Patrick Dempsey on the beach with Ellen Pompeo’ moment 17 seasons later,” he joked.
But for now, Federle says, Nini is going to be off on her journey.
“I think it’s probably a fairly safe bet to say that, for now, we have so many cast members who we love and who we’re serving, that I think there’s no immediate plans for Nini to be a huge part of the show going forward,” he explained. “But the world has a way of surprising me and I never say never.”
So we suppose it’s fair to say that when it comes to Nini (and Rodrigo), the news is a little bit sweet and a little bit sour.
High School Musical: The Musical: The Series season three is streaming now on Disney+. Watch the trailer below.