“Rise of the Pink Ladies” Calls Back to One of “Grease”‘s More Iconic Songs
Paramount+’s 2023 series “Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies” serves as a prequel to the hit 1978 film. The musical series follows Jane (Marisa Davila), Olivia (Cheyenne Isabel Wells), Cynthia (Ari Notartomaso), and Nancy (Tricia Fukuhara) as they form the girl gang the Pink Ladies in 1954. In “Grease,” which is set in 1958, Sandy (played by the late Olivia Newton-John) is befriended by the Pink Ladies clique when she becomes a student at Rydell High, though Betty Rizzo, Frenchy, Jan, and Marty are all different levels of welcoming toward her.
How does “Rise of the Pink Ladies” connect to the original “Grease”? Well, of course, the new Pink Ladies and T-Birds attend the same high school that the original characters do. In the movie, Rydell High is run by Principal McGee, played by the late Eve Arden, but in “Rise of the Pink Ladies,” she’s Assistant Principal McGee, played pitch-perfectly by comedic icon Jackie Hoffman.
Additionally, the Frosty Palace is one of the main hangout spots for the teens in “Grease,” and it also appears in the series. Nancy’s parents run it and she works there as a waitress. The first episode also features a scene at the drive-in movie theater that plays a pivotal role in “Grease,” and the cast sings the title song “Grease” with a new arrangement. Plus all the episodes take their titles from lyrics in the original “Grease.” But there are two even bigger connections the show makes to the classic movie.
Read ahead for a full breakdown.
Frenchy and Rizzo in “Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies”
Jane Facciano, the show’s main character, gives us one of the biggest links to the original film through her family. Jane’s family recently moved to California from New York and she’s had a hard time fitting in; same with her sister, a preteen in middle school. In the show’s early episodes, Jane’s mother complains that she has a new nickname from her friend Betty – “Frenchy.” Jane’s little sister is the first movie’s Frenchy, and Betty, who gave her that nickname, is Rizzo. Preteen Rizzo (Emma Shannon) appears in a few scenes with Frenchy (Madison Elizabeth Lagares) throughout the series.
The Hand Jive in “Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies”
Episode eight, which premiered on May 18, takes place at the school’s fall dance. The Pink Ladies and the preps come together to plan the dance, and local radio DJ Johnny Vavoom (Danny Burstein) is set to play. But some moms cause a stir about their kids’ morals – rock n’ roll could lead to sex, of course – and they sanitize the dance and kick the Pink Ladies and T-Birds out.
So the two gangs move the action to the Frosty Palace, where Johnny Vavoom shows up and performs. But the Frosted Palace is super crowded and no one has room to dance. Then the Pink Ladies notice their friend Hazel (Shanel Bailey) has a particular way of dancing where she only uses her hands: the Hand Jive. They teach it to everyone else in song. That song is different from the original movie’s “Born to Hand Jive,” but the dance is the same. They even give descriptions for the Hand Jive’s weird actions: “Knee cap, give a slap, record scratch. Turn that butter go home to your mother.”
In the real world, the hand jive was strongly associated with rhythm and blues and Johnny Otis, who wrote and recorded “Willie and the Hand Jive,” was largely credited with popularizing the dance. Otis was white, but per Billboard, he was passionate about bringing Black music to white audiences. That means “Rise of the Pink Ladies” giving the dance to Hazel, who’s Black, is a nod to the dance’s history and the influence of Black artists on American pop culture.
That moment is also emblematic of how “Rise of the Pink Ladies” is able to establish itself as its own thing while still honoring the original film. The “Pink Ladies” cast is more diverse, and the show often serves as a bubbly critique of the culture of sexism and masculine bravado that permeates the original film (which has an overwhelmingly white cast), and even features queer characters and storylines.
Fans will have to wait and see if the show makes even more connections. And for those wondering: so far, the show doesn’t seem to have any major connections to “Grease 2,” the cult classic sequel to the original film, besides the return to Rydell.
New episodes of “Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies” stream on Thursdays on Paramount+.