Before Danny Zuko and Sandy Olsson were all the buzz Rydell High School, the Pink Ladies and T-Birds were social outcasts. Or so "Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies" imagines.
Set in 1954, four years before the beloved "Grease" storyline unfolded, the new Paramount+ series tells the cliques' origin story and how they became the coolest kids roaming the hallways of Rydell High.
While it features new characters and storylines, Maxwell Whittington-Cooper, who plays Wally, tells TODAY.com that the series definitely used the the first two "Grease" films as a launching pad.
"I think the special thing about 'Grease' is that it tells a 1950s story through the lens of the 1970s," Whittington Cooper says. "And so we kind of use that, again, as a launching pad to kind of tell a '50s story through the lens of 2023."
Whittington Cooper says that similar "Grease" themes of women empowerment, friendship and coming-of-age are all woven into the 10 episodes.
"When you’re tackling something with such a beloved source material, you’re trying to find that right balance between giving the nods, making the jokes about and loving that original story, but also making it something that’s new," adds Jason Schmidt, who portrays popular teen Buddy.
Shanel Bailey, who plays Hazel, agrees, saying that she feels the original movie "cannot be touched."
"It’s a classic and it should stay that way," she says. "And so we wrote a love letter to this thing that we all cherish so much, and then decided, ‘How can we join that legacy?’"
In the words of Marisa Davila, who portrays female lead Jane, the film and new television show "exist in the same universe," but now the audience can see Rydell High through another viewpoint.
"You’re introduced to a whole new cast of characters, of people that were always roaming around, but never got the spotlight or the voice of the story that they deserve and so this is their chance," she says.
Davila's fellow actors hinted at this idea too, revealing that there are several Easter eggs hidden throughout the film as a nod to "Grease" and its sequel "Grease 2."
Ari Notartomaso, who plays Cynthia, explained that they caught a few only after watching the show back.
"(Our show) points to different moments in the original ‘Grease’ that now I can appreciate even more," Notartomaso tells TODAY.com. "It’s pretty cool."
"And it’s fast!" Tricia Fukuhara, who plays Nancy, adds of the Easter eggs. "I’ll hint that my character has one and it’s right away, but it happens for a second. So you literally might miss it."
The cast especially wanted to "do justice" to the material in the wake of the death of Olivia Newton-John, who played Sandy in the original films.
"I think a lot of the iconic performances and the 'Grease' energy and life comes from Olivia Newton-John’s performance," says Madison Thompson, who plays Susan. "And though we were never able to meet her, we hope that we’re doing justice to the material she created and that we’re truly standing on the shoulders of the legacy she created and we’re so grateful for that."
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Notartomaso says that Newton-John was still alive while the cast was filming. Now, they "get to do this show in her memory."
"I really wish that she could have seen our show. I know she was excited to see it," they say. "So it’s good to know that we have her support and her blessing for this show."
Though the actors stretch a wide range of ages, they explained that fans will likely remember what it was like to be in high school, regardless of age.
"You could be 80 and feel like an outcast," Fukuhara says. "And it doesn’t matter if you’re 16 and you don’t have friends or if you’re 65 and you’re feeling that way. I think there’s something very human about the stories that we’re telling."
More than anything, the cast say they hope people can walk away relating to at least one of the characters.
"I think we’re seeing representation in the world at Rydell that we didn’t get to see with the original movie. So many characters are so nuanced and I think they’re getting a lot more depth to their stories, which I think is so important," Thompson said.
The first two episodes of "Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies" are available for streaming on Paramount+, with new episodes coming out every Thursday.