Two familiar names (and one very familiar voice) pop up in the premiere of Paramount+’s now-streaming Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies, adding a cheeky full-circle element to the musical prequel series.
Set in 1954, Rise of the Pink Ladies chronicles the formation of Rydell High’s first-ever girl gang, spearheaded by Jane Facciano (played by Marisa Davila). And here’s where the surprise Grease connection comes in: We learn midway through Episode 1 that Jane’s younger sister Fran has been given a “vulgar” nickname by her troublemaking BFF Betty. That name is — drumroll please — Frenchy!
That’s right, Jane’s middle school-aged sister is Frenchy, the future Pink Lady played by the legendary Didi Conn in the 1978 film version of the musical. And let’s be clear, actress Madison Elizabeth Lagares is giving us full Conn in this performance. Sometimes it just sounds like she’s mouthing along to dialogue recorded by Conn specifically for this show. It’s actually kind of wild.
And it shouldn’t take a detective to figure out that Frenchy’s pal Betty (played by Josette Halpert) is in fact Betty Rizzo, portrayed in the movie by Stockard Channing — aka the actress who was done incredibly dirty by the film’s animated opening sequence. I hope whoever was responsible for drawing her cartoon portrait still wakes up in the wee hours of the morning in a cold sweat, eternally remorseful about what they did.
Anyway, Rizzo makes her appearance towards the end of the episode for a secret sleepover with Frenchy. Jane has just become a social pariah and is feeling pretty down on herself, but a chance conversation with the two girls — specifically Frenchy explaining that having a friend like Rizzo is the only way she’s going to “survive” junior high — ultimately inspires Jane to round up a squad of her own.
Introducing the next, er first, generation of Pink Ladies: there’s Nancy (Tricia Fukuhara), a fashionista who was dumped by her two previous besties because they “matured” (aka got boyfriends); Olivia (Cheyenne Isabel Wells), who chooses to lean into the bad-girl reputation she developed after becoming involved with a teacher; and Cynthia (Ari Notartomaso), a wannabe T-Bird who’s tired of being disrespected and undervalued by the boys.
Jane has her own reasons for wanting to go Pink, but it mainly boils down to her wanting revenge — nay, justice — against the jerky jocks and childish cheerleaders of Rydell High, especially her ex-boyfriend Buddy, who lied about how far they got in the backseat of his car at the drive-in.
As you can see, Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies is more than just an origin story. It’s even more than a musical. It’s an important reminder that teenagers have always been capable of great acts of evil, decades before cell phones and social media came into the picture.
Are you sewing your name onto a pink jacket as we speak, or are you going to make like future Frenchy and drop out of this show after one episode? Vote in our polls below, then drop a comment with your full review.