I was not planning on watching Julie and the Phantoms, but am so glad that I did. The series, which is based on a 2011 Brazilian show, is heartfelt, cheesy in the least cringey way possible, and full of fantastic music and performances that will leave you tapping your foot and high from the sheer joy that the show brings to the table.
The premise is a unique one. After eating some really, REALLY bad hot dogs, musicians Luke (Charlie Gillepsie), Reggie (Jeremy Shada), Alex (Owen Patrick Joyner) die right before they’re about to realize their dream of playing at the Orpheum. 25 years later, they’re stuck in the afterlife as ghosts and only Julie Molina (Madison Reyes), who now lives in the house where they used to rehearse, can see them. Neither the band nor Julie understands why the hell she’s able to interact with them or why they can suddenly appear to others whenever they play together, but that doesn’t really matter because it’s pure magic whenever they play and it’s so easy to get sucked into their world of music, passion, and sizzling performance chemistry.
The Netflix series can easily be considered a cross between Casper and the Disney Channel original movie Lemonade Mouth . It would be easy to dismiss Julie and the Phantoms on such comparisons (and I say this as someone who loves Casper), especially if you’re not inclined to watch teens angsting their way through songs. However, the series has a lot of charm, heartfelt beats that feel earned, a talented cast, and it never reaches unrealistic energy levels that are typical of most Disney shows (often to their detriment). It’s whimsically theatrical but grounded by the characters’ emotions. That balance is what keeps Julie and the Phantoms afloat, rising with the tides to reach peak musical greatness before settling into a comfortable lull, only to rise once more when the melody calls yet again.
Madison Reyes is the heart and soul of the show. The actress’ performance is lovely and her first song, “Wake Up,” immediately showcases what a showstopping talent she is. As Julie, Reyes cycles through a plethora of feelings: heartache, grief over losing her mom, unrepentant joy after rekindling her love of music, disappointment, excitement, and love. Considering that this is her first major role, Reyes does a tremendous job conveying the range of Julie’s emotions and it makes her journey all the more potent.
The ghost romance between Julie and Luke should sound odd, but hey, Upload and Casper made it work and so does Julie and the Phantoms. It also helps that Reyes and Gillepsie have a lot of chemistry. The series introduces a love triangle, but it doesn’t drag it out to the point of frustration. The romance is exactly the sweet, enjoyable fluff that we all need every once in a while and it works on almost every level. But, like with everything else in the show, the music is what uplifts the stories and characters at every turn, giving them and their actions meaning and depth. Songs like “Flying Solo,” “Bright,” and “Other Side of Hollywood” are engaging, memorable, and fun, while “Unsaid Emily” and “Wake Up” are the emotional standouts of the bunch. Why yes, the show’s soundtrack is so good that I have added it to my Spotify playlist and it is on repeat. No regrets!
Despite the show’s ability to mix the amazing songs with a genuinely appealing story, there are some pitfalls. For one, the rules of ghosting don’t make all that much sense. The band can’t touch lifers, which is what ghosts call those still alive, but they can sit on or lean against solid objects like chairs and tables. It’s not all that bothersome, but if half the main characters are dead, then the show should have thought more about the afterlife guidebook. The unfinished business plot winds up going nowhere, so it depletes some of the momentum. In addition to all that, Julie and the Phantoms gets a bit too caught up in a couple of very dramatic twists that are meant to heighten the tension.
The first one is when they find out that a former band member did them wrong and the other is when a ghost magician gets greedy for their talents and threatens them with non-existence. The series should’ve gone with the former because who doesn’t love a good betrayal storyline? It’s personal and would have worked a lot better for dramatic effect. Instead, we have a random singing magician man for the sake of a one-dimensional baddie, but I digress. Also worth mentioning that Flynn (Jadah Marie), Julie’s best friend is lovely, loyal, and wonderful, but there isn’t enough of her and she’s mostly around to be Julie’s cheerleader. That is not at all ideal considering that she and Julie could create some singing magic of their own, but instead get only one brief song together.
Ultimately, Julie and the Phantoms is a nice change of pace from other TV shows. The characters’ excitement and passion bleed through the screen and it’s really hard not to root for their dreams to come true. The cast has indelible chemistry together and the songs are energetic and touching, the story thoughtful and genuine. The series is just so enthusiastically charming and is a joy to watch from beginning to end.
Header Image Source: Netflix