Julie and the Phantoms debuted on Netflix in 2020 as a musical dramedy aimed at a younger audience, but viewer response made it clear that the show was a hit with viewers of all ages. Kenny Ortega of the High School Musical and Descendants franchises helped bring the show to Netflix as an executive producer, and fellow producer Shawn Williamson spoke with CinemaBlend in November about the series.
Brightlight Pictures' Shawn Williamson, who worked as a producer on Netflix's Julie and the Phantoms as well as Descendants 2 (2017) and Descendants 3 (2019) for Disney Channel, explained working with Kenny Ortega to bring Julie to streaming:
We've worked with Kenny Ortega a number of times over the years, and he's an amazing talent. Julie was incredibly fun to to shoot and produce. And a lot of it comes down to, you know, the key creatives with Dan [Cross] and Dave [Hodge], the showrunners, working with Kenny. That was a load of fun and all these young kids, it's nice to watch them because really, Kenny is amazing at finding and developing young talent. He did it with Disney for years. And now he's doing it with Netflix.
Starring Madison Reyes as the titular Julie and featuring a trio of ghostly bandmates that only she could see except when they played exceptionally catchy songs together, Julie and the Phantoms Season 1 is a heartwarming (and occasionally heartbreaking) experience. Luke (Charlie Gillespie), Alex (Owen Joyner), and Reggie (Jeremy Shada) make up the band of ghosts (or musician spirits, as they prefer) after death via hot dog, and Kenny Ortega recruited Descendants veterans Cheyenne Jackson, Booboo Stewart, and Jadah Marie to fill the ranks.
Although Julie and the Phantoms is listed as a "Kids' TV" show on Netflix, I can safely say as somebody more than a couple of years over the target demographic that the show doesn't just appeal to a younger audience, and I'm certainly not the only person no longer qualifying as a kid who fell in love with the show. Producer Shawn Williamson explained the broad appeal of the show, saying:
I think the music is the first thing, and it was something that Disney did so well on things like The Descendants where, you know, they were producing music that was catchy, and really available creatively to a very wide audience. And I think the Netflix music team and Kenny have put together the same thing here. So I think it's the music that does that. And story where you look at it going, you know, people see themselves in these characters and it certainly spoke to the younger audience very, very well. And the music speaks to everybody because it's catchy and beautifully produced.
While Julie and the Phantoms isn't a musical in the same vein as The Descendants or High School Musical films, the songs that come from the actual band are about as catchy as anything on the radio, and even the songs from rival Carrie and villain Caleb are easy to bop along to. And, even though few viewers probably related to the evil soul-stealing ghost magician, there is a lot to relate to with this show, not least because of the levels of representation.
As veteran binge-watchers likely knew going into Julie and the Phantoms, Netflix isn't exactly known as the place to be for shows that incorporate music so deeply. Producer Shawn Williamson noted that while Julie and the Phantoms "was incredibly difficult to produce," it "was very fun." He explained the challenges of making something so revolutionary for Netflix:
And with Julie, because it was a Season 1 of a show, it's always hard. You're finding your feet, you know, you're making mistakes as you go and trying to correct. And it was a new division at Netflix, where they haven't really had that. Disney's well set up to know how they can monetize and pay for that musical genre. For Netflix, it was a newer area.... And every production number that Kenny puts together, you know, he nails that. And so it was awesome. And we were very, very happy to be attached to that. But we were attached because of Kenny. And we have a great relationship with Netflix. And so for us we were fortunate and very very happy to be attached.
All the appeal of Julie and the Phantoms as well as the work that went into building the world for Julie, her ghost friends, and everybody else raises the question: what about a second season? Although there is no confirmation one way or the other about Julie and the Phantoms Season 2, Shawn Williamson weighed in on whether or not there are places for the show to go in a second season if Netflix gives the order for more:
I believe so, yes. Absolutely. So they've certainly set them up well for success on the next season. And Dan and Dave as the showrunners were spectacular. And I know that the second season would be as good or better than the first.
While fans await news of whether Julie and the Phantoms is renewed for Season 2 or goes the way of some other shows that were unexpectedly cancelled within the last year, it's never too soon to hope or even speculate about what will happen next. There are plenty of questions that could use answers after how Season 1 ended, which wasn't without its share of cliffhangers.
For now, you can always watch (or rewatch) the nine episodes of Julie and the Phantoms Season 1 streaming on Netflix. You can also find all the installments in the Descendants franchise streaming on Disney+, including Descendants 2 and Descendants 3 hailing from Shawn Williamson's Brightlight Pictures and featuring some familiar Julie and the Phantoms faces.
The three High School Musical entries are streaming on Disney+ as well for an extra fix of Kenny Ortega's musical and choreography skills on the small screen. For some additional viewing options now and in the not-too-distant future, be sure to check out our 2021 winter and spring premiere schedule and 2021 Netflix premiere guide.