Tanner Sherlock
Staff Writer

Acknowledging biases is a fundamental part of being a writer of any sort, and since that’s more or less what I am, I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge mine. So, confession time. There are two things that I love musically more than anything else: boy bands and pop punk. Yes, I recognize that junk food is bad, but it’s hard to resist! There’s a current of camp that flows through both genres that brings a smile to my face whenever I listen to them — an unadulterated joy that jolts through my spine whenever I hear the Backstreet Boys harmonize, or when Mike Dirnt plays the bass riff on “Longview.” So, imagine my surprise when I was browsing through Netflix one afternoon and saw a show about a ghostly 5 Seconds of Summer look-alike band.

Julie and the Phantoms (named after the Brazilian original, Julie e os Fantasmas) follows Julie Molina, a high schooler whose love of music has recently been tempered as a result of her mom passing away. However, when she plays one of her mom’s old CD’s and a trio of 17-year-old ghosts appears in front of her, Julie’s passion for music is revitalized. It’s a silly premise, but that’s kind of the point: Julie and the Phantoms is, at its heart, a silly show. The three main ghosts (Luke, Alex, and Reggie) are all dreamy, fashionable, talented rock musicians who died because they ate bad ‘street dogs.’ After her initial shock, Julie’s reaction to meeting actual, real-life ghosts is to start a pop band with them. The show justifies its silliness, of course, but that doesn’t take away from the camp that underpins the narrative and themes of the series.

In regard to themes, Julie and the Phantoms is a surprisingly mature show. Julie’s mother’s death is a source of pain for her throughout the first season, and she doesn’t just get over it as soon as she starts playing with the Phantoms. She struggles with it; that loss keeps coming back to ‘haunt’ her as the plot goes on, and the show is always sure to remind the audience that, as much as it hurts, it’s not something that can be undone. That’s an important message for a kid’s show to have because the loss of a loved one is something that almost everyone will have to go through. Learning how to deal with that experience in a healthy way is vital to growing up.

Julie and the Phantoms is also a rare case of a kids’ show that features an openly gay romantic subplot, specifically between the characters of Alex and Willie. Said relationship isn’t token, either; it’s treated just as normal as the other romance (re: love triangle) in the show, which once again displays a maturity that isn’t often seen in kids’ shows of this caliber. Normalizing these sorts of characters and relationships is vital to working towards a more accepting culture, and because kids who learn that being gay is okay at a young age are likely to be more accepting as they grow older, it’s important for these sorts of messages to be featured in shows geared towards a younger audience.

The writing in most other cases isn’t great, though. The dialogue is cute and funny, if not a tad uninspired at times. The plot is similar: cute and enjoyable, but nothing that stands out from other similar pre-teen fare. The character arcs that the main cast goes through are pretty standard, too; the only ones that stand out are Julie’s struggles with her mom’s passing, and Luke’s arc with his parents, the latter of which is an especially touching, emotional piece of storytelling that nearly made me tear up once or twice. 

Most of the enjoyment I found in the series was through the phantoms themselves; they are the best part of the show by far. My aforementioned obsession with boy bands likely has something to do with my enjoyment of them, but putting that aside, they are solid characters in their own right that have an impressive chemistry and sense of comradery that is rare to see in television in general, let alone in a series for pre-teens. It’s worth noting, though, that Madison Reyes’ performance as Julie is vital to this dynamic: she grounds the show in emotions and experiences that feel both real and valid without seeming overly dramatic. A show just about the Phantoms would be too light on theme and message, and Reyes brings both of those things to the table with a performance that, while not always perfect, does display a talent for portraying relatable, layperson type characters.

Julie and the Phantoms stand on stage with their arms extended
Even in the final performance Luke found a way to maintain his sleeveless aesthetic. 
Photo Courtesy of Netflix

The music is also a net positive for the series, though it can be a bit uninteresting from time to time. A lot of the songs remind me of pop hits from the late ‘00s and early ‘10s, but songs like Now or Never or The Other Side of Hollywood feel unique and different in a way that had me listening to them on repeat in my spare time. In fact, most of the songs are jammy enough to be added to any regular playlist, while also being lyrically and vocally emotional enough to be listened to for their narrative alone. The show has some legitimately good songs, and Reyes’ voice, along with additional performances by Charlie Gillespie (Luke) and Cheyenne Jackson (Caleb), do a good job of getting across the intended emotional impact that each song is meant to portray.

The costumes and sets are pretty good as well. Each character has a distinct style that silhouettes them nicely, with colors that compliment the refreshing vibrancy and strong lighting of the rest of the show. Luke’s tank-tops, Reggie’s leather jacket, and Alex’s hoodies in particular allow them to stand out both aesthetically and in the frames they’re in. Every scene is nice to look at, whether it’s because of a particularly fun camera angle, an impressively choreographed dance sequence, or simply the beautiful set design. There aren’t a lot of shows that look as nice as this does; it’s easy on the eyes in a good way, with a sense of detail that helps the production feel unique and loved.

Really, that’s the word I’d use to describe Julie and the Phantoms. It’s a show that feels loved; from its creators to its writers to its cast, everything about the series feels like it was made by people who love their craft and love the show that they’re a part of. Yes, it has its problems. The writing isn’t always great, some scenes drag a tiny bit, and while most of the actors are fun to watch, there are a few plot beats and jokes that don’t quite hit right because of boring line delivery. All of that is made up for, though, by enjoyable characters, a beautiful set design, and a plot that, while perhaps a bit unoriginal, allows itself to be fun and tackle themes that aren’t always portrayed well on TV. Julie and the Phantoms is a show about having fun — a show that wants its audience to enjoy themselves while they watch a ghost band poof in and out of pop-rock performances.

Featured Photo: Courtesy of Netflix

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