The Paramount+ musical romantic comedy series ‘Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies’ serves as a prequel to the 1978 film ‘Grease,’ starring John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John. Based on the stage musical of the same name by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey, ‘Grease’ is one of those once-in-a-lifetime films, an electrifying adaptation empowered by remarkable performances by its two main leads. The film was not only a critical and commercial success when it came out, but it also has an enduring charm that continues to enthrall the audience even today.
Even in the era of remakes and sequels, developing ‘Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies’ was always bound to be a daunting task. Series creator Annabel Oakes apparently approached it as a commentary on the 1970s and the 1950s from the perspective of the 2020s, just as the film is a commentary on the 1950s from the perspective of the 1970s. As the first season ends, we are introduced to a new character, Frankie Zuko. If you are wondering who that can be, here is what we think. SPOILERS AHEAD.
Who is Frankie Zuko?
The original film begins in the summer of 1958 when Zuko (Travolta) and Sandy (Newton-John) meet for the first time and ends with the school year. As the first season of ‘Rise of the Pink Ladies’ is set in 1954, the intermediate period between the events depicted in the two projects is about four to five years. When Frankie Zuko first appears on screen, we never see his face, but it is quite evident that he is supposed to invoke Danny in our minds. He wears a black leather jacket, which denotes that he is a member of the T-Birds, just like Danny. He also has a very similar class ring to the one that Danny gives to Sandy in the original film.
In the final scene of the season, Gil and other members of T-Birds approach the Pink Ladies, and Gill announces that he is there to introduce the girls to his “pal” from his childhood in New York. He says that this friend’s name is Frankie, but before he can finish the sentence, a shocked Jane pushes through the crowd to stand before the mysterious young man and shouts, “Zuko, I said I never wanted to see you again, and I meant it.” Clearly, they have a history together that will probably be explored in the prospective season 2.
One thing is for certain: this isn’t Danny. Not only the names don’t match, but the timelines also don’t. Danny is reportedly 18 years old in ‘Grease’ (Travolta was 23 during filming) and a student of Rydell High, so he is about 13 to 14 at the time of ‘Rise of the Pink Ladies,’ about the same age as Betty Rizzo and Fran ‘Frenchy’ Facciano, two of the characters from the film that also appear in the show. And a 13 or 14-year-old Danny Zuko is unlikely to inspire the reaction from Jane that Frankie does.
This means that Frankie is either an older brother or an older cousin of Danny. Perhaps he gave Danny the class ring at some point, or maybe it’s an entirely different ring from the one we see in the film. Danny’s immediate family isn’t mentioned in ‘Grease,’ allowing the show writers to flesh out that aspect of his character. They have already done this with Frenchy and Rizzo, whose older siblings are Jane and Gil, respectively.
When the film begins, Danny is already a resident of the Californian town where the story is set. The series may depict the Zuko family as the town’s new residents. Danny has four to five years to acquaint himself with his neighbors. By the time Sandy comes for a vacation from Australia, he will very much be a local. The name Frankie can be a tip of the hat to Frankie Valli, the singer and the frontman of the Four Seasons, who recorded the title track of the 1978 cinematic musical. From what Jane says in that final scene of the season, it’s apparent that things didn’t end well between her and Frankie. With the latter’s arrival in town, her life is bound to get complicated, especially after Richie returns from military school.
By associating this new character with Danny, the writers likely hope to create a buzz for the potential season 2. Perhaps Frankie hasn’t been cast yet, and that’s why we don’t see his face. Another possibility is that the right actor has already been selected, but the producers don’t want to reveal anything this early, especially before season 2 is officially greenlit.