The stated themes of last night’s episode of High School Musical: Get In The Picture were “stepping out of your shell” and “releasing your fear.” And the show itself embraced its own blather: At long last, HSM: GITP stopped trying to improve the lives of its contestants and finally got down to the entertaining work of publicly embarrassing them and pitting them against each other. It also started communing more directly with the life-as-a-musical fun of High School Musical itself, thus becoming the kind of summertime diversion/HSM 3 appetizer that I, an unapologetic HSM fan, was hankering for.

Case-in-point: the first official group challenge, wherein the 12 wannabe stars were forced to fan out across a K-Mart and serenade blue light special shoppers with the HSM anthem “Together.” The kids threw themselves into the endeavor, although I think they could have done a better job of turning the store into a Busby Berkley playground. Kudos to James for hopping a bike and to Isaiah for joyously tossing a stack of jeans into the air. But how about a food fight in the cafeteria? Oh, to see nubile teens express their inner light by flinging cherry Icees and processed meat at one another! And there really needed to be a subplot in which an uptight K-Mart employee chased the kids around the store with a shaking fist for all the clean-up-on-aisle-six messes they were making.

More HSM: GITP after the jump

addCredit(“Tierney: Greg Zabilski”)

The second half of the show saw the contestants split into trios andtasked with performing a musical skit set to a pop song. Explained hostNick Lachey: “You guys will be performing on a set that resembles acity park. Each of you are going to have to find a way to make thispark symbolize ‘letting go.'” Wow! A talent show competition that notonly requires vocal and dance chops, but the ability to devisethematically rich scenarios on the fly?! Beat THAT, American Idol!In the end, Tierney (pictured) won the episode’s “best of show” — a no-brainer.Girl’s got game, natural beauty and a killer close-up. (How many highschool hearts has this girl broken with that smile?) But Briana andChristy got booted to the chorus — somewhat unfairly, I thought. Yeah,Briana had a nasty habit of fumbling words and being too self-consciousin previous tasks, but she deserved a better last-gasp chance to proveherself than playing glorified back-up singer to limelight-hog T.J.during “Man In The Mirror.” And Christy really got the shaft: she gavea goofy-ecstatic performance as an unabashed geek with spazzy ElaineBenes dance moves during “There’s Always Someone Cooler Than You” (anyshow that makes use of a Ben Folds tune is aces in my book), but waspenalized for “trying too hard.” Really? If she was guilty of anything,it was trying to overcompensate for her lame partners, charming buttalent-challenged Anthony and talented but charm-challenged Bailey, whocontinued to alienate with her it’s-all-about-me Tracy Flickishness.

Budding showmance update: while Stan and Shayna shared pizza andsmall talk in a private corner of the common room, the othercontestants teased them with that old chestnut, “Stan and Shaynasitting in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G…” But then Shayna confessed she had aboyfriend of 11 months, and Stan played it cool by saying that thoughhe was single, he could pretty much have any girl anytime he wants.Will Shayna betray her at-home sweetie? Will Stan unleash his innerCasanova? And will Vanessa Hudgens ever turn up? Tune in next week…

High School Musical: Get In the Picture
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