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Rise S01

Coming Soon

Starring: ,

From Jason Katims, the writer of Friday Night Lights and Parenthood comes NBC’s new drama Rise.
Loosely adapted from the book Drama High, Rise could be described as the child of Friday Night Lights and Fox’s Glee. Gritty camera work and football scenes reminiscient of Friday Night Lights and politically correct characters singing as they did on Glee. But don’t fret! Unlike Glee which had characters bellowing out a tune at any moment, Rise carefully chooses when to incorporate music.
Joshua Radnor stars as Lou Mazzuchelli, an English teacher who feels inconsequential after 17 years of teaching and appears as exhausted as the students who couldn’t care less about his class. Needing a change, he approaches the principal and requests to take over the theatre department, a department that also needs a change after choosing to perform Grease for the third time in a decade. Despite Mazzuchelli having zero experience in leading a play, it is a cost-savings for the school and the principal no longer has to deal with Tracy Wolfe (Rosie Perez), the pain in the a– existing drama teacher.
Choosing to mix things up, Mazzuchelli opts to perform Spring Awakening, a controversial play about teens and sexuality. A contentious decision in even the most liberal of towns, the choice to stage it in Stanton City, a blue-collar conservative town, is not well received as topics such as rape, consensual sex, and challenging religion are not to be discussed in public.
But Mazzuchelli is not one to be stopped. In his new role, he is suddenly awakened, challenging the kids to “dream big” and spouting motivational lines such as “We are artists. It is our job and duty to reflect the world we live in. Pain. Longing. To pick up each other’s lines. To have each other’s back. We are a troop. A sacred troop.” You almost expect him to stand on a desk and shout “O Captain! My Captain!” In addition to battling parents for his choice of plays, Mazzuchelli also has to battle the football coach after he casts the starting QB (Damon J. Gillespie) in the lead role.
Rise ultimately turns the ever-so-famous bell curve upside down in this 10-episode series, starting strong only to falter in the middle episodes before closing to cheers in the finale.
Rise succeeds in its casting and outstanding musical talent. Similar to his role as Ted in How I Met Your Mother, Radnor can be exhausting at times, yet he manages to retain those guy-next-door qualities that make him so lovable. Rosie Perez in perhaps her most subdued role yet makes you experience the loneliness and despair of someone whose life revolves around her students. And the actors and actresses cast in the play could lead a show on Broadway tomorrow. The breakout role, however, belongs to Auli’i Cravalho. Previously the voice of Disney’s Moana, Cravalho shines as Lilette Suarez, a girl raised her mother who must balance school and work in order to help pay the family bills only to finally get her time in the light as the lead in the school play and object of affection for her co-lead.
Sadly, it’s Katims decision to cram as much drama in ten episodes that other shows struggle to portray in more than twice that number of episodes. Katims deserves credit for making the series as much about the adults as the children, but in this short-run series, Katims addresses transgender equality, the struggle of coming out in a religious household, teen alcoholism, teen homelessness and foster care, teen pregnancy, and sexual assault among many other topical issues. It makes one wonder what Katims could possibly tackle in season two!
Time will tell whether this new drama receives a curtain call. Worst case, rather than choosing another mediocre live play for the small screen, have the cast of Rise perform Spring Awakening.
Oh, and to producer Jeffrey Sellers: if you provide the rights to Rent or Hamilton for season two, count me in!

Rise S01 is streaming now on the following services:
Movie Reelist Contributor: Mark Eaton
Mark is an entertainment junkie, spending much of his leisure time watching movies, TV, or listening to any and all genres of music. Most evenings, after finishing a day of work and hanging with his wife and kids, Mark can be found in an eternal battle with his DVR, trying to clear it before another 5-6 hours of shows are recorded the next day. Still reeling from his unpaid gig for the Detroit News where he was fired for being too cruel with his American Idol recaps, Mark is thrilled to be sharing his wicked sense of humor with Movie Reelists.

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