NBC’s new “set in a small town with high school as a primary setting” drama Rise premieres tonight (March 13), and while some of it treads on familiar ground, it all comes together in a way that audiences will want to know what happens next.
On the surface, my initial comparison would be to liken it to what Glee was when it started [and when it was still good]. You had a teacher who wanted to help some kids bring their talents to the forefront, who had to deal with challenges from other faculty. You had a diverse group of misfits, in a way, who bond over love of music. You had the disapproving wife. But, where Glee was more times than not kind of silly and set in a world beyond reality, Rise stays grounded.
The other comparison I would make between Rise and Glee is the pool of talent. When Glee premiered, I had never heard of folks like Lea Michele, Cory Monteith, Chris Colfer or Amber Riley, but you can bet I knew by season’s end. That show also wisely brought on some extremely talented people who were known for other things — in their case, it was Jane Lynch’s Sue Sylvester. Here, it’s the scene-stealing Rosie Perez as Tracey Wolfe, “Mr. Mazzou’s” predecessor at leading the Stanton High drama department, who is fiercely protective of “her kids.” But back to Rise: It’s full of [mostly] young people I had never heard of or seen before, and the show is all the more better for it. I do hope this group has happier endings than some of the Glee gang, but dang, they’re talented. The young cast is also very diverse, and you’d be hard-pressed not to find one that you connect with and identify with.
Josh Radnor’s Mr. Lou Mazzuchelli is, like How I Met Your Mother’s Ted, well-intentioned but kind of a screw-up. He wants to bring out the best in the Stanton kids, yet can’t keep his own situation at home sorted. I should point out that there was some controversy about his character at this year’s press tour; the series is based on the real-life experiences of teacher Lou Volpe and his book Drama High. The real life Lou is gay, and with that came accusations from some that the show was “straight-washing.” I disagree with this assessment. The wife and children are such a part of this show (though I guess, of course, that Lou could have a male partner and still have children); but also, I feel there is no lack of inclusion for LGBTQ+ characters within. Trans character Michael is one of the best aspects of the series, but there is also another character dealing with their sexuality that is a story that pushes the first season along very well creatively. Could Mr. Mazzou come out later in the series? I don’t see why not… in any event, the show should not be pre-judged for something like this, because I think if anything, it’s very progressive and welcoming.
There’s a football aspect which will obviously bring references and comparisons to Friday Night Lights, a critically-acclaimed show also from Jason Katims that everyone talks about when talking about great TV series. It is also one of those great shows that, for one reason or another, I haven’t seen, so to get in on the ground floor of a show like this is wonderful.
NBC seems to be confident that Rise will succeed; they’re premiering it after the This Is Us finale and they made all 10 episodes available to press. Five of those were available in late December and it was so addictive that I binged right through, as every episode left me wondering what would happen next. You’ll feel several emotions with this series, but I’m thinking that the prevailing feeling is hope… hope that, in the end, everything will be okay. Are elements of the show familiar? Certainly. But I am definitely on board.
Rise premieres March 13 at 10PM ET/PT on NBC.