Rise - "Pilot" Review
Based on the book Drama High, the new television show Rise follows a teacher as he takes over the school drama department and changes the lives of his students. It stars Josh Radnor as Lou Mazzuchelli, in his first television role since the end of How I Met Your Mother several years ago, alongside a talented group playing his students, most of whom are largely unknown.
Auli'i Cravalho plays Lilette, a girl from the wrong side of the tracks, alongside Damon J. Gillespie as Robbie. The two are cast as the leads in their high school production of Spring Awakening, and the choice of show is one of the contentious points in the plot. The backlash comes from the community, namely one set of parents, the principal, and Lou's family.
With the very basic story line of the show being that the kids are putting on a drama production, the show has drawn a lot of comparison to Fox's Glee, but it is really unlike that show in so many regards. The show has a darker yet more grounded feel to it and is more honest and moving than the brighter, comedic feel to Glee, and this is coming from someone who has seen all of Glee multiple times. However, Rise does have some shared characteristics with Glee. All of the kids come from different walks of life and join together for something. However, unlike Glee, Rise takes this premise and turns it into something more grounded, deep, and emotional for both the actors and audience.
The show takes place in Stanton, Pennsylvania, a rundown town that many try to leave. Here, everyone is incredibly supportive of the high school football team, something that really seems to unify them. The town pride surrounding football brings us to Robbie (Gillespie) and his story. Robbie is the football team's star quarterback and after Lou invites him to audition for the musical to help drum up some enthusiasm, he ends up being cast in the show and finds it difficult to balance theater and football.
The chemistry between Robbie and Lilette (Cravalho) that we see in the first episode will likely lead way to a love story that will hopefully explore class dynamics in a different setting. The show has already begun to explore family dynamics as Lou fosters Maashous (Rarmian Newton), a student who's been living in the school theater lighting booth. The family dynamics are further explored when it's implied that Lilette's mother (Shirley Rumierk) is involved with the married Coach Strickland (Joe Tippett), something his daughter Gwen (Amy Forsyth) is not happy about.
The exploration of social norms continues with the character Michael (Ellie Desautels) who is beginning his transition to male as well as the character of Simon (Ted Sutherland), who is cast as a gay character in Spring Awakening and has to confront telling that to his parents (played by Stephanie J. Block and Stephen Plunkett).
Not only will the music sung in the show give you chills, the show is incredible at showcasing little bits of character development even within the first episode. Rather than the typical narrative of saying one thing to a student and their work will automatically improve, Lou takes time to nurture the students and bring them into the spotlight. The union shown by the characters around Lou is a beautiful sentiment to the power and influence a singular person can have. Through his sermons that demonstrate the power of theater, and how he takes the musical seriously, opens the door for the theater nerds in the show who want to be taken seriously.
Rise will appeal to theater kids and anyone who has been influenced by the theater. It's easy to relate to in that regards and many will quickly become caught up in what the show covers.
Rise will air on Tuesdays at 9/8c on NBC. The Pilot is available for streaming on NBC.com and the NBC app.