Tuesday, March 13, 2018

NBC's 'Rise' is a Bait and Switch

Josh Radnor as Lou Mazzuchelli (Photo by Peter Kramer/NBC)

 TV SERIES REVIEW 

Rise is a new musical drama from Jason Katims (the executive producer and showrunner of Friday Night Lights and Parenthood) and Jeffrey Seller (producer of the Broadway musical Hamilton) which is pretty impressive. We could use another wholesome TV series, but Rise isn't it.

Rise is said to be based on the book Drama High by Michael Sokolove which is about Lou Volpe, an English teacher from Harry S. Truman High School in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. In this show, the teacher’s name is Lou Mazzuchelli (Josh Radnor) and when he becomes burned out teaching English, he requests to become the school’s new drama teacher. Though he has near zero experience with theatre, the principle of the school gives in to his request rather easily. Meanwhile, the interim drama teacher, Tracy (Rosie Perez), who has been rehearsing Grease with the kids for weeks, finds out at a rehearsal that her production has been shelved. Lou asks Tracy to stay on as assistant director though, and after she balks at the idea, she comes around rather quickly.

Lou thinks that what the school really needs is a presentation of the controversial musical, Spring Awakening which is a rock musical based on the German play of the same name from 1891 about sexually frustrated and naive teens in late 19th century Germany. Among other things, the musical features a character who commits suicide, another who dies from an abortion and another who discovers that he’s gay not to mention that the play features numerous obscenities.


Tracy isn’t on board with the idea initially, but she comes around to see the “importance” of such a production. The school principle’s objections to the show has to do more with expense of such a show rather than content. Of course, none of the students see any problem with presenting the material and the parents that do are shown as narrow-minded bigots.

One student, Simon (Ted Sutherland) takes issue that he is not cast in the lead male role since he was the only boy to audition for the new show and is upset that he has to play the role of a gay boy. Since he is Catholic and is not gay, he says that his involvement with the show will upset his parents (which it does). Lou apparently doesn’t care that the role is contradictory to Simon’s faith and insists that he is perfect for the part. Other students involved in the musical include a teen whose mother is having an affair with the school’s basketball coach, another who is secretly living in the school’s auditorium and transgender student.

While Rise wants to be the next Friday Night Lights, the show’s progressive political correctness angles will ruin it. Though intriguing stories are there waiting to be told, like the basketball star with a dying mother or the bullied teen who desperately wants to go to college and get out of town, Rise appears to focus more on controversial topics that mirror the ones presented in Spring Awakening. In the first episode, Simon’s parents show their concern that the musical is inappropriate for high school students and are completely against their son playing a gay role. I suspect that the Simon’s role in the production is actually a foreshadowing of his character as well.

Rise could be a celebration of the arts, but instead, it’s a bait and switch bent on sharing a progressive agenda. As for the actual content of the show, it has too many storylines to keep track of and feels disingenuous. Most of the adults seem to be out of touch and melodramatic. Plus, it’s never really explained why this job is so important to him other than he “loves drama.” I love drama too, but I should hope that the school would have some parameters on what is and isn’t appropriate for a high school audience, but that ship has probably sailed.

Rise premieres tonight at on NBC at 10:00 p.m. and then moves to its regular time slot of 9:00 p.m. next week.

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