Tonight, Rise, the newest drama from series creator Jason Katims (Friday Night Lights, Parenthood) and “Hamilton” producer Jeffrey Seller, premieres on NBC. Lou Mazzuchelli (Josh Radnor, How I Met Your Mother) has been teaching high school English teacher in a small working-class Pennsylvania town for 17 years. He grows more and more disillusioned and disheartened each year, and is doubting his ability to inspire and motivate his students. So he decides to take over the school’s lackluster theater department—much to the chagrin of Tracey Wolfe (Rosie Perez, Fearless), who had been running the department for the past 11 years. Mr. Mazzuchelli wants to really shake things up from the usual boring, safe plays the department has always done, and put on something edgier, like Spring Awakening. He also wants to change up the usual cast, putting students in roles that may not be comfortable with, and bringing in students who may not even realize their hidden potential, such as the shy Lilette Suarez (Auli’i Cravalho, Moana), and football star Robbie Thorne (Damon J. Gillespie). Though Mr. Mazzuchelli has a tough battle in front on him as he faces push back from the football coach (Joe Tippett), the principal, and concerned parents.
The series feels extremely similar to Friday Night Lights, but set in the musical theater stage instead of on the football field (though that is also a big part of this town). The show also has a very similar look an feel to FNL, with its dark, grainy, gritty look and use of a shaky cam to make the viewer feel a part of what’s going on on screen. The series also delves into the dramatic personal and home lives/issues of the characters. Mr. Mazzuchelli has a supporting wife (Marley Shelton, Mad Men) who teaches piano, and three children at home, the oldest of whom is still a teenager, but also a alcoholic (Casey W. Johnson, GLOW). The students also have their own family issues. One has a mother with a reputation for sleeping around, another has a mother in the hospital, another might be gay but has very conservative religious parents, another is transgender, another is homeless, and so on. It looks like this series is going to be a very emotional, and inspirational show, filled with a lot of great musical performances, as we see how Mr. Mazzuchelli finds a way to change the lives of these young men and women, and reinvigorate his own thirst for teaching, through this musical theater program.
While I really enjoyed tonight’s premiere, if I had one complaint, it would be the excessive use of the shaky-cam. This was the main thing that led me to eventually stop watching FNL. I enjoy this story and characters, the performances are great, and I definitely want to see more, but I want to feel like I’ve been taken on an emotional roller-coaster and not an actual roller-coaster.
In tonight’s premiere, “Pilot”, Lou petitions to take over as director of the school’s theater program in an attempt to revitalize his passion for teaching; he decides to make the school musical more provocative.
Tonight I’ll also be watching/recording The Middle, Fresh Off the Boat, blackish, For the People, This Is Us, LA to Vegas, The Mick, The Flash, Black Lightning, and The Detour.
For additional suggestions on what to check out tonight, including Bull, check out the If We Controlled Your Remote… 3/13/18 post at TVisMyPacifier.com.