We did it! We made it to the Rise series premiere after months of buildup thanks to a clever marketing campaign from the team at NBC. Rise made its season debut on Tuesday, March 13th and fans were quick to take to the internet with their reaction to the new musical dramedy. The series is being produced by Jason Katims (Friday Night Lights & Parenthood) in coordination with the team behind the hit Broadway musical, Hamilton. Fans of Glee or Friday Night Lights who have been looking for a way to scratch their specific niches itch may finally have the right show to make it happen. Let’s take a moment to dive deep into a recap of Rise‘s first episode in order to see if it hit all the right notes of if the first episode fell flat.
Clear Eyes and Sharp Vocals – Rise Makes Us Young Again.
Coming into the series premiere of Rise fans had to have some idea of what to expect. With the Hamilton creative team working alongside one of the most decorated executives in the television industry, expectations were pretty high. Looking at the talented cast, anchored by Josh Radnor (How I Met Your Mother), it was easy to see the direction that the show was going in: attractive high school students facing diversity in a town anchored by the dying steel industry as a malcontent teacher tries to dutifully reinvigorate his home life through the art he left behind. While there are several different layers of potential melodrama here, the series premiere showed that the writing team was going to handle their concepts with more than a little bit of tact.
The series premiere introduced us to Lou Mazzuchelli, played by Radnor, as the series protagonist. He and his perfectly nuclear family (read: three kids and a lovely wife) are put on full display with all of the faults that the typical middle-class family will face: a father with a failing career, a son interested in drugs, and two daughters who want to throw their lives straight into theater — despite the subtle condemnation of the community around them.
Mr. Mazzuchelli, failing to reach the students in his English class, looks to the Stanton High Theater Club as a chance to bring back creativity to a town that seems so, so repressed. Mr. Mazzu spends the first episode wheeling and dealing, trying to get the principal to allow him to take on the extra burden of taking over the theater department. This decision doesn’t sit well with the current theater head, Ms. Tracey Wolfe — played exceptionally by the always lovely Rosie Perez. Mazzuchelli has some very clear ideas as to what makes a successful theatrical production and Tracey Wolfe’s idea of re-imagining Grease was not on the list. So, Mr. Mazzu heads down to the little black box and decides to throw it all in the bin. Instead, his goal is to prepare his novice students for Spring Awakening, a German coming-of-age musical about repressed teens exploring who they are as people in the 19th century. Yeah, that’s kind of a hefty subject to lob a motley crew of unprepared performers.
While the melodrama between the adults will likely take up a good portion of the first season’s ten-episode run, we found it to be by far the least attractive aspect of the pilot episode. The stars of the show were, undoubtedly, the lovely cast of high school students who suddenly have a way to express all of those baked-in teenagery feelings we all remember from our youth. Watching Mr. Mazzu work with Robbie (Damon J. Gillespie in his TV debut) to learn the subtle arts of acting was incredibly enjoyable in a way that the only TV can be — it was ridiculous (To act you must learn to stop acting, Robbie) and yet it was a perfect litmus test for what to expect from the rest of the show. Rise is going to forego the rigors that go into an actual production, or the actual art of performance, in exchange for the kind of feel-good highs and feel-good lows (yes, those are a thing) that makes television so enjoyable.
Highlights from the series premiere include reveling in just how unprepared but earnest his young ‘cast’ of student performers are. Watching Robbie stumble through his moments on stage was genuinely enjoyable, Lilette (Auli’i Cravalho, Moana) is the lovely flower ready to blossom, and Simon is the teenager dealing with coming out in a community that he knows will be antagonistic to who he is as a person. As long as Jason Katims continues to develop these characters with real tact and delightful musical numbers, the foundation for a successful multi-season production is definitely here.
Rise airs Tuesdays at 9 PM EST on NBC.