Jason Katims, the man who brought us Friday Night Lights and Parenthood, has once again created a dramatic, yet heartwarming, show that can easily stand the test of time. Rise is gritty, real, and surpasses expectations.
When NBC announced it would be creating a drama about a drama department, ideas quickly zereod in on Fox’s smash hit Glee. While students do not randomly break out into campy and over-dramatized songs, Rise could easily gain those same fans from the long-finished show. While vastly different from Glee, Rise has the same message: be true to yourself and the ones who love you will be there to support your dreams.
The star of the show is Lou Mazzuchelli, played by the hilarious Josh Radnor of How I Met Your Mother. When he was announced to play the leading literature turned drama director, I wondered how this funnyman I knew as love-struck Ted Mosby for almost a decade would play a hardworking teacher in a semi-gritty drama about, well, drama.
But Radnor proves himself capable, with his passion for the work shining through. His character is a hardworking teacher and father of three, including an alcoholic son. He takes over the drama department to find that missing piece in his life. While he experiences backlash, the connections he makes with his students are stronger than anyone, including his boss, could break.
Lou immediately makes an enemy when he takes the department from Rosie Perez’s Tracey Wolfe. She was preparing her students for another production of Grease when Lou comes in and changes it to the more controversial Spring Awakening. Not only was this a fantastic choice, but it has so much symbolism. Lou is literally awakening the fire within his students and even the community in which they all live.
At one point, Tracey tells Lou that that the number one rule was to not cast football players, saying, “football is off limits.” But Lou pulls a trick from Glee’s head man, Will Schuester, and goes after the star football player, Robbie Thorne (Damon Gillespie), after seeing him rap at the football pep rally.
Like Finn Hudson, Robbie is a complex character. After being slightly forced to try out for the performance, he falls in love. With the help of Lou, Robbie finds a way to balance both football and the show. While his strict father is forcing football down his throat, it’s Robbie’s ill mother who ultimately pushes him to do what his heart is calling him to do.
Opposite of Robbie is the Moana breakout star, Auli’i Cravalho, who plays the quiet, yet hardworking, Lilette Suarez. All she wants to do is get out of the small town she’s lived in her whole life. She gets bullied by some people because of her mom’s unfortunate reputation in town. Even after catching her mother with the football coach, Lilette finds even more determination and support from the troupe Lou has created.
Along with the fantastic casting of Robbie and Lilette, the troupe is made up of the football coach’s daughter, a theater kid from a strict Catholic family, a transgender character, the lights manager who sleeps in the control room, and many more. Like that of the New Directions on Glee, Stanton High School’s drama department is made up of a diverse group of people with various backgrounds. But watching their differences come together onscreen for one cause is truly magical.