“Rise” is NBC’s newest drama series, focusing on high school life in a small American town. It follows English teacher Lou Mazzuchelli, played by Josh Radnor (Ted Mosby from “How I Met Your Mother”), as he takes over the drama department and tries to inspire creativity and self-expression in his students.
The pilot episode begins with Mr. Mazzu offering to take over the theater department, which at the time is led by the much more qualified teacher Tracey Wolfe, who is only replaced because she is tough and disliked by the principal. He decides to change the musical from “Grease” to the more controversial “Spring Awakening,” which deals with themes of teenage sexuality and oppression. We are also introduced to the rivalry of the football team with the theater department (it seems like the school favors football) and to the students trying out for the play, including outcast Lilette Suarez played by Auli'i Cravalho, the voice of Moana.
The show has the exact same feel as classic high school drama “Friday Night Lights,” which makes perfect sense because it has the same creator, Jason Katims. And like “Friday Night Lights,” “Rise” was developed from a novel. But “Rise” seems to be lacking something that “FNL” was full of, whether it be an intriguing storyline, relatable characters with depth, or more complexity, I don’t know. But I do know that like “FNL,” “Rise” will certainly tackle many contemporary issues that teens are forced to face.
“Friday Night Lights,” from the very beginning, was full of heart. “Rise,” however, doesn’t seem to have the same feeling. Everything seems watered-down and almost too boring and predictable. A lot of this has to do with the characters. Radnor’s portrayal of an overworked but still passionate teacher falls short. He is not very convincing, and doesn’t give viewers any reason to want to root for him. Even the way he takes over the theater department feels wrong. The way he overthrows the current head without her even knowing she was in jeopardy of being replaced makes him seem more like a bad guy than the inspiring hero the show wants him to be.
The students have promise, but they seem to be more defined by what they are than who they are. Lilette Suarez is the child of a messy single mother who is basically in charge of supporting herself. Robbie Thorne is the star quarterback of the school football team who now is the lead of the school musical. Simon is a closeted gay student who comes from a very conservative Catholic family. Another student, Michael, who is in the middle of transitioning. Instead of developing these characters’ personalities before introducing their identities, the show does the opposite, making it seem like all of these students are solely defined by their identities and backgrounds instead of who they are as people. “Rise” will definitely need to work on developing these characters if it wants to make a lasting impression.
The plot of the show also isn’t very intriguing yet. The sports and theater rivalry has been done before (“High School Musical,” anyone?), and was done better. There wasn’t anything that pulled me in or made me excited for next week’s episode. For “Rise” to work, I would like more depth added to the storyline and further development of the characters. Since the show considers itself a drama, I honestly would like some more of that thrown into the show as well. Lilette's mom having an affair with the football coach is a good start, but other than that the show is pretty bland.
“Rise” definitely has potential, but we may need to wait and watch it develop to get to the deep, heart-wrenching plots and life lessons that “Friday Night Lights” was able to produce.
Melissa Scrivani is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.