It’s Not Just A Darker Glee
Some series seem so easy to summarize that one might be inclined to dismiss them without a second thought. One such new show would appear to be Rise, NBC’s replacement to fill This is Us’ time slot. Set in a working class Pennsylvania high school where an idealistic history teacher (Josh Radnor, tweaking his How I Met Your Mother personality just a bit) takes over the flagging theater department, determined to shake things up, by producing the controversial musical Spring Awakening. Upsetting the high-strung replacement Tracey Wolfe (Rosie Perez, playing a character for the first time in decades that doesn’t seem a variation of her own personality), he assembles a production, putting the divas in lower level roles, trying to cast the quarterback Robbie Thorne as a lead, and putting one of the better performers Simon in a gay themed role. One could say without having to try that hard that this is just a version of Glee meets Friday Night Lights. And considering that Jason Katims, the man who created the beloved NBC series is the head writer, its an easy assumption to make, and to dismiss as a knock-off.
But, as inevitably seems to be the case with any Jason Katims series (this is the man who brought us Parenthood and cut his teeth on My So-Called Life) , you’d be underselling the show. For one thing, the buoyancy and camp that was always present in Glee isn’t there, replacing with an underlying grittiness that Katims has made a critical element of all his shows. Lou, the teacher is considerably more of a nudge than Mr. Schue ever was, and a lot more enemies. Unlike Mr. Schuster, he actually has a happy marriage with a supportive and Broadway-loving wife (Marley Shelton). His problems lie with his son, Gordy (Casey Johnson). Not in love with show music, he clearly has a drinking problem, and it is becoming obvious that neither of his parents can control him.
Furthermore, the acceptance that ran through Glee, doesn’t seem to be there. Robbie isn’t supported for appearing in the play, mainly because this high school football team is successful, and he’s seen as a kid with a future. He’s being pushed by his father as well as his coach, and when the two worlds collide, as they did last night in an aftergame party, its clear that Robbie is risking exposing himself on two fronts. Furthermore, when Simon is shown to be appearing in a gay role, his very religious father puts him in an academy, and seems on the verge of tearing him away from everything. There’s also a teenager named Michael on the verge of transitioning from boy to girl, and he has to fight for his acceptance even within the theater community. There are far worse consequences here than being doused with Slushies.
Rise is a lot less sure of itself than many of the other Katims’ series were right off the bat, even though its origins are based on a true story. The singing and musical performances are very good, but unlike Glee, they’re not the highpoint of the series. In many ways, Rise is about a high school musical production in the same way Friday Night Lights was about high school football. There isn’t the same level of confidence present in this that there have been, but you definitely see the potential in it, much in the same way Lou sees potential in his performers. Its unclear where the show will go if it survives this season, but there’s more potential in this, and more rage and real emotion than you get in a lot of network dramas these days. And considering it airs after The Voice, there’s more of a complimentary placement than there have been for any reality/dramas shows in awhile. I hope Rise takes more of a grip. We could use more series like this.
My score:3.75 stars.