Rise premieres March 13th, 10 pm on NBC.
Adapted from the book Drama High by Michael Sokolove, Rise tells the story of a high school theatre department that is transformed by teacher Lou Mazzuchelli (Josh Radnor). Lou’s goal for the program is to push the students to unleash their creative side and express themselves freely. While the students adjust to Lou and his unconventional methods, he begins to meet resistance from the people of the town – namely, the parents. The story of Rise lies in Lou’s efforts to make the theatre program shine and revolutionize the arts department amongst the backlash. The series is based on the true life events of Harry S. Truman High School in Bucks, County Pennsylvania.
As I was watching Rise I felt oddly conflicted seeing Josh Radnor as a serious, inspiring teacher when many of us have can only view him as Ted Mosby – his iconic role in How I Met Your Mother. However, Radnor truly shines here as he tackles a character that is single-handedly trying to build a production from the ground up. This role is a complete 180 from his days in HIMYM and I applaud him for taking on a character that highlights his abilities as an actor.
Another standout performance here is that of Auli’i Cravalho who plays student Lillette Suarez. After her debut success in Disney’s Moana, Cravalho gallantly steps into the spotlight during Rise. Her character is a talented high school student who must grapple with playing the lead in Lou’s play while dealing with her mother’s love affair with the high school football coach. Cravalho does a phenomenal job articulating the hardships of her character’s life and blew me away with her immense talent as a singer.
Another great aspect of Rise during its first season is the infusion of LGTBQ stories within its plot. The series does not shy away from introducing transexual and gay characters and incorporates them into the story flawlessly. It was refreshing to see a show encompass a myriad of characters into its story without trying too hard. It is an honest and genuine story about high school students feeling inspired and daring to dream bigger than the small town they live in.
While the show checks all the boxes for an inspiring and motivating series, Rise does have the tendency to move slowly at times. Specifically, Lou’s storyline with his family and teenage son struggling with an alcohol addiction. I felt the writers took too long to develop that aspect of the story and spent a tad bit too much time on it. This stands true for other moments throughout the season that come to a standstill as a dramatic situation drags out and the momentum comes to a screeching halt.
Despite some minor flaws, Rise is a series that inspires you to your core. While watching it, I felt ready to take on the world. This is the magic and culmination of Radnor’s stellar performance mixed with the talent of creative showrunners Jason Katims (Parenthood) and Jeffrey Sellers (Hamilton). If you’re looking for a dose of motivation, Rise is the show for you.
I give Rise a B+.