Rise is NBC’s latest Jason Katmin produced drama. They are no stranger to his work as produced the network hit Parenthood and Friday Night Lights. Katmin and fellow show producer, Jeffrey Seller, of “Hamilton” are working together on this high school drama centered around the school musical.
I left off writing a review on the pilot episode last week as I wanted to let the show move past some of the exposition. The first episode established all of the main characters. Lou Mazzuchelli (Josh Radnor) as the frustrated, hyper intelligent (go figure for a Radnor role) english teacher turned theatre director in an almost Will Schuester move to borrow a cue from Glee. The episode then follows his dramatic decision to change the musical from “Grease” to the more controversial “Spring Awakening.” This decision alarms everyone from fellow drama teacher Tracey Wolfe (the fabulous Rosie Perez) to the principal and conservative minded parents.
It was a rather predictable first episode that established some basic high school clichés: mean girls with secrets, working class girl with lots of heart, closeted best friend, sensitive football star, and troubled teen with a drinking problem. These are important players in any teen drama, but the DNA feels very familiar to Friday Night Lights without the heart of that show. The second episode delved slightly deeper into individual storylines: Lillette and her crush on Robbie Thorne, Simon and his confusion and self-doubt, the decision to fight for “Spring Awakening” as the musical, and Lou handling his son Gordy’s drinking problem. I enjoyed the insight, it was just a lot to process.
Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy any show that utilizes singing, especially any songs as stirring as the ones from Spring Awakening, but so far the show is moving the plot along too fast for me to connect with the characters. The second episode has aired, and I got closer to understanding Gwen Strickland’s pain underneath her icy demeanor, but after she poured her heart into “Song of Purple Summer” the close-up on Radnor’s Muzzechelli did not reflect the strength of her performance.
I am going to stick with this show and hope that it brings more heart in the third episode as I get to know these characters more. I may be judging too harshly, but in the time of Peak TV only the strong survive. The storyline needs to calm down and not feel the need to give each character a heavy storyline every few minutes, to the point that I cannot feel the gravity of each situation. The season is 10 episodes, so it definitely has time to slow down and bring the plot and internal storyline of “Spring Awakening” the importance it deserves.