Rise: Opening Night

The season finale of NBC’s Rise aired on Tuesday night, and it was very good. I don’t know if I am screaming into the void here or not, but my limited readers may have noticed I did not review the last few episodes. The plot had become predictable, and Mr. Mazzu had become unbearable.

In the seventh episode, “This Will God Willing Get Better” , tech week made everyone melt-down. This includes Robbie, Mr. Mazzu, Gwen, everyone. That was basically the entire episode, the play went through an ill-advised full run through of the play and it was not great. Nothing else of interest happened, although I have to give props to editing team who created a humorous montage of all the “if it could go wrong, it will go wrong” moments.

The following episode was slightly meatier. In “The Petition” a viral, salacious teaser of the Spring Awakening production at Stanton goes viral. It causes dangerously low ticket sales to climb, but it also causes outrage and prompts the conservatively minded Stanton PTA to sign a petition banning the play. This, of course, makes Lou throw a tantrum at Principal Ward (the principal is always the bad guy am I right?) so Ward offers Tracey a deal; censor the play and she can become the director. Tracey, who is a freakin saint turns it down. But in a classic Lou move he accuses her of betraying him and makes the situation much, much worse.

Then came the penultimate episode which consisted of a massive censoring of the play, and revealing the frustration everyone was feeling about changing the words that Lou had once said were a “sacred text.” This episode seemed to affect Simon more than anyone has his entire family was falling apart directly because of his involvement and role in this play. Changing the play would make all of that for nothing. This episode also was frustrating as a viewer because the entire series had been about Lou and the troupe fighting ferociously for this musical, and the censoring felt too passive. But it was all leading up to the vindicating, if slightly predictable finale.

The finale “Opening Night” began with a sense of defeat throughout the troupe. The phrase “the show is going to suck” was literally uttered by three out of the four leads. Subtle… but it does show the overt angst that all of these kids feel about their play turning into Spring Awakening Jr. Even the adults are feeling bitter. When Lou finally apologizes to Tracey for his utterly obnoxious behavior we finally hear the words that *I* have been waiting for this entire show, “You and I, and the entire school knows that you got my job. My job was given to an under qualified, middle-aged white man.” Boom Tracey, honestly that was my favorite part of this series. Once Lou goes back to the school, he is visibly frustrated as he calls for one hour till showtime is called. Principal Ward then gives Lou an ultimatum that finally breaks him – he must take out one of the shows last remaining powerful scenes.

This is the final straw. He tells the entire troupe to go back to the original version. Yes, yes we all saw this coming, but didn’t you want it to happen? I know I was glad for every sound bite of Spring Awakening from this truly talented cast. As the show is performed per the original script, the pieces start to fall in place. Though I could have done without the techno original song that replaced “Purple Summer” as the final song, I was very pleased with the production of “Opening Night.” The emotional climax from Robbie, the bravery of Simon, the quiet power of Lillette’s voice, and the triumphant f*** you to the attempt to censor art all made for a stirring, and gratifying finale.

The finale was also aided by events in the real world. NBC announced that Rise was cancelled the other day, and as the superintendent is telling Lou that this opening night will be the final performance of Stanton Drama, I knew that feeling of finality. Yes, Rise was a wonderful vehicle for rising stars like Auli’i Cravalho, Ted Sutherland, Amy Forsyth, and Damon J. Gillespie, it just didn’t have the depth to garner a second season, in my opinion. I am fine with that decision, one reason is that based on the source material, it should only be about the production of Spring Awakening anyway. It worked well as a limited series, although if it had been actually written as a limited series it probably would have juggled less plot points. I didn’t really find myself caring about the shallow storylines that each episode tried to introduce. The show was the most successful when it got the heart of one issue, and fully explored the complicated, and often complex emotions within. That is also the beauty and appeal of Spring Awakening. It may be a short-lived and frenzied show, but it’s depth and impact are in the big moments.

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