Pilot Review: Rise Episode 1
Rise is a new show on NBC that follows the story of the theater department of Stanton High School and the teacher, Lou Mazzuchelli who decides to take over the department, and the students involved. The show is inspired by the book Drama High by Jason Katims; which is based on and inspired by a real-life teacher and the theater department of Harry S. Truman High School.
We see, in the beginning of the show, Lou Mazzuchelli in the English class he teaches trying to invoke a conversation amongst his students about the book Grapes of Wrath. This is the moment that we realize Lou is not happy and feeling like he isn’t inspiring his students or making a difference in their lives. This revelation leads us to seeing Lou meet with the high school principal asking to take over the theater department. It sets in motion the rest of the episode – the change and revamping of said department.
The current teacher in charge of the theater department, Tracey Wolfe, naturally is upset when finding out that she is being replaced, but then relents and ends up helping Lou with the auditions and the play. We see more of Lou making changes to the department by casting unexpected students to play lead characters, and moving the people who normally play the lead to playing secondary characters.
High School Musical
Now I know what you’re thinking, “What do you mean High School Musical? I thought that was a movie?“ You would be correct. There are moments in this show that definitely remind one of that movie if you have seen it. By that, I mean the head of the theater department discovers the singing talent of the star athlete who would be Robbie Thorne, and then decides to have them audition and ultimately join the theater department.
When you first see the similarities it is quick to make one think that it is going to be a remake and I even began to question it myself; however, unlike High School Musical, you do not have the characters of this show just randomly bursting into song. There is no random dancing down the hall, interrupting class to sing, or everyone “somehow” knowing the same song to talk about their feelings while in the high school cafeteria.
If you can stick out the brief similarities between the two, you will see that this show is going to be more than just about students and the play they are trying to do.
Sports vs. Academics and Fine Arts Department
Rise shows the long standing battle between sports, academics, and the fine arts department. The first glimpse we see of this is when Tracey is telling Lou that the school doesn’t care about the theater department and only cares about ensuring a successful football season.
Later we see Lou talking with the football coach, Sam Strickland, Principal Ward, and Robbie’s dad over the failing of an English test and the standards of a student’s grade to participate in sports. Lou uses this as a way to get Robbie to audition for the play and also to get more people interested. After the audition we see Lou giving Robbie a schedule for rehearsals.
We later see an argument between Coach Strickland and Lou – about “where a student’s place” should be. This is where we see the first bit of backlash against the play and the demonstration that a star athlete should only be that – a star athlete. This is a prevalent issue we see today in our education systems – where sports take precedence over academics and the overall decrease of funding for programs in the fine arts. An issue where students are applauded for receiving a college scholarship for sports over academic achievement, and teachers who are in the fine arts field go year to year not knowing if and when they’ll continue to have a job.
This is the play that Lou decides, instead of the musical Grease, to inspire not only the students in the theater department, but anyone who sees the play. It is a very fitting coming of age play as we see the students coming into their own and already finding their voice within the first episode.
However, with this type of play there is naturally going to be some backlash from faculty and parents as it deals with teenage sexuality. This will be a reoccurring theme I believe we will see in the season as the students put their foot down against intolerance and discover their own voices. Because of the backlash we see Lou being removed from the theater department, and they go on to work on Pirates of Penzance.
Some of the students end up leaving and going back to what they were doing before they joining the theater department. But – in a twist of fate at end of the episode, we see the students rise up – finding their collective voices for the first time.
Making a Statement
I think that if the rest of the season maintains the tone of everyone coming into their own – then the rest of the season will definitely be one worth watching. So sit back, and get ready to watch these characters learn to make a statement!
Check out Rise on NBC – Tuesday nights at 9/8c!
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