What dedicated teacher Lou Mazzuchelli lacks in experience he makes up for in enthusiasm.
In NBC’s new musical drama Rise, Mazzuchelli (How I Met your Mother’s Josh Radnor), is an uninspired English teacher at Stanton High, who makes a bold petition to take over as director of the school’s equally uninspired theater program.
Although his motives are pure, and based on a desire to revitalize his own passion for teaching, Lou soon realizes the school board’s decision comes with a price when he gets the job over Tracey Wolfe (Rosie Perez), the existing assistant director, and a woman who recognizes a cynical cost-cutting move when she sees one.
Gradually though, Lou’s enthusiasm to create something new and inspire his students begins to work magic, and with the experienced Tracey at hand to offer much needed (if somewhat grudgingly given) advice, a play is born.
However, It isn’t long before Lou’s ambitions ruffle feathers both with the school’s football coach Sam Strickland (Joe Tippett), the school principal and even the student themselves, who find themselves challenged to see both the world, and each other, through new eyes.
It’s initially tempting to think of Rise as the next Glee, but the similarities disappear beyond the basic premise of a troupe of colorful teens with big ambitions and even bigger voices finding themselves thrown together in a room. Rise is set against the grainy backdrop of a depressed working-class town, where just about everyone seems to long for a better life. Themes of adultery, alcoholism, repressed sexuality, marital breakdown and homelessness are lent an air of authenticity and realism never achieved in Glee’s technicolor bubblegum series run. A fresh faced, natural and relatable cast of youngsters struggling with real issues only lends to Rise’s strengths.
Like the play Lou struggles to bring to life, Rise is all about finding inspiration in unexpected places. Hopefully, the show will find an audience deserving of its optimistic message.
The cast includes Josh Radnor, Rosie Perez, Auli’i Cravalho, Damon J. Gillespie, Marley Shelton, Rarmian Newton, Ted Sutherland, Amy Forsyth, Casey W. Johnson, Taylor Richardson, Joe Tippett, and Shirley Rumierk.
Rise is created by Jason Katims (Hamilton, Friday Night Lights), who serves as showrunner and executive producer. Jeffrey Seller, Flody Suarez and Michelle Lee also executive produce.
It airs Tuesdays on NBC from 9 to 10 pm, starting March 13.