Magazine article Variety

Rise

Magazine article Variety

Rise

Article excerpt

Rise

TV REVIEW

Drama: 10 episodes (6 reviewed); NBC; Tues., March 13, 10 p.m. Starring: Josh Radnor, Rosie Perez

As TV has aggressively expanded its scripted output, it's begun to lean hard on that entertainment-industry standby: "Appealing kids put on a show." "Rise," a moderately winning drama that follows those familiar contours, will instantly draw comparisons to "Glee," though it eschews that program's slick sheen and barbed sarcasm. It also contains parallels to everything from "Lady Bird" to the retro Netflix comedy "Everything Sucks!," in which a motley assortment of gawky teens make a sci-fimovie with a few dollars and a whole lot of determination.

Money is also an issue for the characters of "Rise," which is set in a hardscrabble Pennsylvania community where the steel mill shut down a few years earlier. Even without knowing there's a "Friday Night Lights" connection (thanks to showrunner Jason Katims, who also created "Rise"), a savvy viewer would note its influence immediately. Between the shaky-cam shooting style and the plaintive tones emanating from the soundtrack, there's a lot of overlap between the two emotionally driven NBC dramas (and key moments unfold under those bright game-day lights as well).

Like that earlier show, Katims has set his tale among parents, teachers, coaches and high schoolers just trying to figure it all out in a close-knit town that has seen better days. This time, however, the majority of the action takes place not on the football field but among members of Stanton High School's beleaguered theater department. And for all its flaws - the subplots vary quite a bit in quality and execution - when these kids open their mouths to sing, the NBC drama is nearly irresistible.

Fans of musicals will likely be the core audience for "Rise," which chronicles Stanton High's controversial staging of the acclaimed musical "Spring Awakening." One of the series' most outstanding cast members is Auli'i Cravalho ("Moana"), who has an expressive, gorgeous voice, and is earnest and credible as the daughter of a local waitress who wants more than her single mother has been able to achieve. Cravalho's Lilette Suarez is cast as a lead in the musical, and is paired with the hunky quarterback of the football team, Robbie Thorne (Damon J. Gillespie). The show's director, Lou Mazzuchelli (Josh Radnor), knows that the chemistry between the two - which is also a cornerstone of what works about "Rise" as a TV show - will make his production come alive, no matter the inexperience of certain members of the troupe or the financial limitations of the production. …

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