Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

'Rise,' Set in Western Pa., a So-So Fill-In for 'This Is Us'

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

'Rise,' Set in Western Pa., a So-So Fill-In for 'This Is Us'

Article excerpt

PASADENA, Calif. - A cross between a more downbeat, grittier "Glee" and a lesser "Friday Night Lights," NBC's "Rise" (10 p.m. Tuesday following the season finale of "This Is Us," WPXI) really wants to be the next touchy-feely broadcast hit. And while it's not terrible, it's not nearly as good as any of the TV shows mentioned above.

Set in the fictional Western Pennsylvania town of Stanton and filmed in Brooklyn, White Plains and Haverstraw, N.Y, "Rise" is the story of English teacher Lou Mazzuchelli (Josh Radnor, "Mercy Street") who takes over the high school's lackluster theater program from fellow teacher Tracey Wolf (Rosie Perez). He chucks her plans for another staging of "Grease" in favor of the more controversial "Spring Awakening."

Lou makes his commitment to the theater program without telling his wife, Gail (Marley Shelton), and much to the embarrassment of his football player son, Gordy (Casey W. Johnson), who may be an alcoholic.

While "Rise" positions Lou as the hero, he comes off poorly with the job theft and unilateral decisions that impact his family. In a later episode he grabs a conductor's baton from the orchestra instructor, a jerk move if ever there was one.

To the annoyance of philandering football coach Doug Strickland (Joe Tippett), Lou casts quarterback Robbie Thorne (Damon J. Gillespie) as his musical's lead. (Although much of the story plays out in the school auditorium, as it did on "Glee," characters in "Rise" do not spontaneously burst into song; they just sing in auditions and rehearsals.)

Much of the show's focus is on the high school students coming of age, including a potentially closeted gay thespian from a conservative religious family, a trans singer who joins the drama club and the show's spotlight operator, a homeless foster kid.

"Rise," which moves to 9 p.m. Tuesdays with its second episode March 20, was created by Jason Katims, previously showrunner on "Friday Night Lights" and "Parenthood." "Rise" suffers by comparison to those series because the plotting is too often predictable and occasionally absurd - Lou thought there would be no fuss about a Western Pennsylvania public high school doing "Spring Awakening"? -and because the characters and performances are not in the same league. Josh Radnor and Marley Shelton are no Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton.

Ms. Perez, who enlivens every scene she's in, gets the best, least obvious adult story as a teacher with no life outside of school.

"Rise" is likable enough, but through its first five episodes the show doesn't rise above a pale analogue to shows in the family drama/football/drama club genres that came before.

Making 'Rise'

During the Television Critics Association winter 2018 press tour in January, Mr. Katims said "Rise" was inspired by the true story of a Levittown, Pa. …

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