Rise has been described as Glee meets Friday Night Lights. However, I prefer to characterize it as Dangerous Minds meets Dead Poets Society, with music. My teen and I previewed the first few episodes, and though the characters initially seem like a checklist of stereotypes from any high school drama, the plot lines go deeper.
Inspired by Michael Sokolove’s book Drama High, the true story of a drama department in an economically challenged Pennsylvania town, Rise takes on topics such as school spending (sports vs. the arts), censorship, alcoholism and family conflict. Initially receiving criticism for making Josh Radnor’s (How I met Your Mother) character straight, unlike drama teacher Lou Volpe, the real life subject of Drama High, Rise does not shy away from LGBTQ characters. One touching moment with a transgender student even prompted an “awww” from my stoic teenager.
The cast includes the familiar faces of Radnor, Rosie Perez (White Men Can’t Jump), Auli’i Cravalho (Moana) and even Barb, I mean Shannon Purser (Stranger Things) as well as some talented newcomers. Unlike Glee, these kids don’t burst into songs about forgetting locker combinations or seeing what’s under the fuzzy sweater of that girl in math class. The music, although cleverly related to the show’s themes, is solely tied to the drama club’s auditions, practices and performances.
Compelling stories rather than music drive the show. Struggle, heartbreak and hope are all at the center of the pilot episode, which crescendos to a “desk standing, Oh Captain my Captain” moment that realistically would get everyone expelled. But hey, it’s television, and I’m in for all the drama to come.