(fka Drama High)
Logline: Revolves around an extraordinary working-class high school drama department and the incredible students who come alive under a passionate teacher and family man whose dedication to the program galvanizes the entire town. Inspired by Lou Volpe as chronicled in the book Drama High.
Cast: Josh Radnor, Auli’i Cravalho, Shirley Rumierk, Joe Tippett, Ted Sutherland, Taylor Richardson, Rosie Perez, Rarmian Newton, Shannon Pursor, Damon Gillespie, Marley Shelton, Casey Johnson
Creators: Jason Katims (W / EP), Michelle Lee (EP), Jeffrey Seller (EP), Flody Suarez (EP)
Studios: Universal TV, True Jack Productions, Seller Suarez Productions
My expectations going into this were astronomically high. Friday Night Lights meets Boston Public? I’m in.
Set in a working-class school, Rise follows Lou’s decision to move beyond teaching English to disinterested students. He petitions to run the theater program, is quickly hired, and then does the thing everyone least expected him to do: he replaces Grease with Spring Awakening. While the switch causes a big shakeup in the cast and activates simmering conflicts between students, it also causes the school to become deeply uncomfortable with Lou’s ambition.
I don’t want to reveal more. Read it or watch it, but don’t let it slip you by. After a possibly misjudged foray into the medical procedural, Katims is back on home ground. The premise feels closer to the kind of stories he excels at: underdog tales about the triumph of the human spirit (cliche as that might sound).
The pilot is every bit the triumph I hoped it would be. One of Lou’s speeches actually moved me to tears. Network shows don’t usually have that effect on me. The structure is classic and reminiscent of FNL. Lou’s (the teacher) throughline follows a pattern similar to that of Coach Taylor in FNL. The diverse cast and relationships are introduced with enviable precision, and Lou’s rise to the challenge is infectious.
The only thing that worries me a bit is Josh Radnor as Lou, the show’s center of gravity. He’s cast against type here. Though I haven’t seen him in Disgraced, network audiences are likely to recall him from How I Met Your Mother, which could be jarring. I’m rooting for him, but a re-cast wouldn’t surprise me.
Overall, whoever decided to team Jason Katims with Jeffrey Seller (Hamilton) is pure genius (pun intended). Rise filled the hole that was left in my heart after Boston Public said goodbye. It might not be a stretch to consider this show to be entirely “on brand” for NBC at this point, considering the success of the heavy character and relationship-driven This is Us, and Greenblatt’s mission of positivity and upliftment.