Cast: Josh Radnor, Rosie Perez
NBC drama Friday Night Lights cast its spotlight on an authentic community that rallied around the football field in Dillon, Texas. That show captured the raw emotions of its characters, who were trying to find success in life and victory on the football field.
Rise, which was created by Friday Night Lights producer Jason Katims, offers a similarly genuine look at a whole new set of characters and circumstances.
How I Met your Mother‘s Josh Radnor stars as a teacher, who longs to do something different in his life. His character Lou loves working with students but wants to teach them more than simply facts on a chalkboard. He wants to teach them about art and asks to become the new head of his school’s drama department.
While Friday Night Lights captured a passion for what happens on the football field, Rise focuses on the passion that’s ignited through the production of art.
Lou enlists the support of former drama adviser Tracey Wolfe (Rosie Perez), who was pushed aside by the school’s principal. The duo work together to put on a production of the controversial play Spring Awakening, which deals with some adult issues.
Like Friday Night Lights though, the show is about more than an after-school activity. It’s about strong and compelling young people and compassionate adults who are trying to improve their communities.
There’s an eclectic mix of individuals here. Robbie Thorne (Damon J. Gillespie) is a football superstar recruited as the lead actor in the play (despite the rule to “Never cast football”). Gwen Strickland (Amy Forsyth) is a teenager struggling to find her own identity in a town where her flirtatious mother is known to break up marriages. Simon Saunders (Ted Sutherland) is a Christian actor whose parents struggle with the adult-oriented themes of Spring Awakening.
Additionally, the show features Casey Johnson as Lou’s alcoholic son Gordy and Rarmian Newton, who plays a lighting expert whose home life leaves much to be desired.
This may sound like a lot of characters but the program balances them very well, even making supporting players into empathetic figures deserving our support. The camera techniques employed here give the show a realistic look and the storylines themselves feel authentic, creating a real world for these characters to dwell in.
As soon as one character earns our sympathies though, another one offers a different side of the story. There’s a balance here that really rounds out the characters well, showing them as three-dimensional individuals struggling to make the right choices in difficult situations.
Although the first episode seemed a bit over-saturated (introducing so many individual characters is often tough to pull off) but the smoother pace of second and the third episode really creates more room for these characters to grow in.
Rise follows in the path of programs like Friday Night Lights, Parenthood (another Katims production) and This is Us. There are plenty of emotional storylines that could lead to audiences shedding a tear or two. This program though is distinctive for its inclusion of so many distinct characters and sympathetic adults who are trying to lead the way.
Josh Radnor and Rosie Perez prove to be the perfect patriarch and matriarch for this production. Both actors are exceptionally gifted and keep the story moving forward. One only hopes that this show will have the opportunity to keep growing in the years to come.
Review by: John Hanlon