The quick and dirty explanation of NBC’s newest drama is “Glee, but grittier.” Rise, a spiritual successor to showrunner Jason Katims’s Friday Night Lights (and loosely based on Michael Sokolove’s nonfiction book Drama High), takes us to a down-on-its-luck Pennsylvania town with a shuttered steel mill and little else to recommend it. The high school, at least, has pinned its hopes on the football team, investing as much as (or perhaps more than) it can afford in equipment, pep rallies, and AstroTurf at the expense of the arts. Lou Mazzuchelli, played by Josh Radnor (inspired by Drama High’s real-life protagonist Lou Volpe), wants to change that.
Despite being an English teacher of questionable talents — after three days of talking about The Grapes of Wrath with his students, he’s apparently only just getting to the question of who its protagonist is — Lou is determined to reinvent Stanton High School’s theater program. Principal Ward is, at first, happy to indulge his midlife crisis: “Even-keeled Lou Mazzu” looks like a safe bet, and he’s naive enough to take the job for half of what his more experienced rival for the position, Tracy Wolfe (Rosie Perez), was getting. Where Tracy had been “a pain in the ass,” Lou seems set to serve Ward’s agenda and budgetary needs.
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