2:30 pm EDT, March 12, 2018

‘Rise’ review: NBC gets it right with perfect marriage of ‘Friday Night Lights’ and ‘Smash’

When you read the synopsis for Rise your first instinct might be to think, “Ugh, a more serious Glee?” Well, you couldn’t be more wrong.

This show has much more in common with Friday Night Lights than Smash (which makes sense, seeing as Jason Katims, the series creator, served as executive producer for the football-centric drama). The passion and dedication that Coach Taylor had for his team can be felt in Josh Radnor’s portrayal of Lou Mazzuchelli. The subtle uses of soundtrack, the feeling of realism, and the varied challenges facing each member of the theater department in the show lend themselves to the same type of storytelling we experienced in FNL.

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But, more than just knowing the things it has in common, you can feel the Friday Night Lights in this pilot. The truthfulness, the honesty, the more modern sense of teenage awareness. These teens aren’t looking to be pushed around and manipulated. They have thoughts, ideas, more sincerity and integrity than the adults around them, and they aren’t afraid to speak up when things are wrong. A teacher tells them they are good at something, worthy of their time, and they respond in kind.

As an avid fan of Glee, Smash, and Nashville, I already knew Rise was right up my alley, but this show has so much more going for it than just another musical drama on television. The musical numbers aren’t overproduced (which contributed to the overall difference in tone on Glee), so they feel organic and earned in the moments you see unfold. Anyone who spent time in a theater in high school or any time since can feel the honesty of this show.

And if you didn’t grow up in the theater, this show still has so much to offer. Many of these kids are experimenting with time on stage, and their experiences serve as a door for viewers to see how it feels to step up on a stage and into someone else’s shoes for the first time.

Aside from the overall tone and feel of the show, I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about the fantastic cast they put together. As a diehard How I Met Your Mother fan, I was excited to see Josh Radnor back on my TV, and I couldn’t be more excited to see where he goes with the role as the series goes forward. Oh, and there’s at least one moment in the first few episodes that had me thinking, “Your Ted Mosby is showing there, Mr. Mazzuchelli.” I hope you get a giggle out of it, too.

Rosie Perez as Tracy is the perfect balance to Radnor’s Mazzuchelli. She has the experience and wisdom to know what a show needs, while Lou has the fresh legs and enthusiasm to push these kids to a new level. Tracy will keep Lou grounded, and Lou will remind Tracy of all the reasons live theater can breathe vitality and passion into the duldroms of everyday life.

The young actors that make up this cast are pretty phenomenal as well, lead by the incredibly talented Auli’i Cravalho. The moment you heard her voice on the Moana soundtrack, you undoubtedly knew it wasn’t the last you would hear of this young lady, and this role couldn’t be more perfect for her. She isn’t a 20-something pretending to be a teenager. She has a better understanding of this character and where she’s coming from than just about any high school drama out there these days, and I can’t wait to see what this series has in store for her down the road.

Theater really is a place where people from all kinds of different backgrounds can come together, and where you can try something you never thought you’d be good at. Placing that theater in the high school setting for Rise reminds us that just because a teenager is talented on the field, doesn’t mean that’s all he is. Just because you’ve thought one thing about yourself your entire life, doesn’t mean you can’t be something totally different. High school should be a time to try new things and be allowed to explore different sides of your personality, and this show seems to get that.

I hope you tune in and give Rise a chance, because I sure will be.

Catch the series premiere of Rise Tuesday, March 13, at 10 p.m., and then tune in every Tuesday at 9 p.m. on NBC for more.

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