This article contains spoilers.
Being an avid This Is Us watcher, I have seen previews for a new teen drama series by the name of Rise for a while now. When I first saw them and noticed the show is heavily influenced by music and theater, I immediately began comparing it to Glee.
With the concept of an English teacher taking over the struggling drama department, I couldn’t help but think of Will Shuester and the New Directions. But being based on true events, Rise falls into a category of its own.
The pilot begins with Lou Massuchelli (Josh Radnor) taking up an offer to run the theater program after the current teacher, Tracy Wolfe (Rosie Perez), was let go by the principal for no specific reason. He switches the musical from Grease to Spring Awakening and takes Ms. Wolfe as his assistant director.
Throughout the episode, the viewer can gain background information about a few of the students who go on to audition for the musical.
Lilette Suarez (Auli’i Cravalho) is seen at her job as a waitress where she works with her mom, Robbie Thorne (Damon Gillespie), star football player, is seen in a hospice center visiting his ill mother, and Gwen Strickland (Amy Forsyth) is shown tearfully greeting her father after returning home.
A few moments which stood out to me were those involving Simon Saunders (Ted Sutherland), Maashous Evers (Rarmian Newton) and Michael Hallowell (Ellie Desautels). Simon is a closeted gay teen who often obtains the male leads in the school shows. This time, however, he is cast as Hanschen, a character who has a romantic scene with another boy which he finds unnerving. He is shown sitting at dinner with his parents and his sister (who has Down Syndrome) when he hands them the script after mentioning details about his character and how the last thing he would want to do is let them down.
Another noteworthy character is Maashous Evers.
He is first seen by Mr. Mazzu who hears somebody in the sound booth while preparing for auditions. Maashous runs the lighting in the theater department, but is only seen in school. This leaves Mr. Mazzu confused when he wanders up and discovers a sleeping bag, pillows and other comfort utilities on the floor. Upon finding this set up, he takes Maashous in and lets him stay at his home while he tries to figure out how his personal situation resulted in him living inside of the school.
Lastly, and most importantly is Michael Hallowell. Michael is pointed out in choir by Maashous to Mr. Mazzu who complains about the lack of boys in the musical. Michael is transgender and, by featuring a female-to-male transgender character in the pilot episode, Rise opens doors for important stories that deserve to be told. And the best part? Ellie Desautels, who plays Michael, is a non-binary, trans-masculine actor whose pronouns are they/them.
In an interview with Teen Vogue they said, “…what ultimately made me want to play Michael was knowing that the creators were auditioning transgender actors and wanted to ensure that Michael’s story was portrayed authentically.” They speak about the show’s environment and say that the most important aspect of Michael is that his story isn’t about his transition or his coming out. “When the show starts, his parents know and he’s already attending school as Michael.”
For just the pilot episode, this show was able to include the amount of diversity and realistic storytelling that should be featured in every modern teen series. I strongly believe that this show will provide important perspectives and points of view that deserve to be featured.
Watch the promotional video for the second episode below.