April 12, 2021 The Newspaper Serving LGBT Los Angeles

“Rise” Risks Nothing

At the movies recently, I saw a trailer for a film “inspired by true events.” From the two-minute trailer for “Miracle Season,” I could see that the film combined all the usual tricks – including a swelling, Danny Elfman-style score and tear-jerking performances – to tell a story no one could possibly find controversial. We see films like this every season when things start to slow down, in between the final Oscar push of the winter and the onslaught of summer Blockbusters. They exist to remind us that not that hope exists or that true stories are often box-office shoe-ins, but to flex the muscles of a certain kind of movie made possible by a fail-proof style of film language.

That manipulative, “Schindler’s List”-approach to filmmaking that allows us to root for a home team, or be inspired by the story of a kid with a degenerative disease, or feel outraged by a tale of injustice that happened at least 50 years ago without thinking for a one second, “wait a minute, are these tears honest? Are they real?”

It’s this kind of tack that the new NBC series “Rise” takes, a show heavily criticized for choosing to change the protagonist of its source material – a book called “Drama High” – from a gay man to a straight man with a large, traditional family.

Why is this important to think about in the context of “Miracle Mile” or “The Blind Side” or even “Glee?”

Because, unlike the rest, “Rise” might have actually been something. The story of a group of ragtag theater kids trying to mount a beleaguered production of “Spring Awakening” in a working-class Pennsylvania town with the help of a passionate drama teacher might have combined the best parts of “Glee” and “Dead Poets Society” to create something that actually looks like real life. With a cast of queer and trans characters – some of them out of the closet, some not – diverse outcasts, jocks, and homeless kids running from the foster system, “Rise” definitely took pains to paint a more realistic portrait of the average middle-American high school. However, with a main character who seems to have no clear motivation for being this jazzed about musicals or getting kids to find their true selves, “Rise”, at least in the early episodes, makes no narrative sense. Not only does Lou Mazzucchelli, Josh Radnor’s now-straight English lit teacher-turned-drama coach not seem to have any clear passion or motivation for starting a high school musical program, he doesn’t have the time. With three kids, one of whom is a burgeoning alcoholic, and a wife who has to pull double shifts teaching piano (kindly overlook the economic implausibility of this) just to make ends meet, “Mazzu” isn’t exactly in a position to go volunteering for underpaid extra-curricular work. Yet he does, and it’s never exactly explained, just as it’s never explained why he gets so frustrated when his “vision” for the show isn’t met, or why he decides to ignore casting the best-known singers and actors in the school for relative unknowns. While these decisions make sense as ways to advance the plot, they don’t make sense for Mazzu. This is why, four episodes in, the character is still underdeveloped, and at times mildly nonsensical.

Now I’m not saying that if the character had remained gay, all this passion for the Theater would miraculously be explained. On the contrary, that would feel offensively stereotypical. But having a gay character in the lead would help us learn a bit more about why he’s so interested in shaking things up by casting queer misfits and outsiders in a play about queer misfits and outsiders. It might even make him seem – dare I say – interesting?

It’s tempting to blame the producers of the show, who were behind the twin smash hits of “Friday Night Lights” and “Hamilton,” for making what they might have seen as an attempt at simplification on the level of plot. If it’s supposed to be a true ensemble story, what does it matter who, or what, the lead is? However, a true ensemble story “Rise” is not.

If it were, it wouldn’t keep its queer characters in the background while keeping heteromances front and center. And it certainly wouldn’t leave us without anyone to root for three episodes in.

Related Posts

Tina Turner Documentary Breaks Records

April 4, 2021

April 4, 2021

Singer, song writer and gay icon Tina Turner released a documentary on HBO Max as a farewell to her fans...

First Gay Teen Captain America Revealed By Marvel

March 28, 2021

March 28, 2021

Marvel Comics has revealed the first look at a new Captain America who happens to be a gay teen.  The...

32nd Annual GLAAD Media Awards

March 21, 2021

March 21, 2021

GLAAD, the world’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) media advocacy organization, today announced a new slate of...

New Grindr TV Show

March 18, 2021

March 18, 2021

The popular LGBTQ dating app Grindr is getting its own original scripted TV show set to air this fall. Bridesman...

Anti-LGBTQ Talk Show Host Rush Limbaugh Dies At 70

February 18, 2021

February 18, 2021

Controversial talk show host Rush Limbaugh died on Feb. 17th from complications of lung cancer at his home in Palm...

Hal Holbrook, Actor Who Played Mark Twain, Dies At 95

February 3, 2021

February 3, 2021

Hal Holbrook, the actor best known for his accurate portrayal of Samuel Clemens — better known as Mark Twain —...

Award Decorated Actress, Cloris Leachman, Dead At 94

January 27, 2021

January 27, 2021

Cloris Leachman, Oscar and Emmy winning actress, has died at the age of 94 from natural causes at her home...

Iconic Talk Show Host Larry King, An LGBTQ Ally, Dies At 87

January 23, 2021

January 23, 2021

Larry King, the iconic talk show host and LGBTQ ally died on Saturday Jan. 23rd.  A statement was posted on...

Betty White Will Celebrate 99th Birthday In Quarantine

January 14, 2021

January 14, 2021

Gay Icon and legendary actress Betty White turns 99 on Jan. 17th and has some wild plans to mark the...

L.A. Makeup Artist Is First Trans Man To Compete On “RuPauls Drag Race”

December 13, 2020

December 13, 2020

The cast of RuPauls Drag Race Season 13 has been announced this week revealing its first trans man contestant will...

Real Housewives Star Comes Out As A Lesbian

December 10, 2020

December 10, 2020

Braunwyn Windham-Burke star of Real Housewives of Orange County has come out as a lesbian.  In an interview with GLAAD...

East Hollywood Man Appearing on Wheel Of Fortune

October 22, 2020

October 22, 2020

Tim Quinn, an East Hollywood resident, will be a contestant on the hit TV show Wheel of Fortune on Wednesday,...

Anne Heche Eliminated From DWTS

October 11, 2020

October 11, 2020

After four weeks on season 29 of the ABC reality dance competition Dancing With The Stars (DWTS) Anne Heche has...

An Apologetic Ellen DeGeneres Returns To Daytime TV

September 30, 2020

September 30, 2020

Using technology to it’s advantage for its 18th season The Ellen DeGeneres Show returned to a virtual studio audience on...

Local L.A. Woman Appearing On Wheel Of Fortune

September 23, 2020

September 23, 2020

Local Los Angeles woman, Julie Reyes, will be a contestant on Wheel of Fortune, the longest-running syndicated game show in...