December 6, 2019 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

The Revolution Will Be Televised

May 27, 2019

May 27, 2019

For the first time ever, the L.A. Pride parade will air on live television.  When the first Los Angeles Pride...

Q&A: 9 Months with Courteney Cox

March 11, 2019

March 11, 2019

By Staff Writer 9 Months with Courteney Cox takes an intimate approach, giving viewers raw access to people from all...

“The L Word” Gang Moves to Silverlake?!

February 26, 2019

February 26, 2019

And 9 other exclusive reveals about the reboot season of “The L Word” Fans of “The L Word” rejoiced last...

Here for the Queerness of “Sex Education”

February 10, 2019

February 10, 2019

This British TV show was picked up by Netflix for a second season. Audiences stateside and across the pond rejoiced...

“The L Word” Reboot Season Confirmed for 2019

January 31, 2019

January 31, 2019

“It’s the way that we live … And loveee” The long wait for fans of Showtime’s “The L Word” is...

Coming Out for Comedy on Dekkoo

January 17, 2019

January 17, 2019

Your streaming screen is about to get a whole lot gayer. And funnier. “OUT on Stage” is the is the...

Hulu’s Fresh Take on Bisexuality

December 6, 2018

December 6, 2018

With a title as blunt as “The Bisexual,” one can’t help but assume that Hulu’s latest queer 6-episode series will...

GLAAD to See Queer Representation on Television

December 2, 2018

December 2, 2018

By Elijah Root-Sanchez This year was the highest year on record for representation of the LGBTQ+ community on cable networks...

We’re So Ready for RuPaul’s “Holi-slay” Spectacular

November 13, 2018

November 13, 2018

What better way to kick off the holiday season than with “RuPaul’s Drag Race Holi-slay Spectacular?” VH1 recently announced that...

Outfest West Hollywood Series to Highlight Misconceptions of Bisexuality

November 13, 2018

November 13, 2018

The monthly Outfest West Hollywood Series installment for November is taking a look at the stereotypes and false rumors surrounding...

“RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars” Announces Returning Queens for Season 4

November 9, 2018

November 9, 2018

Following the record-breaking tenth season of VH1’s “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” VH1 has announced the queens returning to the mainstage to...

“Harlots” Season 2 is Still a Queer Pleasure Chest

September 24, 2018

September 24, 2018

One of the more adventurous shows on TV brings a dramatic, cheeky second act. “Harlots” isn’t the gayest show on...

L.A.’s First LGBTQ+ Lantinx Talkshow is the new “Gay View”

September 21, 2018

September 21, 2018

With the premiere out this past Thursday, “Glitterbomb” is here to build bridges to the everyday gay community. Like a...

The Emmys Are Gayer Than Ever

September 20, 2018

September 20, 2018

By Elijah Root Sanchez The 70th Primetime Emmy Awards may have been the most diverse show yet in terms of...

BREAKING NEWS: “RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars” will be back for Another Season

August 22, 2018

August 22, 2018

Grab your tallest heals and wigs because “RuPaul’s Drag Race Allstars” is coming back! VH1 today revealed that “RuPaul’s Drag...