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Series / Rise (2018)

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Glee, in the font of RENT

Rise is a 2018 TV show from NBC, based on the novel Drama High (itself based on a real high school in Pennsylvania), starring Josh Radnor as Lou Mazzuchelli (affectionately known by his students as "Mr. Mazzu"), an exceptionally average high school English teacher with Dead Poets Society-style aspirations who takes over the Drama Club in the pilot episode.

The show was mired by controversies as the show opted to portray the Lou Mazzuchelli stand-in as straight (in real life, the director was gay. The series also drew criticism from conservatives, ranging from the show's repeated attacks on Christianity/conservative Catholic values and a controversial subplot where one of the characters is bullied mercilessly for not wanting to play an overtly gay character in the play.

The series was ultimately canceled after a single season, with the ending featuring a Downer Ending (one that was most likely set up as a set-up for season two) where Mr Mazzu manages to get Spring Awakening performed in full, but at the cost of having the drama club shut down for good because of his antics.


Tropes in Rise:

  • Acoustic License: Inverted in the final episode. People have multiple conversations in the wings as the show runs, sometimes not even bothering to whisper, yet the audience doesn't hear any of it. As any high school drama kid who's gotten yelled at for talking in the wings can tell you, sound carries pretty well from there even if nobody has a mic.
  • Age-Inappropriate Art: The frame of the show is having teenagers put on Spring Awakening, which has some mature topics in it (and a lot of sex).
  • Based on a True Story: The show is loosely (and how!) on the career of high school drama teacher Lou Volpe. Employed by the Harry S Truman High School in Levittown, Pennsylvania, Volpe gained media attention for putting on edgy play material such as Rent and Spring Awakening. However, the show's counterpart for Volpe is straight whereas Volpe is gay in real life. Furthermore, Volpe was fully aware that putting on such risque material in a small town would create controversy and backlash, so he carefully and masterfully handled the PR aspect of presenting such material to a conservative audience and not bullying/pressuring students into doing things on stage they felt uncomfortable with. On the other hand, Mr Muzzo is a liberal strawman of the highest degree who alienates everyone, routinely bullies and intimidates his students, to the point that his "experiment" in presenting edgier high school theater is a total failure that ends with his firing and the closing of the entire theater department.
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  • Bowdlerize: Because it's a small conservative town, the principal says the club has to make heavy changes to the book and the songs if they want to perform the show—meaning they have to excise or downplay a lot of important scenes and plot points, robbing the show of much of its impact.
  • Covers Always Lie: This is the promotional banner. It's the show's name logo over a dark and mysterious background with Auli'i Cravalho's face staring dangerously through the rain. It makes the teen musical look like a detective mystery.
  • Downer Ending: Everything Mr Mazzu did ultimately backfires on him as the superintendent privately informs several parents who Mr Mazzu has spent the entire show pissing off that the drama department will be shut down, with the guise of "budget cuts", after the students defy him and perform the play uncensored.
  • Drama Club: The story frame of the show is Stanton's drama club under Mr. Mazzu.
  • Dumb Jock: Robbie, supposedly — flunking a test is how he's blackmailed by Mr. Mazzu.
  • Expy: Though it's based on a true story, that mostly just extends to Lou and the storyline. Otherwise, the main characters can all be aligned with the main Glee characters:
    • Mr. Mazzu (Lou Mazzuchelli) is Mr. Schu (Will Schuester)
    • Lilette is Rachel — she's even played by a Disney princess, like Rachel's mom was, and takes the role of Wendla, which was originated by Rachel's actress
    • Robbie and Gordy are Finn — Robbie in being the quarterback who gets blackmailed into doing the musical, Gordy in being the son figure to Lou
    • Coach Strickland is Coach Sylvester and Coach Tanaka — the pseudo-antagonist to Lou and the football coach
    • Simon and Gwen are Quinn — devout Christian, daddy issues, doesn't like the main couple, adored by the coach. And Gwen really sounds like Quinn.
    • Tracey is Sandy and Emma — alternative drama/glee club director, faces attraction from another teacher, helps drama/glee club director return to the position and supports him
    • Gail is Terri
  • Foreshadowing: Lou, in addition to wanting to shake things up and cast new people, says that he didn't cast Simon as Melchior because the show calls for real chemistry between the leads, and Simon has never been able to sell an ounce of sexual tension with Gwen. Turns out that when Simon plays romantically against a boy, suddenly sparks are flying everywhere.
  • Gayngst: Both for Simon, who is conflicted because of his conservative religious beliefs, and, it is implied, his father.
  • Incompatible Orientation: Simon tries to date Annabelle in an attempt to prove to himself that he's really straight—which of course she doesn't know; she just thinks he likes her, and starts to like him back.
  • The Musical: The drama club are putting on Spring Awakening.
  • Parental Sexuality Squick: Lilette's mom and the football coach, who's also Gwen's dad, have an affair.
  • Precision F-Strike: Even before the principal comes down with orders to Bowdlerize the show, Mr. Mazzu (and probably the writing team) knew that they couldn't get away with performing "Totally Fucked" as-is, so he tells the cast to sing "Totally F'd" instead until the final line of the song. Of course, then they're told they can't do it at all, until they come up with "totally hosed" instead. In the finale they go with Mr. Mazzu's original idea, but it cuts away from Robbie actually saying "fucked" to the principal's shocked face.
  • The Quarterback: Robbie. In the pilot he gets blackmailed to audition for drama club and then has to make a choice between football and the musical. After talking to his mom and doing some soul-searching, he picks drama.
  • Reality Ensues: Unfortunately, the kids putting on the best show in the world does not change the town's ingrained conservatism, make up for the fact they blatantly and very publicly ignored direct instructions, or fix the mire of school politics and budget issues—so the drama club gets cut as punishment.
  • Romance on the Set: In-universe, Robbie and Lilette have one and so do Jeremy and Simon.
  • Spiritual Successor: To Glee.
  • Two-Teacher School: There's Mr. Mazzu, the drama club director and apparently English teacher, Tracey, the drama assistant director, and Coach Strickland, the football coach. A principal is mentioned but doesn't appear until later episodes.
  • X Meets Y: Glee meets High School Musical, because apparently there were elements of the other these two didn't already entirely cover.


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