Rise finally hit television’s everywhere last week with an ambitious pilot that sought to imbue audiences with a whole lot of plot, a massive ensemble, and enough music to keep us theater geeks tuned in. One of the biggest musical shows to hit mainstream television since Glee, Rise has a lot to live up to. The second episode of the inaugural season for this musical dramedy just aired, titled ‘Most of All to Dream’, and what we saw left us impressed. The series doubled down on its interesting ensemble while allowing the characters to breathe in an organic and entertaining way. Let’s dive into a full episode recap in order to see what Rise did well this week while acknowledging a few of the flat notes along the way.
Drama In Three Parts: Rise Raises The Stakes.
The beauty of what Rise has done in just the second episode of their first season is, at first, hard to see. While viewers are no doubt used to high school hijinks and the hamfisted drama that typically comes along with it, the writers at Rise are infinitely more patient and intricate with how they go about approaching the way the various characters act and subsequently interact. In ‘Most of All to Dream’ we get three distinctive pieces of drama that are separated into solo stories that really pushes each character to evolve and grow in a way that is natural and organic. The only connective tissue between these three stories, despite all taking place at the same school, is the struggling-parent-turned-theater teacher Mr. Mazzuchelli. Let’s dive into the three story arcs from this episode by starting with the most impressive of the bunch.
Ted Sutherland plays Simon Saunders, a teenage boy clearly struggling with familiar expectations and his own innate sense of self. Simon comes from a religious and conservative family and this creates some of the most tangible and real drama in the show. Simon is attracted to the theater and in love with the idea of exploring the new play, Spring Awakening, because it is his first chance to be open and honest with own sexuality — something his parents, as devout Catholics, would no doubt disapprove of — and disapprove they do. Simon’s parents make their way into the episode by approaching their priest in order to try and sway Simon from pursuing the arts. While this is happening, Simon is struggling on stage with his conflicted sexuality and his attraction to his scene partner, Jeremy (played by Sean Grandillo). Jeremy and Simon have real chemistry but Simon can’t push himself to finish the on-stage kiss, scared to confront something he knows will be a Pandora’s box with his family and his faith. Simon and Jeremy end up planning a ‘study get together’ but Simon gets cold feet and backs out. His raw confusion and inner turmoil are palpable throughout the episode and actor Ted Sutherland does an impeccable job.
Swinging the focus, we end up seeing that Mr. Mazzuchelli is having a tough time of it with his son, Gordy. Gordy’s past demons are back to haunt him and the young troublemaker ends up in a car accident. The family is forced to confront Gordy on his drinking and Mr. Mazzuchelli and the family struggle in an awkward dinner. Next, Mr. Mazzuchelli decides to confront his son during lunch, at school, which is a huge breach of privacy to Gordy’s mind. Gordy and his dad have it out and we quickly find out that young Gordy Mazzuchelli has no interest in chasing his father’s hopes and dreams and that he couldn’t be less interested in photography or acting or singing if he tried. Things get worse for Gordy when he can’t find his way into games on the football team but Coach Strickland, perhaps touched by Gordy’s family-issues, vows to try and work him into games more.
Finally, we get to see a little bit more of Michael (played by Ellie Desautels) and his struggles to fit into the school as a transgendered student struggling to fit in. It’s revealed that Michael has been changing clothing in the utility room before drama class but this feels inhumane and he wants to be in the locker room with the rest of the guys. So, Michael approaches Mr. Mazzzu who enthusiastically allows Michael his request. Michael goes onto the boy’s locker room and, surprise surprise, there is no drama! Michael is welcomed like any other guy and the storyline thankfully ends on a high note.
What Rise has done with only its second episode is impressive. The exploration of family dynamics on multiple levels was fascinating to watch. The continued growth of Gordy, Michael and Simon were also very powerful. We’re interested to see where the series goes as we get deeper and deeper into the inner turmoil and outward musical levity.
Rise airs Tuesdays at 9 PM EST on NBC.