by Kevin Bianchi
As someone who’s not in high school, it’s easy to take Rise at its surface level. It’s easy to watch it and wag my finger while I rant to my dog about funding the arts in education. It’s easy to laugh at similarities between this show and its musical prime time predecessors. It was very easy to watch and wonder how in seventeen years no one has ever called Mr. Mazzuchelli on his bullshit. But mostly, it’s easy to forget what it’s like to be a teenager watching a show about teenagers.
So I hope, truly, that kids all over America are watching this show. I hope they’re watching this show and getting from it what they need to make life a little easier for them.
1. Kids Who Need to See Themselves Happy
I have no words for how thrilled I was to see LGBTQ teenagers on TV who were not there just to be victims. I love that gay kids, and especially closeted ones like Simon (that’s where this is going, right?), can turn on Rise and see a brave, gay person stand up to his parents (imagine standing up to Stephanie J. Block!?). But the LGBTQ representation that excited me most was Michael. Michael wasn’t introduced to the audience as a storyline about queer suffering. He’s just a kid in choir with a good voice who who was fortunate enough to have adults that didn’t call him by his deadname. And he gets to play MORITZ? That’s the shit. Maybe tougher times lie ahead for Michael. But for now, he’s just a happy, welcomed kid. And I hope that kids out there who need to see a world where their queerness isn’t questioned exist are watching Rise and seeing it there.
2. Kids Who Need Permission to Contain Multitudes
One of my favorite things about Rise was the ownership that Robbie took over wanting to play football AND be in the play (oh, sorry, Mr. Mazzuchelli - “the show”). It took a little push from his awesome mom, but it was so cool to see a teenaged character that, after the initial manipulation from a teacher, was genuinely excited to try something new. And when he learned to enjoy that new thing, he took such ownership of it that he delivered an ultimatum of doing both or neither to his coach. High School is the worst. And getting in a neatly defined box and never moving outside of it lifts a little bit of the world’s weight off of someone’s shoulders. I hope that kids who want to, or are presented he chance to, try something new can watch Rise and see that that’s okay.
3. Kids Who Need a Troupe
There were a lot of things that Mr. Mazzuchelli said and did in the first episode that I didn’t agree with. But what I did agree with was the speech he gave to he cast about what it means to be in a troupe. Every theatre kid can attest to the feeling of walking into the auditorium or choir room or wherever at the end of a long day of high school bullshit and feeling it all go away, there’s always some drama (“Save the Drama For the Stage!” says a poster in every drama classroom in America), but I have never known theatre folks to be anything but welcoming, inclusive and loyal to a fault. I hope that any kid who feels othered is watching Rise and feeling like there’s a place for them in a place they least expect it.
Not to compare apples to moodier apples with a blue filter on them, but Glee’s message was “WE ARE OUTCASTS AND THAT IS FABULOUS COME AND OWN YOUR WEIRDNESS WITH US.” Rise feels like a quieter, assuring call to kids dealing with very real, grown up hardships that, “Hey, you. Yeah, you. You are not alone.”
The kids on Rise are kids who, for varying reasons, have had to grow up quicker than their peers. Not your typical latch-key kids, but kids who have sick parents or parents that need parenting or who have bravely shown the world that they are something something other than typical. And as much fun as I’ll have tuning in each week, I hope that kids everywhere are hearing the show’s call and feeling better about going to school the next day.