In the series premiere of RiseHow I Met Your Mother‘s Josh Radnor stars as Lou Mazzuchelli, a bored English teacher who finds inspiration in trying to revitalize the school’s theatre department. His decision to change the musical production to Spring Awakening is extremely controversial, as are his casting choices for the lead roles. These changes cause a ripple effect for his colleagues and students, some of whom we get to know in the show’s premiere.

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Lou is Looking for a Big Change

The episode begins with a look at Lou’s uninspired day as an English teacher. He’s clearly bored and he’s not getting through to his students at all. Lou decides to go to the principal to throw his hat in the ring for being the new head of the theatre program. Despite the fact that the assistant director has 11 years of experience compared to Lou’s complete lack of experience, the principal decides to grant Lou’s request. (What exactly did Rosie Perez’s Tracey Wolfe do to the principal to have him essentially take her job away from her? Given that she’s worked in the theatre department for years, she is the obvious choice to take over.)

On top of basically taking her job, no one bothers to tell Ms. Wolfe that Lou is the new director, so he has to tell her himself. She is rightfully upset about Lou taking over the job that should’ve been hers. (After all, she was already prepping a production of Grease that she planned to put her own spin on.) She tells him that he has an uphill battle, as the school doesn’t care at all about the theatre department. It’s all about football, don’t you know?

When Lou gets home and tells his family about his new job, his wife is not exactly thrilled. She knows what a time commitment this will be, but Lou has a plan to make everything work. His wife reluctantly agrees to let him take on this new challenge.

We get a brief glimpse at the home life of several of the students who are going to play a major part on the show. Lilette, a part-time waitress with dreams of leaving her small town, doesn’t have much time for a social life between school and work. Robbie, the star quarterback of the football team, makes sure to pay his sick mother a visit at the nursing home whenever he can. Gwen, the star of the theatre program, is adjusting to her father and mother living apart after her father’s infidelity. Gwen and Lilette are off to a bad start before they even start working together in the musical, as Gwen confronts Lilette when she brings her mother to the school’s pep rally, since Lilette’s mother is apparently having an affair with Gwen’s dad, aka the football coach.

Lou’s first decision as the new head of the theatre department is to change up the musical production. Instead of doing yet another performance of Grease, Lou decides to challenge the students with the provocative Spring Awakening. Aside from changing up the musical choice, Lou also makes some controversial casting decisions. He decides to make Lilette the female lead over Gwen, and he wants Robbie to play the male lead, despite the fact that Robbie didn’t even audition. (Lou heard Robbie rap at the pep rally, and that was apparently enough to convince him that Robbie is his guy.) Because he has Robbie in mind for the lead, he gives Simon (aka the only boy to actually audition for the musical) one of the more notable supporting roles.

Lou’s next move is to use Robbie’s terrible test score in his English class to get the football coach to agree to let Robbie audition for the musical, claiming that he’s just hoping more kids will be interested in auditioning if they hear that Robbie has done it. The coach agrees to let his star player audition because he thinks it won’t go any farther than that. Prior to deceiving the football coach, Lou gets advice from Ms. Wolfe (who thankfully returns to help Lou with the production). She advises Lou to not cast Robbie because the first rule of a small town theatre program is you never cast football.

Robbie Nails His Audition

Simon is not pleased that Lou didn’t cast him as the lead, and he’s even less pleased that Lou wants him to play a gay character. Simon knows this won’t go over well with his devoutly Catholic parents, but Lou thinks Simon will be brilliant in the role.

When Lou comes home late, despite promising his wife that he would manage his time even with these new responsibilities, Lou’s wife tells him that she found booze in their son’s room. This leads to a confrontation between Lou and his son, in which Lou takes away his son’s money and car keys until his son agrees to go to AA.  

At first, when Lilette asks her mother about her supposed affair with Gwen’s father, her mom denies it. However, after Lilette sees a text from the coach on her mother’s phone, Lilette and Simon go to spy on Lilette’s mom and catch her meeting up with Coach Strickland. Lilette is heartbroken that her mother lied to her.

Robbie auditions with Lilette, and after some brief advice from Lou to just be himself, Robbie gives a great audition. Robbie clearly has the charisma needed to play the lead in the musical, and even Tracey is impressed by the on-stage chemistry between Lilette and Robbie. (This on-stage chemistry will clearly become off-stage chemistry sometime in the near-future.)

After seeing his audition, Lou makes an impassioned speech to convince Robbie to do the musical. Later, Robbie talks to his mother about the musical, and she can tell how excited he is about it. He says he can’t do the musical because football is his chance at a scholarship and he can’t turn his back on that, but his mother thinks he should do what he wants because life is short.

When Robbie decides to do the musical, everything seems to fall into place and rehearsals quickly begin coming together, much to Lou’s delight. Unfortunately, not everyone shares Lou’s excitement about all these changes. Coach Strickland is not pleased that Lou wants to use Robbie in the musical. He argues that it’s his job to win games, and he needs Robbie to do that. Lou refuses to back down, so Coach Strickland threatens him to stay away from Robbie or things could get ugly.

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All’s Well That Ends Well

After going over the script and deciding that he’s happy with the role Lou assigned him, Simon tells his parents about the new musical they are doing and that he has been cast as “a character who has a love scene with a boy.” (I guess Simon thought that that would be a safer way to phrase it instead of telling his parents he’d be playing a gay character.) He asks his parents to read the script in the hopes that they will approve of him doing the musical. (Predictably, they do not approve of him participating in this production, but Simon decides that he’s going to do it anyway.)

While working on-stage, Lou meets the theatre department’s resident lighting guy, Maashous. Maashous helps Lou with casting when he tells Lou about a trans student named Michael who has an excellent voice, and Lou decides to cast Michael in one of the male roles. (I assume Michael will play a bigger role in the show as the season continues.)

Later, Lou learns that Maashous has been living at the school, and Lou mentions calling child services. Maashous begs Lou not to get him put back in the system because he doesn’t want to leave this school, his friends or the theatre department. Instead of calling child services, Lou brings Maashous to his house and decides that he will be sharing a room with his son. (We don’t see if Lou talks this over with his wife or not, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s made this decision without her as well.)

The next day, the principal calls Lou into his office because he finally read the script for Spring Awakening, and he decides that the school will not be doing this musical. He puts Ms. Wolfe back in charge of the theatre department and says they will be doing a musical they already have the rights to and the costumes for (though it’s not Grease, which Tracey was already prepping, so it would’ve made more sense to just go back to that production.) The principal also decides that Robbie will not be doing the musical because he’s too busy with football.

The kids are devastated when Lou tells them that he has essentially been fired and they will have to go back to doing the same boring musicals they are used to. He apologies for trying to change too many things at once instead of taking things one step at a time.

Apparently, the students and Ms. Wolfe are so unimpressed with the “safe” choice for this year’s musical that they organize a bonfire/sing-along, in which they burn the costumes and sets needed for that show. They then tell the principal that they want Lou back as the theatre director and they want to do Spring Awakening. Robbie says that he won’t play football unless they also allow him to do the musical. Ms. Wolfe then says that she’s prepared to quit if the principal doesn’t meet all of their demands. This tactic must work because we next see the students back in rehearsals for Spring Awakening, with Lou as their director.

Final Thoughts

All in all, the pilot episode of Rise is very clunky, as it tries to pack way too much story into one hour of television. However, the cast is talented and the show clearly has a lot of heart. Plus, if Jason Katims’ previous shows (Friday Night LightsParenthood) are anything to go by, this show will eventually turn into something special.

What did you think of the series premiere of Rise? Did you like Lou after he basically took Tracey’s job away from her? Did you like their interactions? Which characters stood out to you? Will Gwen and Lilette learn to get along as they work together on the musical or will they continue to butt heads? Will Simon begin to recognize his own sexuality through the character he’s playing? Will Lou and his wife end up becoming Maashous’ official foster parents or will they find another place for him to stay? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.

Rise season 1 airs Tuesdays at 9/8c on NBC. Want more news? Like BuddyTV’s Facebook page.

(Image courtesy of NBC)

Megan Cole

Contributing Writer, BuddyTV