“Rise” struggles to rise above its familiarity, conspicuously feeling like a “Glee”-“Friday Night Lights” mashup. That doesn’t mean the NBC series – from Jason Katims, producer of the latter series, as well as “Parenthood” – doesn’t have its merits, only that this show about high-school kids putting on a show plays like a revival, not an original.
Although loosely based on the nonfiction book “Drama High” (and the subject of some controversy for changing the main character from a gay man to a straight one), “Rise” contains so many throwback elements in the early going viewers can be forgiven for feeling like they already know all the tunes.
There’s the girl from the wrong side of the tracks (“Moana’s” Auli’i Cravalho) ashamed of her single mom; the star quarterback (Damon J. Gillespie) who wants to perform, despite his coach’s objections; and the talented kid (Ted Sutherland) whose strict parents disapprove of the edgier material (a staging of the musical “Spring Awakening”) on religious grounds.
Overseeing it all, meanwhile, is the aforementioned principled teacher (“How I Met Your Mother’s” Josh Radnor) who assumes control of the program – much to the chagrin of its previous steward (Rosie Perez) – as much for his own sanity as the kids. Their relationship proceeds grudgingly, against the backdrop of a skittish administration and school board demanding that they sanitize the production.
The description, frankly, makes “Rise” sound worse than it is, especially once the writers have time to flesh out the characters. Perhaps that’s because the pangs of high-school longing remain identifiable, and Katims and his collaborators (among them “Hamilton” producer Jeffrey Seller) know this genre well enough that they still find veins of emotion, however tapped out they might appear to be.
The cast is also strong, with the younger members more convincingly resembling high schoolers than is often the case. As with “Glee,” there’s an abundance of musical talent on display, certainly in when the show finally comes together. But where that earlier Fox series was often cartoonishly broad, this one (like “Friday Night Lights”) is sincere and earnest, which doesn’t make it any less derivative.
The network is introducing “Rise” in conjunction with the season finale of its hit drama “This is Us,” after promoting the show heavily during the Olympics. That should help provide initial sampling, although “Glee’s” longevity notwithstanding, the genre doesn’t exactly possess a scintillating commercial track record, including NBC’s “Smash,” which wasn’t one.
“Rise” isn’t bad; in fact, in some ways, it’s better than it really ought to be. But having watched the 10-episode season, it’s a nicely executed version of a premise that doesn’t cry out for an encore.
“Rise” will premiere March 13 at 10 p.m. on NBC.