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Rise - Most of all to Dream - Review: "Budget Slashed, But the Play Goes On"

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Rise 1.02 "Most of all to Dream" - Review:
Directed by Rosemary Rodriguez & Written by Jason Katims

The second chapter of Rise slowed down the pace (albeit, only slightly) in favour of a more character focused hour that allowed to give the characters room to breathe as the show continued to deal with their various personal troubles, and the troubled production as a whole, directed this time by Rosemary Rodriguez, who has experience working with Jessica Jones, Elementary and The Walking Dead in the past.

The fallout from the burning of the Pirates of Penzance costume and Lou's mini-revolution was immediately met with some consequences as Principal Ward decides to rather than put a stop to Lou's play completely, let it crash and burn in front of everyone by slashing their budget to zero, as if the odds weren't stacked against them enough already. He's carrying a vendetta now. Meanwhile, Tracey - who led the bonfire burning, decides that the best way to overcome this would be to ask for funding at the school district budget meeting, which causes a conflict with Lou. It's a game of tit-for-tat throughout the episode in a bid to raise money for the play and steer it away from the planting of thirty trees and a brand new $117,000-worth JumboTron for the football team is countered by Tracey's request for $14,000 to produce the show. There is of course no way that they'll get the $14,000, but $750 is awarded to the department by the end.

Two episodes in and I'm still not overly convinced by Josh Radnor as the show's lead. I kind of wish the focus had seen on Rosie Perez instead, as she steals every scene she's in, as far as I'm concerned, Tracey is easily the best character out of the adult cast so far. Lou is very much still the one in charge of the operation, and his unconventional approach is once more called into question this week as we get to see more people react to the consequences of Spring Awakening being the chosen play, and not everyone is keen given its controversial subject matter.

A victim of the current drama between the football team and the theatre production is Robbie, who's feeling the strain and pressure from everyone around him. He's having trouble with lines, reading out of a book in one particular scene, and he skips on a date with Lillete to spend extra practice with another teammate after that particular teammate reminds him of what's at stake. And as if things couldn't get any worse for Lillete, after agreeing to another potential date with Robbie, she spots him kissing another girl from afar, despite the apparent sparks that are growing between the two.

And Gwen also has it tough this week as we learn her home life isn't exactly smooth when her mother learnt that she was no longer the lead in the play. Mrs. Strickland isn't happy with the loss of Robbie to the play as well, and her overbearing personality is taking its toll. Gwen tries too hard in the rehearsal, and is often too loud for a quieter character that she's playing, in an attempt to get Lou to notice and change her mind, but Lou isn't exactly supportive. She's facing tougher competition now that Robbie and Lilette have gotten their act together, at least for the moment. Lucy Forsyth pours her heart and soul into the performance of The Song of Purple Summer after another Dead Poets Society-esque speech by Lou to end the episode, where he encourages her to be better. Like with Rosie Perez, Amy Forsyth really aces her character here, and I appreciate that the show is giving some much needed depth to Gwen to prevent her from becoming a traditional stereotypical one-note antagonist. One thing this show wants to make clear early on is that everyone has their own problems to overcome and nothing is perfect, even at times it feels like it's going a bit too overboard on this approach.

Lou faces plenty of problems not only at work but also at home, as Gordy, his son - ends up crashing the car in the middle of the night despite being grounded and having car privileges removed. Gordy's excuse that he passed his breathalyzer test doesn't pass up to Lou, who's worried that Gordy is turning into his father. Masshous only complicates matters at the family dinner, where Sadie seems to at the very least prefer him to Gordy who it seems, is doing his best to cover up his alcoholic problems. Gordy is very much on the side of his mother when it comes to Masshous, and are pretty much against him being there at this point. However, it's important to bear in mind not everyone would be keen on having to them what amounts to a random kid show up at their home unannounced knowing nothing about it beforehand, even if it's only for a few days.

Gordy's problems come from the fact that he seems to think his father is pressuring him into being an artist or someone who isn't a footballer. He feels like his dad is disappointed in him and is turning to alcohol as a result. Principal Ward wants to send Gordy to rehab, but Strickland promises that he'll play in a bid to keep him out of rehab, taking the his side, which again could complicate matters for Gwen in turn, as if she hasn't got enough to deal with right now. Football could be the answer to Gordy's recovery, but it remains to be seen how this storyline progresses. Knowing Rise, I wouldn't be surprised if there were a few more twists and turns in their storyline yet.

It's quickly clear that despite even the slightly slower pace of Most of all to Dream, it still can't settle down. There's so many different plots going on it feels like it's juggling too many at once, and it's coming at a cost. It does make the hour go by quickly, but at times, it almost feels too quickly. Maybe it would have been better zoning in on a select few characters and saving certain storylines for later, giving the ones at the forefront a better chance to shine.

The show seems to be at the very least acknowledging Michael's storyline, even if it isn't giving it perhaps the spotlight that it deserves - and like Masshous, he is another consequence of the show's approach to juggling too many storylines at once. He has been changing before in the utility room separate from the others and is initially worried about how the boys will embrace him changing with them, but once he decides to join them in the changing rooms, nobody raises an eyebrow and acts like it's anything out of the ordinary, which proves to be a boost for Michael's confidence.

Someone who gets a bit more screentime is Simon, who is much like Gwen, struggling with his home life. His parents turn to the family priest for answers, and the priest essentially gets down to the heart of the matter on whether or not Simon trusts Lou or not. There's a lot going on in Simon's head right now, with Ted Sutherland doing his best to convey the characters' feelings effectively, and given the material he's provided with, he handles it very well. Simon's parents are hoping that they can use the Priest to talk him out of going to the play. It doesn't seem to work however, as Simon embraces the play - but is reluctant to kiss Jeremy in the performance. Jeremy even goes further to ask Simon about studying at 8pm on Saturday, and it's easy to see that he has other things in mind. Simon isn't sure and decides to ask out someone else instead on the spur of the moment, a character played by Shannon Purser, who you may recognise from Stranger Things' Barb. But then, more complications await Simon further, as his parents decide that they want him to change schools, escalating the situation further.

At this stage, Rise is still rocky. It's got far too much going on at the moment and could use a trimming in storylines to balance out its pace. At the same time though, it remains enjoyable viewing if you don't take it too seriously. It's not trying to be an ultra-realistic drama and if you go in with those expectations you may well find yourself enjoying it. When it works, as shown with the scene at the end of the pilot where the characters were all brought together to burn down the props for Pirates of Penzance which I selected one of my Scenes of the Week, it really shines - but there just isn't enough moments like these yet to make it truly stand out. But the good news is that there are still plenty of episodes for the show to improve and iron out its problems, and I am really hoping that it is able to sort out what works and what doesn't sooner rather than later.

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