Let’s do a pro/con list, shall we?
Pro: Miss Wolfe finally reams out Mr. Mazzuchelli. He brushed off her attempts to save budget money, he insulted her previous productions, and he regularly ignores her expertise. But finally, while clutching a perfectly decent tankard prop from Once Upon a Mattress, Miss Wolfe lets loose. This job should have been hers, and she’s been sucking it up because she loves the kids more than she resents Lou Mazzuchelli, and because this theater is her whole life. And now Lou is messing it all up by pushing a closeted kid into a position of conflict with his parents, and he doesn’t even realize it! She yells at him, he has to stand there and listen, and it is such a relief to hear someone on this show say it all out loud.
Con: It doesn’t do … anything? Mr. Mazz doesn’t slap his hand to his forehead and say, “You know what, you’re right. Please take over everything to do with the financing of this theater production, because I have no idea what I’m doing. You’re the one hunting for crystal balls at garage sales, while I’m bringing home foster children without asking my wife.” Miss Wolfe even prefaces the whole interaction with a disclaimer that they can forget she ever said anything. Which is not what should be happening!
Pro: There’s a really great moment between Coach Strickland and Gordy. After Gordy hauls around massive football equipment and stays late to hang up gross gear, he finally shows up in Coach’s office to get “the talk” over with. And then Coach Strickland gives him a speech that almost feels Coach Taylor-esque. Coach Strickland doesn’t do talking. It’s annoying. His thing is: You stay busy, you do the work, and you hope one morning you feel better. You hope you wake up and feel different about things. You can see the sense of this wash over Gordy, and you can see how much it works for him in a way that his father’s heart-to-heart talks do not.
Con: Before that one great scene between Coach and Gordy, we get buckets of time with Coach and Lilette’s mom, Vanessa. He just cannot understand why he needs to stop showing up at the diner and buying her a phone case and saying things like, “How are you doing with everything?” Thrilled though I am that Vanessa tries to make a hard break with him, and happy though I may be that she wants to be a better role model for her daughter, I’m still annoyed with how sympathetic Rise is to both of these characters. If you don’t want to be married, Coach, divorce your wife! Don’t show up at home complimenting cookies and then go to Target to buy phone cases for other ladies! (Okay, I did enjoy the phone case, which is a hilariously dad thing to buy for your sexy partner in adultery.)
Pro: The harmonies on “The Bitch of Living”!
Con: Mr. Mazzu asking Maashous to be the lighting designer. He treats it like it’s a huge honor, and not what it probably actually is, which is that Mr. Mazzu has no idea how to work lights and Maashous is the only one who can.
Pro: Simon singing “Left Behind”!
Con: Mr. Mazzu whining about how he wants his show to be special.
Pro: Stephanie J. Block does a fantastic job as Simon’s mother. She sells every ounce of her internal conflict about her husband’s hardline stance, her awareness of how much the musical means to Simon, her tiny seed of concern that he might relate to this role, and her desperate hope that trusting Mr. Mazzu will be enough to protect her son from getting hurt. That scene at the end where Mrs. Saunders pulls up to the Mazzuchelli house and begs Lou to tell her what he believes in? Block is so great that the scene should get her airlifted out of Rise and into a better show.
Con: How is it possible that Mr. Mazzuchelli needs to be told by his wife to prioritize his own son?! Their son is uncomfortable sleeping in his bed because Maashous is in his room, she tells him. “So what do we do?” he asks. GEE, MR. MAZZU. Maybe look into the ramifications of bringing a whole new person into your household before just doing it? Maybe sit down with your wife and have a conversation about how this is going to work? Maybe talk to your own kid?!
Pro: At least Mr. Mazzu had the sense to check in with wherever Maashous is meant to be living?
Con: “Don’t judge me,” snarls Maashous’s foster mother, ensuring that our only understanding of that character will be that she sucks.
Pro: Robbie and Lilette are cute together. Who doesn’t love teens doing some very awkward “oh shoot, we put our hands on the same part of the backpack at the same time!” fumbling? As for characters imported from Friday Night Lights, Lilette and Vanessa do a decent job of recreating the Tyra and Angela Collette situation.
Con: Robbie and his mother are no Matt Saracen and his grandma. Robbie’s mother has been pigeonholed as “perfect angelic sick person,” with none of Lorraine’s individuality or complexity.
Pro: I am now adjusted enough that I don’t feel as disappointed when Rise fails to live up to the promise of its idea.
Con: I am now adjusted enough that I don’t feel as disappointed when Rise fails to live up to the promise of its idea.
• The whole Maashous plot makes me feel for the poor kid, except his name is still Maashous. Please come enlighten me about the origins or meanings of this name, because I just don’t get it.
• The Maashous plot does not make Mr. Mazzu more endearing, or make me believe that the Mazzuchelli marriage is anything other than deeply dysfunctional. Mrs. Mazzuchelli’s entire role is to accede to her husband’s whims and nag him about caring about his own son? Ugh.
• Robbie leaves a “check yes or no” note in Lillette’s locker, which is adorable but which also made me wonder if kids still do this? Surely they just Snapchat each other or something?
• My sense is that Mr. Mazzu will find some miracle money so he can pull off his avant-garde design idea of [checks notes] smoke stacks? Anyhow, I’m glad that at least Denise Strickland seems to understand his vision. It would be nice for that character to have some feature other than “resentful pushy harridan.”
• It was nice to hear Simon sing “Left Behind,” but unless he’s suddenly been recast as Melchior, why is he rehearsing a song that Robbie should be singing? It’s especially jarring when Simon insists that Mr. Mazzu not change any of the musical for his sake; apparently that does not include making sure Hanschen sings only his own numbers. I understand that Rise may futz with the specifics of Spring Awakening to better serve its own story, but it does raise some questions about how much Mr. Mazzu’s production will actually look like Spring Awakening.