Month: April 2017

Black Lightning (The CW) pilot preview: The most political DC Comics show?

Written and produced by Mara Brock Ali & Salim Akil (Being Mary Jane, The Game, Girlfriends, Moesha). Executive produced by Greg Berlanti (The Flash, Supergirl, Riverdale, Brothers & Sisters) & Sarah Schechter ((Arrow, Blindspot, Legends of Tomorrow). Based on the characters created by Tony Isabella & Trevor Von Eeden. Directed by Salim Akil. For Warner Bros. Television, Berlanti Productions, Akil Productions & DC Comics. 60 pages. Writer’s 2nd Draft. 01/05/2017. (Based on the script written for FOX)

Description: Jefferson Pierce hung up the suit and his secret identity years ago but with a daughter hell-bent on justice and a star student being recruited by a local gang, he is pulled back into the fight as the wanted vigilante and DC legend Black Lightning…

With Cress Williams (Heart of Dixie, Code Black, Friday Night Lights, Prison Break), Nafessa Wiliams (Twin Peaks 2017, Code Black, One Life to Live), China Anne McClain (Descendants, House of Payne), Christine Adams (Feed the Beast, Agents of SHIELD, Terra Nova)…

  

You’ll like if you already: Shows of the DC Universe

Likely Timeslot: Monday at 9, Tuesday at 9, Thursday at 8.


A lot of you were waiting for this preview to come. The devil in me wanted it to be the last The CW pilot I give a look at. Just to build the tension. And also because I’m not a big DC fan so it’s not really my priority. Before delving into it, let me tell you the young-skewing network has a bit of a situation here. Their CBS produced-pilot are weak, especially Valor and Dynasty, while Insatiable is kinda good but a wild card. In the meantime, the Warner Bros. pilots are all strong possibilities, with family dramedy Life Sentence an exciting one (and a personal favorite), Searchers an ambitious option and Black Lightning looking like a no-brainer for obvious reasons. The problem is the network won’t be able –in theory though- to pick-up only WB pilots since it is co-own by CBS. So which one will have to go? The suspense is already killing me.

Before reading Black Lightning, I had the feeling it may not live up to the expectations, explaining why FOX decided to not proceed with a pilot order. Some of you may not know the project first landed at FOX in September following a multiple-network bidding war but had to move when they realized –a little too late- that they were already the home of two DC Comics shows (Gotham and Lucifer), with Marvel’s X-Men drama Gifted looking good for a series order. That was too many superheroes and mutants for them, apparently. The CW saved Black Lightning last minute like they did with the second season of Supergirl and Riverdale, which was also set up at FOX initially. Now that I have read the pilot script, I can say FOX made a very bad decision (especially when you look at what they ordered instead) and The CW made the right call by saving it. It’s not the best thing I’ve read this year but it’s a good one for sure.

Black Lightning would have looked good on FOX surrounded by Empire or Lethal Weapon. The three of them deal with family. Differently. But still. It’s not a show about Jefferson Pierce, it’s a show about the Pierce’s family. The daughters characters are featured prominently in this first hour. They are the most interesting ones and without them, the show would hardly fit with The CW line-up. Jennifer, the youngest, is an independent, outspoken scholar-athlete with a wild streak of her own, who defines herself as a feminist and has a tendency to get into trouble; while Anissa is a passionate and quick-witted lesbian twenty-something who balances the demands of medical school with her job teaching part-time at her father’s school. Oh yeah, it’s a bit of a school drama too since Jefferson is the principal of the Garfield high-school in a poor neighbourhood of Los Angeles and most of the action happens there. And for those, like me, who are not familiar with the DC Universe, those two are meant to become superheroes as their father: respectively Thunder and Lightning. There’s already a hint of it in the pilot.

Jennifer and Anissa have a mother; Jefferson and her are separated, she has another man in her life for quite some time but he still believes she’ll come back. She’s the main reason why he stopped being Black Lightning. She knows his secret identity. As does his mentor, an old man named Gambi who creates his new costume (of course, there’s the inevitable scene of every superhero show where he put it for the first time). Depending on the chemistry between the actors, there’s a big potential with these two strong relationships. The pilot has its own villain, who’s part of a larger story, the one of a local gang called the One Hundred who wants to recruit Jennifer. And yeah, Jefferson will do everything in his power to stop them. Expect this part of the show to be serialized with the gang coming back from time to time.

There is no mystery left around Jefferson Pierce when the pilot ends. We get to know through flashbacks, Arrow-style, how he got his powers in the first place, what he did with them –mostly good things- and why he hung up the suit. It’s never boring, but never very surprising either. His story is more or less the same as every other superheroes of this earth. What makes it different and timely is the fact that it’s the first black superhero on network television (the other one being Luke Cage on Netflix). And of course, it’s not a little detail. The pilot deals with police brutality –Jefferson is checked by the police twice and it’s not a walk in the park- and the message the writers –who are black and husband and wife- want to send to the new generation of African-american is that it’s time to harness and release their power by becoming their own superheroes. It’s an important thing to do in those troubled times.

Black Lightning is probably the most family friendly and political DC Comics show so far. It follows very closely, even too closely, the usual steps of a superhero series and adds some substance to the mix. An entertaining hour of television that is not just one more DC Comics show on The CW.

The Get (CBS) pilot preview: This is not fake News!

Written and produced by Bridget Carpenter (11.22.63, Westworld, Friday Night Lights, Parenthood). Directed by James Strong (Broadchurch, Doctor Who). For CBS Television Studios. 60 pages. Clean Draft.

Description: A team of tireless Internet journalists from the website The Get pursue and expose stories of injustice using their unconventional investigative techniques in today’s anything-goes world of reporting…

With Amy Brenneman (The Leftovers, Reign, Private Practice, Amy), Brad Garrett (Fargo, ‘Til Death, Everybody Loves Raymond), Emayatzy Corinealdi (Hand of God, Roots), Jeananne Goossen (The Night Shift, The Following), Alex Fitzalan, Michael Rady (UnREAL, Jane The Virgin, Swingtown), Claire Forlani (Meet Joe Black, Rock, Camelot)…

   

You’ll like it if you already like: The Newsroom, The Good Wife…

Likely timeslot: Sunday at 9, Wednesday at 10


When CBS picked-up The Get a few weeks ago, I breathe a huge sigh of relief. I’m hoping for a network drama about journalism for years. There were a few projects in the past–among them two produced by Shonda Rhimes, Correspondents & Inside the Box– but none of them ever went to series. And of course there was HBO’s The Newsroom written by Aaron Sorkin, which was half-baked but mostly good. It’s a head-scratcher quite frankly. It’s such a perfect workplace to make a great drama (or a great soap)! What are the producers waiting for exactly? Since journalism is in danger these days (a serious study said recently that newspaper reporter is the “worst job”), more than ever in this new political environment, it’d be important to have such a show on the air. The Get may not be the ideal version of it, it’s not exactly what I had in mind, but it’s definitely something I’d watch on a weekly basis, though obviously a series order looks like a long shot.

The Get is the title of the show, but it also refers to the website inside the show. Three of the most important journalists of the team are women, which looks like a real statement from the writer, Bridget Carpenter. Meet first the steeled and determined Ellen (played by the excellent Amy Brenneman), who has been known to push boundaries in order to find the truth. She has a backstory about her father, who works for the LAPD. Then there’s Noelle, a fearless journalist who never backs down from a story she cares about. In the pilot, she works on a case of a woman who fakes pregnancies in order to get money from desperate couples who are looking to adopt a baby. Finally, there’s Isa, the senior producer at The Get and a tech-savvy researcher. They are joined by a fresh face, Alex, a young man who was a discreet and observant intern until he found THE story that got him a regular job; and their boss, Bill (played by Brad Garrett), a hardworking reporter who has spent his life working up to the position of executive producer.

It’s a really promising and functional group on paper. They are instantly likable without playing it nice all the time. Plus, they have more than their The Get’s stories to tell, things more personal that will help serialize the show a little bit if it’s ordered to series. Until then, the pilot is mostly procedural, with two cases tackled with energy and fearlessness. It’s efficient, captivating and inspirational. They often operate undercover with hidden cameras, which could give a different atmosphere to the series visually. Think Person of Interest for example. But let’s be real: in the end, it works exactly like a cop show with detectives replaced by journalists. They help solve a case AND make a great story of their own. I feel like they could become more ambitious later, add layers, maybe with more serialized cases over multiple episodes, but in order to convince CBS, they’d better start straight and simple. They clearly have more cards to play over time. 

The Get is not exactly an innovative offer from CBS since it works like many of their cop shows but without cops. That being said it’s different and timely enough to warrant a series order. It gives a little bit of hope and a sense of justice that we desperately need. Plus, it shows that journalism can be important, IS important when it’s more than rumors, gossips and fake news. 

Las Reinas (ABC) pilot preview: Not soapy enough

Positively Miami“. Written and produced by Dean Georgaris  (Paycheck, Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life). Executive produced by Mark Gordon (Grey’s Anatomy, Criminal Minds, Quantico, Designated Survivor), Chris Brancato (Narcos) & Nick Pepper. Directed by Liz Friedlander (Conviction, Stalker, 90210). For ABC Studios, EOne & The Mark Gordon Company. 59 pages. Network Draft 5. 1.25.17.

Description: Detective Sonya De La Reina is forced to confront her past when a case compels her to reconnect with her estranged family, especially her grandmother Gabriella, the head of the most powerful criminal outfit in Miami. Thrust back into the world she thought she had left behind, Sonya must walk the murky line between the law and her family, and question her true destiny as a De La Reina…

With Daniella Alonso (Animal Kingdom, Being Mary Jane, Revolution, Friday Night Lights), John Corbett (Northern Exposure, Sex & The City, Parenthood, United States of Tara), Matthew Davis (The Vampire Diaries, Cult, Damages, What About Brian), Sonia Braga (Aquarius, Luke Cage, Alias), Amanda Warren (The Leftovers), Eric Winter (Days of Our Lives, Brothers & Sisters, Witches of East End), Shalim Ortiz (Heroes, Magic City)…

  

You’ll like if you already like: Queen of the South.

Likely timeslot: Sunday at 9, Monday at 10, Wednesday at 10

 

Writer Dean Georgaris is a lucky and supposedly talented guy. The two scripts he wrote this year got a pilot order: the military drama For God and Country at NBC and Las Reinas at ABC, two very different beasts. Years ago, he created Clementine, already for ABC, an intriguing show centered on a girl who discovers she has psychic powers. It was good and this close to get a series order. Maybe he’s about to get his revenge, though I feel like the alphabet has way better and more fitting options than this crime drama set in Miami –which is kind of exotic- originally developed in 2015-2015 when they were not looking for any procedural. Now they are, but Deception or The Trustee are stronger.

Even though the pitch indicates Las Reinas may be a soap –the classic story of a girl who abandoned her wealthy family a long time ago (six years precisely) but who has no other choice but to reconnect with them- it’s not. There are elements, yes. Like the grandmother who’s evil. I’d be glad to watch the incredible Sonia Braga playing this part. Think Madeleine Stowe in Revenge as Victoria Grayson. Gabriella de la Reina is the same kind of cruel queen. She looks lovely and stunning for her age (she’s 66), everybody in the community thinks she’s the most generous woman on earth, but in fact she’s a ruthless bitch and a murderer. I would want her funnier, so at least the show gives us a good guilty laugh, but she’s just mean and that’s it for now. Every time the show has the opportunity to go full soap, it just looks the other way. No OMG moments or edge of your seat scenes. No emotional stuff either. It’s a pity. ABC viewers would be more likely to give it a chance if it were soapier.

It’s mostly about the investigation –a missing girl, of course- and establishing our heroine as a no-nonsense badass cop who doesn’t follow the rules because she has a great instinct and people around her who are ready to forgive her behaviour as long as she saves the day. Exactly as the other ABC pilot The Trustee, but at least this one’s fun. And she has a partner, a new one, she’s not fond of. How surprising. He basically follows her everywhere but doesn’t add much to the mix. He’s bland. There was no time to give him something interesting to play it seems. There are other cops we don’t care about and Sonia’s ex-partner, who’s now her boss. There’s a nice potential there. But it’s a procedural so we’ll have to wait before they find the time to make something out of it.

There’s nothing even remotely fresh in Las Reinas, nothing that really makes you want to come back, unless you’re craving for one another crime procedural about a formidable detective with a difficult past. The criminal family angle is the only thing that could have made the difference but it’s not convincing and important enough in the pilot. It’s a CBS show lost in the ABC development slate. It was not good enough in 2014. It’s still not good enough in 2017. Adiós.

Valor (The CW) pilot preview: Flying Under The Radar

Written and produced by Kyle Jarrow (Lost Generation). Executive produced by Bill Haber (Beauty and the Beast, Rizzoli & Isles) & Anna Fricke (Everwood, Men In Trees, Wayward Pines). Directed by Michael M. Robin (The Closer, Major Crimes, Rizzoli & Isles, Nip/Tuck). For CBS Television Studios, Ostar Productions & Jaworowski Productions. 61 pages. Draft 02/14/17.

Description: The boundaries between military discipline and human desire are tested on a U.S. Army base that houses an elite unit of helicopter pilots trained to perform clandestine international and domestic missions. A failed mission involving one of the first female pilots in the unit ultimately uncovers layers of personal and government/military secrets and leads to the rescue of a group of MIA soldiers…

With Christina Ochoa (Blood Drive, Matador, Animal Kingdom), Matt Barr (Sleepy Hollow, Hellcats, Harper’s Island), Charlie Barnett (Secrets & Lies, Chicago Fire), Melissa Roxburgh (Arrow, Supernatural), Corbin Reid (How To Get Away With Murder), W. Tre Davis (Shades of Blue), Nigel Thach (American Dreams), Mac Brandt (Kingdom, Colony)…

 

 

You’ll like it if you already like: The Unit, Quantico.

Likely timeslot: None.

 

Every year, there are two or three pilots that I have a really hard time reading until the last page because they’re so boring (and a hard time writing on it subsequently…). And my little experience proved me that a boring script always turns into a boring pilot, no matter what the director or the actors do. The only fact that The CW picked-up Valor to pilot is a mystery. It doesn’t fit with their line-up, it doesn’t correspond to what the majority of their viewers are looking for and well, it’s just not good enough to be granted one in my opinion, especially when you only pick six! So what happened? Still trying to figure this one out.

No big names are attached, unless Beauty & The Beast producer Bill Hader is considered as one at the young-skewing network. And no big The CW star used to make it more appealing. Here’s the only reason I found: the network president Mark Pedowitz has been looking to launch a military-themed series for a long time. Three years ago, he picked up Navy base pilot Company Town (which was slightly better) and he’s the one who launched Army Wives back when he ran ABC Studios. It still doesn’t explain why he thinks it’s a good idea, but at least there’s that. I don’t feel like there are so many military drama amateurs out there but we found one.

Valor is not a soap hidden behind a military drama, in case you were wondering or even hoping. It really is a military drama, heavily serialized, with some unconvincing soap elements and a conspiracy at the center. If you replace the military part with the FBI or the CIA, you get Quantico. Except Quantico‘s pilot script was a thing of beauty in terms of efficiency. Valor‘s can’t compare. Like Quantico, the drama unfolds in the present as well as in flashbacks, which is not a good sign since that’s what killed the ABC show (though it’s not really dead as of now). Honestly, it’s already hard to care about the events happening in the present, so caring about the past is like a suicide mission. Add to the mix a season-long plan about the rescue of a group of MIA soldiers and you get a way too complicated show for an audience who’s not even remotely interested in the first place. No OMG moments to wake you up. No sexy scenes to distract you. Unless you’re really fond of action scenes -there are plenty of it- and a chopper lover, you’re in for a snoozefest.

Valor only has one good thing going for it in fact: its female perspective on a world mostly dominated by men. It centers on Nora, an intense and driven junior Army pilot who is a member of the Night Raiders special ops unit. And though I didn’t fall in love with the character, I still find her interesting and unusual for a female lead. She is partnered with the more experienced Gallo, an aging hipster, and together they fly choppers in and out of the hottest hot spots in the world (but in the show expect the world to look like Atlanta and its surroundings all the time). They share a secret that must never come to the attention of the Army. It is linked to a botched mission in Somalia that left a pair of American servicemen in enemy hands. Even if I wanted to tell you more, I couldn’t. Was too bored to understand what was happening. The other characters are bland. I don’t remember one clearly.

Which network will have the biggest and noisiest military drama? Certainly not The CW! Valor is a weak contender, flying under the radar, ans has very little chance to be ordered to series anyway. Those who are interested by this type of shows are more likely to give a chance to For God And Country at NBC or CBS’ Navy Seal Drama. 

The Crossing (ABC) pilot preview: The show that desperately wanted to be Lost…

Written and produced by Dan Dworkin & Jay Beattie (Scream, Revenge, Criminal Minds, The Event, Vanished, Surface). Also executive produced by Jason Reed (Ninja Turtles, National Treasure, Prince of Persia). Directed by Rob Bowman (Castle, The X-Files, Parker Lewis). For ABC Studios, Jason T. Reed Productions & Dworkin & Beattie Productions. 63 pages. 2nd revised network draft. 12/27/16.

Description: Refugees from a war torn country start showing up to seek asylum in a small East Coast fishing town. Only the country these people are from is America and the war they are fleeing is 250 years in the future. Jude Miller, the local sheriff with a troubled past, Emma Peralta, a federal agent, and Rae, a mother in search of her missing refugee daughter, drive this allegory with a surprising conspiracy at the center…

With Steve Zahn (Mad Dogs US, Treme), Sandrine Holt (24, House of Cards, MacGyver), Simone Kessell (Terra Nova), Jay Karnes (The Shield, Sons of Anarchy, Tyrant), Grant Harvey (The Secret Life of the American Teenager), Rick Gomez (Justified, What About Brian, Band of Brothers),  Kelley Missal (One Life to Live), Rob CampbellJohn D’LeoTommy Bastow

  

You’ll like it if you already like: LostThe 4400, The Event, V, Invasion

Likely timeslot: Midseason. Sunday at 8 or 9 or Tuesday at 10.

 

Remember 2004 when ABC launched the same season Desperate HousewivesGrey’s Anatomy & Lost? 13 years later -gosh, we’re getting so old!- the alphabet network wants badly to recreate the magic with three pilots that are supposed to be in the same vein. While Bluegrass/Blood Red is written by Marc Cherry & Black’s Law is produced by Shonda Rhimes’ company, The Crossing is NOT coming from J.J. Abrams, Damon Lindelof & Carlton Cuse sadly but from Jason Reed, a former Disney executive-turned-producer -it helps!- and Dan Dworkin & Jay Beattie, who were behind MTV’s Scream and a handful of failed high-concept dramas like Surface or The Event. Sorry, but it doesn’t bode well for the project, though I can see why ABC is considering it may fill the gap left for Lost. As Disney Media Distribution put it in a recent presentation: “It’s a character-driven piece in a world we know and these are characters we can connect with. This is a show we are convinced international audiences will love“. It certainly does have an appeal but it’s too bad it’s not that great and revolutionary on paper…

Back in 2004 -what a year!- South Park released an episode about people from the future who travel back over 1000 years looking for work. It’s was a thinly veiled allegory for Mexican immigration, with the residents happy to hire the time immigrants to perform household tasks at cheap rates until their own jobs are taken away. Was it the inspiration? The creators will probably never say. In 2017, the topic of immigration is still huge around the world, between Donald Trump who wants to build a wall and refugees who drown in the mediterranean sea. The Crossing couldn’t be more timely. And that’s probably the most important reason why ABC ordered the pilot in the first place. And the most important reason why I’m a bit sad it’s not as good as I wanted it to be. The opening scene looks impressive and is kind of a shock: a hundred of people at least struggling, drowning deep beneath the surface of the Atlantic Ocean, some of them swimming towards the light, towards life. And I’d say it stays good and gripping for about 30 pages. But then I got a little bit bored and I thought to myself that it looked exactly like the kind of high-concept series that automatically bombed sooner or later for the past decade. Except Lost.

I have two main concerns, even three: I don’t feel like the concept can sustain very long and we’re not given enough reasons to believe there’s a rich mythology behind; I’m not very keen on the characters’ initial portrayals, they sound cliché and bland; and I can’t imagine Steve Zahn & Sandrine Holt as the new Matthew Fox & Evangeline Lilly. I mean… This cast is one of the less attractive ABC assembled this year. I know Steve Zahn was one of the most sough-after actor of pilot season -dunno why- but Sandrine Holt seems to be a second thought, and all the others are unknown. Not sure they’re charismatic enough. I’d like to be proven wrong though. Not that they are asked a lot either. Zahn could add humor to his character that lacks it on paper. He plays a boy next door sheriff with a mysterious past, who has a child to take care of since his divorce. Holt is a federal customs agent who is all business. Heavily skeptical of the refugees’ story and the concept of time travel, she nonetheless is sympathetic enough to find the truth since she’s an immigrant herself. From the secondary characters, none really stand out at this point.

But let’s go back to the concept, which is ambitious when you’re pitching it but doesn’t seem to be that much once the dust settles. Time travel is not something that worked this year (Timeless, Time After Time and Making History are all flops at various degrees) and conspiracies are always hard to keep interesting for multiple seasons. They start big and they tend to get too complicated progressively until viewers lose interest and disappear. What’s interesting though, it’s that everything the refugees say about their journey and their past life -not much actually- isn’t illustrated with images. Meaning they could totally be lying to the authorities. We’re never quite sure they are good people, or if their intentions are good. It’s frustrating and confusing but the uncertainty gives a reason to stay a little bit longer. This plus the cliffhanger that does the job it’s asked for. In the end, you’re left with the feeling that you’ve already watched that show before. Maybe it was The 4400 or V or Invasion. Replace the word “refugees” with “aliens” and you get the picture.

The Crossing is not strong and ambitious enough to be granted the right to think of itself as a possible successor to Lost. It’s timely and entertaining, family-friendly and somewhat appealing, but it doesn’t look like a game-changer for ABC. More like an honest little show that will get lost in the ratings rather sooner than later and that will ultimately drown.

Rise -aka Drama High- (NBC) pilot preview: Glee for emotionally open grown-ups, This Is Us style

Written and produced by Jason Katims (Parenthood, Friday Night Lights, Bosto Public). Inspired by a true story. Based on Michael Sokolove‘s book. Executive produced by Michelle Lee (The Path, Pure Genius, About a Boy), Flody Suarez (8 simples Rules…) & Jeffrey Seller (Hamilton, Rent). Directed by Mike Cahill. For Universal Television & True Jack Productions. 54 pages. 2nd revised network draft. 01/30/17.

Description: The story of Lou Volpe, a litterature teacher in his forties in a Pennsylvania high school, who is appointed by the principal to take over and modernize the theater program that is dying. He chooses the provocative and emotional rock musical Spring Awakening –about teenagers discovering the inner and outer tumult of sexuality in late-19th-century Germany- as their first production. A choice that won’t be without consequences for the students and their families in this “Americana” town…

With Josh Radnor (How I Met Your Mother, Mercy Street), Rosie Perez (Search Party, Lipstick Jungle), Auli’i Cravalho (Moana), Marley Shelton (The Lottery, Eleventh Hour), Amy Forsyth (Defiance, The Path), Casey Johnson, Rarmian Newton (The Family), Shannon Purser (Stranger Things, Riverdale), Damon J. Gillespie, Shirley Rumierk, Joe Tippett, Ted Sutherland, Taylor Richardson

    

You’ll like if you already like: Glee, Smash, Friday Night Lights, This Is Us, Parenthood

Likely timeslot: Tuesday at 9 or 10 paired with This Is Us

There’s a question that is still haunting me six months later: why did This Is Us become such a success on NBC while Parenthood, which was very much in the same vein and even better, never got real traction during six years? There are multiple theories like Milo Ventimiglia’s ass in the trailer. Or the fact that the twists made all the difference. Mine is simpler: it came out with a perfect timing. The right show in the right place at the right time. And for the first time, fabulous writer Jason Katims, who was behind Parenthood but also Friday Night Lights and more recently Pure Genius, may have created the right show in the right place at the right time. Supposedly paired with This Is Us and not very far from The Voice, Rise has every chance to become a hit. And it deserves to. That’s the best script I’ve read this season so far (with comedy Libby & Malcolm at ABC which happens to be very timely too). It’s emotional, delicate and rich.

The pitch sounds like Glee and it’s probably Rise‘s biggest weakness from a marketing point of view. The feeling of “been there, done that” won’t be easy to erase from potential viewers’ minds. It’s a leap of faith, clearly. But honestly, whatever is your opinion on Glee -mine is not flattering- we’re very from it from the overall tone to the characters’ stories. Glee was a funny, entertaining, sometimes poignant show, which main goal was to give a litteral voice to characters rarely seen on TV. An enjoyable mess that outstayed its welcome, I’d add. Rise is an entirely different beast. By the way, it’s not exactly a musical high-school drama soap, as it could be described. It is mostly set in a high-school, there’s a bit of music in it -but not that much- and there are soap elements, that’s true, but to me it’s a realistic drama above all and the story of a working-class town and the families that live there. Like Friday Night Lights was not really a drama about football. Stanton, Pennsylvania, is like Dillon, Texas: a struggling but picturesque town with diners, churches, clapboard houses, american flags everywhere…

What NBC could and should insist on is the fact it’s based on a formidable true story, the one of Lou Volpe, a ground-breaking high school drama teacher who ran for 44 years the renowned drama program at Harry S Truman High School in Levittown, a low-income town in Pennsylvania, as chronicled in the book Drama High, written by one of his students, Michael Sokolove. And the fact that Jeffrey Seller and Flody Suarez, producers of Tony-Award-Winning hip-hop musical Hamilton, are associated with the project says a lot about how important Rise could become, as a cultural phenomenon and a stepping stone in this new era of television where networks want to reflect middle-America as how it really is. These days, people want real situations, real emotions, as This Is Us just proved.

Among the principal characters, aside from Lou Volpe and his family -he’s married and a father of three children- there is Lilette, a half Puerto Rican half Irish teenage girl, and her hot mess of a mother, a waitress sexually harassed by her boss; Robbie, an African-American stud, whose mother is in late stages of muscular disease; Simon, a Christian closeted young gay man, whose younger sister is in a wheelchair; Gwen, the theather’s queen bee whose parents are on the verge of divorce; Maashous, a mysterious foster kid who’s living secretly at the school… Don’t worry, Lou has his own Sue Sylvester: Tracey Wolfe, the high energy with a no-holds-barred mouth current Drama School teacher and a former high school theater person, who’s really funny and adds a welcome lightness to the ensemble.

Behind every student character, there’s a difficult, sometimes really sad but ordinary family story and a talent ready to explode with so many things to say through songs. We don’t get many informations about every one of them in the pilot but in the end we want to spend more time at their sides to understand who they really are and why they feel so familiar, how much we share with them… and hear more of their singing voices. Jason Katims is so good at portraying people without making them clichés. It’s impressive and admirable. This pilot is not about big twists or OMG moments or crazy laughs or huge performances. It’s about setting the stage for the season to come, introducing the characters and bringing them together towards this theater program that will change their life. There is so much potential and so many stories to tell starting from here. It couldn’t have been more promising and exciting than that.

Rise is probably one of the best things that will happen to us in a few months on television, believe me. It’s the promise of an exceptional show that will resonate with America and hopefully the whole world, that will bring people together. It will make us laugh and cry, and sing and dance, as long as we’re emotionally open and ready for it… Rise will make us all very happy. And that’s the most beautiful thing to do.