Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Pilot Review: When We Rise

When We Rise (ABC)
Premiered February 27 at 9pm

I first heard about this show when I saw it advertised during the Oscars and thought it seemed like some major epic event. I wasn’t sure if it was a documentary feature or a narrative story, and online descriptions refer to it as a docudrama. This definitely is an epic series, one with a stacked cast that includes a number of award winners with plentiful TV experience. This is something that is meant to have an impact, chronicling the rise of the gay rights movement. In doing some searching for information on this show, I found what I thought was a contemplative look at the show’s ratings was actually a very conservative news site that advertised “Liberal Media = Fake News, stop them here” and described the show as an “over-hyped gay agenda mini-series.” Another search for ratings pulls up articles from Breitbart and Christian Post, both of which decry the poor performance of this show with an obvious slant towards what they consider to be derogatory content. I wish I could heap praise upon this show since I think those critiques are intolerance-motivated, but unfortunately it’s far from a stirring drama. It looks and feels a lot like a pale imitation of “Milk,” which is hardly a surprise given that it’s created by Dustin Lance Black and directed by Gus Van Sant, who collaborated on that very film. In the opening installment, I recognized Guy Pearce, David Hyde Pierce, Whoopi Goldberg and not many others, and while I’d love to spot the many talented actors I see listed in the cast, this show didn’t do nearly enough to entice me to come back and experience more of it.

How will it work as a series? By this point, it’s already ended, airing its eight parts over four separate nights last week. The first sampling, directed by Van Sant, likely has a different feel from the others, with Lance Black, Thomas Schlamme of “The West Wing” fame, and Dee Rees helming two installments each. The story is what surely drives it, and the presentation is a bit hokey and forced for my tastes.
How long will it last? Though mainstream reviews weren’t all that bad, the ratings definitely were. I found just as many articles defending the show’s poor performance as not representative of a failure of the gay rights movement, and while that may be true, this show has finished its arc and definitely won’t be returning for any more.

Pilot grade: C

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