All Rise

The end of All Rise is a step back for television

The end of All Rise is a step back for television.

When CBS declined to renew the series on Saturday, it wasn’t just another TV show cancellation. We have dozens of those every year and they’re terrible, not only for the fans but foremost for the casts and crews who work on those series. Every once in a while, though, you have a program that isn’t just entertainment—it pushes the medium forward, and pushes the audience forward as well. All Rise is one of those shows.

On its surface, it’s a great show; it has a very talented ensemble, but the best part about the cast is that ensemble complements each other perfectly. Rather than a bunch of individual talents who happen to be together, it feels like a repertory company. People know when to give and when to take, and everyone brings something interesting to each episode. Whether it’s the Mark and Lola story, or the Luke and Emily story, or the Amy and Mark story, or the Lola and Benner story, all of them are worth following. (I personally have a soft spot for the Mark and Luke bromance.)

It’s been a wonderful showcase for these actors. This is the best work that both Simone Missick and Wilson Bethel have done in their whole careers; it feels like these roles hit them at just the right time. How great is it to see Lindsey Gort get to play more than the typical blonde role? Marg Helgenberger is always going to be Catherine Willows from CSI to a lot of people (especially CBS viewers), but I’d argue All Rise has given her the best opportunity to remind us of what else she can do.

And honestly, you could watch Ruthie Ann Miles and Lindsay Mendez read stage directions for 45 minutes and it would be entertaining.

But the truly great thing about All Rise is bigger than that. In a world where diversity and representation are paramount, this show does that every week. It’s a series led by an African-American woman, with a fully diverse company. Diversity, too, isn’t just in race; the main cast has characters of different age groups, who represent a wide variety of stations in the justice system, and who have consistently different points of view.

The show offers so much that so many other series miss. The Mark and Lola relationship is a rare example of a male-female friendship that is completely platonic, and is the best representation of that which has existed on TV in years. Not only are they allowed to be just friends, the depth of their friendship and the way that they make each other better is remarkable. Missick and Bethel have a natural chemistry where it does feel like they’ve known each other for years, and it’s refreshing that All Rise values friendship as much as it does romantic relationships.

It has characters where other series often have caricatures. Mendez’s court reporter Sara and Miles’ assistant Sherri could have been just comic relief, but while they do get some hilarious storylines (who’s the earthquake monitor again?), they’ve always been written as fully realized people. Likewise, Reggie Lee’s character Choi would usually be reduced to the cantankerous boss trying to wrangle his rogue subordinates on another legal drama, but he’s had some great conversations with Mark and Luke about what it means to be a District Attorney and the big-picture things they don’t always think of.

Then there’s the evolution of Luke, who in two seasons has been able to grow from bailiff to Assistant District Attorney. TV shows don’t usually depict characters making major career transitions like that (at least not ones that stick), and All Rise has let Luke not only do that, but actually allowed us the time to see how that plays out. The audience understood why he wanted to become a lawyer, and got to see him put in the time to earn it. And for a rookie, it’s been fun to see him already bringing new ideas to the table.

Every week viewers see the actors getting the best out of each other with their performances, while the characters are expecting the best out of each other, too. We don’t have enough TV series with this kind of aspiration.

Luke’s season 2 storyline is an example of the biggest reason why All Rise has made an impact on television. This is a series that exists in the moment; it has never shied away from addressing timely issues, and not in a “very special episode” kind of way. Its Los Angeles is our Los Angeles, from the COVID-19 pandemic to Black Lives Matter, from restorative justice to the immigration crisis. (I can’t help but wonder; how many people had never heard of restorative justice before All Rise?)

The series is a platform to recognize, address and explore the realities of the justice system, and it does so with grace and respect for all sides. So many TV series reduce the concept to either “the system is broken and our antiheroes are going to fix it” or “the good guys win and the bad guys lose.” Neither of those tropes are authentic. The real truth is in the middle, and All Rise always feels truthful, even if it hands a character a bad loss or ends an episode someplace we don’t want.

We saw Luke and Emily’s relationship break, and Lola and Mark’s relationship be sorely tested, in the middle of the Black Lives Matter protests. There’s routinely friction between people, because we’ve got characters who are prosecutors, others who are defense attorneys, and a judge who’s professionally above all of them but personally tied to most of them. But the show includes each side of those moments. It doesn’t tell the viewer what to think or simplify an issue down to get it neatly tied up by the end of the hour.

It’s not enough to simply do a TV episode about an issue; you have to do it well, completely and honestly, and most importantly, no matter what happens, everyone treats everyone else with respect. We talk so often now about hearing each other; that’s why we need this show, because it hears everyone, and it’s not afraid to have something to say. If we don’t have series like this, if we’re not showing these issues and talking about them and getting viewers to talk about them, that’s a huge missed opportunity.

All Rise isn’t perfect, of course; like every show, there’s room for improvement. The current season could have dropped subplots like the whole Rachel kissing Mark/Amy’s secret husband and been just fine, and Anne Heche’s defense attorney Corrine Cuthbert came off as too much of a caricature in an otherwise important storyline about Mark taking on the Sheriff’s Department.

But on the whole, All Rise is a good show with a good heart and great purpose—and it will be sorely missed. It’s going to be a long time before we see a TV series like this again.

All Rise airs Mondays at 9:00 p.m. ET/PT on CBS. The series finale airs Monday, May 24.

Article content is (c)2020-2021 Brittany Frederick and may not be excerpted or reproduced without express written permission by the author. Follow me on Twitter at @BFTVTwtr, on Instagram at @BFTVGram.

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