When We Rise, ABC's miniseries event written by Dustin Lance Black to capture the long arc of the gay-rights movement, debuts February 27 on ABC at 9 p.m. Positioned as a gay Roots, it isn't, at least judging from the opening installment.
A terrific idea bogged down by too broad a scope — the creatives seemingly try to jam in every aspect of the LGBTQ movement from the early '70s on — When We Rise is further done in by a canned, stagey quality with dialogue that's forced to cue viewers about significant milestones rather than allowed to serve the characters. That makes it more docu than drama, and leads to a preachy tone.
Among the performances, Jonathan Majors & Charlie Carver are briefly sweet together in a Vietnam War romance, Austin P. McKenzie has an ethereal idealism as young activist Cleve Jones and Emily Skeggs, whose character finds herself caught in the crossfire between the feminist and lesbian movements, nails the mix between personal coming-of-age and finding one's greater purpose.
Guy Pearce doesn't come off nearly as well.
Famous faces like him— Rosie O'Donnell, Whoopi Goldberg, Rachel Griffiths — tend to feel like stars whose presence helped get this made; friendly faces, but distracting more than acting.
Though When We Rise is by no means great drama, let's hope it will draw in some non-gay viewers desperately in need of some enlightenment, and some LGBTQ viewers desperately in need of reminding that people fought and died for their rights — and that those rights could be in the process of going up in smoke.
Bottom line: Commendable endeavor, informative, occasionally quite watchable, but not great art. If you can live with that, you might find yourself hooked for the run.