All Rise cancellation doesn’t take away from show’s impact, legacy

All Rise may be ending, but hopefully the show is also a beginning.

CBS canceled the legal drama after two seasons, and there’s no doubt it’s a disappointment. All Rise is the most diverse series on television, the most timely, and it soldiered through a second season that was affected by not only the COVID-19 pandemic but numerous changes behind the scenes. If ever a show deserved an opportunity to breathe, it was this one.

It’s not hard to understand why the network felt differently; fans now know that CBS is moving NCIS into All Rise‘s old time slot, as it leads its primetime schedule with two nights of franchise television. An established brand—especially the one CBS is best known for—has more ratings power than a standalone drama.

But it’s heartbreaking that All Rise didn’t get the chance to move onto another night, because as Lindsey Gort pointed out on Twitter, sometimes there’s a bigger picture.

Luckily for us, it’s a bigger picture that’s going to stick around well after Monday night’s series finale.

At its most simple, All Rise is a wonderful show. The company includes an Emmy winner (Marg Helgenberger) and two Tony winners (Ruthie Ann Miles and Lindsay Mendez) who are fantastic, but everyone gets a chance to shine. It’s a refreshing change of pace from many TV programs, where there often has to be one “star” actor or characters who end up dominating the show; this is a true ensemble series that’s introduced some great talent to a much wider audience. It’s worth the hour of your time just to watch them work.

It has a wonderfully diverse group of characters—representing the Black community, the Asian community, the Hispanic community, the LGBTQ community, and a majority of the regulars are women—but just as importantly, it gives those characters something to do. All Rise isn’t diverse just to be diverse. Judge Lola Carmichael (Simone Missick) is the most powerful person on the show. Luke Watkins (J. Alex Brinson) had an incredibly detailed arc where fans got to watch him go from bailiff to Assistant District Attorney, and now he might be changing jobs again. Luke’s boss Thomas Choi (Reggie Lee) just got a huge promotion. These characters are real, and genuine, never defined by one characteristic or reduced to one role.

But that’s what All Rise has done across the board—it sees people as three-dimensional people and not TV archetypes. We’ve seen the hard-charging lawyer who’s constantly pushing his boss, but Mark Callan (Wilson Bethel) has been a lot more than that, doing a lot of growing over two seasons. So much of that has come from his friendship with Lola, and how many genuinely platonic friendships between a man and a woman has TV ever depicted? On another show they’d be pushed toward a relationship.

Speaking of which, Lola’s marriage to Robin (Todd Williams) has shown us a couple who get to work through their difficulties instead of just having conveniently cute moments, and Mark’s girlfriend Amy Quinn (Lindsey Gort) could have been either the smarmy defense attorney or the blonde bombshell and she’s neither one of those. All Rise doesn’t simplify things down like that, whether it comes to character development or the stories that it wants to tell.

Here’s where things get really interesting. The second season is where a TV show gets a chance to sink its teeth in, deepen its mythology now that the establishment of characters and of the world is out of the way. All Rise season 2 didn’t necessarily do that either; it became a show adapting to the world around it, which makes it even more disappointing that we won’t see where it could go in season 3.

The decision to make Lola pregnant this season was buzzworthy for a number of reasons; on one hand, TV viewers got to see a woman still getting things done while expecting her first child, and that isn’t commonly depicted either. On the other hand, with her being such a force in the series, it was a big risk creatively to have so much of her storyline be about the baby, and have less scenes with Missick in the courtroom, where she shines brightest.

Then there was the COVID-19 pandemic, which affected all of television. All Rise was one of the shows that incorporated the pandemic into its storylines, along with several other pivotal issues like the Black Lives Matter movement. The world has changed a lot since the show went on the ar just two seasons ago, and it continues to change, and with All Rise being willing to take so many of these important topics head on, the second season has been constantly moving too.

That was particularly apparent in last week’s episode, where several characters faced potential changes; it was clear the show was aiming to have people make decisions and find themselves after so much upheaval. We could probably have learned so much more about them in season 3 when they’d all had their moments of reckoning.

But that has been incredibly brave storytelling. Of all the TV shows on the air today, All Rise is the one that feels most like the real world. It hasn’t just pulled a headline for a story or a few episodes and moved on. It’s continued to depict the characters working safely during the pandemic, it’s talked about topics like racial injustice and the immigration crisis, and it’s made real storylines out of them. For example, when Mark battled the Sheriff’s Department over a wrongful shooting, then that was written to include Luke as a former deputy. And when Luke spoke up in that case, he had to deal with the consequences.

These characters fight for something. They fall on their faces and deal with it. They disagree but they always treat each other with respect when they do. They get afraid and upset but they speak up when something matters, and that starts the conversation—not just between them but hopefully between those watching at home. If you can see yourself on this show, if you can hear the things you’re wanting to say, if you can be inspired to use your voice, that’s when TV is really special. And that impact doesn’t go away when a series isn’t on the air anymore.

Some folks will say that they prefer their TV to be just entertainment, an escape from the real world rather than a mirror; that’s perfectly fine, too. But we don’t have enough shows that aspire, and especially now when so much of what we talk about is doing better and being better, we ought to have series like All Rise out there for those who want them. This series speaks to who we are today and who we could be tomorrow.

So even though it wasn’t highly rated and had its own battles to fight (there was a showrunner change mid-season 2), it’s still a shame to see it cancelled. When will we see another legal drama that wants more than just the case of the week? When will we get another cast this talented, this diverse, and this able to lift each other? Or a show that pops off the screen this much? There are lots of great TV shows, but whatever you watch TV for, this one had something to offer you. That doesn’t happen often.

When I watch All Rise, I’m reminded of Edward R. Murrow’s speech to the Radio and Television News Directors Association in 1958. “This instrument can teach, it can illuminate; yes, and even it can inspire,” he said. “But it can do so only to the extent that humans are determined to use it to those ends. Otherwise it’s nothing but wires and lights in a box.”

As we prepare for the finale, while we’re sad about the All Rise cancellation, this is also a time to be happy all that the show was able to accomplish.

Watch this last episode—even if you’ve never seen the show before, watch it and give yourself a chance to experience this series that will have you look at the world a little differently. If we carry the joy and the heart of All Rise with us, and if we continue to introduce it to other people and maybe they also get something out of it, then this is a start and not a conclusion.

All Rise airs its series finale tonight at 9:00 p.m. ET/PT on CBS.