The team behind Netflix’s ‘Last Chance U’ heads to Navarro College in Texas for a six-episode look at the world of competitive cheerleading.
With audiences facing another desultory slate of midseason broadcast premieres and looking for programming to cheer about, perhaps it’s not a coincidence that we’ve had an odd pocket of superb recent shows focusing on, yes, the high-intensity world of competitive cheerleading.
USA’s Dare Me, a cheerleading thriller about obsession, teens gone bad and the excitement of making Regionals, is already one of the new year’s most pleasant surprises, a juicy show that will surely find an audience at some point, even if it’s on the wrong network premiering at the wrong time.
Differently terrific, but probably more immediately suited to its environment, is Netflix’s Cheer. Hailing from some of the same team behind Netflix’s excellent Last Chance U, Cheer takes a similar docudrama approach to junior college cheerleading. Maybe a little hard sell is required to convince the Last Chance U audience that they want to dedicate six hours to being told that cheerleading is serious business, but it probably shouldn’t. Cheer is an utterly convincing portrait of what is unquestionably a real, and absurdly dangerous, sport complete with compelling stories that actually make it much more emotional and more exciting than the past couple Last Chance U seasons.
Our setting is Navarro College in tiny Corsicana, Texas, a cheerleading powerhouse with 13 national titles between 2000 and 2018. There’s a lot of pressure on the team, including coach Monica Aldama, as the 2019 competition season approaches and Cheer follows a very focused path from spring enrollment to the championship in Daytona just 68 days later.
For better or for worse, the past two Last Chance U seasons became The Jason Brown Show. The bombastic and belligerent coach made for great TV, while at the same time becoming an increasing black hole as Brown’s players were pushed to the background of an ongoing “Brilliant motivator or just an asshole?” debate. Aldama, in contrast, is a perfect combination of motivator and den mother, an inspiring and progressive coach with a University of Texas MBA and a precise vision for keeping the team on track. She has contradictions — she’s very Christian, fairly conservative and fiercely devoted to her gay cheerleaders — but not so many that the show becomes about her.
Executive producer Greg Whiteley, who directed the six episodes (two co-directed with fellow producers Arielle Kilker and Chelsea Yarnell), doesn’t need to overrely on Aldama, because the Navarro squad is packed with big personalities and big stories, with five getting standout treatment. There’s perky and winsome Morgan, raised under tumultuous circumstances in rural Wyoming and initially in over her head as she learns the difference between the rah-rah sideline cheering of her youth and the high-stakes athleticism of Navarro. There’s Gabi, a youth cheerleading icon with hundreds of thousands of social media followers and a cottage industry built around her name and likeness. There’s Lexi, a high-school dropout with a hair-trigger temper and otherworldly tumbling gifts. There’s La’Darius, bullied as a kid and constantly fighting his own attitude, practically the opposite of ultra-enthusiastic Jerry, who has battled weight issues and personal tragedy to become a lovable inspiration. Across the board, the investment is almost immediate.
Read more at The Hollywood Reporter