For anyone who thinks that cheerleading is simply an activity where a few pretty girls dance around, wave some pom-poms, and yell “Go team!”, well, Netflix has an education to offer you. That education comes in the form of their “Cheer” docudrama, now airing two seasons on the pay service.
“Cheer” highlights the efforts of the Navarro College coed cheer squad as they prepare for and then compete in the 2019 National Cheerleading Championship held annually in Daytona Beach, Florida.
Navarro is a junior college located in the town of Corsicana, Texas, roughly 60 miles south of Dallas and 58 miles northeast of Waco. Under the guidance of head coach Monica Aldama, nicknamed “the Queen” by her team, Navarro has won 14 national championships and has captured the coveted “grand national champions” title five times over the last quarter-century.
Season 1 places its emphasis on Aldama and Navarro as they attempt to recapture the title it had lost to neighboring arch-rivals Trinity Valley Community College.
Her team is made up of some of the best from across the nation in a variety of specialties. Gabi Butler is the all-around superstar, respected and beloved as one of the best cheerleaders in the country. Lexi Brumback is a gifted tumbler who flips, spins, and flies across the mat at incredible speeds. Morgan Simianer is an underdog prodigy who emerges from the shadows of her more experienced teammates to command the spotlight.
As the coed factor implies, it’s not all about the girls. La’Darius Marshall is a superior athlete and dancer, but moody lead male. Jerry Harris is physically strong and extremely outgoing (read loud) and fights to fill one of the roles on the final group of 20 who will take the mat in in representing the school at the national championships.
The competitive factor within the show is two-fold. It’s about Navarro trying to regain their crown from Trinity, sure. But it’s also about the 40-person team members competing against one another to become one of only 20 who can take the mat – what they call “making mat” – for that championship performance in Daytona.
The first season is solid. It does a great job of painting Navarro as the heroes. It tells the story of their quest for a championship, including all of the twists and turns, stumbles and falls, triumphs and tragedies along the way, both in and outside of the gym.
“Cheer” Season 1 also gives you an inside, behind the scenes look into the lives of coach Aldama and a number of featured team members as well. Especially with those individual team members, these provide touching stories within the larger title chase narrative.
Along with the people, you’ll become familiar with some new words, the lingo of the cheer world: basket, bridge, bucket, elevator, flyer, Top Girl, spotter, full-out, pyramid, round-off, stunt, TableTop, tumbling, and many more.
I won’t give out any spoilers. Watch for yourself and enjoy Season 1 of “Cheer” on Netflix. If you are already into the world of competitive cheerleading, you will absolutely love it. If you are just into sports stories, you will enjoy the athleticism and competitiveness. If you are not into either of those, you will still enjoy the human interest.
Now, Season 2. Different story where my recommendation is concerned. There is an awful lot that is repetitive from the first season. I simply did not find it as entertaining. You can watch season one and pass on this one if you want and won’t have missed much of anything. But there are two things that make this one a bit worthwhile.
First is that we finally get to see the Navarro rivals as Trinity gets their turn in the spotlight. Head coach Vontae Johnson, a former college football player, recently took over the program from longtime coach Khris Franklin, who is still around as Johnson’s assistant. Their flying and tumbling star is Jada Wooten, as fiery and profane as she is talented and driven to win.
Second, we get to see how Navarro reacted to the fame brought to the program and the individuals from their appearance in season one. Suffice it to say, it’s mostly not pretty. Distractions, internal conflicts, external criticism, and even disturbing criminal charges filed against a popular season one cast member.
In my opinion, season two was worthwhile to highlight those Navarro distractions and the Trinity team exposure. But it would have worked better as a shorter series. The folks at Neflix stretched it out to nine episodes, rather than the six in season one. That shorter run would have worked better for the encore.
Overall, I would rate the limited series docudrama of “Cheer” season one favorably and well worth your viewing investment. Season two…meh.
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