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Monday, May 27, 2024
The Observer

‘Cheer’ is back and better than ever

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Emma Kirner | The Observer
Image source: Netflix


It might be difficult, but if you can manage to cast your mind all the way back to January 2020 — a distant time before the pandemic dominated our lives, you might remember a little Netflix show called “Cheer.” Following a Texas community college cheer team on their journey to the national championship in Daytona Beach, the docuseries catapulted its stars into the public eye and introduced the nation to the world of collegiate cheer. After a tumultuous two years in which the Navarro cheer team struggled with their newfound fame and faced the news of troubling sexual misconduct allegations against one of the team’s most-loved members, “Cheer” is back with season 2.

In an initial viewing, it’s obvious that “Cheer” is just a fun show to watch. It’s got impressive tumbling, high energy cheering and, honestly, a great soundtrack. Even if you don’t know a thing about cheerleading (like myself), by the third episode you’ll feel like you’ve been on an all-star team since birth. The first season dealt with the basics of collegiate cheer and interwove Navarro’s journey to victory with emotional, moving interviews about the lives of some of the team’s most notable members. Behind all the rhinestones and hairspray lay raw struggle and a lot of pain, but the show maintained an optimistic tone — the message seemed to be that things would always get better.

In its early episodes, it seems like season 2 will go the same way. We see coach Monica Aldama (you might recognize her from her stint on “Dancing With The Stars”) and her team practicing as usual, perhaps a little overwhelmed by their newfound stardom. When you have a hit show, it’s easy to try and follow the same formula in each subsequent season.

However, “Cheer” diverges from the formula that made it famous, shifting focus slightly to Navarro’s rival school, Trinity Valley Community College (TVCC). It’s a bit of a risk, but it pays off. In season 1, TVCC was little more than the rival college, the Candy Apple Dance Center to our Abby Lee Miller Dance Company (for all the “Dance Moms” fans out there). In season 2, however, TVCC is a fully-fledged character in the show, and a good one, at that. TVCC is the season’s underdog and despite playing the villain last time around, I often found myself torn, rooting for them more than the now rich and famous Navarro College. It’s a classic David and Goliath story, if only you already knew Goliath. There’s a notable contrast between the stardom of Navarro and the gritty, punchy TVCC, which brings us to one of the most interesting themes in season 2.

“Cheer” season 2 is as much a show about cheerleading as it is about fame. In early episodes, the show places a watchful eye on Monica and the team members lucky enough to be featured in season 1. Perfectly normal people find themselves greeted by hordes of screaming fans, thousands of dollars in sponsorship deals, and all the TV appearances one could dream of. In one scene, we see a cheerleader making Cameo videos for $50 apiece. A friend looks on wordlessly, and the camera seems to ask — why her? There’s nothing particularly special about this girl. So, why will people pay her for personalized videos? Simply because they think they know her story? The question lies unresolved, but the idea of modern fame is a pervasive theme in this season, asking exactly what it means to be a celebrity in today’s world.

Season 2 is essentially two seasons in and of itself. Pre-pandemic, the show retains its classic, upbeat yet emotional tone. But when we come back after a year off, the episodes become notably grittier. Furthermore, episode 4, which deals with the sexual misconduct allegations against former teammate Jerry Harris, is a difficult but important watch, especially as it takes a deeper look at the pervasive nature of such abuse in this sport.

With that being said, “Cheer” season 2 is a fantastic show. There are deep, heartwarming moments and gut-wrenching setbacks. Watching the final episode, I was holding my breath, crying and cheering at all once — “Cheer” has all the elements of a great sports story and proves it’s definitely not just cheerleading.

 

Title: Cheer

Starring: Monica Aldama, Vontae Johnson, Gabi Butler, La’Darius Marshall

Favorite episodes: “Hell Week”, “Daytona Pt 1: Don’t Be That Guy”

If you liked: “Last Chance U,” “Sunderland ’Til I Die”

Where to watch: Netflix

Shamrocks: 4 out of 5 shamrocks