Navigation

Related Articles

Back to Latest Articles

‘Weird, unbalanced, curdled television’: how Netflix’s Cheer was ruined


Sentiman io
‘Weird, unbalanced, curdled television’: how...

‘Weird, unbalanced, curdled television’: how Netflix’s Cheer was ruined

Gone is the joy of series one, replaced with a cheerleading season truncated by Covid, stars that leave partway through the run and the darkness of child abuse allegations

A whole new ball game … season two of Cheer confronts some difficult revelations. Photograph: © 2022 Netflix, Inc.

A whole new ball game … season two of Cheer confronts some difficult revelations. Photograph: © 2022 Netflix, Inc.

In retrospect, the first season of Cheer felt a little like the last good thing to happen to humanity. It blazed in out of nowhere in January 2020; a scrubbed-up, more accessible version of American football series Last Chance U, and effortlessly won over a world that didn’t know what was about to hit it. A documentary series about the world of competitive college cheerleading, it was not only spectacular to watch – brimming with sequences of young women being pinged miles into the air without a safety net – but packed full of heart. There was a joy to Cheer, and the grab bag of underdog stories it chose to tell.

This week, the second series of Cheer dropped on Netflix and, well, the first season of Cheer still feels like the last good thing to happen to humanity. What a weird, unbalanced, curdled few hours of television this is. Just like the rest of the world, Cheer has spent the past two years growing shapeless and morose. It still qualifies as appointment TV, just don’t expect to actually enjoy any of it.

Part of the issue is that world events conspired to break Cheer apart. You can get a sense of what the show was supposed to be like by sitting through its first four episodes. They begin where the last season ended, in a cavalcade of life-changing success. The Navarro College cheer squad has won the prestigious nationals at Daytona Beach and dominate all they survey. What’s more, their Netflix show has turned the entire squad into overnight celebrities, and everyone wants a piece of them. They meet Ellen! They hang out with Oprah! They spend every free moment recording Cameo videos for $50 a pop! The message seems to be: these kids have reached the top, but can they retain their focus long enough to stay there?

Here’s the thing: we never find out. And that’s because – after watching the squad train and fight and sweat and vomit in preparation for the next set of nationals – Covid comes sweeping into town and everything gets shut down. Daytona Beach. Navarro. Cheer production. Everything. It all comes screeching to a halt, robbing the show of any semblance of a neat arc.

And so, for the season’s final four episodes, we begin anew. We have skipped a year and Navarro are in training for the 2021 nationals. By necessity, this involves a heavy personnel change. Some of the show’s best-loved characters have now finished college and left without a proper goodbye, and in their place are a clutch of bright young things who never quite get the time to properly familiarise themselves. To offset this, the producers smartly devote a portion of time to Trinity Valley Community College, the raggedy neighbouring upstarts who see themselves as Rocky Balboa to Navarro’s Netflix-bloated Ivan Drago. It means that, when the nationals do finally take place, you find yourself with torn allegiances. It isn’t the neatest way to go about things, but as a necessary workaround it is pretty effective.

But the reason you’ll watch Cheer this year is the episode that sits between these two halves. Entitled Jerry, it is as gut-wrenching an hour of television as you are ever likely to see. If you happened to follow the news at the time, you will know that season one’s breakout star Jerry Harris – a joyful effervescent figure whose charismatic interjections on Cheer made him a prime candidate for mainstream fame – was arrested in September 2020, accused of production of child pornography; then, when more teens came forward, soliciting sex and explicit photos from minors. He has pleaded not guilty to the charges. This is the episode where the show attempts to deal with it all.

For the most part, it succeeds. Much of the hour is handed over to the alleged victims; two twins who were 13 years old when they first met Harris. They, and their devastated mother, patiently detail how Harris introduced himself to them, what he asked them to do, and the uphill struggle they faced getting anybody to believe them. It is a profoundly upsetting thing to watch, due to the predatory nature of the allegations and the culture of silence when it comes to child abuse in the sport.

This is where the episode falls down. It is long on testimonies from Navarro alumni who are shocked that a bad apple like Harris could have slipped through the cracks, but the most rudimentary Googling will reveal that he is far from alone. Just months after his arrest, two more Navarro figures were also arrested. One of them, Robert Joseph Scianna Jr, pleaded guilty to charges of indecency with a child. This hints at something grotesquely institutional, and the episode could have had much more impact by digging just that bit deeper.

And, in viewing terms, the episode wildly unbalances the season. By not dealing with Jerry Harris upfront, you feel as though Cheer wants to spend four hours ignoring the elephant in the room. And then, once it’s done, diving straight back into the trivial world of cheerleading can’t help but feel crass.

Should it return, we can hope that season three of Cheer will stay on the tracks and recover some of its old magic. But for now, it has given us a dark and knotty show for a dark and knotty time. It isn’t particularly pleasant, but there’s still value in it.

Topics

  • Television
  • Documentary
  • Factual TV
  • Sport TV
  • features
Reuse this content

,

Gone is the joy of series one, replaced with a cheerleading season truncated by Covid, stars that leave partway through the run and the darkness of child abuse allegations

In retrospect, the first season of Cheer felt a little like the last good thing to happen to humanity. It blazed in out of nowhere in January 2020; a scrubbed-up, more accessible version of American football series Last Chance U, and effortlessly won over a world that didn’t know what was about to hit it. A documentary series about the world of competitive college cheerleading, it was not only spectacular to watch – brimming with sequences of young women being pinged miles into the air without a safety net – but packed full of heart. There was a joy to Cheer, and the grab bag of underdog stories it chose to tell.

This week, the second series of Cheer dropped on Netflix and, well, the first season of Cheer still feels like the last good thing to happen to humanity. What a weird, unbalanced, curdled few hours of television this is. Just like the rest of the world, Cheer has spent the past two years growing shapeless and morose. It still qualifies as appointment TV, just don’t expect to actually enjoy any of it.

Continue reading…

,,

Related Articles

Child abuse: Apple urged to roll out image-scanning tool swiftly

About this content Harriet Grant Fri 17 Sep 2021 15.00 BST Last modified on Fri 17 Sep 2021 15.01 BST Child protection experts from across the world have called on Apple to...

Posted on

Brazil’s President Bolsonaro claims WHO ‘promotes masturbation to four-year-olds’ which is why he ignores their advice

BRAZIL’S president says he refuses to follow the WHO’s coronavirus guidelines because it promotes “masturbation” in kids under four. Jair Bolsonaro, 65,...

Posted on