"I'm here to cheer for Monica."
Outside of Tiger King, Netflix's Cheer was the biggest phenomenon to come out of the early days of the COVID shutdown. Full of adrenaline and drama, the cheerleading athletes of Navarro College in Corsicana, Texas took us on a wild ride as they flipped and turned their way into our hearts.
But as with many overnight successes, things aren't always as glamorous as they appear. And as the adage goes, there's a long way to fall when you're sitting on top.
The second set of episodes encompasses the shortened 2020 and full, heavily masked 2021 season. As a result, there's a lot to get through. In addition, the producers have expanded their offering, dialing up nine episodes that feature some veterans, a few new faces, and two killer routines.
The show has also grown its focus, forcing Navarro to split screentime (a rumored requirement due to recruiting issues) with their crosstown rivals, Trinity Valley Community College. That school, led by Vontae Johnson, was mentioned several times throughout the show's initial run but never appeared on camera. However, this time around, the film crew made the trek to Athens, TX to shine a light on their legacy, tradition, and talent as the perceived underdogs work to dethrone Goliath in Daytona.
Since we last saw the group, their lives have changed dramatically. Although Navarro coach Monica Aldama claims they don't view themselves as celebrities, the opportunities that came out of the show's success are undeniable. At one moment, we catch an eye roll from one of the team members not highlighted on the show; a short clip later drives home the frustration and annoyance that exists as the gym has transformed into a press circuit.
Much of the first episodes deal with the group's media success. Highlighted by television interviews, red carpet arrivals, and Monica's stint on Dancing with the Stars, there appears to be little time for training and skill development, putting doubt in the Bulldogs' chance at repeating.
Standing in the way are the TVCC Cardinals. Just a hop, skip, and jump away in Athens, the co-ed team missed out on Cheer's initial success, falling victim to being in the wrong place at the wrong time. But the producers give them the chance to make their own destiny, offering them a platform to showcase their skills. Sadly, outside of Coach Johnson and his assistant, most don't take advantage.
Understandably, it was hard for the show to ignore its national headlines. Outside of the standard COVID cancellations, mask mandates, and intrusive testing, Cheer spends an entire episode on allegations against original series star Jerry Harris. One of the more prolific characters to return, the hour was one of the most uncomfortable hours I've experienced in quite some time. Unexpected interviews with Harris' accusers take the show away from the mat, the banners, and the pyramids, dialing in on an often unmentioned issue within the world of competitive cheerleading.
The episode marks a tonal shift in the season. There is a distinct before/after feeling as the glitz and glamour are dulled as both teams gear up for the forthcoming season, where anything is possible as veterans graduate without a final performance in Daytona.
The remainder of the season is straightforward as the two teams perform a series of full outs leading up to their show in Florida. The media appears to be gone, the hype surrounding the team a bit muted. But the rivalry is still present. At one point, one of TVCC's veterans returns to the gym, kicking off an episode dialing into the fragility of perceived masculinity, the need to forgo that virility on the mat, and the struggle that straight men have to "perform." It was an awkward series of exchanges (following a sequence of comments made a few episodes before) that prevents the audience from developing a solid connection to the members of the Cardinals.
That is the major disappointment stemming from these nine episodes. In an effort to build the rivalry and expand its focus, Cheer loses its grounding force as we are introduced to a new climate and set of athletically talented characters that don't hold the inclusive and celebratory nature of the ones we grew to love. Granted, that isn't their job. They want to topple their rival and show viewers their skillset. But in a world where you're only as good as your last tumbling pass, a connection is how you stay relevant. And for a show whose results are readily available online, that connection is noticeably absent.
*All nine episodes were reviews.
*This series is streaming globally on Netflix.