It’s only February and we already have the most talked about show of 2020. That sees me currently waging a campaign to get anyone who’ll listen to watch Cheer, a TV show about cheerleading.
I understand many of you just switched off at the mention of cheerleading.
I did the same thing.
“Not interested, no thank you” was my initial response when the Netflix algorithm helpfully suggested six-part docu-series Cheer might be something I’d be into.
But after seeing so much buzz about it on social media, I gave it a shot. This tweet sums up my experience perfectly:
It took two episodes for me to fall in love.
But at that point I was cancelling my plans for the rest of the week so I could stay home and binge watch.
The series focuses on the Navarro junior college cheer squad, which is based in the small town of Corsicana, Texas.
They are doggedly followed by cameras in the months leading up to the national cheerleading championships at Daytona, Florida.
Navarro has won the championship 13 times and the pressure is on to win again.
There are a few reasons this show is so surprisingly gripping.
Five team members are the focus. I won’t go into too many details, because I want you to discover them for yourself, but they are extraordinary characters.
Their backstories are explored, and every one of them has overcome immense personal hardship.
Suddenly, you’re desperately invested in their success.
What brings these unlikely characters together is their passion for this sport. They’ve travelled from all over America to attend this particular college, purely because of the cheer program.
When interviewed by the Los Angeles Times, Cheer director Greg Whiteley suggested elite cheerleading is so demanding, both mentally and physically, it draws “people that maybe feel they’ve really got nothing to lose”.
Said Whiteley, “Think about the type of courage it takes to be launched into the air 20 to 30 feet in hopes that these people you just met are going to catch you.”
I was guilty of discounting cheerleading as something sparkly that occurred on the sidelines of a football game, but the show successfully debunks the popular cheerleader stereotype.
Sure, there’s ridiculous amounts of make-up and hairspray, but these girls are tough as nails.
The stamina, strength and determination involved is mind-boggling. They are utterly fearless, pushing through the pain of concussions and twisted ankles and dislocated shoulders to hone their skills.
At one stage it’s acknowledged cheerleading is the leading cause of catastrophic injury for young female athletes in America. You’ll wince as you watch.
The series also provides a fascinating snapshot of life in small-town Texas.
It’s super kitschy. God is everpresent.
A classroom scene shows a teacher cheerfully gushing about the right to carry firearms. You get the sense the gay members of the squad haven’t had the easiest time of it in the community.
The other thing that makes the show addictive is the way the tension builds.
You can physically feel the pressure increasing as they count down the days to the competition. By the time the team boarded the plane for Dayton I required a paper bag to breathe into.
Then, the entire thing comes down to a single two minute 15 second performance. I could barely watch.
Netflix is being cagey about the show’s ratings, but if social media is anything to go by, it’s been a breakout success for the streaming service.
It has won numerous famous fans (including Reese Witherspoon and Chrissy Teigen), been raved about by reviewers and has spawned countless memes.
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Never thought I would be on Ellen once, let alone twice! I’m so happy I got to experience this again. Thank you @kendalljenner for being so kind and funny! Thank you @theellenshow for having me again! What an amazing experience! ❤️😍
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It’s even had the Saturday Night Live treatment.
The cheerleaders themselves have become overnight celebrities, appeared on The Ellen DeGeneres Show and landed lucrative endorsement deals.
Naturally, fans are now wondering whether a second season will be in the works.
If that happens, I for one will cheer.