"Cheerleading sucks," one cheerleader says to another in the fifth episode of Netflix's six-part documentary series, Cheer, which follows the elite Navarro College team as it preps for another national championship competition in Daytona Beach. Watching the show, it's hard to disagree with that statement. Cheerleading sucks, but not in the way that you think it does -- not because it's quote-unquote lame or because it's filled, as the stereotype goes, with bitchy popular girls. It sucks because of the frequent concussions and the dislocated bones and the fractured ribs. Just after being told "cheerleading sucks," cheerleader Morgan Simianer goes to the emergency room. She's told that she needs to stop cheering or she could potentially crack her ribs and puncture her organs. She refuses.
But cheerleading, according to Cheer, is also beautiful. It's a miraculous athletic achievement, in which bodies are pushed to an extreme in order to literally fly through the air. It's also a source of solace for the young men and women of Navarro on screen, a chosen family ruled over by their coach Monica Aldama, an intense den mother, who works her kids hard but loves them deeply.
Cheer puts you through the ringer. I spent half the time watching in a tense full-body cringe, anticipating disaster as the Navarro cheerleaders practiced their ridiculously hard pyramid, yelping when someone hit the ground. (And a lot of people hit the ground.) Watching Cheer is also a multi-platform experience. As the countless "where to find the cast on social media" posts indicate: Finding and following the stars of the series on Instagram is half the fun. (It also means you can very well spoil yourself for the grand finale, as I did.)