Nearly 20 years after Bring It On's debut, cheerleading is having something of a moment on TV. Over on basic cable, you can watch USA's Dare Me, based on the Megan Abbott book, which acknowledges the athletic rigor of the sport, but couches it in a sexy mystery. Executive produced and directed by Greg Whiteley -- who was behind Netflix's highly lauded football docuseries Last Chance U -- Cheer doesn't really have time for that sort of drama. In fact, it largely aims to desexualize the sport.
Though Cheer aims to highlight the sport's athleticism above all else, it doesn't lack an emotional pull. Cheer succeeds mostly on the strength of the characters it chooses to highlight. At the center of all of this is Monica, who stomps around Corsicana, Texas in little boots like she owns the town. (And she sort of does.) Monica is Coach and Tami Taylor rolled up all into one. She's a born-and-bred Corsicana who had dreams of going to New York and working in business, but found herself tied to her hometown after starting a family with her high school sweetheart. She runs the Navarro team like a small empire, molding the members into the best of the best. She's deadpan and highly critical, but a softie when she needs to be. I also genuinely feared her pyramid might be too hard, given how many injuries it spawned.
Then there are the cheerleaders themselves. Far and away the breakout star is Jerry Harris. It feels weird to say that someone who is quite literally a cheerleader is also a figurative cheerleader, but that's who Jerry is. He's a supportive sweetheart rooting hard for every member of his team even through internal strife. (While the team consists of 40 people, only 20 get to "make mat," meaning get to compete at Daytona.) He quickly emerged as a fan favorite online along with the other athletes Whiteley and his team chose to highlight.
It's hard not to root for Morgan Simianer, who doesn't have the training of some of her peers due to an absent father and unmoored upbringing. Lexi Brumback is a remarkable tumbler with a history of bad behavior, and her early disillusionment with the rah-rah Navarro spirit is relatable but it makes her ultimate dedication all the more exciting. It also means that the epilogue, in which she's kicked out of school for being in possession of illegal substances, is all the more heartbreaking. La'Darius Marshall is a great performer with a highly critical attitude that we eventually learn was born as a defense mechanism. Gabi Butler comes in as the pre-appointed influencer of the group, a "cheerlebrity" who has been famous in these circles for years with a pair of stage parents who have seemingly little regard for her mounting exhaustion. Gabi, meanwhile, is a trooper even despite being constantly pressured. It's easy to develop affection for people who aren't as prominently featured: Sherbs! Jade! Austin!