Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Netflix’s ‘Cheer’ Lands With ‘Darker And Messier’ Season 2

Things would be a lot easier if Netflix’s Welcome was a one-season wonder.

A sudden sensation that debuted just months before the pandemic, no one expected the docu-series about Navarro’s championship-winning college cheerleading team to be such a hit. What followed was a meteoric rise to near-cultural ubiquity that few other shows in recent memory have experienced.

For several weeks, Saturday Night Live parodied dangerous practices. Team members have been spinning with Kendall Jenner on daytime TV and live on Instagram with campaigner Joe Biden. A group of teenage athletes went from cheerleaders to full-fledged stars, amassing millions of fans on social media and charging $50 for cameos between workouts.

But then came the fall—or better, the fall—from grace. The reaction to injuries associated with the support group began to raise questions about the safety of the program. COVID has turned the 2020 season upside down, with the NCA National Championships in Daytona Beach another victim of the pandemic. And then show star Jerry Harris, whose Oprah Winfrey-approved “obscenity talk” earned him a spot on the Oscars red carpet, was charged with possession of child pornography and sexual abuse of underage boys.

If the first season of Cheer was dedicated to introducing us all to the insular world of the high-level competitive cheerleading squad and its athletes performing even higher, the second is a stark reminder that it is rife with the same problems that plague many. other collegiate sports and industries.

“The curveballs that were thrown at this particular production were unprecedented in my experience,” showrunner Greg Whiteley, who also created the Last Chance U franchise on the streamer, told HuffPost in a recent interview. “What [coach Monica Aldama] and the team the second season went through was tense, whether or not our cameras were there.”

According to Aldama, viewers see the team facing “a lot of problems” in the second season. “As a coach, I try to show my game face every day, keep a positive attitude and encourage the team to focus on our goals,” she added. “I view adversity as an opportunity to grow and learn. I hope this is something that viewers will take away.”

A series with more content to rest on its laurels could have done things differently. Why tarnish the radiance of an inspired sports fantasy that has won so many fans with Friday Night Lights? But Cheer isn’t afraid to get tangled up in those knots – whether it’s jealousy fueled by the actual mechanics of filming a hit reality show, or power that can easily lead to abuse.

Instead, the second season chooses to build on that discomfort and tell a more convoluted, if disjointed, story about the dangers of fame and myth-making. And that makes it all the more interesting.

Gaby Butler and T.T. Barker in the movie “Cheer”.

Kyle AlexanderKyle Alexander/Netflix

Nine new episodes follow Navarro’s quest for a 15th league title. However, this time around, the series is simultaneously tracking its rivals just 40 miles to the east, Trinity Valley Community College. Building empathy for both teams over the course of the season effectively makes viewers question who exactly they root for and why. It’s a David and Goliath story that’s irresistible and filled with plenty of classic sports intrigue – TVCC even poachs former choreographer Navarro to boost their team’s impact. While the influx of new faces and backstories can be overwhelming at times, these new athletes have the same verve that made the first season’s cast stars.

For Gaby Butler, a returning athlete from Navarro and one of the most recognizable figures in competitive cheerleading, the expansion of the show also meant an increase in audience reach.

“You will see both sides of this story. It’s not just about Navarro,” Butler explained, noting that she once considered going to a rival college. “Both programs have always been head to head with each other.”

“Season 1 had a huge impact on the entire support industry and I just hope this season can touch people in a different way,” Butler added. “Because it’s more raw. It’s more emotional and more open.”

The revamped show structure also gave Whiteley a chance to sidestep the terrible sophomore slump in the series.

“When you do the first Spider-Man reboot, you have to tell the origin story. You have to explain the world and introduce the characters, and often the sequels are so bad because you’ve lost the magic of that part of the story,” Whiteley said. “This season, we are introducing a new world that represents the team of the future.”

Aldama, however, remains unchanged in the series, with Whiteley calling her “an incredibly wealthy character that could be cast forever”.

La'Darius Marshall, Monica Aldama, Gaby Butler and Jerry Harris at the Build Series for a discussion "Joy" January 29, 2020 in New York.
La’Darius Marshall, Monica Aldama, Gaby Butler and Jerry Harris at the Build Series to discuss “Cheer” on January 29, 2020 in New York City.

Jim Spellman via Getty Images

The season comes to a halt as allegations around Harris surface on the same day Aldama is set to make her Dancing with the Stars debut. Considering how “Cheer” propelled Harris to new heights of fame (and capitalized on his immense popularity), it would be irresponsible not to offer the same care, sensitivity, and platform to the alleged victims of his abuse. (Harris, who pleaded not guilty, is currently in jail awaiting trial.)

It all takes center stage in the harrowing fifth episode, which features an encounter with twin brothers who say Harris sexually abused them and demanded candid images when they were 13. To give context to the allegations, the episode also features professionals who work with victims of sexual assault and can talk about issues that may affect collegiate athletes.

In putting the season together, Whiteley said he had no choice but to follow the story to its natural conclusion.

“When you get close enough to people, people are sloppy people and you will run into some uncomfortable situations,” he said. “Just try to deal with them as honestly and honestly as you can.”

“The situation with Jerry was one that none of us could ever have predicted,” Whiteley continued. “Once this news was known, our work became very simple. We did a story about this team. He is a member of this team and we have to tell this part of the story.”

The scandal ricocheted through Navarro College and the wider cheerleading community as the group faced conflicting versions of the teammate they thought they knew: the human ray of sunshine that captured the hearts of millions and the predator accused of stalking little boys.

Of course, this may not sound like a continuation of the first season, in which each of its stars was on the rise. But it’s a necessary and norm-breaking story that makes Cheers so much more important and could actually spur real change in the sport.

Monica Aldama's coach "Joy."
Coach Monica Aldama in the movie “Cheer”.

“Cheerleading should be a safe place for everyone,” Butler said. “We could definitely work better to be more communicative. We hide and hold back a lot of things, and I think it’s important for people to express their feelings and be more open about what’s going on outside of training.”

“Monica still writes to me, asking: “How are you? How are you? Beyond the support group? You see one side, but what is the other?

Despite all her praise and criticism, investing in young people on and off the mat remains paramount for Aldama, who is not about to give up.

“Team members are my goal — this is my Why,” she said. “There is nothing more satisfying than getting a phone call after they left and hearing how their time in Navarro helped shape them. Their resilience is inspiring and it is thanks to them that I have dedicated my entire life to cheerleading.”

The second season of Welcome is currently streaming on Netflix.

Attentive viewers of the first episode can see Cole Del from HuffPost.byck, who appears in the Build Series interview clip.

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