A significantly less engaging version of Season 2 of “Cheer” would have ignored the show’s immediate phenomenon status upon its January 2020 premiere. Before the virus brought the majority of the world to an uneasy halt, Netflix’s docuseries was an inevitable big hit, making its Texan cheerleading subjects overnight celebrities regardless of whether they desired the spotlight. They appeared on Ellen, Dancing with the Stars, and the red carpet at the Academy Awards.
They achieved Instagram influencer and TikTok celebrity status. They were personable and aspirational figures for millions of viewers across the world, who were suddenly very invested in the outcome of a cheerleading competition.
In its second season, “Cheer” might have just repeated the same plot with satisfactory results. It may have used the “Tiger King 2” approach, briefly acknowledging the series’ influence before reverting to its previous storytelling techniques. Instead, the season that director Greg Whiteley and his team crafted is a fascinating examination of what it actually feels like to be a part of a Netflix sensation that burns too brightly and too quickly.
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Even before the pandemic strikes and the team’s most beloved member, Jerry Harris, is indicted on federal charges (more on this later), the second season of “Cheer” begins with the Navarro cheerleaders reeling from the shock of gaining rapid fame.
They scan through their verified Instagram followers in disbelief, embrace Kendall Jenner on television, and accept seemingly every advertising opportunity that is presented to them.
A particularly sad early montage depicts the squad listlessly applauding through an advertisement for a local bakery and a YouTube stunt on a nearby farm whose owner couldn’t care less about Netflix or YouTube. Coach Monica Aldama, a steely woman with a cautious, deadpan demeanor that is more curious than charismatic, is rapidly bombarded with interviews and motivational speaking engagements.
However, in talking head interviews, just a few of them appear thrilled about any of it. The squad is still a cohesive one during practices, but the tension is evident as a result of what the docuseries revealed, who received the most attention, and how much time their new extracurricular activity of being famous consumes.
Navarro Junior College would not have received $25,000 in donations from Ellen DeGeneres without its appearance on a phenomenally popular Netflix show.
The majority of the time, though, “Cheer” makes the entire experience appear quite dismal. Observing Aldama and her young crew struggle to meet the demands of their unexpectedly voracious audience reminded me of “The D’Amelio Show,” an unintentionally depressing Hulu sitcom about two adolescent sisters attempting to parlay their TikTok stardom into sustainable jobs.
Whether it’s dancing, singing, or cheerleading, celebrity inevitably transforms a once-rewarding hobby into something a bit more planned and joyless than before. Contrary to what they claim, the subjects of these docuseries appear to shy away from the spotlight rather than welcome it.
The most notable exception to this norm was also the largest question mark entering the second season. Jerry Harris, the determined reserve cheerleader whose energizing (and screamed) “mat talks” became his calling card when the show debuted, was without a doubt “Cheer’s” biggest breakthrough star.
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His unrelenting zeal and persistent smile made him a fan favorite among both his fellow cheerleaders and new admirers. When he presented “The Ellen Show’s” Oscars red carpet coverage, more celebrities praised him than the other way around. Oprah (Oprah!) requested one of his motivational mat presentations. “Cheer” doesn’t shy away from any of this, which is especially significant considering that the first episode of the season acknowledges how far he’s fallen since.
Indicted on charges of soliciting sexual pictures from minors, the previously exuberant and omnipresent Harris has been jailed pending trial since December 2020, following his arrest in September 2020. Immediately establishing this fact gives vital context for the upcoming season, which began filming well before the allegations surfaced and continue through the squad’s subsequent demise.
A weaker version of this program may have deleted Jerry as much as feasible, explained his destiny in a sidebar, and gone on. However, one of the reasons “Cheer” became so successful in the first place was the film’s obvious empathy for its victims’ suffering, which is amplified in this horrifying case. Friends of Aldama and Harris struggle to complete interviews about it in one piece or without the fresh shock of it all creeping across their faces.
Most noteworthy, however, is Whiteley’s decision not only to spend the entire fifth episode to the charges but also to devote the most of that hour to the boys who initially spoke up about Harris’ alleged crimes, as well as their mother and attorney.
The males relate their experiences and explain why Harris’ fame in the cheering world — and, thanks to this Netflix series, much beyond — made it so difficult to come forward. However, the moment they finally decided to speak is incredibly revealing.
The guys say they were undecided about filing charges until they witnessed Harris engaging in a friendly FaceTime conversation with Vice President Joe Biden, whereupon they felt compelled to take Harris to task. Suddenly, Harris’ ascent to that level of fame felt more than irritating; it felt downright perilous. This encounter would not have been conceivable for Harris without a platform like Netflix catapulting him there, and there is something unquestionably gut-wrenching and profound about the show’s blatant acknowledgment of its own part in Harris’ popularity.
From that point on, the second season of “Cheer” becomes far less self-reflexive as Navarro and their similarly telegenic rivals from Trinity Valley head to Daytona Beach for their long-awaited battle. Harris is largely unmentioned, with the exception of two small Navarro superfans who strain to view all their favorite cheering stars at an event before realizing that Harris will no longer be present.
However, the cloud of his betrayal hangs over everything like an impenetrable fog that deepens the more people try to ignore it. Aldama, fatigued by her participation on “Dancing With the Stars” and a COVID diagnosis, enters a state of despair. La’Darius Marshall, who claimed he was abused as a child in Season 1, feels the pain of Aldama leaving them for Los Angeles and not being present when claims are made.
Despite their best efforts, the new squad, quickly reconstructed after Harris and the epidemic fractured it, never truly gels. Yes, Navarro has more funding and backing than ever before, and certainly more than Trinity, whose team rolls out raggedy practice mats in a muddy parking lot while Navarro performs on their brand-new Daytona replica stage.
In Season 2, however, the star-ripple making’s effects swiftly become an overwhelming and irresistible wave. The college students who told their stories of often traumatic childhoods became role models for others like them, which was both an honor and a huge responsibility they never anticipated.
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Aldama, the only consistent member of the team, stumbled under the weight of expectations that had been multiplied by three. A suspected abuser became cheerleading’s most cheerful avatar, making it even more impossible for anyone to speak out against him.
There is so much to like in “Cheer”: the stories, the characters, and the impressive filmmaking that brings both to such vivid life. But its success, which was enormously increased by Netflix’s global reach, also highlighted the price of celebrity for some who are unprepared for it. “Cheer” might have continued to tell the same type of stories that made it so popular in the first place, but recognizing its role in placing its protagonists on the brink of fame’s double-edged sword is far more ambitious, illuminating, and rewarding.
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