If you thought life was brutal on “Last Chance U,” wait until you see “Cheer,” a new six-part series from director Greg Whiteley.
Set at Navarro College in Corsicana, Texas, it shows how coach Monica Aldama builds a cheering squad that’s ready to compete in the nationals.
Because the two-year school has plenty of trophies to its credit (it has won 14 national championships since 2000), this isn’t an “I think I can” story but an “I know I can” one. Students come to the school just to work with Aldama and she’s not an easy mark. A cheerleader may fall from a pyramid and look hurt and, still, the practice goes on. “Full out this time,” Aldama barks.
But that kind of high-stakes coaching is what makes Navarro such a powerhouse. In order to retain its position among the cheering elite, the stunts have to be bigger, cleaner and, as Aldama says, “full out.”
Naturally, there are plenty of personal stories to tell.
Like he did with “Last Chance,” Whiteley gets into the lives of the students and shows just how important something like this is. Discipline is key and, often, the teammates haven’t had that kind of structure.
A quiet newbie talks about living alone in a trailer as a child. An assistant coach details how he tried to commit suicide. An overweight second stringer shows how determination and attitude can make the difference between failure and success.
The concept isn’t new, but the setting is. Whiteley makes us care as much about cheering as Aldama does. Although she admits a career in business was her intended career path, there’s something about the pull in cheering that keeps her in. She’s a great poker player, rarely revealing her hand but always willing to play it.
When injuries stack up, she moves her stunters, tumblers and lifters all over the board until she has a squad that can show up for the big showdown in Florida.
Because there’s more to this than just the tricks, Whiteley also reveals how lucrative the business can be.
Gabi Butler isn’t just a consistent performer, she’s a ringer who is frequently sought to help other teams make it to the top. She’s on Navarro’s squad, but she’s also a cover girl for cheering magazines, a model for cheer wear and an entrepreneur who’s mining her social media follows for a life after competition.
Whitely introduces her parents, too, and shows a side of the world most never considered. This is big business and, at times, it’s life for kids at Navarro.
While national officials rob the director of a great final episode (they won’t let him film at the competition), he figures out a way to make it happen and show who did what when and why.
“Cheer” isn’t so much a new take on an old story as it is proof there’s drama wherever two or more gather.
It’s an addicting reality show that will make you think twice the next time you see someone accomplish something amazing.
Behind it all, there’s probably a Monica Aldama making it happen.
“Cheer” begins in January on Netflix.