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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Cheer is a Netflix docuseries about Navarro Community College's award-winning cheerleading team. Directed by Greg Whiteley (Last Chance U), the six-episode series focuses on the cheer team's rigorous preparation for their 2019 performance at Nationals. The coach, Monica, and a handful of team members get full backstories: Jerry, Morgan, La'Darius, Gabi, and Lexi come from different race, class, and sexual-identity backgrounds and are very different people, which makes them relatable and accessible as role models. Themes include perseverance, teamwork, personal growth, and the value of family and friendship. Scary falls/drops during practices result in concussions, sprains, broken bones, etc. A few moments of anger between cheerleaders are resolved appropriately, and parents will be pleased that the stereotypical meanness of cheerleaders is refreshingly lacking here. The cheerleaders don't wear much at practice -- bare midriffs and legs and muscular, sometimes shirtless men are common, but they're not sexualized. Language is rare but does include the use of "f--k" and "bitch." The show does address some darker themes as well, including drug use, suicide, and sexual abuse.
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What's the story?
CHEER opens at the start of the 2019 spring semester, as the Navarro Community College cheer team is gearing up for Nationals, where they will be the defending champions. Navarro, located in tiny Corsicana, Texas, attracts top cheerleaders from all over the country who want to train under Coach Monica Aldama, who has thirteen national championships under her belt. Episodes consist of scenes from cheer practices as the team learns their Nationals routine alternated with interviews and backstories of Coach Monica and five of the team members. There's likable Jerry, whose family tragedy inspires him to be his best, Morgan, who finds the "family" she's never had at Navarro. Gabi, a cheerleader of social media fame, La'Darius who survived abuse and bullying to become one of the best cheerleaders anywhere, and Lexi, a high school dropout struggling to do the right thing. The final episode at Nationals in Daytona Beach reveals whether or not all of their hard work and sacrifices pay off.
Is it any good?
This surprisingly captivating docuseries about a team at the top of its game will delight cheer-loving viewers and convert the cheer-averse. The alternating scenes of cheer practices and performances and the life stories of compelling personalities in Cheer invest the viewer from the very first episode. It's also very balanced. Coach Monica's strong persona doesn’t dominate the show. The young people really do shine here, and viewers will find themselves invested in their (and the teams') success. Stakes are established early: risk of major injury and the fact that only twenty of the forty cheerleaders will be selected to be "on mat" at Nationals makes the show pleasingly suspenseful.
A missed opportunity: going deeper into the important issues of LGBTQ discrimination and financial barriers to cheering, which are raised, but not given the deep attention they deserve. Other than that, the story is structured so well that as the competition nears, the tension and anxiety swells to near-panic levels for the cheerleaders and viewers of the show. The result of Nationals is as emotional as it gets in documentaries, but by the time the viewer gets to the end, many tears may have already been shed -- this show pulls at the heart all the way through and may even convert new fans to the sport.
Talk to your kids about ...
Kids can talk about the different backgrounds the cheerleaders in Cheer are from. Which stories did you find most moving or relatable? How do these young adults change over the course of the series? Why do you think they make these changes?
There's a big risk of injuries that are involved in cheerleading. Why do you think it's worth the risk for the cheerleaders on the show?
- Premiere date: January 8, 2020
- Cast: Monica Aldama, Gabi Butler, La'Darius Marshall
- Network: Netflix
- Genre: Reality TV
- Topics: Friendship, Great Boy Role Models, Great Girl Role Models, Misfits and Underdogs
- TV rating: TV-14
- Available on: Streaming
- Award: Common Sense Selection
- Last updated: March 12, 2020
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