Cheer is the docuseries you need to watch

Netflix's newest show handsprings into the spotlight

Cheer focuses on the brutality of competitive cheerleading.
Credit: 
Screenshot from Netflix

Netflix’s new docuseries, Cheer, has brought new meaning to the sport of cheerleading. The six-part limited series gives viewers an inside look at the grueling world of competitive cheer. It’s also highly addictive—once you start watching, you won’t be able to stop.

The series is a powerful piece about fighting adversity, showcasing the personal stories of teenagers struggling with sexuality, status, and body image at 13-time national cheerleading champion school, Navarro College. Located in little-known Corsicana, Texas, a remote town 60 miles south of Dallas, the community’s conservative values don’t exactly align with the diversity on the school’s cheerleading team.

They’re nothing like Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders, whose version of professional cheerleading is more like competitive dancing. Cheer focuses on the brutality of cheer, a competitive sport within itself. Strong, muscular bodies toss smaller, muscular bodies into the air, where they twist, pose, flip, then fall back to earth, hoping to be caught in just the right position. Landing a few inches out of place for any cheerleader can spell disaster.

The docuseries showcases the Navarro College cheerleading team as they work toward their 14th National Cheerleading Association (NCA) championship title under the watchful eye of Coach Monica Aldama. The continuous thread of this narrative arc follows the team’s journey to the finals in Daytona, Florida. Each episode amplifies the rigours of creating the most difficult pyramid or the most tenacious tumbling routine, all while exploring the lives of the members of the team. 

What pushes these athletes even harder is that while there are 40 cheerleaders on the team, only 20 of those individuals get to perform; this is referred to as “making it on the mat.” Not every member of the team will make the mat to compete at nationals.

It’s riveting to watch Coach Monica rule the team with an iron fist encased in a velvet glove. She’s a no-nonsense coach, and has only one goal in mind: winning. It’s heartbreaking to watch her young athletes give it their all, only to be told they’re not good enough. Despite this, the coach knows she’s preparing them for the realities of life.

Navarro is a junior college, meaning students stay for two years rather than four. The main purpose of a junior college is to offer an academic, vocational, and professional education. Navarro athletes’ careers are therefore half the length of typical NCAA cheerleaders—who spend four years at college—giving them half as much time to prove themselves to Monica and make the mat.

The physical challenges of the sport are often used as a metaphor for the difficult lives many of the Navarro College athletes have endured. Cheer takes us on an emotional journey, as we learn about the pasts of five team members: Jerry, Monica, Gabi, La’Darius, and Lexi. Each of these athletes has struggled to find acceptance and endured a past marred with abuse, bullying, and anger.

Jerry, whose cheerleading future remains a question mark throughout the series, finds a surrogate family in the cheerleaders around him after losing his mother at a young age.

Morgan, who was abandoned by her parents as an adolescent and left to raise herself in a trailer.  For Morgan, Monica becomes a maternal figure, but also someone who constantly pushes the cheerleader to new limits. In an on-camera interview, Morgan says, “I would take a bullet for her.” 

Gabi Butler is the ‘cheerlebrity’ of the team, whose overbearing, image-conscious, profit-obsessed parents are constantly crafting her career for her.

La’Darius, a young man who survived sexual abuse, and was “called fruity” by his friends and family throughout high school, finds his authentic self at Navarro.

Lexi, a strong, powerful tumbler—“one of our boys,” as Monica says—is a high school dropout finding herself between stints in jail. 

Despite their differences, past and present, each member of the team comes together as a supportive, uplifting group to impress Coach Monica and give it their all in Daytona. 

It’s no wonder, then, that their story continues after the first season is over. The team has already made appearances on Ellen and The Today Show, and the cheerleaders have cemented their notoriety on Instagram. It’s also no surprise that people are speculating about a second season of Cheer—the Internet is demanding more of Jerry’s “mat talk” and positivity. 

The show is gripping, painful, and uplifting, and because of this, you can’t stop watching.

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