Reel Thoughts: “Cheer” takes a dark tumble in second season


Illustration by Delaney Nelson

Cheer’s second season highlights the rivalry between Navarro College and Trinity Valley Community College.

Kara Peeler, Assistant Copy Editor

Content warning: This article contains mentions of sexual assault, child abuse and disordered eating.

This article also contains spoilers.

From glittery costumes and high hair bows to flashy music and intense athleticism, it’s clear Navarro College from the Netflix exclusive docuseries “Cheer” does not come to play. But did they stay on top during the second season? I would say no.

Season two of “Cheer” premiered on Jan. 12 — two years after the first season was released. Season one was a hit amongst viewers, likely because it was a feel-good tale of hard work and success. The docuseries highlights Navarro College, a Texas community college, hoping to earn its 15th title at the NCA & NDA College National Championship.

The 2020 championship was canceled due to the pandemic and Navarro adjusted their practices to include mask-wearing, quarantining and regular testing.

Many Navarro cheerleaders were thrust into the limelight. But that’s where it went downhill. Coach Monica Aldama was absent for the first part of the season to appear on “Dancing with the Stars,” and cheerleaders spent less time practicing because they were appearing in interviews and talk shows galore.

The team also seemed to turn on itself. Major figure La’Darius Marshall even left the team and continually publicly denounced Navarro and Aldama. Season two features more internal competition and less of a family-like environment compared to the first, though the docuseries did highlight growth.

The focus of the show shifted from improving the team to spotlighting their rivalry with Trinity Valley Community College. This created an intense competitive perspective, unlike the first season which shared Navarro cheerleaders’ personal obstacles. The new angle hooked viewers, myself included, but it was surely more cut-throat than feel-good.

The season also deals with formerly beloved Jerry Harris’ felonies. Harris was arrested by the FBI for allegations of possession of child pornography and further indicted for charges like solicitation of sex and explicit photos from minors.

The team struggled with the news, trying to balance their relationships with Harris and his alleged crimes.

Two twin boys told their story on camera, along with their mother’s input. The docuseries also included insight from Sarah Klein, their attorney and an advocate for survivors of sexual abuse. She highlighted similar patterns of abuse and cover ups in cheer and gymnastics, along with emphasizing it is important not to place loved ones on a pedestal, a contrast to the team’s reactions.

I support those editorial choices, but the producer’s decision to keep positive depictions of Harris, along with not detailing the devastating allegations until episode five, are distasteful.

Harris is currently being held without bond at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Chicago. He pleaded not-guilty, but if convicted, he will face a minimum sentence of 15 years for each of the four sexual exploitation counts and a minimum of 10 years for the enticement charge.

The series falls short in another area this season. Many young cheerleaders look up to Navarro members like Gabi Butler, who has two million Instagram followers. That’s why it’s so problematic the show doesn’t properly counteract promoting disordered eating.

Butler described doing her “watermelon diet cleanse,” in which she eats nothing but watermelon for the sake of “removing all that toxic stuff.” Producers could have included commentary from a dietician or doctor to show how unhealthy — mentally and physically — such “diets” are, especially for athletes. I fear young viewers who idolize Butler will try the diet to be just like her.

I am still invested in the characters’ lives and would watch a third season, even if the show’s mood changed entirely. It just wasn’t what viewers were expecting. I hope producers will take public critique to heart and adjust accordingly.

Navarro may have lost, but the show doesn’t have to share the same fate.

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @karapeeler

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