‘Cheer’ is the show Amer­ica needs right now

The News & Observer (Sunday) - - Arts & Living - BY HEIDI STEVENS

“Cheer” is the se­ries Amer­ica needs right now.

The six-part Net­flix doc­u­men­tary fol­lows a team of iron­willed cheer­lead­ers and their take-no-pris­on­ers coach from Navarro Col­lege, a com­mu­nity col­lege in Cor­si­cana, Texas, as they pre­pare for the 2019 na­tional cham­pi­onship com­pe­ti­tion in Day­tona Beach, Florida.

We meet coach Mon­ica Al­dama, a Cor­si­cana na­tive who has led the school’s cheer team to 14 na­tional cham­pi­onships. She has a fi­nance de­gree and an MBA from the Univer­sity of Texas. She hunts for ef­fi­cien­cies. She makes backup plans for her backup plans’ backup plans. She ap­proaches the sport’s com­pli­cated scor­ing sys­tem like a profit-and-loss re­port, and loss is not her forte.

We meet Jerry Har­ris, a gen­tle and gen­er­ous soul who grew up poor and some­times home­less in Chicago. His mom died young of cancer. His team is his fam­ily, and he shores them up with mus­cle and love and good will.

We meet Mor­gan Simi­aner, whose par­ents aban­doned her and her older brother, leav­ing them to fend for them­selves in a Wyoming trailer un­til her grand­par­ents stepped in.

We meet La’Dar­ius Mar­shall, an in­sanely tal­ented ath­lete who sur­vived child­hood sex­ual abuse and se­vere bul­ly­ing from neigh­bors and rel­a­tives who couldn’t ac­cept him be­ing gay.

We meet Lexi Brum­back, a quiet girl who dropped out of high school and spent time in jail.

The Navarro team is 40 strong. Each per­son we meet is as com­pelling and com­pli­cated as the next. And be­cause we get to spend six full hours with them, over the course of the se­ries, we get a lin­ger­ing, nu­anced look at a group of peo­ple who are, too of­ten, cat­e­go­rized and dis­missed af­ter a sin­gle glance: Big-haired cheer­lead­ers. Kids from bro­ken homes. Hard­charg­ing coach. Small-town, God-fear­ing Tex­ans who sur­round these kids – watch them and teach them and judge them

and root for them.

I started watch­ing it, cu­ri­ous to see what all the hype and memes and celebrity gush­ing were about. Si­mone Biles has joked she wants to try out for the Navarro team. (At least I think she’s jok­ing?) The Wall Street Jour­nal in­ter­viewed Adalma about her recipe for suc­cess. Chrissy Teigen is ob­sessed with the se­ries, and “Satur­day Night Live” par­o­died it.

“JJ Watt tweeted about it,” I told my 10-year-old, fig­ur­ing an NFL player’s en­dorse­ment would get him to sit on the couch and watch a doc­u­men­tary about cheer­lead­ing with me. I was right. We binged three episodes. On Sun­day af­ter­noon, when I told my son it was home­work time, he said, “Or we could fin­ish watch­ing ‘Cheer.’”

We fin­ished watch­ing “Cheer.”

The se­ries is not without its crit­ics. Adalma’s coach­ing tech­niques, par­tic­u­larly how she ap­pears to han­dle in­jured ath­letes, have come in for scru­tiny.

But I think this se­ries in­vites us to look hard at our need for clear-cut he­roes and vil­lains. I think it asks us to pause and pore over the con­clu­sions we jump to, of­ten without much ev­i­dence. I think it’s a lot more in­ter­est­ing, this se­ries, if we fight our urge to judge the ath­letes’ paths, their par­ents’ de­ci­sions, this coach’s tech­nique, and re­ceive it, in­stead, as in­sight into a hand­ful of hu­man lives: wildly dis­parate, in­tri­cately con­nected, in­fin­itely com­plex, oc­ca­sion­ally flawed hu­man lives.

Also the cheer se­quences are as­tound­ing.

I’m glad “Cheer”-mania is sweep­ing the na­tion. We need doses of nu­ance. We need to pull up and look closely at our fel­low hu­mans – their pain, their pasts, their tri­umphs. We need sto­ries that guide us to­ward un­der­stand­ing.

“Cheer” does all of that and then some.


“Cheer” fol­lows a team of iron-willed cheer­lead­ers and their take-no-pris­on­ers coach from a com­mu­nity col­lege in Cor­si­cana, Texas.

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