Anyone who’s even passingly familiar with the story around Netflix’s Emmy-winning series Cheer won’t be surprised at why the just-released Season 2 doesn’t have the same vibe this time around.
In fact, a Google search box pretty succinctly explains why, or partly why. Start typing “Cheer,” and almost right away the search engine will autocomplete it to read “Cheer Jerry Harris.” That’s a reference, of course, to the disgraced former Navarro College cheerleader and breakout star of the series’ first season. He was arrested in late 2020 on a federal child pornography charge, with additional charges against him tacked on later. Needless to say, it was a stunning turn of events. Moreover, it also ensured that the show’s sophomore season — which is already the #1 show on Netflix at the moment — would be released under something of a cloud.
Cheer Season 2 trailer
Harris was the cheer team’s hype man, known for his enthusiastic pep talks. His star rose prominently enough that President Biden had an online video conversation with him during the 2020 campaign. To say nothing of Harris’ red carpet appearances and other celebrity encounters. Cameo even added Harris to its platform, as another way of tapping into fan interest.
But it’s not just the Harris scandal that gives Cheer’s second season much more interesting texture and narrative cross-currents this time around. There are also the young cheerleaders grappling with the staggering amount of fame they now enjoy. The pressure to keep performing. Oh yeah, and there was a pandemic that upended all of their lives. Only a couple of months after the first season hit Netflix, to boot.
“A lot of great opportunities, and a lot of … awful times,” Navarro cheerleading coach Monica Aldama says right at the outset of season two, in describing the past year. With something of a thousand-yard-stare and vacant look in her eyes. “Really, the only reason I even wanted or agreed to do the docuseries was just to show the athleticism and the hard work. And I had no idea that it would get crazy like it did.”
“Uncomfortable to watch”
In the 9-episode new season, all of the complexity we mentioned above gets heightened even more by something else. A fierce rival, Trinity Valley Community College.
“As with the Navarro team,” Netflix’s press material explains, “TVCC has a charismatic coach and breakout stars whose struggles, triumphs and stories extend far beyond the mat. As both teams push for the 2021 championship in Daytona, familiar faces take compelling detours and new contenders make a name for themselves.“
At least one review/recap of the new season describes it as uncomfortable, at times, to watch. There’s Harris, for example, in one clip after another at the beginning of the new season. During happier days. And during those halcyon, pre-pandemic days. Not that any of this is a criticism or a knock on the new episodes, of course. In fact, the second season currently has a pretty strong 91% critics’ score on Rotten Tomatoes.
All in all the new season finds Cheer growing up. And avoiding the staleness that accompanied the rush to cash in on a second season of Tiger King.
“Now aware of its influence and with the added responsibility that comes with it,” writes an IndieWire reviewer, “Cheer delivers a fascinating command performance, with all the attention and empathy that the stories at its center demand.”