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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
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Cheer debuts tonight on CMT at 11 p.m. Eastern.

Look, I don’t like that I liked this, either.

At first, Cheer is no more than a rip-off of Dance Moms. The premiere opens on Patty Ann Romero, the obligatory hard as nails coach, watching her Central Jersey All-Star girls, who range from 12-year-old tumbling prodigies to 18-year-old tyrants in training. Romero sports a thick Jersey accent and a more impressive Rachel haircut than Rachel ever had. Her three specialist coaches flank her as if they heard the word “sidekick” and took it literally. She shoots down a mom who dares to question why there are curtains around the “parents’ waiting room” windows with an acidic, “You want to tap on glass? Go to the zoo.” Meanwhile, the other moms wait patiently in the waiting room, making bets on just how hard Romero will slam the dissenter’s head into the aforementioned windows.

Once it establishes the supporting cast of requisite characters, though, Cheer takes an unexpected turn for the decent. The premiere ends on a sour note for the girls’ competition chances, and all seems ripe for a middle-aged meltdown. Instead, we get a surprising window into Romero’s relationship with her team that mean-spirited programming like Dance Moms doesn’t even try for anymore: humanity.

CMT’s disappointment in its cast displaying such a thing is obvious when it underscores the stern but encouraging talks between coaches and cheerleaders with music more fitted for WWE Raw. Surely, you can almost hear the editors saying, this will be the botched tumbling pass that ends this child’s career! In fact, the second episode gets some mileage out of teasing a cheerleader’s brain condition, which causes her serious fatigue during practice. This is understandable once she explains that the condition means her “brain seeps out of the skull and rests on the spine” in a talking head, which is only made more horrifying by the fact that she delivers it with a giant smile. When she refuses to step out of rehearsals even when her headache forces her to sit and Romero paces around the gym to a Jerry Bruckheimer heist soundtrack, the show is clearly rooting for the girl to admit she’s too terrified of her coach to stop.


Luckily, this doesn’t happen. Instead, Romero tells the girl to stop being a martyr, say something when she needs a break, and come back tomorrow. If that doesn’t sound like compelling television… well, it’s not. It does, however, mean we get to bypass a potentially irredeemable turn countless other reality stars would have taken if it meant getting a pull quote in US Weekly.

Cheerleading competitions, by the way, are not for the fainthearted. Quite honestly, this show should come with a seizure warning. Rather than lights, camera, and action, these shows come equipped with lasers, arenas of screaming parents, and sobbing 12-year-olds wearing bows bigger than their faces. Keeping up with the “CMT Wants Its Buzzworthy Child Exploitation Show” theme, there is a sequence of the girls curling each other’s hair and applying false eyelashes pre-show a la Toddlers and Tiaras. Still, this doesn’t distract from the fact that they’re doing it for each other. What these Central Jersey girls lack in personality (every talking head has clearly been rehearsed) they make up for in absolute earnestness. They’re no Honey Boo Boos; they’re just unabashedly enthusiastic kids.

CMT may be disappointed it couldn’t find the caricatures it was looking for. Romero’s easy, pithy relationship with her daughter and her dances on the sidelines when the girls hit their marks are charming, but they’re not going to spawn a Twitter phenomenon any time soon. They won’t be able to sell catchphrase t-shirts, or tie ratings with a former President’s speech (really). But at the very least, the network found a scrappy team that takes itself too seriously and somehow gets to compete in the “Olympics of cheerleading” every other week. We’ve all spent time and energy watching worse.

Stray Observations:

  • If CMT does insist on a Cheer t-shirt, though, I submit the following Romero motivational speech: “Baby May, you’re about to lose your wings, kid. Tell me your excuse of the day!”
  • It was extremely hard trying not to type Cheers throughout this review, which in turn made it extremely hard not to imagine Sam and Diane bickering over tumbling passes.
  • Cheerleading competition music is the hyperactive younger sister of dubstep, i.e. the worst.
  • Mark Consuelos and Kelly Ripa are executive producers on this show… and that's about all there is to say about that, really.

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