Content warning: child pornography, sexual misconduct with minors
After the overwhelming success of “Cheer” season one, released in January 2020, Netflix released a second season of the docuseries on Jan. 12, continuing to follow the Navarro College cheer squad. The docuseries provides insight into the dedication it takes to be a successful, competitive cheerleader, refuting many stereotypes commonly placed on cheer and declaring that cheer is, in fact, a real sport.
Navarro College, a community college located in the small town of Corsicana, Texas, boasts an outstanding cheer program that has won 14 national championships since 2000 and five grand national championships under the coaching of Monica Aldama. Season one introduced viewers to Aldama, star cheerleader Gabi Butler, and Lexi Brumback, Morgan Simianer, La’Darius Marshall and Jerry Harris, who continue to be at the forefront of the second season.
However, season two is far more serious than its predecessor, which highlighted favorite athletes and told their difficult, yet inspiring, stories. Focused on Harris’s arrest and the draining effect of fame on the cheerleader’s everyday life, season two fails to achieve the same uplifting mood as the first season did.
Aldama is one of the most engaging aspects of both “Cheer” and the Navarro College cheer team. Flying solo and sharing a single medical trainer with the rest of the athletic campus means that Aldama can push her athletes to unhealthy limits without facing repercussions. Her competitive nature and determination demand nothing short of first place; the level of success Aldama is able to experience despite being the team’s sole coach is outstanding. Despite Aldama’s overbearing drive to win, she also cares deeply for the individuals on her team, and the level of respect between her and the athletes is obvious. Many of the “Cheer” stars come from difficult home lives: Simianer was abandoned by her parents as a child and was raised instead by her grandparents, and Harris’s mother passed away from cancer when he was only 16 years old. To many of the team members, Aldama serves as a mother figure — as cheer became one of the only constants in many of the athletes’ lives, so did Aldama.
Harris, who was once a beloved member of the first season’s cast with his infectious positivity and uplifting team spirit, was arrested in September 2020 due to charges of production of child pornography and sending sexual and explicit messages to minors. Clearly, this issue is something that the show needed to address, as glossing over it would severely minimize the effects of Harris’s actions on the victims. The show attempted to handle discussion of his arrest mainly in the series’s fifth episode, titled “Jerry.” However, failing to address the news until halfway through grossly undermines the severity of the issue. With the majority of the hour dedicated to their personal testimony, the episode succeeds in giving the victims a platform, yet still feels unnaturally placed between episodes that strictly cover the cheer competition. “Jerry” is intense, setting a serious tone for the entire season.
The show seemed to fit perfectly with the dark, tumultuous narrative of 2020 and 2021, a remarkable difference from the premise of the first season. Not all shows are meant to be an escape from reality, but Cheer season two definitely is not one of them.
Daily Arts Writer Jenna Jaehnig can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.