Cheerleading is not some mythical beast created by the Bring It On franchise; it’s actually a real sport. Netflix’s new docuseries Cheer reveals the inner workings of competitive college cheerleading, complete with injuries, camaraderie, and deep-set rivalry.
Cheer follows the Navarro College Cheer Team from Corsicana, TX, led by powerhouse coach Monica Aldama, as they prepare for the National Cheerleaders Association National Championships in Daytona, FL. Having won the NCA National Championships 14 times, the Navarro cheerleaders are the créme de la créme of national cheerleading.
Cheer challenges the stereotypes of cheerleading in its focus on the competitive athleticism that cheerleading requires. Being a cheerleader is not a popularity contest, nor is it merely an extracurricular for the Navarro team members. Part insane acrobatics, part stunning theatrical performance, cheerleading requires years of dedication and unwavering trust amongst the team.
The highlight of the series is the tight emotional bond shared by the Navarro cheerleaders. Cheer specifically focuses on five team members and Aldama (who is dubbed “The Queen” by her students), with occasional short backstories featured from other members.
Morgan was abandoned by her parents at a young age and joined the team at a lower skill level than many of her peers. Gabi is an Instagram-famous cheerleader who travels the country for other cheer events. La’Darius, whose larger-than-life smile lights up the mat, was intensely bullied for being gay as a child. Lexi’s teenage years were rife with bad behavior. Jerry lost his mother when he was in high school; he performed at a cheerleading competition the next day and was taken in by the other cheer moms.
Suspense builds throughout the six-episode series as the team prepares for competition. The team is split into those who will perform in Daytona and those who will sit on the sidelines, causing minor drama amongst the team. However, unlike most reality-based shows, the drama that unfolds takes a backseat to the actual talent and skill of each character. While certain teammates occasionally butt heads, the strength of their trusting relationships takes center stage.
All the hard work comes to a head in the final episode. In Daytona, Navarro performs their two-and-a-half-minute routine, complete with a complex pyramid, insane stunts and huge, teeth-baring smiles. The final episode is filled with suspense captured on an iPhone camera (the crew is not allowed inside the competition arena, as professional footage is only captured by Varsity Spirit Corporation). After the excitement of competition day, Cheer flashes two months forward in a bittersweet “where are they now” segment, following up with Morgan, La’Darius, Lexi and Jerry.
Following the release of Cheer, the team performed on The Ellen Show, and the show has garnered praise from several noteworthy celebrities, including Reese Witherspoon, Gabrielle Union, and even U.S. Olympian Simone Biles.
If there’s anything to be learned from Cheer, it’s that cheerleading is no longer an elitist, vapid activity for moving up the social hierarchy. No, cheerleading is an art, a beautifully choreographed, meticulous practice that pushes the limits of the human physique into the boundaries of the unbelievable.