hell bend

For like six minutes in high school, I considered becoming a cheerleader.  I know, shocking, right?  But some of my friends were on the squad, and I’ve always been flexible…so I thought…why not?  Then my innate aversion to mini-skirts and organized sports reasserted itself, and the insanity passed.  Since then I’ve contented myself with watching other people do the cheering.

A couple of days ago I discovered Hellcats, sort of by accident.  I had heard of it, but had promptly forgotten, and didn’t think of it again until I chanced upon it after catching an episode of America’s Next Top Model (my favorite is Jane, btw).

Hmn, a show about cheerleaders.  This is going to be sexism run amok! So I sat down to watch the series pilot, already composing the scathing blog entry-expose detailing misogyny on the CW.  Instead, I found myself hooked.

I imagine that Hellcats is meant to be this network’s answer to Glee, b/c there’s a lot of amazing choreographed routines, albeit a paucity of show tunes.  Anyone who’s ever wished to see more Cheerios action is going to love this.

Here’s the gist: Marti Perkins, a smart girl raised by her featherbrained single mom Wanda on the wrong side of the tracks, loses her scholarship at dancy-schmancy (fictional) school Lancer University.  Her mom, who can’t pay but doesn’t want her daughter to worry, has been hiding the tuition bills from her, and by the time Marti figures out what’s going on, she has a week to get a full scholarship.  Of course, it’s the middle of the semester, so everything is pretty much taken.  Browsing through a book of unorthodox scholarships yields no results, and Marti is curled up outside the dean’s office in despair…when Savannah walks in.

Savannah (Ashley Tisdale…who I recognized as Kim from Donnie Darko) is the captain of the Hellcats.  She breezily informs Marti that she’s on a cheerleading scholarship.  Marti–whom we know is serious b/c she wears heavy eyeliner and heavier boots–snorts, and the two start arguing over whether cheerleaders are athletes.  Or something.

Which leads me to my next point of: how could anyone possibly contend that cheerleading is not a sport??  It’s certainly athletic, and it can have a competitive aspect.  In fact, I think it’s admirable that cheerleading teams (er…squads) have wrested it away from its association as a sideline activity by holding contests that highlight the mental and physical prowess of serious cheerleaders.  It is certainly capable of–and merits–standing on its own.  I have a theory that cheerleading is denigrated only b/c it is mainly the provenance of women (everyone knows women don’t deserve respect!).  How is it any less silly than a bunch of men in tight pants running around after a ball?

Meanwhile, one of the main cheerleaders is incapacitated w/ a broken wrist, and regionals are only a week away!  Emergency try-outs are held, and despite her disdain for the “bobble-heads,” Marti goes out to audition.  She wows them w/ her smooth moves and snags the coveted spot on the team.

Without giving too much away, there are several things I really like about this show.  Firstly, and most obviously: the cheer sequences, which are scattered liberally throughout.  I cannot get enough of anything dance-related.  The soundtrack is really good too.  There’s also the friendship btwn. Marti and Savannah, which is sincere and free of any of the pettiness or backstabbing that seems to characterize most female relationships on network TV.  The writers also do a good job of fleshing out Alice (the cheerleader who got hurt).  She’s kind of bitchy and vindictive, but she also genuinely cares about the team, and her motives are elucidated so that her hostility towards Marti is understandable.

Another good thing about Hellcats is its diversity.  In particular, the way they handle the biracial romance between Marti and her teammate Lewis is perfect.  They advocate tolerance, not by having Marti and Lewis pontificate to their friends, but by making their skin-color a complete non-issue (while this is plausible for a drama that takes place on a liberal campus, I feel like if they venture out into the streets of Memphis it would be rather less believable…).  Their affection for each other, or their misgivings about their nascent relationship are set completely apart from considerations of race.  Which is exactly how it should be.  The same could be said of mixed-race Alice and her boyfriend, Lancer’s star QB.

Finally…

Gale Morgan Harold III of Queer as Folk (which yes, I watched and yes, I loved) fame plays Marti’s law professor Julian.  Marti may be w/ Lewis temporarily, but I am rooting for her to get together w/ Julian…if only b/c I’ve been yearning for Brian to go straight ever since I laid eyes on him…seriously, I’ve never found a gay man so seductive.  Attractive, yes.  But not seductive.  Except maybe Nureyev…but I’m getting away from myself.

Back to my main point:  Hellcats, it is the good stuff. 🙂

What I really want, though, is a series devoted to ballet students.  I mean come on. It’s all there, the dancing, the beautiful people, the drama!  I feel like the depths of this genre could definitely be plumbed further.  I mean, there are some good movies, like Center Stage and The Turning Point…and I’m really looking forward to Black Swan (even though I’m somewhat disappointed and baffled that neither of the main actresses have much of a dance background.  Don’t tell me they couldn’t find any beautiful, accomplished dancers for the roles.  Still, I’m reserving judgement until I actually see the film)…but where are the books?  I haven’t been able to find any satisfactory ballerina memoirs. :/ The only thing that even comes close is Le Robert de noms propres (based on the life of Myriam Roulet) by Amélie Nothomb.

Given our insatiable love of performance, I can’t believe that American audiences would ignore a show centered around ballet.

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