I stumbled upon Netflix’s Cheer purely by accident while in search of mindless entertainment. I did not expect to end up crying in my bed because I was so proud of what the Navarro College cheer team accomplished. Cheer is perhaps the most exciting sports docuseries I have ever watched. It is filled with mind-boggling routines, moving stories, and cheerleaders that you will admire and maybe even cry about.
Cheer follows the Navarro College cheer team as they prepare for the national championship, which takes place in Daytona Beach, Florida every year. Navarro College is located in Corsicana, Texas, which as you may have guessed is the middle of nowhere. Before Netflix’s Cheer, only a tiny population knew Navarro College existed, let alone that they were fourteen-time national cheerleading champions. Many didn’t even know there were major competitions for cheerleading.
Through interviews with team members, coaches, Corsicana residents, and footage of practices, Cheer presents Navarro’s team as no different from any other sports team. Like any 30 for 30 episode, Cheer highlights the hardships the team endures as a whole as well as the struggles its members face individually. Tension builds as they count down to their big performance.
In a list of topics to cover in the making of Cheer, the fact that cheerleading is a sport likely would not be at the top of the list, or even on the list at all. Cheerleading as frivolous sideline entertainment is a tale as old as time, but director Greg Whitley proves that cheerleading is a sport, and a complicated one at that, by showing the sheer athleticism of the individual team members and the coordination that goes into a winning routine.
If physical endurance is not enough to prove the athletic ability of the Navarro College cheer team, Cheer emphasizes the strategy and technique that goes into winning fourteen national titles. Navarro’s longtime coach and absolute icon, Monica Aldama, explains that winning a cheerleading competition requires a combination of difficult skills, flawless execution, and team harmony, just like any other team sport.
As always, it is not just about winning. Monica’s hardest job is supporting her kids, many of whom come from backgrounds that are less than ideal. Jerry, one of the most charismatic and lovable cheerleaders, lost his mother when he was young, but he was supported financially, emotionally, and physically by his team. La’Darius was bullied by his own family for being gay, but his team gave him the outlet he needed to be able to express himself. Morgan grew up without stable parents, and Monica gave her the parental love and guidance she needed. After Lexi went to jail, Monica’s team gave her the structure she needed to thrive. Each team member has a unique story about how cheer helped them grow, which is part of what makes Cheer so special. Sure, it is about the sport, but at its heart, it is about what makes a team a team.
While it is mostly uplifting, Cheer is certainly not without its drama, and who would want it to be? Major injuries occur, teammates bicker, and emotions run high, but the drama all goes out the door when it counts. In fact, the drama ironically emphasizes the team spirit. Through all of the twists and turns and tears and trauma, the team holds onto their motto: “We Can. We Will. We Must.”
The pressure, both physical and emotional, Navarro’s cheerleaders are put under in order to win is nearly unparalleled. A year’s worth of work comes down to a single two-minute-and-fifteen-second performance. One slight mistake can tank a whole team’s hard work. Whitley masterfully builds the audience’s love for the team and appreciation of cheer, while also building the pressure. I found myself overwhelmed by my emotions by the end of the series.
If you are looking for a highly entertaining and moving docuseries to watch about a topic you are likely unfamiliar with, Cheer is the way to go. At the very least, it is entertaining to watch the spectacular tricks they pull off, but at its core, Cheer is an unexpected, beautiful exploration of teamwork and love and young people’s ability to overcome adversity.