Netflix's 'Cheer': Get Hooked on the Docuseries About Navarro College's Competitive Cheerleading Squad
By Stacy Lambe
Friday Night Lights meets Bring It On as cameras follow a competitive cheerleading squad on their journey to the NCA All-Star National Championship. Directed by Greg Whiteley, Cheer is a six-part Netflix docuseries that chronicles the brutal training, exceptional athletics and high stakes of Navarro College’s award-winning team. Led by coach Monica Aldama, they spend months preparing for the sport’s most prestigious competition in Daytona Beach, Florida, where they only get one shot at taking home the 2019 title.
Admittedly new to the world of cheer, Whiteley and his production team first came across the sport while filming season two of Last Chance U, a similar docuseries about college-level football, at East Mississippi Community College in Scooba, Mississippi. After attending one of the EMCC cheer squad’s practices, they were taken aback by the level of intensity and soon were on the hunt for a team to follow. It didn’t take long, however, for them to discover the junior college in Corsicana, Texas, which has won 14 titles since 2000.
“They were not hard to find. If you just google collegiate cheer, they’re going to be the first school that pops up,” Whiteley tells ET. “And after I met with Monica Aldama, I was convinced that this was a great idea for a show.”
Soon cameras were following Aldama, a tough yet compassionate leader who bears an uncanny resemblance to Sheryl Crow, and her team, which happens to not only be one of the best in the country but is also filled with fascinating personalities that could have easily been the inspiration for the cast of Bring It On. (It should be noted that Whiteley has never seen the hit 2000 movie starring Kirsten Dunst, but he says it was referenced over and over again while Cheer was filming.)
Among the most compelling members captured on camera are team outsider and seemingly alternative Lexi Brumback, shy newcomer Morgan Simianer, in-demand social media star Gabi Butler, the proud and sassy La’Darius Marshall and the happy-go-lucky Jerry Harris, who all have the skills and the drive to be part of the squad but also have to prove themselves worthy enough to “make the mat” and be one of the cheerleaders performing in Daytona.
Harris, in particular, is one of the most magnetic characters on the show, thanks to his unfaltering positive demeanor and love for the sport. Despite his dedication and two years on the team, he has yet to make the cut when it comes to the National Championship. But there’s no doubt he is the season’s breakout star.
“For us, Jerry’s backstory was so compelling and his personality is so endearing that it just became easy to say, ‘Well, regardless of where he ends up -- on the mat or not -- that’s a story worth telling. So let’s just do it,’” Whiteley says of choosing to feature Harris, who gets the opportunity to prove himself when one of the other stunters can’t keep up.
In fact, it’s the episodes leading up to the final competition that are perhaps the most compelling as athletes like Harris or Simianer go from the sidelines to the mat as training takes unexpected turns and injuries take out some of the top performers. The series does not hold back, showing just how grueling practices are as members of the squad push themselves to achieve perfection.
“Cheerleaders are the toughest athletes I’d ever filmed. And I think we owed it to them to show in reality, this is what it takes to be great in this particular field,” Whiteley says of keeping the cameras rolling even when it becomes tough to watch at times. Amazingly, Cheer captures every moment of their routines, managing to get as close as possible without disrupting their practices or putting the athletes or crew in danger.
“They are doing this routine that, in some cases, is death defying,” says Whiteley who goes on to explain that the trust and bond required to pull something like that off is unheard of in other sports or on other teams -- and it’s also what made the experience of filming the series all that more special.
“There was something about it that as I’d watched it, I thought, ‘Oh, I’m really envious of these guys.’ Because I think it’s pretty easy to go through life without having that kind of bond with anyone outside of maybe your family. To watch that I found to be the most rewarding,” he says.
While it’s still to be determined if Cheer will continue beyond one season, Whiteley would love to return for more. “The world of cheer is a big one and there’s lots to cover that we didn’t get to,” he says. “Of course, you got to wait to see how season one does first.”