Netflix’s ‘Cheer’ season two struggles to reconcile controversy with its typical uplifting story

Kaiya Little, Life and Arts senior reporter

CW:  child and sexual abuse 

“Cheer,” a Netflix original series that documents the heart and politics of the collegiate cheer world, captivated many viewers after its initial 2020 release. Now, after tuning in to the much anticipated nine-episode return Jan. 12, fans found themselves again wrapped up in the inner workings of the Navarro College cheer team in Corsicana, Texas.

Both seasons follow the cheer squad through grueling months of training as they approach the year’s biggest event: the annual National Cheerleaders Association College Nationals, hosted in Daytona Beach, Florida. This time around, each episode splits airtime between and focuses evenly on Navarro and local rival Trinity Valley Community College as both navigate the dream-crushing disruption of COVID-19, which rushed the departure of many key senior athletes.

While balancing the two teams, the show still manages to highlight the vulnerabilities of each athlete. While the nature of reality TV makes it easy to forget that the people on-screen are not fictional characters, “Cheer” grounds that feeling, humanizing the cast and giving audiences someone to root, cry and feel for — no matter which team name they wear on their uniform. 

A series that generally plays on lighter, more positive themes, “Cheer” came under controversy in September 2020 after one of the biggest names to come out of the show, Jerry Harris, was arrested on charges of child pornography. Despite its oftentimes casual nature, the show’s producers had no choice but to discuss what happened. However, not touching upon the issue for the second season’s first four episodes made for a frankly uncomfortable watching experience. 

In the fifth episode, titled “Jerry,” “Cheer” finally addresses the enduring controversy surrounding the television personality. Despite featuring honest conversations with victims of Harris’ abuse, the show doesn’t go far enough in vilifying its former star. While actively condemning Harris’ actions and advocating for the protection of children in the sport, the plot carries on as per usual, breezing over the issue like any other section of the show. While there is no easy or good way to seamlessly address real, heavy topics in an otherwise uplifting show, the producers of “Cheer” fumbled, tossing the issue around instead of addressing it to its fullest. In turn, “Cheer” trivialized the harm done by a significant member of the series.

The final episode of the season addresses the all-important question: How will the group move forward? For Navarro head coach Monica Aldama, it’s all about taking things one step at a time. That sentiment perfectly captures the cast’s spirit as they conclude the season and walk into an uncertain future following many large-scale losses. 

With lingering tensions, tears and a newfound competitive flame, all signs point to the team putting Aldama’s motto into action, learning how to put one foot in front of the other and making a valiant return at Daytona next year. 

4 backhandsprings out of 5