You might call it lazy to have the entire setting and premise of a show laid out via voiceover from the protagonist right at the start of your pilot, but it’s not as bad as having cheerleaders practice in front of a really obviously green screened college campus. Hellcats does these two things in its first minute. Not a good first impression. The protagonist in this case is a gorgeous blond law student who we should take seriously because she rides a bike everywhere and helps her mom make ends meet during these rough economics times. But we’re shown that she has a heart because she acts slightly concerned when a cheerleader eats it during practice.
Lest you think that I watched this pilot just to hate on it, know that I had hopes. I love cheerleader related stuff—Bring It On is one of my faves—and as a huge Veronica Mars fan, I do not believe that a low budget CW show can’t be great. Getting into the predictable story, Hotty McBicycle (still haven’t caught her name) is about to lose her scholarship and has to find a new one stat. She expresses her desperation to someone in the administrative office thus: “You know what gets me through? Hope.” It gets worse: “You kill my hope, you kill me.” The dialogue hurts. It hurts. But not as much as the way she teaches herself to cheer. Are you ready for this? She watches Bring It On. For the uninitiated, this underrated San Diego-filmed movie is all about how cheering should be taken seriously as a sport. Hotty must have fast forwarded to the cheering parts.
Hotty gets into it with the head cheerleader, Savannah (Ashley Tisdale) early. This gives the plot a conveniently-placed obstacle. But at the try-outs, Hotty, oh yeah, it’s Marti, wows the coach by ignoring the choreography and busting out her own routine. She doesn’t know gymnastics terminology but can tumble like Mary Lou Retton. She makes an offhanded reference to “training” since she was 16, but it’s not remotely believable that she gets put on a college cheerleading squad. Later it comes out that she did gymnastics in high school, but it’s too little too late.
Marti has to move into cheerleader housing called Cheer Town, leaving her devoted but obviously irresponsible mother behind. This sets up potential future mother-daughter strife story lines. We get to know the coach, her boyfriend, and her ex-lover who is also the new football coach. Their story holds some at least some possibility for being interesting.
Marti makes nice with the head cheerleader, and her real nemesis turns out to be the girl who got injured in the opening. So that’s kind of a twist. Marti attacks her with, “Do you invent your own catty metaphors, or is there like a book?” Ow. Ow, it hurts. At the other end of the spectrum, she catches the eye of strapping male cheerleader Lewis.
Glee has convinced us that cheerleaders live in their uniforms. The Hellcats wear their uniforms to practice. Why is this necessary? Yeah, they look good in them. But do the producers have to spoon feed us everything in the pilot? What’s even more annoying is that they spontaneously, somehow, know a complicated routine complete with lifts, at their first practice. Speaking of Glee, this show is its antithesis. Do we really think that a whole group of high school kids have the pipes of Broadway stars and can learn 3 or 4 songs a week, and always have appropriate costumes at the ready? Yes! Because Glee draws us in and convinces us that we’re watching a musical, where the joy of the moment overrides our skepticism. Hellcats is just plain contrived. I don’t care how plucky you are or how small your waist is, you can’t just be a cheerleader because you watch a movie. Gahhh!