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'Cheer' review: Netflix hit returns, mixes high flyers and human drama

The success of 'Cheer's' first season definitely changed things for your favorite Texas junior college's cheerleading squad.

Adam Graham
The Detroit News

Not everything is cheery in the world of "Cheer." 

The Netflix docuseries about an elite Texas cheerleading squad was a streaming sensation in early 2020. The second season very openly deals with the aftermath of that sudden flash of success — members of the Navarro College cheer team are now recording $50-a-pop Cameo videos in between practices, and coach Monica Aldama is off taping "Dancing With the Stars" while the team is busy preparing for Nationals — and its fallout, most notably in the story of the first season's breakout star, Jerry Harris. 

Dillon Brandt, Lexi Brumback, La'Darius Marshall and Morgan Simianer in "Cheer."

Harris, whose beaming presence and positivity-fueled "mat talk" encouragements earned him a spot interviewing stars on the red carpet at the Oscars and audiences with Joe Biden and Oprah Winfrey, was the subject of an FBI investigation in the wake of the show and is currently awaiting trial on charges of child pornography and soliciting sex from minors. If convicted, he faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 15 years in prison.    

"Cheer's" second go-round addresses the Jerry situation immediately, and then pauses at the midway point of the season to spend an entire episode on his case and to give voice to his accusers. It is a bold, necessary move from a first-rate series that has always been about more than what happens on the mat.  

There's still plenty of mat drama, and Navarro is deep in preparations for Nationals and headed for a showdown with rivals Trinity Valley Community College when COVID-19 hits and shuts down everything in its wake. For Navarro, it's one more obstacle on their path to their 15th national championship; for "Cheer," it's another element of human intrigue in this compelling, compulsively watchable series. 

Series creator Greg Whiteley — he directs the episodes as well, sometimes as a co-director with Chelsea Yarnell — shows the way "Cheer's" real world success changes the playing field for its participants, including combustible team leader La'Darius Marshall, who acts out when coach Monica leaves her team to do "Dancing With the Stars." Their relationship illustrates the deep bond she has with her athletes, and the stability cheering provides in the team members' often tumultuous personal lives.  

There's also a further emphasis on Trinity Valley, its coaching staff and its team members, the most intriguing of whom is DeVonte "Dee" Joseph, who is happy to do all the flips and tumbles required of him but outright refuses to smile while he does it, his inner form of wrestling with the fact that he's on the cheer team in the first place. 

It all builds up to the bandshell at Nationals as the cool waters of Daytona Beach await the winners. (The curious fact that Navarro and Trinity Valley are the only teams competing in their respective division, the Advanced Large Coed Junior College category, is a debate for another time.) "Cheer" depicts the turmoil of high competition and the double-edged sword of fame. And it lays out what makes the world of cheerleading so addictive, both for its participants and for viewers. 

agraham@detroitnews.com

@grahamorama

'Cheer'

GRADE: A-

Rated TV-MA: Adult language, themes

On Netflix