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REVIEW: 'Cheer' tumbles back with new drama, lots of conflict

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It isn’t “business as usual” in the second season of “Cheer.”

Too much has happened since Navarro College won the national college cheerleading championships.

In addition to COVID-19, the junior college standouts had to deal with fame, the arrest of a team member and a disruption by a little thing called “Dancing with the Stars.”

Directors Greg Whiteley and Chelsea Yarnell don’t skirt anything. In fact, they’ve added three more episodes to the Netflix show’s season just to answer all the questions and detail the new revelations.

They lean into the arrest of favorite Jerry Harris and crack the door to abuse in cheering and how, specifically, it has touched the lives of those from Navarro.

To make the “will they win?” question more than a little interesting, the directors dip into the world of rivals Trinity Valley Community College. Forty-some miles away, the scrappers have coaches with a reason to win, seniors determined to leave with a championship and a couple of newbies who also find cheering as a way out of seemingly hopeless lives. There’s desire here, too, but it’s hard to ignore coach Monica Aldama, that 14-year champ, and veterans who appear to be going for doctorates in cheer.

When COVID halted their ability to compete after the big win, some Navarro stars stayed in, hoping to polish their reps as influencers and Cameo stars. Aldama also landed on a different playing field, getting an offer to compete on her favorite show (“just ask anyone”), “Dancing with the Stars.”

Meanwhile, at TVCC, coach Vontae Johnson and assistant Khris Franklin (the team’s former coach) try to help their team find the sizzle sells a routine. Members can nail the tumbling runs and lifts. They just can’t bring the pizzazz. A tumbling titan named Dee Joseph won’t – can’t – smile. Without “flair,” TVCC knows it can’t crack the Navarro sleeper hold.

Just when you think this is going to be another David vs. Goliath battle, “Cheer” gets thrown a curve ball and Whiteley and Yarnell have to figure out how they’re going to regroup.

They do so beautifully with the stand-alone Harris episode that could win Emmys for its willingness to confront the mistaken privilege that attaches itself to fame. The interviews, particularly with two teens who file complaints against Harris, are galvanizing and telling.

When the teams go back to work, there are issues that haven’t left their world. It’s fascinating to see how everyone reacts.

Particularly interesting: Aldama’s way of fulfilling her dreams while still coaching Navarro. She’s called out by La’Darius Marshall, one of the team’s secret weapons, and, soon, there’s plenty of turmoil in the house that “Cheer” built.

If there’s a fault in this new reality routine, it’s that some people from the first half of the season aren’t accounted for in the second. While they might have left, there wasn’t any roll call to explain why Aldama’s right-hand man isn’t in charge and a former student is. Gabi Butler, the queen of “Cheer” isn’t as much of a player here, even though she’s still on the team. And the attention “Ellen” gave Navarro isn’t continued much beyond the first episodes.

There’s plenty here to fill at least six more hours.

Nonetheless, the second season goes full-out in telling its story. And just when you think it’s going to fall for the tried-and-true stunts that made Navarro a winner, it changes course and surprises with moves that can win prelims and influence judges.

Deeper than its first season, “Cheer” makes you glad you red-shirted for another year on the mat. It makes you care about a sport you never knew mattered.

"Cheer" is now streaming on Netflix.

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