‘Cheer’: What is the Netflix Documentary Series About?

Recently, Netflix released Cheer, and fans are super into it. The beautifully-produced series shares the story of the Navarro College Cheer Team. Navarro is a small junior college in Corsicana, Texas, but thanks to their incredible leadership, the team has won the National Cheerleaders Association National Championships in Daytona, Florida, several times. Cheer dives into the 2019 season of the team, led by coach Monica Aldama. But how did Netflix make a whole show about cheerleading–and why is everyone so obsessed with it?

Netflix CEO and Netflix made Cheer
Netflix CEO Reed Hastings delivers a keynote address at CES 2016 | Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Meet the cast of ‘Cheer’ on Netflix

Cheer initially introduces us to the Navarro College cheerleading team’s coach. In a New Yorker article about the series, writer Jia Tolentino describes Aldama as “a brisk fortysomething with highlighted hair, long-wear mascara, a Texas accent, and an M.B.A.” Since 2000, Aldama has transformed this tiny college in this tiny town into a powerhouse champion.

“My goal was to be the best cheer program in the country,” Aldama shares in the documentary series.

“She rules the program with a fearsomely controlled demeanor interrupted by flickers of maternal warmth,” Tolentino writes.

But the true story of Cheer is that of Aldama’s young cheerleaders. Each one has a story sad and troubled enough to be a Lifetime movie. And yet, the show is not cheesy in the way that a lot of reality television can be. The stories are used to provide context and empathy for the cast members, meaning that as a viewer, you want the team to win in Daytona almost as much as they do.

‘Cheer’ highlighted Navarro College stars Morgan, Jerry, Lexi, and La’Darius

In Cheer, some stars shined out from the show more than others. First, there was Morgan, an “eager-to-please top girl” with a tragic past, as Tolentino pens. Her parents abandoned Morgan and her brother in a trailer when she was younger. Tolentino notices how the cheer coach’s maternal demeanor works wonders on Morgan; she “looks at Aldama like a hopeful puppy, and gets emotional when she remembers how, at tryouts, Aldama remembered her name.”

Then comes La’Darius, an impossible-to-miss performer and tumbler on the mat. His childhood story is no easier; he was “left to defend himself from abuse while his mom was incarcerated.” A sleeper sweetheart is Lexi, “a vaping raver with long platinum hair, a stoner affect, and a history of violence.” Lexi doesn’t look or act like most of the other cheerleaders in Cheer, but once you see her tumble, all of those silly societal lines melt away.

And, finally: Jerry, probably the season favorite. Tolentino appropriately describes Jerry as “a human sunbeam emerging from a cloud of family tragedy.” (His mom died of cancer when Jerry was young.) He is consistently the most positive, upbeat, and supportive Navarro Cheer member. No matter whether Jerry makes mat or not, he is screaming his head off for his teammates to hit their moves.

The documentary series shows what it’s really like to be a cheerleader

The stakes get very high when you’re being physically thrown that high in the air. Up there, you’re expected to hit a position with perfect form, and trust that your teammates are somewhere down on the mat to catch you. New Yorker writer Jia Tolentino describes Cheer as such:

… the cheerleaders wear mikes as they throw their stunts, and you can hear what it actually sounds like (something like a wordless bar fight) when bodies are thrown and caught with no protection beyond an intuited sense of physics and geometry and no padding except for muscle over bone.

Many, if not all of the athletes portrayed in Cheer are injured or get hurt at some point. The docuseries does not gloss over the fact that cheerleading is an intensely dangerous sport. Shot after shot shows baskets or pyramids that go wrong–and time after time, we see a clump of young adults on the ground.

However, the truth shown in Cheer is what makes it so hauntingly great. These kids, who have all been through so much, are risking their precious youth, health, stamina, and emotional stability, for the greater good of their team. You may not want your daughter to do it (simply for fear of injury), but there’s something admirable about the Navarro College cheerleaders who put 110% into every stunt and tumbling pass.