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Tuesday, 2 of March of 2021

Hellcats – “A World Full of Strangers”

She's brunette! So you can tell she's not the lead. Seriously. Blonde=lead.

As part of the new fall season coverage, we’re doing what we call audition reviews for new shows. An audition review doesn’t necessarily mean the show will enter the normal rotation, but it will provide an initial reaction to a new series. Especially in light of time shifting practices, we think this is a valuable way to read brief reviews on new series to help you decide if you want to watch the show. For those who watch it live, it’s a good way to begin a conversation about a new series. These reviews will typically be shorter than our regular reviews, and may include thoughts from more than one of our writers.

Hellcats tells the story of Marti (Alyson Michalka), a young law student who must join her school’s competitive cheerleading squad to stay in school when her scholarship falls through.

Come on in as Matt and Karen engage in an epic battle over Hellcat’s honor.

Or, not so much, since they pretty much agree about everything but Ashley Tisdale…

Matt’s Take

Hellcats isn’t bad. Let me say that first of all. Is it good? Eh, kind of. It’s the unoriginality that kills it…mostly.

In typical CW fashion Hellcats is chock full of beautiful people, an overabundance of Top 40 hits and snarky, bitchy dialogue. But it doesn’t really do much that hasn’t been done before. You could clean Vegas out betting on the events of the pilot. Marti comes from the wrong side of the tracks, is forced to join a group she initially hated, and has to make friends with girls she wouldn’t normally like.  She ends up rooming with Ashley Tisdale’s character Savannah, who is basically a less cartoony version of her “High School Musical” character Sharpay. Range, thy name is not Tisdale. Marti meets a cute boy on the team, the obvious new and unexpected (to her maybe) love interest, and manages to piss off the girl she is replacing due to injury. You don’t say…

The worst part about the unoriginality of the show is the fact that it so blatantly references it. To practice before her tryouts, Marti pops in a DVD of “Bring it On” and copies the moves. What is it with shows mentioning the very works they are ripping off? (See Nick’s Melissa & Joey review.) Is it some sort of attempt at protection against comparison? If so it ain’t workin’. The most heinous part of the show however has to be the flipping cheerleaders as scene transitions. That is just awful. Inexcusable. Maximum cheesiness.

I’m willing to overlook the clichés and the sub-par acting and all the cheese and give the show another watch next week. I’m not hooked from the get-go and anyone who knows me will tell you that’s usually not a good sign. There’s potential here if the show manages to find a way to break out of the molds it has already acknowledged sealing itself into. Let’s see if this can be the CW’s sexy dance version of an answer to Glee (cause that is absolutely what it feels like it’s trying to be).

Karen’s Take

Let’s pretend the program is airing live, and I’m just following along, looking for the cliches vs. interesting things.  Here are my thoughts…

2 minutes in: She sure is a pretty girl, but kind of remind me of the girl from One Tree Hill, and I never liked that girl.

3 minutes in: So, what’s with the gloves?  Is this our indicator that she’s tough? (five minutes later, btw, I figure out they are her bike riding gloves–oh, okay, then it isn’t at all strange that she never takes them off).

4 minutes in: The girl from Disney!  You know, I kinda like her.  She got her nose redone, but she still looks somewhat distinctive (not at all like poor Jennifer Grey or that Speidi girl (yes,  I know they broke up)–those two don’t look like anyone, not even themselves.  Completely indistinguishable).

5 minutes in: (Are you picking up that these minute markers are completely inaccurate?  Bear with me…) STOP THE PRESSES!  D.B. Woodside?  Get out!!!!  That’s awesome.

6 minutes in: And here they come…the cliches.  Smart alecky friend?  Check

7 minutes in: Completely irresponsible parent?  Check

8 minutes in: Parent stand-in that is equally clueless?  Check (I mean, seriously, what coach would moon over her boyfriend like that?  She called him hot…in front of a student.  Really?)

9 minutes in: Okay, the person who will save this show–the Disney girl!  She’s awesome.  Better find out her name…

Okay, that’s enough of that.  The show is sometimes painfully self-aware.  Marti watches Bring it On to learn how to cheer.  Let’s hope the program does one thing better than Bring it On. That movie was marketed as a sort of exploration of race–then barely dealt with race at all but in the most pedestrian of ways.  Hellcats, too, has a multiracial case (good for you, CW).  But will they acknowledge it?  Will the fact that Memphis is, um, in the south, play a role (I live in Atlanta–I know of what I speak)?

Later Marti quotes Heroes, “save the cheerleader, save the school.”  I think this is the line that most reviewers are referencing–because intertextuality can be so rich.  Okay, let’s go there.  Heroes was a show that started strong, tried to tell a host of stories from a variety of perspectives, and featured an interracial cast (continuing the grand tradition made popular by Lost, a far superior show, btw).  I have a bit of attitude about Heroes because, well, I never liked it.  See?  I told you so, Internet world.  That show was never that good.  But people really, really, really wanted it to be better than it was.

I think Hellcats is a show with potential–and I expect they will show more focus than Heroes.  But one thing to remember, it is characters that matter.  And some depth is good.  And no, CW, switching the song, “Hey Soul Sister,” from Train’s version to a harp-driven instrumental when Marti talks about her tough past? That does not count as depth. (Harp music?  Really?)  So learn from Heroes. Don’t be all flash with no substance.  Don’t be one idea that never really comes together.  Let your character be, you know, like people.

I could pick on this show for a long time (what’s with Dan’s hair?  The football coach’s name is Red Raymond?!  Savannah is modeled on a cross between Elle Woods and Tracy Flick?!  Guess writers are Reese fans.), but I won’t.  Instead I’ll offer a rather discreet list of what seems to be working well, and what are warning signs…

Working:

Yep, that Lewis kid is hot.  With an extra T.  And he seems to be a rather natural actor.  On the CW.  I know, who knew?

Ashley Tisdale (see, I know her name) is terrific as Savannah.  She’s funny and a bit of a scene stealer, as has been her way in her Disney past.  Graduating from Disney to the CW makes a lot of sense for an actress that doesn’t want to have to dance on a stripper pole, a la Miley.  Kinda wish Tisdale was the lead, though.  I hope they develop her character in the relationship she obviously plans to have with the “hot townie,” Dan.

Despite the fact that much of what they are doing with the cheerleading coach currently makes me squirm (oh, no! She has a past with the cocky football coach), they better grow her up and get her a serious storyline, stat.  She threw out an offhand statement during a spiel that the team was cursed, mentioning a former member who got pregnant.  But that would actually be a worthwhile story–let her help a girl in real trouble.  Let an adult have the perspective of experience.  Or, in the least, please do not let me be forced to watch the great DB Woodside in a pissing match with an annoying, cheesy, clearly inferior white guy named Red Raymond.

Warning signs:

I don’t like the main character–this is a real problem.  Her tirade against cheerleaders in her first scene with Savannah showed her to be juvenile, jaded, and kind of mean.  This does not a sympathetic heroine make.  So keep her friends with Savannah–maybe some of her awesomeness will rub off.  And let’s get over the whiny, “my mommy is a drunk,” stuff.  Because that will only work if you really go there with the mother, making her, well, bad.  She can’t be a cuddly mama who is also a drunk.  The relationship has to be dangerous–the drinking has to be honestly portrayed as an addiction that kills everyone around it.

I already mentioned the danger of making the cheer coach’s central storyline a love triangle.  It can work, but I’d rather see a storyline that lets the character grow (like genuine insecurity that she is not up to the task of her job, or financial problems).

Let the girls be athletes.  Let’s see them work.  I don’t watch that gymnast show that is on (ABC Family, right?), but I think they focus more closely on the sacrifices required in this job.  So let’s see that–you can’t drink, you have to watch what you eat, you have to train endlessly.  Let’s see the real sacrifice of being a competitive athlete.  Oh, and let’s see them in class once in a while.  Since, you know, that is what college is about.

I only meant to write 100 words here.  The fact that I wrote quite a few more means I may give this show a chance.  Just out of curiosity.  And cause I apparently like Ashley Tisdale.  I will say this–it is better at its beginning than was 90210. It is not as good at its beginning as Gossip Girl was at its beginning.  And it is so far from Supernatural that they may as well be on different networks.  But it does have some similarities to Vampire Diaries–leads that aren’t as interesting as secondary leads.  Moony teens with actual problems under the angst.  A tone that can’t decide between camp, committed genre, and romance.  VD has become a super entertaining show that never quite reaches for the depth it could have (but that works for it).  Let’s see what Hellcats wants to be.


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