Hellcats: The Show From Hell

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If we were to rename this series, we’d only have to hack off the second syllable. But if you enjoy a hollow premise (rebellious girl becomes cheerleader), aggressively perky dialogue and characters that are no more fleshed out--in body or mind--than your average famine victim, then please watch Hellcats (MTV, 5pm from Friday 11). If not, stay away. Don’t whatever you do make the mistake of thinking you’ll get on with this show about pouty pompom wavers just because you’re a Gleek who’s a bit in love with Sue Sylvester. This is more like High School Musical: The College Years. With back-flips and lots of dewy thigh skin.

Fittingly, it stars seasoned Disney princesses Ashley Tisdale and Alyson Michalka. One’s a virginal, obedient brunette; the other’s a blonde law student who, grudgingly, swaps her sneery outsider shtick for a scholarship. When Marti (Michalka) discovers that she’s going to lose her grant she’s forced to look elsewhere for financing. Soon it emerges that the only way to have her funding reinstated is to get a spot on her college cheerleading team, the Hellcats.

Of course, Marti just happens to be an ex-gymnast with a midriff like a miniature mountain range. This we discover during a breathy, crop-topped Flashdance sequence in her lounge. Come tryout day, Marti breaks all the rules by moving like she’s trying to pull in a dive bar. You’ll have watched and relished a thousand similar scenes and this just as repulsively magnetic.

Floating in her orbit are Marti’s trashy mum and her handsome but tepid boy best friend. If that doesn’t put you off then know this: everything that comes out of Marti’s mouth is an over-engineered witticism. Hearing her talk is supposed to make us think of our heroine not as a future underwear model who can move a bit, but as a smart, self-aware woman who also happens to be an opal-eyed, porcelain ten. Marti has no flaws, but then no corresponding depth to keep them in. You’ll want to shave her bouncy yellow ringlets off in her sleep.

But why whinge about pappy post-teen drama when it’s easy enough to ignore? Because it purports to be something better and seems, for the first few minutes at least, like it might resist the slide into slush. You’ll know it’s all over when Marti’s made to move on campus to an enclave called Cheertown and forgets to object. So keen are the makers to get to the group dance numbers headed by their bombshell that they sand off Marti's rough edges almost immediately. It’s an entirely predictable shame.

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