Hellcats, one of the newest in the CW’s arsenal of shows about beautiful young people dealing with the trials and tribulations of life and hormones, is neither about hell nor cats. Inspired by Kate Torgovnick’s book, Cheer, which somersaults into the world of competitive college cheerleading, Hellcats follows the lives of the ever camera-ready Lancer cheer team for a fictional Memphis football-obsessed college. So while, I’m not really a fan of cheerleaders-okay, sorry, athletes-this show has its M-E-R-I-T-S. (I promise only a few more bad cheerleading jokes.)
Like all the other CW shows, Hellcats has enough love triangles to make a pretty substantial pyramid. (See what I did there?) First there’s Marti (Aly Michalka), the bubbly-yet-angsty (yes, an oddly likable combination) girl who can’t wait to get out of Memphis with high hopes of becoming a lawyer. Marti's artsy, loner, filmmaker friend Dan (Matt Barr) is obviously in love with her from scene one. But Marti is either oblivious to Dan's love, which seems highly unlikely if she prides herself on her smarts, or she's stringing him along, which makes for the perfect set up of our first love triangle. The third point of the triangle is Lewis, one of the hot boy cheerleaders who takes a liking to Marti during her tryout, when she shows off all of her showgirl dance moves complete with gratuitous pelvic thrusts. And then, well, it turns into a love quadrangle if you consider Alice, Lewis' ex, a recently injured cheerleader who is replaced by Marti. Not only is Alice pissed at Marti for taking her spot on the team, but she's pretty upset that Marti's caught Lewis' eye. In a less riveting love triangle is the cheer coach, Vanessa Lodge (Sharon Leal), who has just moved in with her boyfriend/team sports-doctor Derek Altman (D.B. Woodside). At the tip of that triangle is Vanessa's ex-boyfriend, Red Raymond (Jeff Hephner) who is being brought on as the football team's new coach. There is some supposed unresolved sexual tension going on between Vanessa and Red though their chemistry left something to be desired.
Lest you forget that this show was about competitive cheerleading, between each scene is a weird little transition cut of a cheerleader flipping across the screen, which feels dated and unnecessarily campy. And since it is a competition show, not unlike Glee or Friday Night Lights, the stakes about winning the cheer competition are made very clear from the get-go. Not only does Marti need to be a cheerleader to get a scholarship to stay in school, but the whole cheer team's budget is being cut and they have to beat out the Memphis Christian team at Qualifiers to not get cut entirely. But in the same way that Glee may be a show about competitive glee clubs but focuses mostly on the music, Hellcats so far is focusing on the hot dance moves, cheering and tumbling. And it's impressive. They've obviously got professional cheerleaders and gymnasts as extras, which makes for great montage sequences, if you're into watching that sort of thing.
After watching the first episode, it seems that the real star of the show is not newcomer Marti, but Savannah (Ashley Tisdale), the goody-two-shoes cheerleader. The cute and cheery Ashley is refreshingly not the typical mean girl head cheerleader. After her initial spat with Marti about the athleticism and art of cheerleading, we learn that Savannah really has her heart in the right place when she puts aside her differences with Marti and votes her onto the team. She may be saccharine sweet and motivated in an annoying but endearing Rachel Berry sort of way, but in this cast of cuties, she’s the most believable.
So, am I totally flipping and hand-springing over this show? Gimme an N! Gimm an O! Will I cry if the team doesn't win sectionals, or regionals, or whatever? Gimme a D! Gimme an OUBTFUL! But admittedly, I'll watch this show because it’s got all the elements for a good hour of guilty pleasure mind-numbing television watching.