The CW’s Hellcats is not just Bring It On: The Series. Nor is it another 90210. It’s a teen (or just past teen) drama, sure, with all the usual affairs and scandalous twists. But it’s also an inspiring sports series, as those cheerleaders are very much athletes, and there’s some legal mystery tossed in for flavor. Plus, a few unnecessary, but fun, dance numbers a la Glee. I guess that’s what makes it worth watching. There are plenty of elements to keep things interesting.
After eleven episodes, I’m still not particularly impressed with the cast. They’re decent, but not above average. I am most enjoying Matt Barr as Dan Patch. Dan is certainly the most likable, and the most in touch with who he is of the central characters. He also carries the Memphis accent pretty much by himself; even the other characters who are from the area seem to have shed it. Perhaps it’s because he’s a townie, while the rest are integrated with the college students, who arrive from all over. Lead Alyson Michalka is also one of the better ones, as many of her emotional scenes are played on her face, rather than dialogue. Her disconnect from others is part of the character trait, so her tendency to underact at times seems like a choice rather than a failure.
I do have to give credit to Heather Hemmens’s Alice. While she was established as the villain from day one, her motivations have been made clear, and even made viewers sympathetic to her bitterness. As the episodes this fall unfolded, it was clear that Alice did have lines she would not cross, even if she went further than most characters would. She’s not completely disloyal to those around her, even if she often puts herself first. It’s the subtleties that make her character successful, and Hemmens does accomplish those with grace.
One quick criticism. Marti joined the Hellcats as a replacement for the injured Alice. Alice healed from injuries several episodes before the fall finale, and yet, how they both fit on the team now has never been dealt with. There are only a certain number of flyers the Hellcats can accommodate at once. It appears to me that Marti kept the flyer position, and Alice just dances now. But is that how it is? It would have been nice to have dealt with that on screen.
As mentioned before, there is some legal plot going on, with Marti investigating an old case for an inmate named Travis (Ben Cotton), whom she has come around to believing innocent. I will certainly not knock the series for trying something different, and adding such an odd element to their show. Odd, considering that most of the scenes deal with college cheerleaders. However, it almost feels like it should be its own spin-off. It’s like there are two different series going on at once. Should Hellcats continue for a few years, I could totally see Marti and Morgan Pepper (Craig Anderson) doing their own law-based series, leaving the other characters to the cheering. It could be quite enjoyable.
I guess that subplot, though, demonstrates a level of realism that imbibes Hellcats. Life is complicated, and people are involved with several different things at once. Keeping the principal cast small (only six), and using supporting characters as support, rather than giving them their own plots (for the most part), has allowed Hellcats to do what other shows cannot, as they are too involved trying to serve everyone, and don’t allow any one character too much depth.
Yes, I did say in the preceding paragraph that there are six main characters, even though seven names appear in the opening credits. Wanda (Gail O’Grady) might as well be supporting, as she really only pops up in Marti’s arcs. I know O’Grady is a talented actress from her previous work, and could handle a larger piece of the Hellcats world. But I really like Wanda in her current space, and there is something to be said for someone who can play that type of character and do it so engrossingly. As such, I would not lobby for a change in Wanda’s part, other than perhaps a few more one-liners every now and then.
A large part of this fall has concerned getting the Hellcats to qualify for the national championships. Yet, the cheerleading saga has not choked out the other story. It’s something that has hung over everyone, but not consumed them except when it needed to. It justifies the title of the series, but does not define it. I like that.
I love, love, love the Bill Marsh (Aaron Douglas, Battlestar Galactica) character. Having grown up in a town and a high school where football players were often above the rules that applied to everyone else, it’s thrilling to see such a corrupt athletic department, with emphasis on the football program. It’s so bad that one of the athletes, Lewis (Robbie Jones), actually quit the team in protest. Sure, other shows have toyed with the idea, but I can’t remember one that delivered so evil a character as Bill. I personally believe football players and the game are often too glorified, and like seeing them taken down a peg. Well, at least in viewers of the show’s opinions of them, as no one can watch Hellcats and like what’s happening under Bill’s leadership.
That being said, there are plenty of great coaches in the real world like Red Raymond (Jeff Hephner). Introduced as a thorn in Vanessa’s (Sharon Leal) side, he, like Alice, has grown into something more complicated. He’s a truly moral coach, trying to keep the crap away from his players and his team. The one time he did cross that moral line was to help out Vanessa, and so his action can be excused. Red has power, but not enough to change the system. More coaches (and athletic directors) like Red could change the sport, and keep experiences like the one in the show from happening too often.
On top of all of that other stuff, the series still takes time to work on religion. Savannah (Ashley Tisdale, High School Musical) was home schooled, and originally attended a very religious college. She transferred to Lancer, but her younger sister, Charlotte (Emma Lahana) remains at home, in the religious school, and in the church. Charlotte is pregnant, go figure, while Savannah remains a virgin. It’s a commentary on the stifling affects that can be had being raised in uber-religious families. But Savannah is a positive role model for the faithful, and shows that a balance between the holy and the secular produces great individuals. The series doesn’t demonize religion, but provides several different viewpoints into how faith affects people, and the children they raise.
Overall, it’s a pretty good show. I can’t point to many weak points that need fixing, and they’ve covered a lot in eleven episodes. As I said, all of the actors are at least decent, and will surely grow better with time. The story arcs are excellent, and the different elements coming to the table are pretty well mixed. While not life-altering, it earns a season pass on my TiVo, and is worth watching.
Hellcats is currently taking a winter break, but will return January 25th to the CW.