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Hellcats

Season 1: 2010-11
As of this writing the title above is misleading, as the CW has canceled the show and there wont be a season two. I can sort of understand why, although in the end I actually really enjoyed the show. Set in the fictional Memphis college of Lancer, Hellcats is initially the story of one Marti Perkins (AlyMichalka), who seeks to become a law student but lacks the funds to pay for such an education. In search of tuition help, she stumbles across scholarships for cheerleaders and decides to apply (I admit, it makes no sense). Naturally she succeeds, and the show changes focus to center around Marti trying to balance her life between law and cheerleading; but thats not that interesting, so we switch to mostly cheerleading with a side of law, which is where the show settles for about half a season. Then, by about episode twelve, the show finds its true strength as an all-out soap that just happens to feature pretty girls (and guys) who dance around in skimpy outfits and have enough emotional problems to sink any normal person: team lead Savannah (Ashley Tisdale), has left her conservative religious school to transfer to Lancer; she has clashes with her more traditional mother until her younger sister gets pregnant; she latches onto, then loses, then takes back, Martis best friend, Dan (Matt Barr); a rival from her old school is revealed to be an old best friend; her father is a tax cheat; oh, and she apparently turned in a plagiarized paper on evolution at some point in the past. And thats just one character. They all have issues like that. And once Hellcats embraced the fact that it was nothing more than a convoluted soap with a ton of unlikely plot twists, it became a really fun show. The early focus on the cheering was a little dull after all, we have seen this sort of thing before (and youre never going to exceed Bring It On, so stop trying), but the tangled lives these people lead far more dramatic than any people I have ever met, ever made for terrific viewing. It helped that there was an underlying core of optimism in the show, which I felt set it apart from most soaps, which are convinced that all people are conniving sex-starved whores (male and female). Theres obviously a fascination with gettin it on here these are college athletes, after all but theres just as much emphasis on romance and love, friendship, family, and, surprisingly, sticking with your friends and family no matter what. Time and again the show preaches that if people just get over themselves and discuss what is wrong, they can work it out. Possibly trite, but nonetheless a wonderful idea. As the season progressed, though, I think the heavy soap element got out of hand. I watched a marathon of the last five episodes, and man, there are so many plot twists my head was spinning. People seemed to hook up and then separate with astonishing quickness; characters are continually being introduced throughout the season (the last few episodes feature Michalkas real-life sister as her in-show halfsister, a wholly unnecessary role that jarred me every time I saw her), and people fall out, make up, fall out, make up, with such astonishing speed it got difficult to tell who was mad at who and why (this especially bothered me with Lewis (Robbie

Jones) and Alice (Heather Hemmens), who seemed to get together and split up about eight times during the season). It was as if the writers had found the right blend of seasonings and then simply dumped whole jars of each into the mix. But the show had its strengths. It excelled at taking almost every villainous character and giving them at least some humanity and some reason why they were trying to screw our protagonists (except early villain Bill Marsh, the Athletic Director; he was just a greedy prick). Sometime villain and full-time annoyance Alice, the shows own personal Loki, could screw teammates over one minute and then help them the next. Some would call this inconsistent writing, and theres some merit to that claim; but finding out that Alices father was a demanding perfectionist helped explain her drive to succeed at any cost (though not her utter lack of moral scruples). Marti, while headstrong and driven, was also emotionally crippled by losing her father at an early age, and has esteem issues around men to whom she is attracted (which, given Michalkas exotic looks and ripped gym-rat body sometimes comes off a little odd, but okay). Ultimately Hellcats created characters that were rough, bumpy, interesting, and flawed. Maybe a little too flawed, but thats a soap genre convention. The acting was also, honestly, hit and miss. I never completely warmed to Tisdales Savannah; the characters a little too good to be true, but while Tisdale has the chops for a job like this, the character never felt real to me in the way that some of the others did, which hurts a little as shes the co-lead of the show. Both Barr, as Dan, and Jones, as Lewis, were usually very good. Dan Patch is one of those wisebeyond-his-years kinds of guys, but Barr plays him with the perfect pitch of laidback cynicism, and I liked him straight off. Lewis who can be all over the place (there is some inconsistent writing with him) grew on me during the course of the season. Most of the supporting cast is good Gail OGrady as Martis semi-white trash mother Wanda also grew on me as the season progressed, and most of the supporting characters in Martis law subplot were all very well cast and acted. And as for Ms. Michalka herself? She could never ask for a better vehicle than this. She gets to act, she gets to sing (a cover version of Stings Brand New Day verges on the magical,and even though I didnt appreciate her sisters presence, a duet with A.J. on Dylans Mississippi was terrific stuff), she gets to, well, sort of dance (all the real moves are done with an extra, but she at least gets to show off her incredibly toned body). Martis a mess, but she has enough strengths and positive qualities to make her the sort of textured character most young actresses only get to dream of playing. Michalka gets to shine every week on this show, which will be what I miss most about its loss. Ive thought for a few years with the right role this woman could break out and become a huge star, and I thought Marti was the perfect choice. Guess I was wrong. For what it was, and what it aimed to be, Hellcats was a pretty enjoyable show. I think its lack of overall focus there were major changes in tone and direction at least three times in the season and its tendency toward kitchen-sink-ism helped down it before its time. This wasnt great TV, but it was pretty good TV, and I have to admit, I will miss it. Heres hoping they do a boxed set.

June 26, 2011