As I have mentioned probably more times than is healthy, I love the movie Bring It On, and one of the things I love about it is the way that it takes an institution and group of people that are traditionally derided and takes them seriously, shows their value and gives a rich portrait of them as human beings (I'm talking, in this case, about cheerleaders). It's part of why I love Friday Night Lights and Huge and why I wish I could love Glee. And it's definitely a big part of why I kind of loved the pilot for the new CW cheerleading drama Hellcats.
Now, don't get me wrong: Hellcats is no Friday Night Lights or Huge. It's no Bring It On, either, even though it often plays like Bring It On: The College Years, and heavily references the movie in one scene. It doesn't, at least at this point, have the same level of character complexity or subtlety, and its main stars (Disney-bred actresses Aly Michalka and Ashley Tisdale) are not particularly known for their acting range. But what it does do is treat cheerleading like a real, serious thing, an activity every bit as legitimate as any other collegiate pursuit that could theoretically be the subject of a TV drama. And like Bring It On, it has a sense of humor that doesn't come at the expense of its self-respect, even when it's gently mocking its own characters or storytelling conventions.
Michalka and Tisdale aren't amazing actresses, but they're extremely likable, as is the rest of the cast (Gail O'Grady, as Michalka's character's mom, is always a welcome TV presence). The cliched set-up of the bad girl forced to join the cheerleading squad is already shaken up in the first episode by her befriending the perky head cheerleader (again, shades of Bring It On), and there are plenty of ways for the show to go in more unexpected directions as it moves forward. I've only seen the original pilot presentation, which isn't quite a full episode, and certainly subsequent episodes could turn out to be nothing but collections of cheesy cliches. For now, though, in a season full of dismal, boring new shows (and I've watched them all), this is one of my favorite new shows of the fall, and one of the top two most entertaining.
Premieres tonight at 9 p.m. on The CW.