ART’S ON TV: Hellcats

13 09 2010

[This is the first of many reviews I have planned for all the new shows of 2010. Before I go head first into something more substantial, like weekly reviews, I figured I should do something to flex my muscles, so to speak. Hence all this. As for the reasons why I’m doing all this, including an official introduction, I’ll get into all of that at a later date. Most likely in a podcast. But since I don’t want to leave you hanging, I’ll just say this. Ladies and gentlemen: I’m throwing my hat in the TV blogging ring. So without further ado…]

ON AUTOPILOT: Hellcats

Season 1 | Episode 1

A World Full of Strangers


First Impressions:

A few notes I took the liberty of doing while I watched the show (taped) live.

-TV Staple: Snarky Voiceover from our main character

-Timely Reference: The current economy

-Another town where Football’s a religion

-Our lead, the main blonde, hate the cheerleaders…but doesn’t wish them any harm.

-Aww, she’s bad but not evil.

-Wait, what? The guy from Smallville’s the producer on this.

-And one of the directors from Heroes…

-So far, the only people I know are the adults…

-Speaking of which, Principal Wood (D.B. Woodside) and the woman from Fresno (Sharon Leal) are easily my favorite people. I’ll end up getting into this later (Why are the adult characters portrayed by notable actors when the show clearly has no interest in them?), but as of now, I’m strangely interested in a serious (hell, even semi-serious) take on the cheerleadering hierarchy similar to what Friday Night Lights has been doing for the past four seasons.

-“Groupie” is a bad word on this show. I shudder to think what happens when somebody really swears.

-So the main plot is main blonde is having trouble paying for this prestigious college so she has to, like, get a scholarship or she’s out. And all the while I’m watching her have it out with her financial adviser (?) I couldn’t help but think, “Honey, you can’t get a loan?”

-Liked that she picked up “Bring it On” as part of her cheerleader research.

-Hated that she practiced her routine with a remix to “I Want Candy” (and not the MC Chris version) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UQvLKYu7izQ

-This is me being nit-picky, but just once I’d like to see somebody auditioning for a sports tryout who doesn’t have some kind of freakishly unnatural ability to go above and beyond the average performance.

-Flipping cheerleaders as scene transitions. COME ON!

-Aww, so the girl that kinda hates our main blonde is the tie-breaker…wonder what’s gonna do?

-Actually glad main blonde’s out of that oversized TV loft.

-THE CHIEF! AND HE WANTS TO CUT THE CHEER PROGRAM?! Can I switch sides?

-Definitely commenting on this later, but due to budget cuts, the cheer program is in danger? Really?!

-Damn…so the perfect couple ain’t so perfect. (College romance between the former cheerleader, current coach and the new something-or-other and it looks like new guy wants her back.)

-Like the other girl (cheerleading captain, Ashley Tisdale) better when I thought she was a bitch. Now she’s just gonna be Kirsten Dunst from Bring It On. (To be fair, main blonde’s just doing a Eliza Dushku impression, so yeah…)

-Despite this revelation, there remains a bitch on the show.

-Co-ed changing rooms?

-New favorite character: sexy black guy.

-Gonna ignore the fact that I just heard a Heroes idiom.

-Something embarrassing I kinda need to admit, really dug cheerleading practice. (Even though in hindsight, it was more like opening night tryouts at the Spearmint Rhino.)

-Note to CW, knock it off with the pop songs. Mood killer.

-So follow-up on main blonde’s (now named Marti) audition. She WAS a former cheerleader, which is like, well duh. Look at her. But the whole backstory with her (formerly) alcoholic mom just rang false to me. Think it was more Alyson Michalka’s storytelling.

-Apparently lots of people were cheerleaders and I never knew. Like Ruth Joan Bader Ginsburg, Marti’s role model. (Michalka’s character is pre-law… don’t ask)

-So first episode down, and I can’t help but think, “Why wasn’t there any actual competitive cheerleadering?”

Middle Of The Road:

A more traditional form of reviewing that I did right after the broadcast.

“Things were getting to me, just how people are… Like cheerleaders. Can’t people just cheer on their own? Like, to themselves?”

– Angela Chase

As a garden-variety CW show, complete with the Top 40 playing in the background and inexplicably hot cast, the Hellcats pilot only had two options for the audience. Either it was gonna be so bad, it’d be good or it was gonna be just plain bad. And surprisingly, for me, it was the former. For about forty minutes (watched this and Nikita on DVR), I had a sniping good time making those notes while watching in almost real-time. It was fun picking out some of the flaws and trying to figure out where I recognized Alyson (not calling her Aly) Michalka from (she was the cute girl on Phil of the Future) and I do remember (vaguely) enjoying Bring It On when it first came out, but ultimately, it’s the same cheerleader story that They’ve been churning out a dozen times over.

Even by trying to infuse that same old story with the main plot from Glee with Eliza Dushku’s character arc from Bring It On, still doesn’t do much for this. Especially that whole Glee “let’s make a show about the Cherrios, but make them have less money than the Glee club”, but hey, if you’re interested in this, by all means. Just to let you know, take note, because it’s not really realistic. Which is like, obviously, it’s a TV show. But even Glee manages to produce a dramatic scene that makes a little sense in the context of the show every once in a while. I guess that’s the difference between making a show with cliches and one that’s just a cliché.

Besides the premise: in a nutshell, cheerleader-hater Marti needs money to continue her incredulous pre-law career, totally forgets about financial aid and goes straight down the scholarship route, finds out about the cheer squad not only offer scholarships they also need new recruits. So she does as one would do and rents the most popular movie in the sport they’d like to tryout in (in her giant-sized studio loft), in case Bring It On, and proceeds to make the team by doing (to the best of my knowledge) none of the moves from said movie. Once the writers scratch off that cliché, it’s off the next– And since I’m already bored playing this game (where I continued writing the never-ending snarky recap), I still think I’m watching something interesting here.

Flawed as it is, Hellcats can give us all a lot to think about. And I don’t mean anything related to the main premise or a storyline of a particular character. I mean things directly related to the experiences of watching a television show, questions about what makes a good story, how a scene or a plotline is developed, what makes for good acting, what can be done by the producers of a show already on the air to correct mistakes that were made at the casting stage or in the first few episodes.

By the end of the season, who knows… It can all turn around. There’s always a winning chance and with a show like this, isn’t that what you want?

Last, But Not Least :

And this is the section where I step out of my vacuum and see what everybody else felt and write my off the cuff options on them.

So I took it upon myself to watch Hellcats for my first television review, ’cause quite obviously it was the first show to come out this September, and all quibbling aside, if you loved it, A.) you’re not reading this site, and B.) nothing I say is gonna do much to change your mind, but I have to say, what I saw…it wasn’t all that bad. Judging by the CW’s predominately younger women audience, it’ll (at the very least) get a full season. And for what it’s worth, it’s actually quite watchable, though your motives for watching may not end up being what the creators intended.

Most of the supporting cast is, well, well cast (practically all of the adults and Robbie Jones. Seriously, forget Michalka, he’s the one to watch. He knows exactly what his role is and he’s having a good time playing it. Plus the potential interracial love affair aspects with him and Michalka is just something — being a sucker for romance and all – I am all for.), but the lead… well, that’s another story. I won’t get into major specifics since I still retain some affection for Michalka due to my Disney-based nostalgia, but, and time may tell on this, I thought she was miscast as the tough townie.

Plus that faking Vancouver for Memphis thing, which I had my suspicions before but was confirmed when I saw the same Canadian actors that I’ve seen many times before, bad move. Really? You couldn’t find a school in the States to shoot at? Or were those tax breaks in Canada too good to resist?

So in summary, if this is in your wheelhouse, then by all means, keep watching. I’ll record all the episodes and debate on whether or not I should watch it all in some kind of marathon run like I did with 90210 or Big Bang Theory (both to mixed results; one I still watch, and one I just remembered about solely for this comparison), because I was pleasantly surprised. Hell, if they start penciling in one honest-to-goodness dramatic scene per week, you’re practically watching Glee on another network.

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So first review down, and many more to go. What did you think? About the show? About the quirky way the wrote my review? About me covering television in general?

Please, weigh in below.

p.s. — Before I finally go, I got to say this. If for any reason I manage not to do any more of these, (computer breaks down, work gets in the way, whatever), I just gonna take this time and give special thanks once again to Samurai Frog and his blog over at Electronic Cerebrectomy for inspiring me to write about TV with his awesome TV Reports. [Just checked my RSS feed, and found out that he just did one on this very show and so far, it’s damn exciting stuff.] Originally I was just gonna stick to the podcasting route, but, boy am I glad that I started writing these. So if all this managed to make you smile, be sure to check out Samurai Frog’s TV Reports, and see someone with experience write about TV you should be watching.

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