Thanks to The CW, I was able to watch a screener of their new series Hellcats.
The series stars Ashley Tisdale (who once guest-starred on Beverly Hills 90210), Aly Michalka and, from the teen drama world, Matt Barr (Ian “Psycho Derek” Banks, One Tree Hill; Keith van der Woodsen, Gossip Girl; Wes, The O.C.) and Robbie Jones (Quentin, One Tree Hill).
The show revolves around Aly’s character, Marti, who loses her college scholarship and decides to try out for the Hellcats, the competitive cheerleading team at Lancer University, since all members receive scholarships.
The screener was only approximately 35 minutes long, so I’m not sure if additional scenes will be added for the premiere or if it will have more commercial breaks than normal. I would guess the former is more likely, as this was probably more of a pilot presentation than a pilot. Still, it was significantly longer than what was shown at The CW Upfront.
Among the things that I liked:
It was refreshing to see a show set in the college world from the start. While the actors aren’t quite college age in real life (though Barr doesn’t look like he’s aged a day since One Tree Hill), it felt like a nice change of pace. How much it’ll actually differ from a high school-focused show, I don’t know. But all the cheerleaders have to live together, which provides a convenience that high school-based shows don’t have.
The soundtrack was fun–I really enjoyed the use of Train’s Hey Soul Sister and Lady Antebellum’s Need You Now–though I’m sure the songs are subject to change. In addition to the typical background songs that all shows have in several scenes, the cheerleading sequences provide another opportunity to play music, but of a diegetic nature. Music aside, at first I felt like these scenes were a waste of time, overkill, fluff and filler. But then I remembered how often One Tree Hill had basketball sequences during several of its seasons and how much I came to enjoy them. Perhaps I would feel the same way here in time.
As I noted in my upfront recap, it seems they are setting up a love triangle with Marti and Barr’s Dan (seriously, they couldn’t pick a different name for a CW character?) and Jones’ Louis. Dan is Marti’s close friend, who just may be harboring some feelings for her, but she and Louis, a member of the Hellcats, are starting to get their flirt on. I am intrigued by the interracial component but also because I’m just a sucker for love triangles.
The Bring It On comparisons are inevitable and the show knows that, smartly incorporating the film into the plot. When Marti needs to prepare for her try out, she breaks out the DVD and soon she’s dancing all around her living room.
Among the things that I didn’t like:
In just 35-ish minutes, they blew through a ton of plot. I understand the need to set up the show, but it felt like they set up the show and resolved so much of it within one episode. I didn’t expect Marti to come up with her game plan–trying out for the team–and make the squad all in one episode. I didn’t expect Marti and Tisdale’s Savannah to go from budding enemies to just buddies so quickly. And I didn’t expect qualifiers, or the first major competitive event, to begin at the end of the episode. It seemed like these things, these conflicts, could’ve been drawn out over a couple of episodes. But you run the risk, then, of taking too long to get going. Still, I don’t see a season’s worth–much less a series’ worth–of creative plotlines here.
Among the things I’m mixed on:
Savannah wasn’t quite what I expected. I anticipated a more obvious mean girl but the pilot seemed to suggest that she isn’t really the enemy or the foil to Marti’s character. Maybe that will change over time.
As many have noted based just on promotional photos, Marti bears some resemblance to Peyton (Hilarie Burton, One Tree Hill), circa seasons one and two. Still, differences abound: Marti’s mom is in her life whereas Peyton’s wasn’t. Marti is joining the cheerleading team when the series starts whereas Peyton was already a member. Marti is single and her closest friend is male whereas Peyton had a boyfriend and her closest friends was female. Marti, scholarship drama aside, doesn’t seem to be all that bummed out about life whereas Peyton’s personality fell largely under the category of “broody.” Marti is book-smart and intends to have a career in law, whereas Peyton was all about the arts. Bottom line: Marti may look like Peyton at first glance, but she is far from a carbon copy. Too early to tell whether that’s good or bad.
The show started and finished with narration from Marti. Not sure if that was just a plot device to get things off the ground or if it will be a regular feature, but I’m not sure if I’m feeling it.
“Not sure” is actually how I feel overall. I don’t really care to watch, don’t really care not to. I’m a firm believer that some worthy shows need some time to get going, but whether I’ll give this one a chance, I don’t know yet.
A premiere date for Hellcats hasn’t been announced yet but it will air Wednesdays in the fall after America’s Next Top Model.
I have to note, though, that Hellcats won’t be covered extensively on this site since it is not a teen drama. I will continue to include it as I have thus far: when there’s something relevant to Barr or Jones or when there’s some other teen drama connection.