Two years ago, The Only TV Column That Matters™ wrote off The CW completely; something to the effect of, “This network is deader than Orrin Hatch’s six previous host bodies,” or “The CW will enjoy the lifespan of a poodle left unattended in a black SUV parked at a Phoenix strip mall in July.” Something insightful like that.
Now, four years after the seemingly doomed merger of The WB and UPN, The CW is not only still alive and (almost) making money, but home to three—three!—of The Only TV Column That Matters™’s favorite network series. Those being six-season vet Supernatural (a bit shaky post-Apocalypse, but still working), 2010 rookie Nikita (sure, it’s stupid—but it powers through the stupid with such style and delusional self-importance, who cares?) and … Hellcats.
Yes, Hellcats. Quoting myself from Sept. 2, 2010: “The first new series to debut in the 2010-11 season … had to be this, huh? … As per The CW’s female young-adult requirements, said Hellcats are complete bitches who dance like strippers and harbor their own dark-ish secrets (like, maybe they’re strippers or—gasp!—29). Prediction: Deadcats by October.”
Keep in mind, Hellcats (Wednesdays) debuted weeks before toxic sludge like Mike & Molly, Outsourced, $#!t My Dad Says and My Generation washed up on Season Premiere Beach—who knew how bad it would get? Beside the programmers at CBS, NBC, ABC, et al.
Hellcats’ pilot episode set up the tale of Marti (Aly Michalka), a blue-collar pre-law student at Memphis’ Lancer University who suddenly loses her scholarship thanks to her bartender mom’s (Gail O’Grady) failure to file the paperwork. Desperate to stay in school, ex-gymnast Marti tries out for Lancer’s Hellcats in order to latch onto a cheerleading scholarship, despite a nasty prior run-in with the squad’s captain (Ashley Tisdale), wherein Marti referred to cheerleaders as “groupies who jump up and down in skimpy outfits screaming adulation for masculine fantasy figures” (yep, actual line).
Naturally, Marti—all Showgirls hair, pout and rebel ’tude—nails the tryout and replaces recently-injured-but-still-hanging-around-and-psychotically-pissed Alice (Heather Hemmens) as the Hellcats’ star “flyer” and catches the eye of Alice’s ex-boyfriend/teammate, Lewis (Robbie Jones). Revenge, romance and rah-rahs, all conveniently ready to roll.
Hellcats was probably designed as a calculated mash-up of a moderately successful CW show (pretty kids with problems and poses) and a ridiculously successful Fox show called Glee (pretty kids with problems and poses who also sing and dance), which itself is just a snarky karaoke version of High School Musical (which, coincidentally, co-starred Ashley Tisdale). Following Hellcats in the weeks after its heavy-handed let’s-establish-the-premise-guys! pilot episode, however, it became clear that it beats both at their respective games. Because …
The characters are real. That is, more real than the jaded ascot crowd of Gossip Girl, the “teenagers” of 90210 or whatever’s on One Tree Hill these days (a WB leftover from, like, 1995). Hellcats’ characters—especially Tisdale’s conflicted Christian, Savannah—come across as genuine, have an easy chemistry with each other and don’t seem wildly out of place in Memphis (let’s just overlook the fact that only Marti’s mom has a Southern accent). Even the sideline faculty drama, a cribbed Friday Night Lights element, plays better than the scraps thrown to afterthought “adult” characters on every other CW series.
The dancing and the music are better. Just going to say it: There’s no Hellcat in a wheelchair. Where Glee’s choreography looks almost purposefully awkward, Hellcats’ cheer routines are impressive, intricate production pieces that become more epic every week—they are training for a Big Competition, after all. As far as the music goes, I’ve never heard of any of the songs or artists played on Hellcats, which is far preferable to the agonizing hit parade of Glee: If I hear another Journey cover in my lifetime, I may have to stab a baby in the neck. And a Britney Spears episode? The last time she charted a single, Jane Lynch was still a dude.