Thursday, September 09, 2010

TV PILOT REVIEW: The CW's "Hellcats"

In this new CW teen dramedy, Alyson Michalka, the older half of the pop singing sisters behind 2007's "Potential Breakup Song" Aly & AJ, plays a college freshman who joins the Hellcats cheerleading squad in order to get a scholarship and eventually fulfill her dream of becoming a lawyer. Of all the young starlets in Hollywood, I'm surprised that Aly was chosen. She's proven to be a decent actress (Bandslam), but to put an entire series on the shoulders of a 20-year-old, second-rate, Disney popstar is a bit of a gamble.

Even though the series doesn't exactly have Emmy-winning actors that overshadow her lead performance, she's got a long ways to go before she's as commanding as Lea Michele ("Glee"), as lovable as Brittany Robertson ("Life Unexpected"), as relatable as Nikki Blonsky ("Huge"), or as charismatic as Spencer Grammer ("Greek"). And her cast mates are equally lackluster. Aside from her laidback eye candy bff Dan (Matt Barr from "Harper's Island" and "One Tree Hill"), who is refreshingly NOT a geek that is openly pining for her, and the charming flirt Lewis (Robbie Jones from "One Tree Hill"), she has cliches for teammates.

Savannah, the overly organized, clean-freak, girly girl who "doesn't get sarcasm," feels surprisingly out of place. She's the most cheerful person on the show. It's the perfect role for Ashley Tisdale (High School Musical), because it's basically what it would be like if Gabriella and Sharpay were to be spliced in a lab—sweet and determined. Then there's Marti's nemesis Alice (newcomer Heather Hemmens), who plans to use psychological warfare to make sure she doesn't get replaced while she recovers from a wrist injury. She's single-handedly proving that, for some, college is just a really expensive version of high school. The worst character, though, is Marti's mom, played to a kitschy degree by Gail O'Grady ("American Dreams"). I get that she needs a motivator to get out of town, but a flaky, alcoholic mom who once threw up on her at a gymnastics event? Really?

I'm not sure how they did it, but they managed to make a lamer version of ABC Family's gymnastics drama "Make It or Break It," complete with the overly competitive nemesis, the forever-optimistic teammate, the encouraging coach, the distracting/forbidden hot guys, and the flaky mom. The difference is that ABC Family knows how to tug on the heartstrings and make its characters sympathetic. I will, however, give the writers credit for not showing Marti "fly" in the pilot. It'll be a good test to determine how much the viewers really care. If they felt as amped and excited as "One Tree Hill" lovers did after its nail-biting pilot, then they've been sucked in.

Maybe it's my age showing or just the amount of TV shows I've seen with this exact formula, but I just wasn't invested in Marti's journey. The character I was more intrigued by was Coach Vanessa Hodge (Sharon Leal from Why Did I Get Married?). I really want to see if her college boyfriend Red Raymond's (Jeff Hephner from "The O.C." and "Easy Money") return will screw with her determination to get the Hellcats to nationals and save her job. He seems to have a hold over her that her boyfriend Derrick (D.B. Woodside from "24") doesn't, which could be interesting down the line.

So if the dialogue and acting get better, it could have potential to last for at least 8 seasons, since she wants to be a lawyer. And with every year, she'll have different classmates, which promises new and hopefully better actors. Not to mention, with every year she gets closer to law school, the more she'll have to figure out how to balance her town life with her college life, which could provide a lot of good meaty drama. I like sports-related TV shows and I do want to see the competitions, so I'll probably watch it until "Modern Family" comes back, or watch the reruns during the holidays.

Grade: C+

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