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Hellcats Pilot

September 8th, 2010 | Jonathan Gray

Of late, my blog has been turned over to my job market series. I’ll still be finishing up with that soon. But with the Fall television season on network television officially began this year, and what is The Extratextuals if not somewhere for me to review new shows.

And so we begin, near the bottom I suspect, with The CW’s Hellcats

Hellcats is something special. Pilots are fertile ground for clichés, for understandable reasons – the writers often find it easiest to establish archetypes, with which the audience will be familiar, before potentially challenging them. But Hellcats is the Jack’s magic bean of clichés, sprouting as many in the first minute as other bad shows manage in an hour.

Just witness, for instance, these character descriptions from the Wikipedia entry:

an unconventionally sexy townie described as a “shambling charmer” who is “hyper-articulate”. He is the platonic pal to Marti, but, in reality, has an unspoken crush on her.

a party girl who never grew up and her antics in the past have publicly humiliated her daughter. She works at a low-level job at a university pub.

And that’s only the supporting cast. More after the fold …

The star is a sassy, sarcastic undergrad who wears a coat when it’s not cold out, so you know she’s tough. She also wears netted gloves, the type that one can only get from being hardened by an alcoholic mother. But wait: she cares! For all her talk-back, when cheerleaders fall down, her heart breaks just like the rest of ours. And she has a flat midriff. Unfortunately, this latter attribute is the most realized part of the character, because she’s atrociously written (“you kill my hope, and you kill me,” she pleads with the forces that promise to take her away from becoming a lawyer), and is portrayed quite laughably by Alyson Michalka (who worryingly slipped out of the Disney vault while a guard was sleeping, so it seems).

Before I began watching the show, my back hurt a lot; by the time it was over, more of me hurt. In particular, I was saddened to see D. B. Woodside brought down from President (on 24) to a role here, a reversal as stark as the Emperor-to-commoner Puyi. Aaron Douglas has similarly fallen from the lofty heights of BSG to being the Dean or a random professor or something like that; perhaps his weight gain is related to his misery. And all this takes place in my beloved city of Vancouver, which if it was allowed to play itself might cure the whole problem of the show in the first place, since the government-subsidized university system would be more affordable, thereby not forcing the main character to become a cheerleader when her scholarship is yanked away (yes, that’s the plot).

Ashley Tisdale, Michalka’s fellow escapee from the Disney vault, is okay, though she’s trapped under so much bad scripting that it’s often hard to tell. But she at least knows how to use her eyes while trying to act, a problem her colleague suffers from.

All in all, it’s just bad television. Not fun-bad, though to be fair at least it’s not I’d-rather-garrote-myself-bad either. Admittedly, I don’t think I am anywhere close to being the target audience for this show (although given the endless close-up shots of young women shaking their asses, maybe CW is trying to do their own Disney-fied version of late night Cinemax for a 9/8 o’clock CW crowd, grabbing a few male viewers along the way?), and if you’re reading this blog, you’re probably not either. So let’s all just avoid it, shall we?

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  1. Marina Levina
    September 13th, 2010 at 10:31 | #1

    And it is set in my new city of Memphis! I was going to check it out because of that, but reviews told to stay away, and now I am happy that you confirmed it. Have you checked out Nikita on that same network? Not too bad, of course doesn’t approach the noir awesomeness of the french original. Anyways, good to see this blog. I forwarded it on to grad students in my new department. If you are looking for a new topic, how about something on tenure? :)

  2. Jonathan Gray
    September 13th, 2010 at 21:35 | #2

    I might get my review of Nikita up soon, Marina.

    As for tenure, it’s so different at different schools, so it’s kind of hard to generalize. Plus, I’ve only gone through the process once, and have only seen two others do so up close (and even then, it wasn’t that close), so I’m not really in a place to say much about it.

  3. Kyra Glass
    September 15th, 2010 at 20:08 | #3

    To play devils advocate, you may really, really, not be the target market for this show and while I agree its bad might I venture an argument for fun-bad if you are closer to its target market. When it comes to levels of badness I think you might actually be going a little easy on it. Logic has pretty much left the building when this show was written (she is a gymnast who doesn’t know what a layout is?) and yes every cliche is hit but that is part of its charm. Hellcats is pretty much Bring It On and ABC Family’s Make It or Break It put into a blender. If you are a fan of the previous you might enjoy Hellcats. The over the top melodrama, the campy humor, the peppy pacing and music, and yes those ladies from the Disney vault give the show a frothy, cheesy kind of charm in my opinion. Basically this is cotton candy television, it makes your stomach hurt and you feel guilty the next day but its fun while it lasts.

  4. September 15th, 2010 at 20:58 | #4

    @Kyra Glass
    Oh, I know they don’t care whether I’m watching or not … which is why I can have fun with saying how awful it is. :-)

    Bring it On was fun, yes, but part of that’s because it didn’t promise to return and do exactly the same thing every week, part of it’s because as bad an actress as Kirsten Dunst is she is Al Pacino in The Godfather I and II compared to Aly Michalka, and part was because it was actually funny. Ashley Tisdale’s alright, and she (and she alone) seems to have a sense of how to play the whole thing for fun and camp, but the others are either going through the motions of serious work, or (like Michalka) are scrunching their faces up oh so hard to try and pull their best acting faces. So, sorry, but I don’t see the charm — I’m as charmed by this as I am by Michelle Bachmann ;-)

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