How a scandal put one of Netflix’s most successful series at risk

Two years after becoming one of the great successes of Netflix, Cheer It’s back for a second season. The documentary series surprised us in January 2020 by placing us at the center of a university group of cheerlading (entertainers), making us part of their passion and dedication during training for the annual competition, while removed superficial stereotypes and revealed to us a sports discipline full of extreme risks. Cheer made many viewers become fans of his characters, students at Navarro College in Corsicana, Texas, thanks to the humanization he gave each one through an emotional and individual narration.

The series became overnight international success, placing its protagonists on the map of the influencers fashion, signing for brands, shooting commercials and parading through countless television programs. However, an unexpected scandal put at risk everything that was achieved in a short time.

Maddy Brum en Cheer. Cr. Netflix © 2022

Maddy Brum en Cheer. Cr. Netflix © 2022

Shortly after landing on Netflix, its protagonists walked through the program of Ellen DeGeneres, rubbed elbows with celebrities like Kendall Jenner and Reese Witherspoon, and even inspired hit shows like Saturday Night Live. Not even Oprah Winfrey could avoid the temptation and brought them up on stage during a tour stop in Dallas. In short, each of the team’s appearances caused a stir and some of its most popular athletes added millions of followers on social networks. They were relatable and inspiring characters by sharing personal stories that spoke of resilience and overcoming. Interviews, commercials and brand representation were some of the many offers they received. The success was so enormous that one of them, Jerry Harris, became Ellen’s special correspondent on the red carpet of the Oscars themselves, interviewing Brad Pitt and Scareltt Johansson, demonstrating how far his fame had spread, being recognized by figures such as Renée Zellweger, Billie Eilish, Laura Dern or Greta Gerwig.

But suddenly, in full swing, a hurricane arrived that threatened to destroy the foundations built for the team, its protagonists and the sport in general. In September of the same year, Jerry Harris was arrested for possession of child pornography. The news caused a stir in the universe of those of us who followed the series, not only because it was an alleged abominable crime but also because of the influence and notoriety that Harris had achieved.

And it is that this athlete in particular was the underdog from the first season of Cheer by sharing a story of a difficult childhood, growing up in a foster family and being the representation of encouragement and joy among his peers. Throughout the series we learned about his story of self-improvement, his dedication to the sport coaching a team of children and his position as an inspirational speaker for his peers. He always appeared happy and smiling, giving encouragement to the shouts, and even the spectators came to cheer for him when the coach, Monica Aldama, almost left him out of the national competition. He was one of the public’s favorite characters, turned into a celebrity in the world of cheerleading in the US, with fans of all ages flocking to events asking for photos and autographs. Especially many children.

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And that’s why the news hit even more among those who saw the documentary series. Jeremiah Harris, who was 21 at the time of his arrest, was initially charged with possession of images of child pornography stemming from a child sexual exploitation and abuse lawsuit filed by the mother of two alleged male victims. The district attorney charged him with enticing a minor to take sexually explicit videos and photos from December 2018 to March 2020. The first victim was 13 years old when Harris allegedly contacted him privately on Instagram, asking for a photo of his butt. The boy assured that he let Harris know his age from the first conversation, adding that he felt pressured by the young man’s fame, since he also practiced the same sport and knew the character. The exchange of images continued until Harris allegedly cornered him in the bathroom at a sporting event, asking for oral sex. The boy refused and then the predatory act would have continued with his brother.

Harris admitted before the judge to have requested and exchanged images with one of the minors and “at least between 10 and 15 more people” without knowing that they were minors. However, while Harris was making headlines with the scandal, it turns out that Cheer I was shooting the second season, having recorded training sessions with him, moments highlighting the fame he had garnered, etc. At that time he was one of the protagonists again until the news completely disrupted the production.

However, those responsible for the series they chose to include the entire scandal in the new season. They attack the great elephant from the first episode and at no time do they hide the images recorded up to that moment. And despite mentioning the accusation that weighs on the young man – who is currently awaiting trial in a Chicago correctional center after the judge denied him bail – the series bravely maintains its plot line, without falling into the culture of the cancellation or run away in terror erasing any vestige of relationship as Hollywood has been doing when a sex scandal threatens a production.

All the protagonists talk about the scandal, about how they experienced the news and the personal impact of being friends and colleagues of Harris for several years, unaware of the scandal that was allegedly cooking in secret. And they do it from the first episode, clarifying the matter in order to let the images of Harris be part of the narrative without the risk of falling into criticism.

The series even devotes an entire episode to him. Not Jerry Harris individually, but the case as a whole with interviews of the alleged victims, Sam and Charlie, and their mother, who discovered the conversations by accident. Seeing how Harris’s fame skyrocketed, working with brands, gaining notoriety in the community, seeing him in commercials and even interviewing President Joe Biden, the children and the mother decided to make their experience public. First alerting the co-founder of the gym that Harris represented and then with a complaint to the USASF (the All Star federation that controls the professional community of cheearleading in the country). But he had no response and eventually alerted the FBI.

In that fifth episode, titled Jerry, We also see the coach sharing how much the news affected her since she had just started her participation in Dancing with the stars. His team friends also speak without hiding the contradiction they live internally, shocked by the news but feeling contradictory emotions. Gabi, one of the most popular cheerleaders, confesses through tears that she wants to keep in touch with him to help him, while the coach confesses to having received a letter from him but that those same mixed feelings still do not allow her to respond.

The series squarely confronts the scandal that was about to destroy everything it had achieved, after having positioned the sport on the international plane, summoning fans of all ages and being a discipline that coexists in a family and youth environment. And he does it up front, without hiding and treating it from every possible angle, without redeeming Harris but doing an exercise in honesty, revealing the history of sexual abuse that survives in the community. cheerleading but without turning the series into a kind of true crime.

Navarro College Cheer en Cheer. Cr. Netflix © 2022Navarro College Cheer en Cheer. Cr. Netflix © 2022

Navarro College Cheer and Cheer. Cr. Netflix © 2022

Throughout nine episodes, the second season of Cheer it builds a bridge between scandal and viewers, boldly elevating the narrative while keeping its current discipline and protagonists on a pedestal. What’s more, beyond the Jerry Harris case, this new batch of episodes expands his universe by delving into the heart of the rival team, Trinity Valley College, creating a visual battle between two different styles that culminates in the final competition. . What’s more, Cheer He resorts again to personal stories to connect with his audience, adding new examples of overcoming and dealing with internal discord between some of his figures.

In short, the second season of Cheer returns the series to the pedestal it had two years ago, recovering the competitive adrenaline, exhausting training and athletic discipline of its protagonists, while continuing to bet on the closeness and humanization of its stories. Meanwhile, Jerry Harris awaits his trial. If convicted, he would face a minimum sentence of 15 years in prison.

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