Welcome to What’s the Buzz, 25YL’s feature where members of our staff provide you with recommendations on a weekly basis. In our internet age, there is so much out there to think about watching, reading, listening to, etc., that it can be hard to separate the wheat from the chaff, filter out the noise, or find those diamonds in the rough. But have no fear! We’re here to help you do that thing I just described with three different metaphors. Each week a rotating cast of writers will offer their recommendations based on things they have discovered. They won’t always be new to the world, but they’ll be new to us, or we hope new to you. This week, Stephanie Edwards is watching Cheer on Netflix, Hawk Ripjaw is enjoying Harley Quinn, and Jason Sheppard recommends the latest season of Curb Your Enthusiasm.
Stephanie: Since we are currently in the height of Oscar season, it takes a lot for me to divert my attention away from film and turn it towards television during this time. When I saw a mutual of mine of Twitter post about how they’d just finished binge-watching a show about competitive cheerleading on Netflix, I knew I had to check it out for myself. That show is Cheer, a six-part Netflix documentary series that follows the Navarro College cheerleading squad as they prepare to win their 14th national title. I have always been a fan, never a participant, of competitive cheerleading so this show was right up my alley. I expected to see cheer squad rivalries, gravity-defying stunts and enough drama to keep me satiated. What I didn’t expect was to be willing to give my life for Navarro coach Monica Aldama and her squad of misfit kids by the end of the series.
Yes, the show is about cheerleading, but it doesn’t sugar coat the sport and instead showcases those who participate as the elite athletes that they have worked their whole life to be. Cheer could easily be classified as body horror with all of the falls, breaks, tears, fractures, and screams of pain that echo across the series’ run-time. It left me wincing in my seat multiple times and by the end I could swear my ribs felt every basket toss.
One of the most impressive aspects of the show is how director Greg Whitely and his crew masterfully and subtly weave in commentary on a number of issues like mental health, social class, homophobia and suicide. The editors do a spectacular job cutting together scenes in a way that makes the viewer take a step back and re-evaluate the scene that came before in a way that feels meaningful rather than preachy.
But the ultimate selling point for the show is the cast, headed by coach Aldama: a take-no-prisoners powerhouse who guides her squad through life as deftly as she guides them on the mat. The show focuses on five members of the squad: La’Darius Marshall, Morgan Simianer, Lexi Brumback, Gabi Butler and Jerry Harris. These five could almost perfectly fit into Breakfast Club-like stereotypes but once you get a little deeper into their stories, you feel like you’ve intimately known these people all of your life.
Although Jerry is a crowd favorite, and I will admit to loving him as well (how can you not!?), the story that touched me the most was Simianer’s: a girl abandoned by her parents, forced to live in a trailer and scavenge for food, until she is finally taken in by her loving grandparents. Although she finds a loving home, she doesn’t have the money to buy the finer things in life and in cheerleading like some of her squad mates. We watch her embark on her second year at Navarro, going from an insecure alternate (someone who doesn’t perform in competition) to heroic underdog as she steps up at every turn and grows into a confident top girl.
I honestly can’t recommend Cheer enough; even if you aren’t a fan of sports documentaries or you think cheerleading is “boring,” try it out and thank me later. You can, you will, you must watch this show!
Hawk: The post-Justice League DC Universe is doing some great things, not the least of which is taking significantly more interesting avenues in tone and style. Marvel is great, but the Disney regime has been nearly surgical in ensuring a consistent and family-friendly vibe across nearly every aspect of the onscreen universe. The new animated series Harley Quinn, like much of the DC Universe streaming platform originals, goes defiantly in the opposite direction.
Harley Quinn follows the titular villainess as she realizes that her relationship with the Joker is deeply abusive and he doesn’t care about her at all. She breaks up with him and sets out to make a name for herself as a real villain instead of a sidekick, setting her sights on membership to the Legion of Doom. With her best friend Poison Ivy, she recruits Dr. Psych, Clayface and King Shark to make a name for herself. In every episode they do, in brazenly R-rated fashion. It’s crass, vulgar and extremely violent, making it abundantly clear that the creative team is completely off the leash.
This show is hilarious, smoothly transitioning between wacky cartoon antics, non sequiturs, creatively vulgar sexual humor, pop culture references and mild political humor that riffs on some of the more baseless discourse. The violence is often abrupt and excessive, cleverly utilizing shock value to blow carnage wildly beyond expectations.
It borrows broadly from Batman’s lore, including side stories, animated series, live-action movies, and memes to stitch together a piece of work that is impressively, entirely its own. A miscalculation in developing the show would have resulted in a Frankenstein’s monster of a mess, but Harley Quinn storms forward with a level of confidence and grasp of tone and style that absolutely works as its own thing. Bane’s voice is cribbed from Tom Hardy’s interpretation in The Dark Knight Rises. A character grapples with his robotic arm, Dr. Strangelove-style, to attempt a chef’s kiss motion. King Shark is essentially a murderous version of Kenneth the Page from 30 Rock, and Jim Gordon is a disheveled, ranting nihilist suffering from a sexually dysfunctional relationship with his wife. It’s so bizarre, but it works so, so well.
Through all of the anarchic humor and graphic violence, it’s the friendship between Harley and Ivy that prevails. Ivy especially consistently has Harley’s best interests at heart, and there’s a general care throughout the ragtag team that makes them surprisingly lovable. There’s even a discussion around the difference between a “bad guy” and a “bad person” that makes for some interesting character work about Harley’s desire to be a renowned villain, but not an actual evil human being.
Harley Quinn is already set for a second season, and as one of the most unique Batman properties to come out of the pipeline in some time, there’s high potential for it to get even wilder as it goes on.
Curb Your Enthusiasm Season 9
Jason: Arriving on HBO just a little over two years since Season 9, Larry David returns with an all-new episodes of Curb Your Enthusiasm and based on the first episode, David is as adept and brilliant at plotting as he was since his dizzying Seinfeld days.
Considering the events and movements which have transpired in our society since Curb’s last episode in 2017, it’s no wonder David wanted to journey in the sandbox and offer his uniquely comedic insights into where we are as a society. Seinfeld may have only occasionally waded into topical situations during its long run but Curb has often tackled them while they were fresh.
This season’s opening episode dove right into our worldly issues without hesitation at all. At the forefront is the mighty #MeToo movement and it now seems that David (the character) now has to face up to decades of acting like the jerk he’s always managed to get away with being. The current political divide polarizing the country is also explored in comedic fashion as David without hesitation dons a Trump “Make America Great Again” hat in order to get out of nuisance lunch meetings. It’s humor that doesn’t Insult a particular political side. It’s just showing the hilarity in how serious the divide has all become. With this new jam-packed season full of ideas, Curb Your Enthusiasm might be just the unlikely place where we can laugh at where we are. We can sure all use it.
Those are our recommendations this week! What are yours? Let us know in the comments!