The fall TV season is here, so it’s time to get a feel for the fresh fare coming your way. In Fancast’s First Look, Two Takes series, executive editor Matt Mitovich shares an overview of each new show, noting strengths and areas for improvement, then invites a fellow editor to offer a second opinion.
Today we shake our pom-poms at…
‘HELLCATS,’ THE CW
Time slot: Wednesdays at 9/8c, premiering September 8
Competition: ‘Criminal Minds’ (CBS), ‘Modern Family’/'Cougar Town’ (ABC), ‘Law & Order: SVU’ (NBC) and ‘Hell’s Kitchen’ (Fox)
Cast: Includes Aly Michalka (‘Bandslam’), Ashley Tisdale (‘High School Musical’), Matt Barr (‘Harper’s Island’), Robbie Jones (‘One Tree Hill’), Sharon Leal (‘Boston Public’) and Gail O’Grady (‘NYPD Blue’)
Executive Producers: Kevin Murphy (‘Reaper’) and Tom Welling (‘Smallville’)
The Bullet: Marti Perkins (Michalka) is a Memphis college student who rides her bike – a lot – and has dreams of attending law school. That life plan is threatened when her scholarship falls through, and her only bid for another free ride lies with the Lancer U. cheerleading squad – a peppy/persnickety bunch that this counter-culture gal openly reviles. Will Marti suck it up, try out for the Hellcats and blow ‘em away with her mad moves? (That question was rhetorical, by the way.) Watch a preview here:
What Works: Michalka sells us both on Marti’s edge and her innate athletic ability that makes the Hellcats spring up and take notice, Tisdale is perfectly perky in a Tracy Flick-turned-tumbler kind of way, and Leal makes the “grown-up” scenes feel sufficiently flirty and not like filler fare. And in an era fascinated by ‘Glee’s each and every move, the Hellcats’ more provocative performance numbers set to pop tunes are likely to get people humming.
What Needs Work: Clocking in at 35 minutes, the original unfinished pilot made Marti’s “transformation” seem fantastically rushed; now it merely comes off as hasty. The “villain” cheerleader (Heather Hemmens) out to trip up the Hellcats’ new member is vanilla at best; this sitch begs for a fiercer foe. As Marti’s best bud and cheerleading “base,” Barr and Jones form an amiable enough future “triangle,” though the imminent addition of Gale Harold (‘Queer As Folk’) as a law prof can only be a good thing.
Take Two, from Fancast writer Sara Bibel: I could not get past several logic problems to even proclaim this a “Guilty Pleasure,” as Matt does below. For one, as a law student it would take Marti all of five minutes to get loans to replace her scholarship. And if the Hellcats are supposed to be an elite cheering squad, why don’t they have alternates, or a JV team? Also, the show is supposed to be set in the deep South, yet none of the actors even attempt a local accent – including Michalka’s Memphis native. As for dramatic tension, the Hellcats’ crosstown rivals were unseen during the pilot, so there was little incentive to root for or against anyone.
The Fancast Forecast: Debating ‘Hellcats’ merits may be a fool’s errand. Opposite ‘Criminal Minds,’ ABC’s red-hot ‘Modern Family,’ and ‘SVU’ with its built-in fanbase, it’s going to need every bit of bared, buff muscle its got to secure any footing. In a best-case scenario, the show grabs hold of this season’s “Guilty Pleasure” mantle and tumbling runs with it.