'Hellcats' review: The CW tries to 'Bring It On'

hellcats-aly-michalka-ashley-tisdale-02-320.jpg"Hellcats" isn't "Bring It On" -- perhaps the most sardonically exuberant and cleverly self-aware cheerleading project of all time -- but it takes a stab at the formula and marches out a palatable diet version.

Marti Perkins ( Aly Michalka) is a rebel, which we can tell by all the black clothes and dark eyeliner she wears, a pre-law student who loses her scholarship at Memphis' Lancer U and resorts to trying for the cheerleading team scholarship instead. It's a mutual business arrangement since the Hellcats need a competition win in order to keep their funding, and Marti's particular brand of loose dance-cheering might give them that edge.

Look, we all know that "Hellcats" isn't supposed to be deep -- although there's plenty of navel gazing of the literal variety -- but it delivers on its promise: attractive stars, energetic routines and girl-centric dramas. Just get past the rather tepid sentimental portions, which are painful but luckily not plentiful. The rest is frou frou fun, sort of Disney Channel grown up, which is a natural progression for Disney stars Michalka and Ashley Tisdale.

Michalka is adequate as the lead insofar as her looks and physical abilities. We're not completely sold on her performance yet, but she's not particularly upsetting. Tisdale's take on the perpetually perky Savannah will likely please her Disney fans, who remember her fondly as scene stealer Sharpay in the "High School Musical" films. Savannah isn't quite as loony, but she has her quirks and even a few vulnerable moments.

hellcats-sharon-leal-heather-hemmens-320.jpgCheers

  • There's a nod to "Bring It On" in the pilot, which we have to say is well done of them.
  • The athletic/gymnastics side of cheerleading is part of the focus.
  • Every now and then, there's a geeky reference, which makes us think the writers might be rebels infiltrating the cheerleading world themselves.
  • The boys and girls locker rooms are adjoining, only separated by a short wall, easily bypassed. We anticipate lots of shenanigans to come.
  • The cast is fairly ethnically diverse, without any special mentions of this on the show. Kudos.
  • Matt Barr, last seen on "Harper's Island," could be a breakout. As Marti's friend who would like to be something more, he'll be up for some juicy scenes.

Jeers

  • Cheerleader Alice (Heather Hemmens) plays the cliched bitch, but it's so uninspired, we're hoping for less cliches and more deviousness in the future.
  • Sorry, but we can't buy Marti as a rebel/goth. She's just too perfectly coiffed for that.
  • Worse line: "Every time I stepped up to those bars, I'd feel her soul-sucking presence."
  • At this point, Gail O'Grady playing Wanda, Marti's mom is pretty sad and annoying. Fingers crossed.

"Hellcats" isn't a huge surprise in terms of what's presented, but considering the automatic dismissal that many TV critics have adopted, it is surprisingly watchable. Is it must-see TV? Perhaps not, but it's a lively and light addition to The CW lineup and pairs well with the unabashed silliness of "America's Next Top Model."

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Photo credit: The CW

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