We all have our favorite and least favorite tropes. From love triangles to slow burns, tropes are often the best ways to showcase great characters and storylines. They can also be frustrating and make you question why it is even a trope at all. In this bi-weekly column, we’ll take a deep dive into some of the most classic television tropes.
I have been watching a lot of television, recently, involving sports.
Ironically, I was never really an athlete during my youth. I left that title to my sister, which was fine by me. Why spend all that exertion when I could be an athlete vicariously through watching various television shows about it.
Despite the fact I was never an athlete and could never relate to what different characters and people were going through, I have always found myself drawn to television shows that use sports as a way to tell their story. And while I normally spend my time watching fictional characters live their fictional lives, I’m a sucker for any real-life story about sports.
Unless you have lived under a rock the past couple of weeks, there has been one specific show about sports that have been the water cooler topic. That would be Netflix’ Cheer.
Cheer follows the lives of cheerleaders at a Texas community college as they try to win nationals for the fourteenth time. The real funny thing is I never understood cheerleading and was pretty much allergic to school spirit. So never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I’d find myself crying over a bunch of cheerleaders for six hours straight.
So why did I decide to check out this show? Well, Cheer comes from the same people that produced and directed one of my favorites, Last Chance U. Also from Netflix, Last Chance U tells the story of junior college football players who have one last shot of trying to make their dreams a reality. Most of these college students were formerly Division One athletes that made a few bad choices that got them kicked out of a program that could have made them a pro. East Mississippi Community College was literally their last chance of trying to reach their dream again.
Over the course of the season, we see these athletes transform. With the help of their coaches and the amazing athletic academic advisor, Brittany Wagner, some of these athletes are able to become something more than just their past mistakes.
While sports are the ties that bind all these people together, Last Chance U and Cheer are so much more than cheerleading or football.
These people have gone through things that a person never should. And if a sport is there one way of getting relief from the cruelty of life, then you bet your ass I’m going to be rooting for them until the credits roll.
I remember when I first watched Last Chance U. I was thinking I found a real-life version of Friday Night Lights. And while I love Friday Night Lights, the fact that I was watching real-life stories unfold struck a different chord with me. “It’s just a sport,” is what some people (including myself at times) would say. Why are you getting so wrapped up into it? But what I and many people have failed to realize is that it is so much more than that.
It’s a way to escape crappy things life throws at you. It’s a dream that, like anyone else’s dream, is something we all want to hold onto for dear life.
The crazy thing about Cheer which they made clear in the series is that there really is no after for these kids. They can win a national championship again, but there’s no professional cheerleading dream they can strive for unlike those in Last Chance U. That makes it all the more heartbreaking watching various stories unfold in Cheer because you know this is really it for some of the girls.
Now, docuseries about college cheerleading and football aren’t the only sports shows I’ve been watching lately.
I recently watched Netflix’s new drama series, Spinning Out, which follows competitive figure skating. Another sport, like cheerleading, that I never understood and never really had the desire to. But just because I never learned how to ice skate doesn’t mean I can’t respect the characters’ aspiration for it. We all have our own dreams and passions, theirs just happen to involve being thrown five feet off the ground above hard ice. But, hey, you do you.
I ate Spinning Out like I would a bag of chips. It was another series that used a sport as a mechanism to tell their own different stories. It lived in the world of figure skating but it told stories well beyond that. From mental illness to parental loss, Spinning Out really covered the gambit.
The same can be said for the acclaimed Friday Night Lights. Who knew so much could happen in a small Texas town that only cared about football? But as each episode progressed, we learned more about characters like Matt Saracen and Tim Riggins. We learned why football was so important or not to each of them. And then when the lights in the field shut off one last time, we began to learn more about their lives after the game is over – storylines that I tend to love the most.
Some of my favorite story-lines in Friday Night Lights and One Tree Hill (yes, I’m going to talk about this show for the second week in a row) involve the main characters trying to figure out their lives outside of a sport they’ve dedicated their lives to.
Both Nathan and Lucas in One Tree Hill had to examine their lives under the notion that professional basketball may not be in the cards for them. I could never imagine being so involved in something for all my life to have it taken away in an instant. I give huge props to athletes who dedicate their lives to something knowing it could be gone the second their body decides to act against them.
At the end of the day, athletes are just like the rest of us. Filled with dreams and ambitions that could be taken away from them as quickly as they were given it. But it is what you do outside of the court or the field that truly defines a person and exploring that versus the sport itself has always been the highlight for me.
But I’ve also enjoyed learning a thing or two about cheerleading.