HELLCATS 1.2: I Say a Little Prayer

HELLCATS upped its game this week when it wasted no time diving into the backstories of its two leads, Marti and Savannah, showing just how similar they are by contrasting their problems with their mothers.

As the qualifier tournament began, Marti (Alyson Michalka) was horrified to discover that her mother, Wanda (Gail O’Grady) was trying to get backstage, which really freaked out Marti. Which was what Alice (Heather Hemmens) had in mind. Which horrified Lewis (Robbie Jones), who realized that Alice was not only mucking with Marti, she was endangering everyone’s scholarships. Which Alice didn’t care about, because she’s a trust-fund baby who doesn’t need any scholarship. Alice needed revenge against Savannah (Ashley Tisdale), because Alice was in line for the captaincy before Savannah transferred in.

Meanwhile, Savannah tried to wish Lancer’s chief rival, Memphis Christian University, good luck – because, it turned out, Savannah used to attend MCU. In, fact, her sister Charlotte (Emma Lahana) is the captain of the MCU squad. But Charlotte wanted nothing to do with Savannah. During the competition, Charlotte fell and was seriously hurt. A grieving Savannah accompanied her sister to the hospital. Which would have forced Lancer to forfeit, but Coach Vanessa (Sharon Leal) managed to swap competition slots with another school, meaning Lancer would compete on Saturday.

Savannah visited her sister, who still wanted nothing to do with her. “I’m pretty sure all this isn’t about you,” Charlotte snarked. And the sisters’ mother was little better. Mrs. Monroe scheduled a prayer service for Saturday morning – right when the Hellcats were scheduled to perform. Savannah told her mother she would have to skip the prayer meeting, because her squad is her family now. Meanwhile, Wanda showed up at the Cheertown dorm with hot wings and embarrassing stories, and nosed into everyone’s business. Humiliated, Marti tried to usher her out, only to learn that Wanda was locked out of her place in a dispute with her landlord. Derrick (D.B. Woodside) decided to schmooze new football coach Red Raymond (Jeff Hephner), and viewers realized that Vanessa never told Derrick that she has history with Red – who played along. Back at Cheertown, Savannah and Marti swapped mom sob stories. Marti was anguished about lying to her mom by pretending that Lancer was eliminated from the competition, and she knows it will break Wanda’s heart. Savannah revealed that her sternly religious family shut her out when she transferred from MCU to the secular Lancer. But Savannah, who had been home-schooled, said MCU felt like more of the same, so she transferred – even though it meant turning her back on a long family legacy at MCU. Sadly, the family also believed that Savannah turned her back on God. Savannah was distressed with Marti because she could see that Wanda loves Marti, even if she doesn’t have the best way of showing it. The alternative to a mother who smothers with love is…worse, Savannah noted. Marti signed up for a credit card and got a cash advance to pay off the landlord and get Wanda back on her feet.

On Saturday, Savannah sneaked away to pray for Charlotte and the rest of her family. Wanda unexpectedly showed up (because she is Facebook friends with half the squad). Marti finally found the courage to tell Wanda how her presence upsets her and throws her off. Wanda confessed that she just wants to openly be proud of her daughter. Sobbing, Marti told Wanda she could stay, because, “I’m not 16 anymore,” and if she can perform the maneuvers in front of her mother, she can perform them anywhere. And, wouldn’t you know it… Marti pulled off her big “helicopter” move, and the Hellcats won! At the after party, Dan (Matt Barr) realized he was developing a soft spot for Savannah, and asked her out. Savannah accepted, but betrayed just how flustered she can get. Meanwhile, Marti danced rather suggestively with Lewis.

Getting right under the skin of its central characters and starting to build a relationship between them is a wise move. If viewers are going to stick around for the long haul, it’s going to be to see Marti and Savannah interact and grow as people, not just for the highly choreographed dance routines and short skirts. One of my favorite aspects of the show is the way Savannah and Marti have quickly become – if not friends, then warm acquaintances. It would have been way too easy (and lazy) to make the girls mortal enemies who are forced to room together. That sort of artificial drama would have gotten old, fast. It reflects well on Savannah that she recognizes that Marti can help the squad win, because that’s what important to Savannah. And, despite her seemingly inexplicable hatred of cheer culture expressed in the premiere episode, Marti remains open-minded enough to reach out to Savannah. And, of course, Lewis.

Considering that Dan has now asked Savannah on a date, as well as Marti and Lewis heating up the dance floor, it looks like she and Dan really are “just friends.” The pilot made it appear that Dan had strong feelings for Marti when he expressed disappointment that she is so eager to graduate and leave town. Perhaps the original idea was to make them more than just friends, but the thinking changed when HELLCATS went to series? I would like to see them remain friends – especially since the most likely complication scenario would have Marti and Savannah fighting over Dan. I prefer Marti with Lewis at this point.

I also do not want to see the girls reconcile with their mothers too soon. It’s fine that Wanda’s presence no longer makes Marti vomit, but let’s not make them girlfriends too quickly. The conflict between Savannah and her family looks to be fertile ground. It’s interesting that Charlotte and Mrs. Monroe are taking a decidedly unchristian attitude toward Savannah, and I look forward to seeing how it plays out. Bonus: Mrs. Monroe is played by the talented Teryl Rothery, who is probably best known as Dr. Janet Frasier on STARGATE SG-1 (or maybe Mrs. Bloom from KYLE XY). She’s a great supporting player. And, like cheerleading, ensemble drama is a team competition.

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