Once again, Saturday Night Live knows exactly what you’ve been binging: Netflix’s Cheer, the breakout docu-drama following a team of Texas cheerleaders preparing to compete in a national event in Daytona. Though most non-cheerleaders went into the show with reservations, many became obsessed just episodes in. Cheer has spawned memes, Twitter moments, and an unofficial Jerry support squad, providing SNL with a lot of inspiration for their sketch.
Heidi Gardner took on the role of Navarro coach Monica Aldama, speaking in a Southern drawl and conferring with her assistant coach (Adam Driver). “I cannot stress this enough,” Gardner said, gesticulating for emphasis. “In this sport, it’s the tiny girls’ job to fly, and the gay guys must catch them.”
The Navarro cheerleaders weren’t safe from SNL’s jabs, either. Just like their Netflix counterparts, SNL cast members Beck Bennett, Bowen Yang, and Chloe Fineman (and musical guest Halsey) were all coping with some concerning injuries — but, they each asserted, they deserved to be on mat in Daytona.
SNL’s writers seem to be Navarro fans — Gardner and Kenan Thompson, who played a Jerry-inspired hopeful, were particularly spot-on — but the sketch doesn’t quite get at what made Cheer such an instant hit. The jokes seem to position the Navarro cheerleaders as a monolith of eager but often incompetent (and very injured) athletes who shout nonsense in tandem, when the show’s story lines are so complex and compelling that most viewers find themselves watching all six episodes at once.
SNL’s parodies tend to work for programs like The Great British Bake-Off and Hallmark’s Christmas movies, but Cheer isn’t exactly the guilty pleasure reality show that this sketch suggests. It found success because fans added it to their queue expecting something silly and light-hearted, and instead found a show with dark themes examining the lives of a bunch of outsiders, against the backdrop of the cutthroat world of college cheerleading. Bring It On it’s not.
Monica and her cheerleaders have amassed a following because viewers learn about each team member’s story, creating a surprisingly tender show centered around a team worth investing in and rooting for. Even the real-life Navarro cheerleaders felt emotional watching their journey to Daytona on the small screen.
“I didn't know in full detail everything until I watched the show,” fan favorite Lexi Brumback told Refinery29. “It was really emotional watching what some of my closest friends have been through, and it made me really appreciate being friends with them because they're such strong people and such good athletes.”
Watch SNL’s take on Cheer below.