REASON TO WATCH: Teen sensation Alyson "Aly" Michalka
WHEN/WHERE: Wednesday night at 9 on CW/11
Marti Perkins (Michalka) is a student at fictional Lancer University in Memphis, when she loses her scholarship and is forced to try out for the cheerleading squad to earn a new scholarship. She looks down on the cutie-pie cheerleaders and gets into a spat with one - Savannah Monroe (Ashley Tisdale), who becomes her friend and mentor. The squad is under pressure. They need to make nationals, or their own funding will be cut. Will creative free-spirit Marti save the Hellcats?
Cheerleaders - like nerds and clowns - have gotten a bum rap in pop culture. Sure, they're usually cute, perky and popular, and one even helped save the world. But all that abundant good cheer and perfect skin also has made them objects of parody on occasion. Enter "Hellcats," on a mission. The formula is ripped straight from the old aspirational movie hits of the '80s ("Flashdance," "Girls Just Want to Have Fun"), updated for the age of "High School Musical" and "Glee."
Tisdale's Savannah represents pop culture's tarnished icon - too cute, too pert - while Michalka's Marti is the cynic and the corrupting influence who just needs the dough. Yet, somehow . . . they meet halfway. But to buy this, you have to buy cheerleading as a real sport. In "Hellcats," the cheerleaders mostly look like gymnasts busting some nice moves. Where's the sport - or drama - in that?
The formula's a little too familiar, the pilot a tad dull. But Michalka's a big talent and for that reason, "Hellcats" has potential. (Too bad she doesn't sing.)
Cheerleading is awesome
Michalka, 21, is the other half of the platinum-selling duo Aly & AJ - now called 78violet - that she formed with her sister, Amanda Joy. Disney Channel fans know her well, too. She played Keely Teslow, girl reporter from its old series "Phil of the Future." Says she of her new venture: "Cheerleading is bad -- . These people are athletic. These people work out like crazy. These people are trustworthy people because they are there to catch you when you are up in the air, flying. They are there to have your back. . . . We are going to show the real side of these people and these characters."