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Marti Perkins (Aly Michalka) is a pre-law student at Lancer College in Memphis. Unfortunately, due to the actions of her mother, her scholarship has been revoked. Looking for a new scholarship so that she can stay in school, Marti comes across what may be her only chance: cheerleading.
The Hellcats are the cheerleaders for Lancer, a predominant football-dominated college and Alice, one of the main cheerleaders, has broken her wrist, meaning they have to have tryouts. When Marti shows that she has the stuff, even the captain Savannah (Ashley Tisdale), who had an almost-violent confrontation with Marti the day before, votes her in.
Things could be looking up for Marti -- if the cheerleaders can place in Nationals. If they can't, their budget will be cut, the competition will be out, and no more scholarships...
Based on the book Cheer: Inside the Secret World of College Cheerleaders by journalist Kate Torgovnick.
- Alpha Bitch: Alice.
- Subverted, in that you expect Savannah to be one, but she isn't.
- Aw, Look -- They Really Do Love Each Other: A platonic version with Savannah and her family, even if they still have a sh*tload of issues to work through.
- The Bad Guys Win: Their disqualification from nationals comes about after the ruling committee is tipped off by Emily about the team being decimated by strep throat and bars enough of them from competing - including Alice - for them to have less than the minimum number. Oh, and Emily is also responsible for Vanessa getting fired as the team coach.
- Berserk Button: Don't call a cheerleader a "football groupie" in front of Savannah. Unless you want her to tell you to take it back.
- California Doubling: Vancouver for Memphis (and Atlanta in the Series Finale).
- The Cast Showoff: Not only does Aly Michalka get to sing on the show (as do Sharon Leal (Vanessa Lodge, the Hellcats' coach) and Ashley Tisdale), but she and her sister are the "78violet" who do the theme song.
- Her sister also appears but doesn't sing.
- The Cheerleader: A whole show about them.
- The Chessmaster: Invoked by Vanessa with regards to Red Raymond, who has indeed rather expertly manipulated Vanessa and her boyfriend on at least a couple of occasions.
- To a lesser extent, Alice. She has a scheme for everything.
- Deadpan Snarker: Marti.
- Defrosting Ice Queen: Alice.
- Diabolus Ex Machina: See The Bad Guys Win and of course, the Downer Ending.
- Doing It for the Art: This is the reason they give for performing at nationals even after they had been disqualified.
- Downer Ending: In addition to all the stuff in The Bad Guys Win above, Marti throws her half-sister Deidre (played by Aly Michalka's real sister AJ) out when she finds out that a) her dad is alive and b) Deidre knew all along.
- Enemy Mine: Alice and Marti team up to raid Bill Curran's office.
- Ethical Slut: Dan admitted to being one (though not using that exact term) when he first started dating Savannah, though he later decided to stop being one and give monogamy a go when he found out Savannah had issues with his lifestyle.
- Fan Service: Hell to the yeah.
- The Fundamentalist: Savannah's mother basically disowned her because she goes to a secular school.
- The situation has since been presented as more complex, although the major concerns are religiously motivated, with the suggestion that Savannah and her mother are too strong-willed for their own good and everything could have been easier if they had discussed it rather than fought over it.
- Guilty Pleasures: It's a CW show about cheerleaders, what else would it be?
- Huge Guy, Tiny Girl: Marti says Dan and Savannah's height difference would make them look like Russian dolls.
- Idiosyncratic Episode Naming: Most episodes are named after a song, often by Southern artists like Elvis Presley and B.B. King (interestingly, creator/showrunner Kevin Murphy used to write for Desperate Housewives, which also named episodes after songs - and eventually song lyrics).
- Idiosyncratic Wipes: Earlier episodes had a backflipping cheerleader as a stock wipe.
- Irony: The squad never actually cheers for the football team. But the football team once cheered for them
- Jerk With A Heart Of Bronze: Alice is aggressive, catty, manipulative and self-centered, but she's not truly malicious and she has come through several times for the cheerleading squad even when she was annoyed with some of the members, injured, or sick.
- She's also sabotaged the squad at least once (inviting Marti's mother to a meet to freak her out). Just Eat Gilligan heavily applies to her character for a lot of people.
- As of the season finale, Savannah agrees she stepped down so Alice could be team captain
- Lady Drunk: Marti's mom, Wanda.
- Love Dodecahedron: Oh boy. Lewis/Marti/Dan/Savannah is already quite a mess, and judging by the slight Ship Tease lately, you can probably add Morgan into the mix as well soon...
- Don't forget the Jake/Alice/Lewis/Marti.
- Mama Bear: Marti's mother. When Marti asks her what she'd do if Marti had just murdered someone, her mother's reply is that she'd assume there was a good reason and get the bleach.
- Mommy Issues: Not quite as bad as the others, but Marti's mother is a clingy alcoholic who once vomited on her during a gymnastics tournament. Marti wants to leave Memphis to get the hell away from her mother.
- Ms. Fanservice: Even on this show, Alice stands out.
- Noodle Incident: Three of these are brought up in a row in Episode 2 when Dan discusses Wanda's history of embarrassing Marti.
Dan: There was this thing in high school, her mom showed up to a gymnastics event...
Savannah: And vomited on her. Yes, yes, I know all about that.
Dan: Then you also know about what Wanda did the night before Marti took her SATs and what happened at her high school graduation and her 21st birthday... *surprised shock from Savannah*
- Panty Shot: Again cheerleaders, even though they may be bloomers, they could be panty-shaped...
- Raised by Wolves: Used word-for-word. "Sorry about Alice, she was raised by wolves."
- Red Oni, Blue Oni: Marti and Savannah.
- Rich Bitch: Alice.
- Shout-Out: To Bring It On.
- And, in the third episode, to Star Trek.
- Shipper on Deck: Wanda ships Marti/Dan, while Dan's dad ships Savannah/Dan.
- Team Mom: Vanessa to a T.
- Theme Tune Cameo: Guess what the Hellcats perform their routine in nationals to?
- The Unfavorite: Alice's father clearly supports his football playing sons over his daughter the cheerleader.
- Unwinnable Training Simulation: Called by name in the episode "Beale St. After Dark" -- Marti's law professor gives her an assignment to look up Kobayashi v. Tennessee. Turns out, he gave this assignment to all his students and it doesn't exist. So Marti and her partner make a case with that exact title.
- Why Did It Have to Be Snakes?: Morgan is terrified of prisons.