Cheer Up: Episodes 1-2
The new SBS mystery-romance drama Cheer Up is finally lighting up our screens with campus crushes, unique uniforms, and a down-and-out team that needs to find their spirit. But as the cheer squad looks for new recruits in the year of a deadly prophecy, it seems collective pep might not be the only spirit they find.
EPISODES 1-2 WEECAP
If anyone, like me, was looking forward to a drama about fast-flying cheerleaders, I’m a little sad to say that’s not what we have (at least so far). The team at the center of this show is more like a pep squad — they don’t stunt, tumble, or do complicated dance routines. What we do get is songs, lights, costumes, chants, and a lot of energy — which is all the reason I need to watch, even if it’s not what I thought I was getting into.
We set the stage at Yonhee University in 2019 where the majority of our story will unfold. Our heroine, DO HAE-YI (Han Ji-hyun), is beyond excited for her first day at such a prestigious school. While trying to manifest money through affirmations, she arrives on campus in a vintage varsity jacket she acquired online and takes pictures with her busted up, nowhere-near-recent iPhone.
Hae-yi has the makings of a classic Candy, working in the contemporary gig economy. Along with tutoring high school kids and shelving library books, she takes gigs on a “butler service” app where she does everything from deliver dry cleaning to kill roaches — all for horribly low fees. This is how she’s paying for Yonhee and why she’s super proud of herself to be there. Her degree is going to boost her status in society one day and she’s spunky enough not to let anything stand in her way.
Our female lead meets cheer captain and all around do-gooder, PARK JUNG-WOO (Bae In-hyuk), when she’s graffitiing the stadium bleachers with her name and he tells her to clean it off. The two get off on the wrong foot, continually running into each other on campus, where outspoken, scene-making Hae-yi clashes with quiet, rule-following Jung-woo. There are hints of a change when Hae-yi sees Jung-woo perform at the orientation-day pep rally and she’s mesmerized by something on stage. (Is it him? Or all the pyrotechnics?)
Jung-woo is performing with the cheer team, Theia, which will be the heart of our story. The team is experiencing a series of problems. They currently have only four members, which isn’t enough to carry out all their routines. The flag team accompanies them during their performances, but it turns out there’s beef between members of flag and cheer. And their funding is being cut after a 50-year-history at the university, as protestors stand outside the pep rally demanding Theia be dismantled.
Amongst their bigger issues (IMO) are their uniforms, which — for no apparent reason — look like rococo meets cowgirl. When Jung-woo claims they were made by fashion designer Andre Kim, I found myself getting behind their budget cuts. It’s not all bad, though, because Bae In-hyuk looks like a completely different person when he’s dolled up with his bangs pushed back, so that much I’ll take.
To round out our campus crew, we have a few other people to introduce. There’s JIN SUN-HO (Kim Hyun-jin), a very popular (also rich) med student, who Hae-yi meets when she delivers a cake to him on his birthday (from his girlfriend who’s breaking up with him via cake message). He comes off like a jerk initially, hitting on Hae-yi after she makes the delivery, but later he spots her around campus and starts to seem truly interested.
There’s also BAE YOUNG-WOONG (Yang Dong-geun), a former member of Theia (from like, 17 years ago) who hangs out with the current members and tries to relive his glory days on the team. He’s also the bartender at their local hangout, called Cheers (the rest of this post should just be eyerolls). When he notices that Sun-ho likes Hae-yi he gets the idea to try to recruit Hae-yi to the cheer team. They need to recruit amongst the freshman and he thinks that since Sun-ho is so popular, if someone Sun-ho likes is on the team then everyone else will want to join.
Hae-yi of course wants to join the investment club so, to make it worth her while, Young-woong will pay her to join Theia for a month. After she signs up, so does her bestie JOO SUN-JA (Lee Eun-saem) and, unexpectedly, Sun-ho himself (in an effort to get closer to Hae-yi).
Tryouts are awful. The four standing members sit through one terrible routine after another. Then, Hae-yi shows up and lands a triple back handspring. Uh, tryouts over. But in reality, only twelve people tried out, so they let them all on the team because they need the numbers. We later come to learn that Hae-yi was on a dance team as a kid, but the day of her big recital was also the day her dad died. Her buried love of performance starts to be unearthed, but can it beat out her need for money?
This is only one of many questions the first two episodes present. Another: is one of the team members going to die this year? Yep. The drama is marketed as a romance/mystery and, needless to say, it’s not light on the mystery element. One thread has to do with a shaman that gave three cursed prophecies to the cheer team back in 1999 and, so far, two have come true. The third, set to happen in 2019, is that a member of Theia will die. A second thread, that we know less about, has to do with a former member named Yoo-min. A stage light fell on her during a performance and now she haunts the dreams of Jung-woo and possibly the halls of Yonhee.
The romance and mystery start to braid together at the end of Episode 2 when Sun-ho and Hae-yi are selected to move up and perform with the four upperclassmen. Jung-woo is training the two freshman when it begins to rain. Sun-ho goes to get an umbrella for Hae-yi, but when he returns she and Jung-woo are sitting close and laughing. Sun-ho looks pretty jealous. We see someone watching from afar, holding Hae-yi’s application form for Theia. Just then, she starts getting texts on her phone: “Quit the squad. Or one of the members will die. Remember the third prophecy.”
Without checking her phone (and with Sun-ho suddenly not in sight), Jung-woo and Hae-yi clean up the practice equipment. They’ve become much more friendly since Jung-woo told Hae-yi he also does not have a father — and she shouldn’t think badly about herself for working all those jobs to pay for school. The fact is, she’s making it work. The two are in some kind of basement storage room when the door slams shut and the lights go out. They’re locked inside, which triggers a memory for Hae-yi and she begins to panic and hyperventilate.
Well, should I be the first one to say it? Man is this show hokey. It still has a chance to be really fun if it knows exactly how hokey it is and doesn’t take itself at all seriously. There are signs that this is the case. The tone reminds me of those self-aware slasher movies that were popular in the 90s – or, did anyone ever read the Fear Street book series? It’s totally that vibe. There are a lot of really cringey scenes, like when Jung-woo tells Hae-yi, “As you see, our team has a lot of rules. Think carefully about if you want to be on the team.” Blech. But since she calls him a “fogey” after this, I’m hoping the show is making fun of itself.
And in terms of story, we’ve got classic stakes and about a million problems to solve. The stakes? The cheer team will be destroyed if they don’t get new members and better routines. The problems? First, who wants to be on a team where someone will die this year? Plus, is there a ghost roaming around? Will they be able to show up the flag team and their rival Hokyung University? Can Hae-yi choose between Sun-ho and Jung-woo (and finally get her ex-boyfriend off her back)? Grrr, the ex-boyfriend — I didn’t introduce him because I’m hoping we never see the guy again. We’ll see how lucky we get next week.
My favorite character so far is Hae-yi’s mom, SEONG CHUN-YANG (Jang Young-nam). Hae-yi complains to her that being poor sucks because you can’t ever plan for the future, you have to worry so much about paying for today, you can only plan for the present. But rather than be offended, her mom tells her to keep saying all that smart stuff, “it lets me know I have a daughter at a prestigious university.” How can you not love that? On top of it, she tells her daughter to join Theia and enjoy her time in college. I’m looking forward to all their upcoming interactions. With these little heartfelt moments built in between the cheese, I’m optimistic this show can deliver some brightly colored fun.