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‘Dare Me’ is a Bit Darker Than You’d Expect From a Teen Drama
December 29, 2019  | By David Hinckley  | 2 comments

Cheerleaders often serve as incidental characters in TV and film dramas. They’re the girlfriends or the mean girls or, in the slasher film world, convenient prey for deranged serial killers.

Dare Me, which USA premieres at 10 p.m. ET on Sunday, brings cheerleaders front and center, where they turn out to have a wide range of psychological issues even beyond the basic trauma of being teenagers.

Important note: While Dare Me does feature teenage characters, it’s not really a teen drama. Based on Meg Abbott’s 2012 novel of the same name, its wider focus often falls more on life in Sutton Grove, a Rust Belt town that’s just trying to stay in business.

The story is narrated by Addy Hanlon (Herizen Guardiola), a bright cheerleader who studies diligently in hopes that an education will propel her into a world with more possibilities than Sutton Grove.

In this pursuit, Addy is not alone. One of the first scenes in the first episode shows Addy and her BFF Beth Cassidy (Marlo Kelly) hanging out with a couple of guys in the parking lot of an almost empty shopping center dominated by a Dollar Store. In the corner of the parking lot, several of Sutton Grove’s finest youths are boarding the bus for basic training as the Army is one of the surest roads out of town.

Beth is also a cheerleader. Beth is the alpha cheerleader. Beth considers herself the alpha everything, but she can rule most conspicuously on the cheerleading squad, which is important because football is important, and halftime at football games needs cheerleaders to keep the crowd engaged.

Unfortunately for municipal morale, the football team isn’t very good. And neither, it seems, is the cheerleading squad. They have talent. They just don’t have a coach who can bring it out.

The town fathers of Sutton Grove, however, have a plan that will address not only those two problems but the greater issue of whether Sutton Grove can remain a viable municipality.

A real estate company called Eagle Investments, run by Beth’s father Bert (Paul Fitzgerald), is assuring Sutton Grove that if the construction of a new high school football stadium is authorized, it will be impossible for the rest of the area not to see Sutton Grove as a shining gem.

The project manager is Matt French (Rob Heaps), who just happens to be married to Colette French (Willa Fitzgerald), who just happens to be a world-class cheerleading coach whose own career began at Sutton Grove High School.

So it’s a twofer. Paul moves into town, and that brings along Colette to turn the cheerleading squad into a high-profile powerhouse, which makes everyone even more enthusiastic about the football program and the new stadium.

Naturally, things aren’t quite that simple, or there would be no story here. Colette’s arrival almost immediately sparks intra-squad tension, even threatening Addy’s and Beth’s friendship, and that’s only the first domino as secrets and deceit suddenly pop up everywhere.

As all this suggests, Dare Me often feels dark, and if it’s not always great drama, it’s tackling relatable and substantial questions even before a major traumatic event stuns the town.

The show has good guys, starting with Addy, though even the characters we like sometimes do things we don’t.

We don’t get a lot of candid sex or violence. We do get a stream of casual profanity and a sense that some of the young characters may be more jaded than the average teenager.

In a way, that’s probably part of Abbott’s point, that living in a struggling town in Rust Belt America isn’t quite the idyllic scenario painted in Hallmark movies. The kids here seem to have grown up fast and restless and Dare Me poses the unsettling question of whether these teenagers will someday become these adults.

And whether we’d want them to.

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R. Dunn
...Needs more cheerleader sex ;-)
Dec 31, 2019   |  Reply
Danny Watson
Although the show does tackle some real issues,it sets every bad example of an already psychologically plagued mind of our youth we have now! With school shootings + drinking and vapping + minors getting pregnant in middle school, who needs to watch the extra jet fuel being blasted on their brains to torch what's left of the emotions they have left? I wouldn't recommend this to a teen or a colllege student for that matter, extra drama is not needed..seriously!
Dec 30, 2019   |  Reply
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