A dark psychological thriller about competitive cheerleading sounds like some kind of show that should definitely be an instant hit. Unfortunately, that wasn't the case with the USA Network drama Dare me, a one-season wonder that deconstructing intelligent genres has been mixed with guilty pleasure to create one of the best series you probably haven't seen in 2020 – but is now streaming on Netflix.
Based on the book of the same name by Megan Abbott, Dare Me is a dark coming-of-age story of friendship, obsession, competition, and buried secrets, with loads of suffocating fear and possible murder. Set in a dying town in the Rust Belt, the series follows the dramatic saga of the Sutton Grove High School cheerleading team. Many elements of the traditionally male noir mystery are reinterpreted through a decidedly feminine lens.
The series revolves around team captain Beth Cassidy (Marlo Kelly) and her loyal lieutenant Addy Hanlon (Herizen Guardiola), two best friends with the complicated, chaotic relationship so often found between young women – a strong mix of love, obsession, and jealousy that can only arise between people who spend most of their waking hours together. As the new cheerleader Colette French (Willa Fitzgerald) is recruited to turn the squad into regional champions. Everything changes – not just for Addy and Beth's relationship, but also for the team and even the city itself.
The squad has long been more competitive than the football team they support, and the numerous scenes of physical acrobatics being punished prove it. Yet these girls seem trapped forever – in a city that objectifies them, in a society that affirms masculine excesses while making feminine ambitions villainous, and in lives where they feel as though they have nowhere to go. (At least the boys have a chance to check out the ubiquitous army recruiter table at school.) Visually, Sutton Grove is full of rundown factories, empty apartment complexes, and unfinished land use projects, a depressed and depressing place has little to offer these bright young women , except for toxic relationships and the memory of the nights when the stadium lights once shone brightly for them.
Image via USA Network
There is a hopeless element to the girls' rampant craze for alcohol, drugs, and meaningless dates, which is part of why the prospect of Regionals is so enticing. For them, cheering is not just a potential way out of a dead end with few options, but also an opportunity to stand out from the importance that they have few options in their daily life. Addy's almost instant infatuation with Coach French is driven simultaneously by her desire to receive a college jubilee scholarship and her need to be seen – both as herself and as a person separated and separated from Beth's domineering shadow.
As for the Sutton Grove HBIC itself, Kelly does an incredibly multi-faceted job as Beth who is both violent and damaged, predatory and protective in every moment. Your physical and psychological bruises are the result of a life of trying to be the best and constantly learning that the best you can do will never be good enough. No wonder she bumps into Fitzgerald's icy, brittle Collette, old enough to know better but young enough to remember the onslaught with the "top girl" in a town like this goes hand in hand. Neither of them are particularly willing to share the limelight or, it turns out, the admiration of Guardiola's Addy.
The twisted relationship dynamics that develop between these three women make for compelling – if somewhat implausible – television as Coach French's intricate personal life begins to invade Addys and ultimately take it over as Beth tries to get her wandering friend back on hers Side pull. Whether the younger girl's fascination with Collette is a dangerous obsession or a sign that Addy is breaking free from a harmful relationship with her dominant BFF is a question that viewers may ultimately grapple with for the duration of their run, much like how it allows them to form their own opinion about Coach French long before she reveals any clues as to her true nature.
In general, Dare Me offers a remarkably open, fresh take on the world of teenage girls that is more in-depth than the glittering dreamscape of HBO's Euphoria and much grainier than shows like The CW's Riverdale or Freeform's Pretty Little Liars. It is alternately cruel, desperate, and emotionally complex, and there are several moments when the show leaves us unsure of who exactly to choose. Or if we're supposed to put down roots for anyone at all. And that's part of what makes it so delicious to see. Well, that and its often unheard of conspiracy.
Image via USA Network
If anything, the show has a similar DNA to that she, another dark psychological thriller with wild turns that found a second life on Netflix after its original premiere on Lifetme. If there is justice in the streaming world, Dare Me will get another look from viewers who skipped it when it originally aired – this drama has always been a poor fit with the USA network, which is generally home to procedural or Blue Sky Dramas is. with the occasional outlier like Mr. Robot thrown in for added nervousness. And its driving narrative and complex character dynamics make for an ideal binge-watching method that can help you get some of the cracks in the story down on paper if you think too much about it.
Sure, there are moments here that are sure to give you a break, or make you wonder how a real person could ever behave like some adults in this city regularly do. However, these questions are drowned out by the series’s almost stifling sense of tension, which makes every conversation and fall look like a threat – of violence, of harm, of truth. And then of course there's the lurking shadow of the dark incident hinted at in the show's opening moments – the details of which won't be revealed in detail until well into the season – which adds to a general atmosphere of suspicion and suspicion of fear. Ask who is marked for damage and who could build up the damage until everything can just snap into place and collapse. (Similar to the pyramid of the squad in a key scene.)
There really is so much to enjoy about Dare Me and its characters that one can only hope more viewers will discover it when it arrives streaming this month. If there is room on our screens for Joe Goldberg, we owe the far more complex and interesting duo Beth Cassidy and Collette French a seat right next to him. Eyes on your girl and all that.
Dare Me is now streamed on Netflix.
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About the author
(20 articles published)
Lacy Baugher is a daytime digital producer but almost always a television enthusiast. Her writing has been published in Paste Magazine, Den of Geek, Nerdist, SYFYFangrrls, and others. She is literally always on the lookout for someone to shout about Doctor Who and / or the CW superhero traits. You can find her on Twitter @LacyMB.
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