Analyzing the cover: The cheerleaders clowning around in NYC. Why wouldn’t they go sightseeing in their uniforms?
The cheerleaders are suddenly environmentally conscious and are disgusted about a little park being torn up to build a parking lot by the mall. They sit and watch the destruction for over an hour. Mary Ellen then leads everyone over to Marnie’s, the store she models for, to show them the new video ads the store did featuring her. “Aside from that weird harem outfit you have on, you don’t look bad.” Pres is such a charmer. He is also moping about his old girlfriend Claudia Randall leaving for California to have a surgery that will prevent her from becoming paralyzed. The group spots an old man talking to a group of kids, and Mary Ellen remembers him talking to their enemy and antagonist Vanessa Barlow. “The guy has to be a psycho. Maybe a child molester,” Walt decides. That’s a sound argument. Lock this guy up.
The never-ending basketball season continues even though they were supposed to be going to the playoffs like 3 books ago. The cheerleaders spot the old guy – who Walt deemed a child molester with absolutely zero evidence – in the stands at the game with their principal. At halftime, the principal brings the man around to their practice room along with Vanessa and her dad, the superintendent, and introduces him as Mr. Scheckner, who directs ad commercials in New York City. He says he’s been looking for “clean” teenagers who would be perfect for a Clean Soap commercial, and he thinks the whole squad would be a great fit. Vanessa wants to kill them all.
The group gets together to talk about Scheckner and the opportunity. Remembering when Angie got duped by a fake photographer, Patrick calls the company listed on Scheckner’s business card to vet him. Somehow he gets the person on the phone to confirm that Scheckner was casting for a commercial and says he got “a team of hicks from a tiny town called Tarenton.”
The possible trip is not without its challenges. The principal and superintendent say the cheerleaders will not be excused from missed schoolwork. The ad agency needs signed permission slips from parents and administrators. The squad would have to miss games, so they have to convince their coach to let the lowly pompon squad fill in for them. Pres gets down on his knees and begs: “Don’t spoil our chances of success, glitter, big time!” The coach is conflicted. “If they saw the bright lights of New York, wouldn’t it make them resent their small-town life?” That sounds like a good plan, keep your children from ever experiencing anything new so they’re satisfied with the status quo. All the parents except for Walt’s say no, as does the principal. What a bunch of lame adults. Parents just don’t understand.
On the same day that they have to tell Scheckner no about the commercial, the school’s boiler breaks down and because it’s still cold, the school has to shut down for several days until it can be fixed. For some reason this means that the cheerleaders can do the commercial after all, even though most of the parents had said no for non-school related reasons. Olivia’s mom gives in “after she threatens to run away from home.” Patrick gets to go too since he’s the school photographer, and villain Vanessa plus her mother are coming along too. She brags that she’ll get to go shopping while they’re all busy working on the commercial. “Well, Van, it’s not your fault Harris Scheckner didn’t want you,” Walt said. “Some got talent, some go shopping.” Dang Walt’s getting sassy.
Because this is the 80s, the cheerleaders have to sing a jingle for the commercial. It goes as follows:
“Clean, Clean is bubble
Clean, Clean is pure
Won’t give your skin trouble
That’s for sure.
Wash your face
Wash it with Clean
Your skin will be the best
That it’s ever been.
Make it Clean…
Get it Clean…
You’ll be Clean!”
Wow, that’s pretty bad. Clean/been don’t rhyme FYI.
The group starts exploring the city once they arrive. Pres meets a girl almost immediately, of course. Her name is Blake and they have a great time until he tells her he’s a cheerleader, and she’s so turned off she gets up to leave. She says everyone in New York thinks cheerleaders are airheads. Okay, pretty sure that’s not true, weirdo. Pres begs for her phone number, and she agrees to go on a date with him. Meanwhile Vanessa is being ignored by the rest of the squad because of all the times she’s treated them like garbage, so she’s not having any fun and whines to her mom about it. Then she calls Mr. Scheckner and asks to meet up with him. And for some reason a busy NYC director will drop everything to speak to some random teenager he met briefly, of course.
The group goes to the warehouse where they are to begin rehearsals for their commercial. The choreographer Dan hates them, and the director’s assistant calls them dull. That’s when Vanessa shows up. She convinced Scheckner that she’s an extra cheerleader and has already learned the routine for the commercial, and now it looks like she’ll be the star of the whole thing. They are all angry at being treated like chattel, but for some reason they don’t spill the beans about Vanessa not really being a cheerleader.
Things get even worse when Angie can’t find the case that had all of their cash spending money. Pres’ annoying new friend Blake shows up and makes them feel stupid for only carrying cash, then tells them there’s no point in going to the police. She calls Angie “sweetheart” condescendingly. Angie still wants to go to the cops, so Blake tells her she better check her room and anywhere the case might be before she does so. “The cops are going to think you’re a real boob if you haven’t covered your bases.” Angie asks her why she’s so cynical, and she shrugs and says she’s a New Yorker. OH the stereotypes.
Blake offers to buy the group dinner, so they all get on the subway and go to SoHo for Thai food. When they tell her how Vanessa has taken over their commercial, she suggests they put something in her Coke to “put her out of commission” or arrange to have her kidnapped and held until filming is over. “Don’t I have a wonderful imagination?” she asks.
The next day at rehearsals they see a drawing of their costumes – tiny cheerleading skirts for the girls and breakaway leg panels that they tear off at some point – and are told the girls also have to get short, spiky haircuts. Their coach tries to defend their original look and says they shouldn’t change who they are for a commercial, and the choreographer kicks her out of rehearsals.
Later, Mary Ellen has an appointment to talk to someone at a modeling agency. She pastes all of her best photos on construction paper and makes a little book out of it. Patrick comes along with her for moral support, but before she goes in she accuses him of not wanting it to work out, because then she’ll definitely leave him and Tarenton behind. Patrick says he just wants the best for her, and this might not be it. Not sure if this is supposed to be a love story, but if so, it’s a pretty terrible one.
Of course, the meeting does not go well. Mary Ellen tells Evelyn, the agency lady, that she models at the Pineland Mall, as if that means anything to anyone outside of Tarenton. The lady has Mary Ellen walk back and forth across the room, then tells her maybe she could be a hand model! Mary Ellen leaves all dejected. She and Patrick go back to rehearsals, where Vanessa has emerged with her hair cut the way the commercial people want all the girls to be styled. “She looked as though they had stuck her head in a blender.” They all laugh at her, but the evil choreographer Dan tells them by Monday they will all look the same way.
That night they all go sightseeing with Blake again, as well as to a club. When they all head back to the hotel after, Pres walks with Blake to wait for a taxi. She tries to get him to kiss her, but because of Claudia, he just kisses her cheek.
The next day they have to wear their revealing costumes and perform the main number for the head of Clean Soap, Mr. Danzinger. And he hates everything about it, telling Scheckner he’s lost the account and they’re going to another ad agency. Mary Ellen pipes up and tells Danzinger that they have something else they can perform for him if he’s interested. They change into their real cheerleader costumes, emblazoned with the T for Tarenton. “Today, it stood for ‘Triumph.'” LOL. Because Vanessa got the stupid haircut and doesn’t have a real cheerleading outfit, she’s not included. They perform some routine they have and sing the Clean Soap jingle. Of course he loves it, then they all pile on Scheckner for underestimating them. “You may think we seem like hicks, but maybe we understand some things you don’t,” Pres says. Take that city jerks. Country folk for the win.
Pres is about to go meet up with Blake again when Claudia calls him at the hotel. Her operation is the next day. Pres gets so caught up in the call that he’s late for dinner with Blake. Blake chews him out, and he finally admits he has someone else that he’s in love with. He and Blake part on good terms.
Patrick and Mary Ellen are saying goodnight when he tells her his hotel room is probably empty. He asks her if she plans to come back to NYC one day and try her luck again at getting a big break, and she says probably. They end up going back to their separate rooms.
The next day when they are checking out before going to their final filming, they are told their rooms have not been paid for and they owe more than $1,500. They thought Scheckner was going to have the agency cover everything, and they don’t have any other money because it all got stolen. The hotel threatens to arrest them. I am surprised even in the 80s that a hotel would let people stay without securing some kind of payment first. “You kids think you came to town for a free ride?” the manager asks angrily. Well, I’m pretty sure if they planned to duck out of their bill they wouldn’t have come down to the front desk to check out first.
Vanessa refuses to get her mother to help them, and their coach’s credit card limit is $500. Just then they see the taxi driver who originally dropped them off at the front of the hotel. He has their money! Angie left it in the taxi. Every one of these books has a miracle or five. He says he’s been driving around all week trying to remember which hotel he dropped them off at. On the way to the hotel they had sung the Clean Soap jingle for him, so to make sure he has the right group of kids, he makes them sing it again – in the hotel lobby, in front of everyone. Just as they finish, Scheckner runs in with a check to pay for the hotel. Everything works out just perfectly.
After they get home, Pres gets a call from Claudia whose operation was a success. The cheerleaders are being mobbed by everyone in school about their big trip. I don’t think these kids have gone anywhere else in their life. Everyone wants to know how New York was.
They arrange for their commercial to be shown on a large video screen at the mall. As they’re waiting for Pres, Vanessa shows up on crutches and tells everyone that she would have still been the star of the commercial if she hadn’t sprained her ankle. No one believes her.
The commercial is shown and “six very enthusiastic, totally committed cheerleaders danced and sang their hearts out, giving their all for Tarenton and the product they represented.” Barf.
Other notes and quotes:
- The group plans to go visit the World Trade Center including a ride up to the top. That just makes me sad.
- Claudia says to Pres, “I’m going to rassle you to the ground like I was a big grizzly and you were some itty bitty raccoon.” Ummmmm….
- When they go to a club for some dancing, things get a little crazy. “Patrick danced with Nancy and Angie; Walt made it a threesome with Mary Ellen and Olivia.” Sounds kinky.
Sign of the Times:
- “Remember that so-called photographer who was going to make Angie into the hottest thing since Cheryl Tiegs?” Patrick asked.
- Blake asks the squad why they didn’t bring travelers checks instead of cash.
- The hotel manager tells the group that phone calls in NYC cost a quarter. So expensive.
- The Trump Tower is named as being an attraction they all want to see along with the Empire State Building, World Trade Center, Central Park, etc. The Trump Tower opened in 1983 so I guess it was a big deal back then, but I couldn’t tell you what it looked like and never thought to go see it or saw it listed as an attraction in guidebooks the few times I’ve visited NYC.
- The group takes the subway using tokens. Not sure when metro cards became the norm, but it’s been awhile!
Author: Jennifer Sarasin
Next time on Cheerleaders… When tragedy strikes one of the cheerleaders, the whole squad is affected. Read Cheerleaders #15, WAITING.