After the trauma of watching Nicky, Ricky, Dicky and Dawn I needed a break. So I chose another Nickelodeon show to watch, based purely on the silliness of the name: Bella and the Bulldogs. No, it’s not a particularly distasteful Twilight fanfiction – it’s a programme about a high school cheerleader turned football player, breaking gender norms by being the only girl on the team. As the theme song asserts, ‘she’s pretty and she’s pretty tough.’ Initially I had my doubts, but this format actually serves to challenge gender stereotypes and provides a good message for the pliable young minds watching.
The episode begins with the cheerleaders preparing for Rally Week – a time when they’re each assigned a football player to buy gifts and make crafts for. The girls are scarily overexcited about this prospect, especially Pepper who is creepily obsessed with Bella. One cheerleader however, the cynical Sophie, equates the tradition with slavery and refuses to take part. It’s a bit dramatic, and Sophie is pretty rude at times, but she does have a point.
Sophie is assigned Troy as her football player and refuses to do anything for him. This means he has to decorate his own locker and make crafts for himself, realising how hard the girls have been working.
Meanwhile, Pepper knits Bella an ugly scarf which Bella gives away to a football player who then gives it to his grandmother. But once Bella realises the scarf is handmade she takes great pains to get it back and avoid offending her best friend. It turns out the grandmother has worn the scarf as a skirt and stretched it out. Which is funny because she’s fat, doesn’t speak good English and can’t dance. But Bella gives her a private dance lesson in exchange for the scarf.
While all this is going on one of the other cheerleaders starts stalking a football player. This leads him to recognise the same behaviours in himself and realise that he’s been a creepy nice guy to cynical Sophie. He apologises and in return she pretends to be his girlfriend so the stalker cheerleader leaves him alone. But worry not – his nice guy ways didn’t win him the girl in the end. She walks away from him mid-conversation to make it clear she has no romantic intent. Again, rude but effective.
In the end cynical Sophie lobbies the principal to start a second Rally Week where the football players make gifts for the cheerleaders. And equality is restored.
Admittedly this is season two, so I have no idea about the backstory (if any) leading up to this point in the show, but I was impressed by the lack of gender rivalry shown. We never actually see anyone play football or do cheerleading, but Bella integrates well with her male footballer friends while remaining very close to her female cheerleader friends. There’s no sense that she needs to prove herself or pick a side. The problem is it’s just not funny. At all. There is one painful moment where Bella gets the ill-fated scarf stuck around her neck and can’t take it off. It goes on for way too long and even the laugh track gets bored.
All in all though I was very impressed. Subplots get resolved. Characters change and learn. Nice guys mend their ways even though they don’t get the girl, and society becomes more equal with the new Rally Week tradition. It’s a far cry from the madness of Nicky, Ricky, Dicky and Dawn, but I’ll have to watch another episode to make sure…