USA’s Dare Me is about to be your new favorite thriller on TV. It tells the story of a smalltown cheerleading squad that brings in a bold new coach to help them take things to the next level competitively. Coach French (Willa Fitzgerald) upends the entire squad dynamic and also brings with her scandal and intrigue.
Fitzgerald is one of the biggest names on the show and she shines as Coach Colette French. She is an enigma, opening up only to Addy (Herizen Guardiola) and even that is in the tiniest bits and pieces. Colette both longs for the days of high school and also for a different situation in the present, seemingly trapped in a gilded cage with the man that she ended up marrying and all the trappings that came along with him. Fitzgerald, best known for Royal Pains, Alpha House, and Scream the TV series, is top-notch at alternating between Colette’s toughness and vulnerability. Dare Me is definitely a noir, but who is its femme fatale? It might be the new coach, but it might also be the girl coach usurped.
Australian actress Marlo Kelly plays Beth Cassidy, the captain when coach breezes into town and declares, “My squads don’t have captains.” Beth is none too pleased to hear that and it immediately sets her and Coach French at odds. Beth also comes from a royally screwed up home situation that we don’t want to spoil for you because this is one of the strongest changes made from the novel by Megan Abbott on which the show is based.
What’s interesting about Beth is that Abbott said in a 2012 interview that Beth is the character for which she has the most empathy, but the Beth in the novel doesn’t command a whole lot of empathy. That might be because the author had a whole world for Beth constructed in her head that didn’t make it onto the page because Addy was so much the focus of the novel as the narrator.
The show gives viewers a great glimpse into Beth’s life and it goes a long way into making her a more sympathetic character. Kelly has her hands full with the role and she does well with it, especially considering this is her first big U.S. TV role.
Rounding out the main characters is Beth’s stalwart lieutenant, Addy, played by Herizen Guardiola. Addy is the least interesting of the three main characters, at least at first, which means she’s also maybe the toughest to play. But Guardiola does a good job showing the audience Addy’s longing to leave her blue-collar smalltown, plus her love for and fear of her best friend, Beth. Guardiola was previously seen on Netflix’s musical drama The Get Down where she was a breakout star as Mylene Cruz, a young woman with dreams of becoming a disco star.
The supporting cast is definitely no slouch either. The school’s military recruiter, whose presence is seen as a “way out” for a lot of (mostly) male students and who has a past connection to Coach French, is played by Vampire Diaries alum Zach Roerig; Beth’s skeazy dad Burt is played by Treme and Younger alum Paul Fitzgerald; Beth’s mom is a standout supporting character played by Tammy Blanchard of Into the Woods; Addy’s mom, who often seems like the metaphorical “only adult in the room,” is played by Amanda Brugel of Kim’s Convenience and The Handmaid’s Tale; and Coach French’s husband — “Mr. Coach” — is Rob Heaps of Imposters and the 2015 And Then There Were None miniseries.
The squad is peppered with up-and-comers like Addyson Douglas, Erika Prevost, Brittany Raymond, Taveeta Szymanowicz, and Alison Thornton. These young actresses aren’t household names yet, but they might be after this show.
Warning: Light spoilers ahead for the premiere episode, titled “Coup D’Etat.”
The premiere opens with a crime of some sort. All viewers are shown is a frantic Addy driving her car with blood-soaked hands and ignoring a text from Beth. As the show goes on, the exact nature of the crime will be revealed, though, in typical noir fashion, that’s a very slow burn.
But keeping the crime at bay lets the show really settle into its atmosphere and characters, which are some of the most fully realized teenagers to have graced TV. Someone who thinks these girls are an exaggeration of real teens may not be as in touch with today’s youth as they think they are because both Abbott’s novel and the TV show (on which she is a writer and executive producer) are both startling in their realism.
What is also really great about the show is that book readers will find there are twists and turns in store for them, which is nice. A lot of times in an adaptation situation, if you’ve read the book, you know the plot. This show uses the book as an albeit-terrific jumping-off point, but it also begins to grow into its own thing very quickly and it’s a lot of fun to know that the series can still surprise book readers.
Dare Me premieres Sunday, December 29 at 10 p.m. ET/PT on USA.