When you start watching “Westside,” it may seem a bit familiar. Nine young musician hopefuls trying to make it in Los Angeles. Is it a VH1 special feature? A Broadway musical? Perhaps a reboot of “The Hills”? The answer is that it’s a little bit of each — and that’s where “Westside” falls apart.
The synopsis of “Westside” adds a lot more substance than the show really has to offer. “Nine struggling musicians share the spotlight in this deeply personal reality series about the challenges and thrills of staging a Hollywood showcase.” Struggling! Challenges! Thrills! These buzzwords promise excitement, a series you can’t pull yourself away from. Instead, halfway through the first episode, you’ll be reaching for your phone, checking Facebook to see what gluten-free recipes Aunt May is sharing for Thanksgiving this year.
The main problems with the show start at the top and trickle down. Sean Patrick Murray (“Scouted”), a producer and cast member, brought together the group to work on their talents, help make them stars and ultimately put on a showcase at 1oak club in Downtown Los Angeles. He’s supposed to be a ringleader of sorts, the glue this gang needs to hold them together. And he tries to do this, but with eight other musicians with distinct personalities and a desperate desire to make it big, Murray falls easily into the background. This leaves the viewer confused on where they’re supposed to look for guidance to tell them what it is exactly they are watching.
“Westside” lacks the drama that could make it a guilty-pleasure binge, and it lacks the depth to make it a justified documentary. When James Byous, a rocker with a drinking problem, throws a tantrum over 22-year-old Austin Kolbe bringing a band to open mic night, it’s not a juicy display of infighting. Rather, it’s a sad scene that depicts an insecure man-child yelling at an equally insecure actual-child because he broke the rules of the game.
In between the drama, “Westside” breaks up scenes with overly produced music videos full of vibrant colors and latex clad cast members singing cookie-cutter pop songs. It makes the entire show feel like something between a Hulu advertisement and a Disney Channel original movie. More than anything else, “Westside” just feels like one big promotion video for these artists, as they each try to outdo each other while preaching unity and teamwork in front of the camera.
Although the first two episodes aren’t too promising, the show may improve upon itself by its final episode. The cast is talented, beautiful and some of them are even likable. But the producers’ frantic efforts to make mountains out of molehills when it comes to the little drama the cast provides turns a potentially touching series into a typical, contrived reality show. Maybe one day, some of the “Westside” gang will achieve their dream of making it big by doing what they love, but this show is not going to help them do it. Once this group sequesters themselves from the show and its restrictive narrative, the path to stardom might become a lot clearer.