Everything was picture-perfect when I visited the If I Can Dream house at the beginning of the month, just before five young people moved in to follow their dreams on a 24/7 live feed. Which is why I decided to wait to see what things looked like when the show, both as a live-streaming experience and as an episodic series (Hulu’s first internationally-available content), wasn’t so shiny and new.
Five half-hour episodes in, If I Can Dream as a series remains on message about its goal to give aspiring artists a chance at breaking into Hollywood — although it takes a little while to get to that point. After a two-part introduction to the cast, the first part of the first episode in the house is just devoted to the cast figuring out where the cameras are and aren’t (so “they can do their own thing,” one says — cast members are allowed privacy on occasion, so long as two people are on camera in the house at all times.) In addition, most of the first episodes openly acknowledge all the press and promotion the cast has been doing, which grows uncomfortably meta at times.
Eventually we get down to business, though at times Dream as a narrative proves difficult to engage with. The big problem for me is that while it’s great that young talent is getting these amazing opportunities, there’s not a lot of drama to be found in their pursuit of their dreams — specifically because these guys are getting all these amazing opportunities. With agents and producers helping them find work and acting coaches and runway coaches prepping them for the jobs, there’s not nearly enough suspense to drive a half-hour episode, and it’s really hard to feel like they’ve earned their chances at fame. Put it like this: Cinderella would be a much less interesting story if Cinderella’s fairy godmother was constantly following her around giving her Gibson guitars.
To be fair, occasionally the reality of the industry does intrude: in Episode 3, for example, Giglianne doesn’t book a modeling job she went out for because she wasn’t tall enough. And as producer Michael Herwick reminds her: “Just because you’re attached to this project and Simon Fuller and all that, people aren’t just going to want to put you in stuff… It’s a tough town and rejection is just the majority of it.”
The breakout stars so far appear to be Justin and Giglianne, though less because of their innate talent and more because there’s more immediacy to their respective goals of performing music and modeling. And fortunately, by Episode 4 we also start getting to more interpersonal drama, including the fact that Justin is Justin Gaston (Miley Cyrus’s ex-boyfriend, a fact that was NOT in the initial press release) who’s now pursuing Giglianne, despite the fact that she’s not interested in having a boyfriend — unless, of course, he makes her breakfast, teaches her how to drive, writes a song for her, takes her out to dinner… Wow, Giglianne is not afraid to ask for what she wants.
As for the other cast members, they also all seem to be loosening up a bit, though I have to admit that I have a hard time telling Kara and Amanda apart, as they’re both pretty generic blond actresses at this point. Also, as fun as actor Ben’s awkwardness at living — and in some cases collaborating — with his attractive female roommates might be, it’s not quite enough to maintain interest.
And using the live feed to improve my understanding of these people hasn’t been a very successful strategy. While the technology is solid and it is really fun to play around with the video player, in a does-anyone-else-remember-that-Sharon-Stone-movie-Sliver sort of way, at a certain point there’s a limit to how long I can watch two blonds hang out in a room and ignore each other — one because she’s using her laptop, the other because she’s scratching her foot… okay, now Blond 1 is rubbing Blond 2′s foot while they talk to Justin. That’s somewhat more interesting.
The episodic content holds a lot more interest for me than the live stream, as clever an idea as it may be, but for as much as what may be happening is reality, it’s still reality programming, which necessitates the telling of a story with real stakes. And If I Can Dream would be a lot more dynamic if it felt like there was much more of a possibility that these stories might not all have happy endings. Because that’s what Hollywood is really like.
Related GigaOm Pro Content (subscription required): Case Study: 1 vs. 100 Live’s Glimpse of the Future