‘Side Effects’: A Teen Musical in the Key of ‘Meh’
By “The Reviewer”
We ranked it:
“Side Effects” from AwesomenessTV occupies two different planes. The first is a fairly melodramatic teen drama about a young woman who has recently become a pseudo-orphan. To cope with all of this, she takes medication that gives her musical hallucinations (side note: the pill bottle actually reads, “side effects: musical hallucinations,” not kidding), which leads us to plane number two: the musical. The music portion of this TV-length web drama is exactly what you’ve seen on programs like “Glee.” A song is chosen that reflects the mood and tone of the scene previous to it. A bummed out teen sings it and somehow things seem better afterwards.
When I say that “Side Effects” rotates on these two different axes, a Venn diagram of teen tears and upbeat pop hits, do not think that I am saying these two planes are equally represented. In all reality, there is much singing in “Side Effects,” preposterous amounts even. It’s not a criticism solely because this web drama was marketed as a musical. If there wasn’t enough singing, I’d probably complain about that. But whether you will like this AwesomenessTV production is very much contingent on if you like watching mopey teens and post-teens singing about the latest comet to strike their young adult lives.
If you do not like these things, you will not like “Side Effects.”
However, if you do like musicals and teen angst, then dammit, “Side Effects” will blow your mind. With no small amount of attention paid to production, casting, and staging, AwesomenessTV has put on a show that rivals anything you will see on TV. In fact, based on pure style and level of detail, the web musical surpasses most TV content out right now. Acting on the other hand, well, let’s just say that when your cast is made up of child actors and YouTube stars, the bar is set pretty low, which isn’t a bad thing. If the bar were held to TV standards, “Side Effects” would be in a heap of trouble. It’s not that anyone is doing Tommy Wiseau-level acting, it’s just that everyone is taking themselves so goddamn seriously. At one point, a muscled Chester See glances down at his hands after being asked about whether he’s heard from his absent father and says, “he’s not coming back.” He says all of this while wearing pajama pants and a tank top that conveniently shows off his teen-heart-breaking biceps.
On one hand the show wants to take itself uber seriously by presenting Important topics like drug abuse and abandonment. But on the other hand, this being a teen production, AwesomenessTV had to jam pack as much cute boy into it as possible, which sort of cancels out any dramatic elements. When Chester See is trying to talk to someone about his absent father, at least cover him up a bit.
Of course, I am not a teen. If I were, “Side Effects” would probably be a really big deal. The musical web drama can’t really figure out where it wants to reside though. It would like to be considered a drama and taken seriously, but there’s also a bottle of pills that causes musical drug trips. Yes, “Side Effects” is meant for teens, but that doesn’t mean it can feel comfortable existing in this “Alice in Wonderland” mashup of drama and whimsy. It just doesn’t work unless you really like singing.