'Chasing Cameron' Review: Cameron Dallas' Netflix show is propaganda with teeth
Chasing Cameron doesn't seem to know what to make of Cameron Dallas. In the first two minutes of Netflix's new reality series, which tracks several months in the life of the titular social media multihyphenate, Dallas tries to get hairspray into a travel container by spraying it in. "It doesn't seem like it's working," the former Vine star says, befuddled. His new assistant looks at him, dumbfounded. Then he gleefully tells the camera this is his first assistant ever, and he doesn't know what to "make her do."
It's an odd character-establishing scene, considering how the rest of the episode fawns over the model and social media star. He talks about breaking up his group, MAGCON (which upsettingly stands for "Meet and Greet Convention"), and getting them back together in a different form. He embraces Carter Reynolds, who as a 19-year-old pressured his 16-year-old then-girlfriend for oral sex on-camera, and dodges talking about Reynolds' past in anything but the vaguest terms. He's party to a blow-up involving one of his tour mates, Taylor Caniff, complaining that he's not receiving per diem pay on-time.
None of this is portrayed as Dallas' fault, though; he floats above the fray, professional as ever. This tonal shift between his first scene and what comes after doesn't make much sense — and then you see the title cards at the end. "Executive producer: Cameron Dallas."
This is Chasing Cameron's critical problem. Production team Magical Elves (who produced Top Chef) have mined some surprisingly smart drama of the personal and business varieties out of Dallas and his friend's lives on the road, as well as some less-flattering footage of Dallas himself. There's enough there to make for an incredibly compelling docu-series about how one disastrous tour reveals the limits of social media fame. Unfortunately, because of the series' focus on Dallas (and his involvement behind the scenes), Chasing Cameron amounts to little more than propaganda for its star.
Chasing Cameron, now available on Netflix, follows the MAGCON boys during their first European tour. The tour is described by a potential choreographer as "a bunch of teenage boys jumping around," and he's not wrong. Talent isn't what these guys are selling; it's personality. Girls come out in droves for the chance to meet (and greet!) the cute boys they see every day on social media.
Unfortunately, the trip is a catastrophe; talent isn't paid, shows go wrong and Dallas suffers from a series of panic attacks which make him miss a series of appearances. The most dramatic action is caught on camera in stressful moments where Dallas' focus is split; when he's in control, he's collected and on-brand. (Take a shot every time someone says "brand" in this show.)
For example, in an episode-three confessional, Dallas describes his worries about a venue not having showers by saying, "My hair is fudged up." Meanwhile, in tense moments caught on camera in episode two and four, Dallas visibly says "fuck" multiple times — though they're censored out.
In episode four, after a disastrous show in Paris which included young female fans almost crushed in a crowd and their tour manager quitting halfway through the program, Dallas says, "If you thought Paris was crazy, check out what happened on the bus to Munich." More drama, perhaps? Nope; Dallas and one of his friends did a silly prank.
Later, he gets called out for bringing a girl onto his tour bus. "I just wanted a girl to be present on the bus," he explains, in confessional, of course. "She was 19," he says, in a scene caught on camera, from afar.
Dallas, it seems, would prefer you forget what you just saw with your own eyes. Drama in Paris? Well, that's not the real story; here are some zany antics! He doesn't curse; look, he just said "fudged!" Isn't he cute and kid-friendly? Don't worry, moms of his teen and preteen fans, he invited a girl onto his tour bus for purely innocent reasons.
As a creator who has built himself up on his own platforms, with total creative control, Dallas likely knows what it means to control his image. Any time he has the ability to put forth his fan-friendly narrative of who he is, he does. The Magical Elves producers still manage to show a ton of raw, real footage of him, but perhaps that's not surprising. After all, he doesn't have experience being out of control; he may not know how to avoid unflattering pitfalls.
That footage only goes so far, though. Conflicts are solved quickly and without much on-camera resolution. No matter how in the wrong Dallas may be, he gets the last word. Sometimes that's effective, like in how he describes his personal anxiety in episode eight. Sometimes, he dodges responsibility under the guise of talking about "family" — one of the major code words deployed on his young fans to appease them. Don't be mad at Dallas; MAGCON is family.
Obviously we don't know what happened behind the scenes, but judging by what's on screen. It seems the Magical Elves tried to make one show, while Dallas wanted to make another. It's hard to blame Dallas — he's a businessman at the end of the day, and he knows how damaging negative publicity can be. (His former roommate is Nash Grier, after all.)
Dallas' fans are enjoying the series, and as he states repeatedly throughout the series, he cares about his fans most of all. But his hesitance to let go of control makes Chasing Cameron a far worse show than it could have been.