E!’s Hollywood Cycle, a new series about a popular Los Angeles spin studio called Cycle House, is a mutant beast of a reality show. The show is part America’s Next Top Model–style competition (three trainees are fighting to become Cycle House’s new instructor), part small-biz drama (the goal is to open a new location), part hookup show (everyone is single and trying to get laid), and part spectacle designed to exploit the intensity of our most cultish fitness fad yet: spinning.
In recent years, spinning—otherwise known as indoor cycling—has become shorthand for a specific and rarefied sort of bougie frivolity. The mention of spin class evokes an image of spandex-clad, urban-dwelling females with the kind of disposable income and spare time to shell out some $35 per class, often multiple times a week. Less than a decade after the founding of SoulCycle, this image that has crept into far-flung corners of pop culture. One sketch from this season of Inside Amy Schumer poked fun at the way twentysomething women tend to invoke the “the universe” in new-agey ways while describing their petty desires; much of the scene is set inside of a spin studio. In The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Kimmy escapes a real-life doomsday cult only to be seduced by another, less potent one—spin class, where the ladies worship instructors like pop stars and fight their way to the front row. So it was surely inevitable that someone would make a reality show about the crazy-eyed culture of spin.
On Hollywood Cycle, Nishelle Hines is the hardass CRO (Chief Ride Officer) and high priestess of Cycle House; she has little patience for the shenanigans of her underlings. There’s Aaron, the resident hunk whose class “is like the front row of a Drake concert” and Nick, his sensible Australian counterpart who models on the side (of course) and designs the Cycle House clothing line. Here and there, the instructors are shown in personal training sessions with C-list celebs. Nick and Aaron bro down off-duty, mostly while concocting smoothies in Nick’s kitchen or discussing armpit botox injections while hiking up Runyon Canyon. “This is L.A.,” Aaron reminds Nick. “We don’t eat.”
And then there are the trainees, the hungry Los Angelenos who view a gig teaching spin classes as a gateway to a certain kind of celebrity. As a spin instructor, you may not be tabloid fodder, but at least you’ll have eyeballs fixed on you at all times. Sarafina is a one-time exotic dancer prone to breaking rules and pissing off Nishelle; Chad is the most devoted to Cycle House despite his tendency to drink and flirt too much; Shannon is the coquettish one who instantly catches Aaron’s eye.
But instead of using the particular ludicrousness of spin culture as a way to help develop characters and build plot lines, Hollywood Cycle flattens it into a mere backdrop. The triumphs and travails of these people on the road to instructor status are beside the point—it becomes instantly clear that they’ve been cast primarily as pot-stirrers and fame-seekers. Any conversation related to the studio or its classes is relegated to the sidelines, and what initially seems like a pretty novel concept for a reality show is quickly exposed as a very obvious one. Hollywood Cycle is as formulaic as they come: throw a bunch of hot, shameless young people together, add (low-carb) cocktails, and roll cameras.
You can feel the producers of Hollywood Cycle straining against the weight of a hundred resistance knobs as they try to drum up drama. One of the longer and more involved scenes finds Nishelle preparing for Cycle House’s third-year anniversary party with her best friend, Carmen. She ruminates on how the night might play out and struggles to pick an outfit. “I just think you’re thinking too much,” Carmen says. I am willing to say in all seriousness that these characters would be more compelling if E! just aired footage of them silently riding stationary bikes for an hour each week. Yes, the show is an hour long.
There was surely a great show to be made about spin studios—a show that explored the way in which an exercise class morphs into a life-consuming force for those who are rich and bored and prone to compulsive behavior. Or a funny show about how an independent business like Cycle House sustains itself in the crushing shadow of giant chain studios like SoulCycle and Flywheel. Or even a show about a group of incredibly vapid people on a mission to perfect their bodies. But none of these characters even seems particularly passionate about their exercise activity of choice. For E!, a spin studio is just another place where hot young people congregate. Instead of luridly exploring of one of our craziest, most camera-ready subcultures, Hollywood Cycle is mostly just spinning its wheels.