23 May, 2012
Things You Could Watch: The L.A. Complex
After five DNF reads in a row I fired up the TiVo and drowned my sorrows in The L.A. Complex. On the surface The L.A. Complex is a completely disposable show doing a paint by numbers DeGrassi style underbelly of entertainment bit. Really, it's pitching to the choir with me. I appreciate a nicely done soap as much as I suspect that the entertainment world is filled with soul killing narcissists who would have mirrors embedded in their shoes if only the light didn't disturb setup. Under the surface The L.A. Complex is pretty much what it was at first glance. It's plot twists are telegraphed, it's characters neatly fill an Edgy Casting 101 class. What made me go a fourth episode (and has me all in till the finale) is an honesty in the script coupled with some exceptional performances. Jewel Staite is ripping the role of Raquel apart. It's up there with Kudrow's deeply uncomfortable (but far too mannered) Valerie Cherish. While an element of discomfort remains, Staite goes in a completely different direction. Her Raquel is all internal rage and frustration. She knows how talented she is, knows how the clock ticks in Hollywood, but by going against her own instincts her career is deader than Johnny Chase's in the early seasons of Entourage. Raquel will claw her way back to the top if she can just find a place to grab. (Note to Raquel - if they offer you Dollhouse, don't take it. That show is a rapetastic mess.)
The rest of the cast is a mishmash, again Degrassi style. You've got the Hot Young Star, Connor. His mommy didn't love him enough and he self harms just to feel something. See, you don't care about him either. We can just move on. Abby, Illegal Immigrant (cough, young Raquel) is a confused mess. Will she strip? Will she act? Will she sing? Will she sleep with the entire cast in the first season? I don't care and neither will you. She's fine, but she's basic. Abby spends a lot of time with Nick, the unfunny comic. Nick's story arc is learning to get out of his own way, plunder the lives of those around him, and cast off the compassion for his fellow humans that will eternally block him in Hollywood. They cast a James Franco type that is so James Franco it required a script nod. Joe Dinicol is a better actor than Franco but the role is going nowhere fast. Actually, the rest of the cast is such a jumble that we should just skip ahead to the other standouts.
Benjamin Charles Watson does a great job with the oh so out there Gay Black Man. He's working with an underdeveloped role while playing off the cliched P. Diddy style world surrounding him nicely. Some of his choices are absolutely absurd (A remote B&B? Really, Tariq?) but Watson is giving a great vulnerability. He's suggesting almost a young James Baldwin as he takes the world around him in and tries to process a place for himself inside it. His counterpart, Ice-T/50-Cent OG with a record rapper Kaldrick is a perfect foil. Andra Fuller develops real charisma out of an unstable character. You've every reason to dislike Kaldrick (and the heavy handed statement he is a human stand in for) but Watson and Fuller are probably going to break my heart.
Also winning me over is an absolutely perfect performance from Aaron Abrams as washed up child star Ricky Lloyd. Give him and his agent their own show and I am there. The L.A. Complex is the sort of show where vomit means still having to ride the city bus. You aren't broke in a giant Manhattan apartment paid for by your Oxford educated boyfriend - you're fishing through other people's trash for recyclables. I can forgive it the broadcast plot twists and straight from central casting characters for the sheer quality of half it's stars. (The other half can go to just about any other CW show on the schedule without my shedding a tear.) It's the sort of show where you know the stripper is going to be a porn star long before she's a backup dancer, but her desperate plea for support gets you anyway. Add Chelan Simmons to the list of actors to watch in The L.A. Complex. This is a footnote show - the thing you never watch and years later can't believe all this amazing talent was in. I'm just going to view it now. I'm hipster like that.
Edited to add - after writing this I decided to see how Staite views the role and googled up some interviews. Click for the best.