Tuesday, April 24, 2012

'The L.A. Complex'

Summertime generally means two things on broadcast networks: reality shows and Canadian imports. The CW is getting a bit of an early start on the season with tonight's premiere of The L.A. Complex, a Canadian drama about aspiring entertainers who live together in a rundown apartment complex in Los Angeles. Yes, the network went all the way to Canada to find a show about Hollywood, although to be fair at least a portion of it was actually shot in L.A. And really, the level of realism on a show like this is not very important anyway. Chances are most decrepit pay-by-the-week apartments in L.A. aren't populated exclusively by young pretty people and don't have kick-ass pool parties every weekend.

So this is essentially a watered-down version of the recent Melrose Place reboot, except all of the characters are in show business in some way. At least they aren't all actors -- we get a comedian, a hip-hop producer, a dancer and a pair of screenwriters alongside the female lead (Cassie Steele), a fresh-faced aspiring actress, and her occasional love interest (Jonathan Patrick Moore), a hunk who's just landed a lead role on a medical drama. There's also the "older" actress (Jewel Staite of Firefly) who's washed up at 30.

That character is an example of how creator Martin Gero does attempt to tackle some thorny Hollywood issues, although he generally does it in a cheesy, obvious way, and it's usually drowned out by the bland, soapy plotting. There's a scene with Staite's character going to an audition only to find out they've changed the character to a black woman, and her rant about the tokenism of creating a "black best friend" character is spot-on (of course Complex has its own token black character, who is also the token gay character). I also liked that the comedian character really and truly is unfunny -- one of the best moments in the first episode involves cameo-ing Paul F. Tompkins and Mary Lynn Rajskub giving him a harsh dressing-down -- and that the main hunky actor guy is Australian and does an American accent in his TV role.

Gero understands the TV world very well, but anything to do with aspiring hip-hop producer Tariq (Benjamin Charles Watson) is painful to watch, especially after he starts working with a stereotypical gangsta rapper who has an obvious secret. Since it aired on cable in Canada (on MTV clone MuchMusic), there's a bit of edginess (it has one of the few TV strip clubs where dancers actually take their tops off, even if we only get to see it from behind) and some haphazard bleeping ("faggot" is okay but "tits" is not, apparently), which can be distracting. Mostly the show is about hooking up and cutting loose, so it should probably fit perfectly on The CW, marking time until the network's original hot-people-hooking-up shows return in the fall. 

Premieres tonight at 9 p.m. on The CW.

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