Review: The LA Complex (CTV/MuchMusic/The CW) 1×1-1×2

The best bits of Canadian and US TV

The LA Complex

In Canada: Tuesdays, 9pm ET, CTV/MuchMusic
In the US: Acquired by The CW for spring 2012

So here’s how TV normally works: you come up with a pilot episode and then you cast it. Normally, you’ll slip in a few Australians or Canadians because they’re cheaper. Then, to save more money, although your show is supposedly set in the US, you’ll film your show in Canada, with most of the supporting cast being Canadian, with just the occasional American flown in for luck. Once your show is made, you’ll then sell it to Canadian TV companies.

Now imagine the craftiness of the Canadians who have inverted that entire process with The LA Complex. It features a big group of Canadian actors – as well as an Australian – some of them famous from US shows, Jewel Staite (Firefly, Stargate: Atlantis) and Chelan Simmons (Kyle XY), some from Canadian shows (Cassie Steele from Degrassi: The Next Generation). They all play Canadians (apart from the Australian) – actors, dancers, singers, comedians and musicians who have all come to LA for a shot at the big time. Rather than being shot in Canada, it’s shot in LA and there’s the occasional American added for good luck (Mary Lynn Rajskub as herself). And now it’s been sold to The CW.

And despite the fact it’s largely about young, pretty actors, it’s really quite good and has an unexpected edge.

Full of new relationships, salacious temptations and make-it-or-break it decisions, THE L.A. COMPLEX’s coming-of-age dwellers grapple with life’s defining moments as they deal with the unreality of the show-biz industry. In the series premiere “Down in L.A.” after getting evicted and finding herself broke and desperate, Abby finds a place to crash at “The Lux” motel in Los Angeles. Here, she meets a group of like-minded, displaced dreamers and after a series of missed opportunities, mishaps, and a broken down vehicle, Abby starts to wonder if it’s time to go back to Toronto and give up her dreams, or if tomorrow will be her day?

Is it any good?
I was expecting to hate this, but I was pleasantly surprised by it. It combines, in a sense, some of the best aspects of both Canadian and American TV: you have the gloss and fun of LA married with the slightly greater edge of Canadian youth TV.

So you can have your heroine sleep with a guy at a party and then have to go to the pharmacy to get a morning-after pill; you can have (spoiler alert) a gay black youth actually kissing and getting naked with another man; you can have the most famous member of the cast being discriminated against and overlooked because she’s all of 30; you can have that dancer you’re rooting for having to work in a lapdancing club and go topless; and you can have the handsome actor who finally makes it to the big time discover that there’s still a lot of hard work to be done.

There are six main characters: pleasingly, three men and three women. We have a laughably bad comedian (Joe Dinicol), a singer-actress (Steele), a dancer (Simmons), a successful actor (Jonathan Patrick Moore from Neighbours), an aspiring French-Canadian musician (Benjamin Charles Watson) and the formerly successful actress whose best days are behind her (Staite). And because this is a soap, there are all sorts of love-triangles going on, with Steele wondering whether to be with Moore, Staite chasing after Moore while he chases after Steele, Dinicol chasing after Steele and the other two pairing up with possibly the worst choices available for them outside of their group.

The story then follows them as they basically get their dreams crushed at every turn, either by the cruelty of the industries they’re working in or by accidentally vomiting on people. They get evicted, attacked, have to take up demeaning jobs and insulted – and there are no illusions that when they hit the big time, that’ll last forever. There’s politics aplenty to be navigated even then.

All the characters are appealing in one way or another, and although there is a certain trade in certain stereotypes (the nice guy all the nice girls love as a friend, the dancer who hooks up with a sugar daddy) and there are some obvious Cautionary Tales approaching, it manages to avoid a number of the situations and attitudes you’d expect.

If it has flaws, it’s mainly that the six central characters are too nice – as of yet, they haven’t ripped anyone’s head off for fame and at six episodes, there’s not much opportunity in the next four for sudden personality changes. But it’s a good, interesting show that will hopefully do well, particularly with its intended age group.