Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Tonight's TV Talk: 'The L.A. Complex'...

TV Talk for Tuesday, April 24th 2012 - Tonight it was all about one show for me. What was unfortunately written off as a low-rent Melrose Place reboot copy actually turned out to be the smartest new drama on TV. And the version of Melrose Place they should have made the first time. After all, it's real. It's a bunch of struggling artists doing what they do to stay afloat-- not somehow living above their means in a luxurious courtyard apartment they can't possibly afford, wearing designer duds they would have had to steal to obtain. And it's aimed at teens. Who knew!? 

The LA Complex (The CW, 9pm) - S1, Ep1: "Down in LA" - The devil's in the details in relationship dramas, and this is one is chock full of pertinent ones to the way this town works that it's a wonder the writers are up in Canada, working in a very different entertainment environment. First of all, starting with the title, it's just so smart! Yes, it refers to the actual motel complex in which these up-and-comers live, but it also points out that "complex" the city can give you. Cheeky? Clever? Or am I just giddy that finally the show I looked for my whole childhood finally made it onto TV?

The L.A. Complex writers and producers mastered what so many who are actually here in L.A. (and maybe therefore too close to it?) can't. Not only did the show match the frantic pace of this town by starting snappily, flitting back and forth to a number of its main players as we are thrust into their world, introduced to the shit they have to go through just to struggle in Hollywood, but it also shined a light on so many of the little things that people with stars in their eyes take for granted. Raquel (Jewel Staite) wanting to read for an age-appropriate role, only to be forced into a box the industry has made for her; Abby (Cassie Steele) using her sheer determination to stay another day because that next day might be "the one" for her; Connor (Jonathan Patrick Moore) finally achieving what all his friends are striving for-- and first-- and being slapped in the face with just how lonely it can be (the scene at the end of with him alone in the dark, new house was eerily reminiscent of Bryan Greenberg in Unscripted). And it was all done in passing, just as parts of these people's days, rather than story defining plot points. That's what made it shine so brightly, feel so real, and yes, read so brilliantly. It's my blog, and I'll fangirl if I want to!

I didn't expect to fall head over heels in love with this show, but that's exactly what happened. And all within the first few minutes. Sure, there were some soapy elements, but even they proved to punch powerfully comedic in the end. The "I didn't use a condom because I was high so now we better get Plan B" felt a little after school special to me...until it set up a comedic complication for Abby at her audition. But it wasn't just a means to an end, in my opinion. Watching Abby perform the hell out of that song for her favorite director, even (or especially) when she wasn't feeling one hundred percent proved to me just how talented she is. And she was just lucky she happened to be in the nicest director in Hollywood's office. The man was practically Spielberg! In Hollywood there is a fine line between those who are good but haven't had the right timing or luck or connections to "break" just yet versus those who may be really hungry for it, or may just be big dreamers, but who may not have the chops to back up said dreams. This immediately set Abby in the former category and made the desire to root for her that much stronger. She's good. She may be really good. She deserves to go onto great things, and now, as an audience, we want to see her do that. She's fighting hard; she's not making dumb decisions career-wise; she can do this-- if this town will let her. For anyone who's even the slightest bit creative-- or anyone who's felt on the edge of something at all-- this is what grounds this show the most and makes the stakes so high. It's a bit of identification; you want to see Abby do well so you can believe your time is right around the corner, too. 

But of course not everyone can be as talented and just unlucky as Abby. Enter Nick (Joe Dinicol). When Paul F. Tompkins and Mary Lynn Rajskub told him to just quit, I couldn't help but nod along. Nick isn't a good comedian, and that's okay. He just needs to own up to his shortcomings and either use them to make his material better or he needs to move on and find something else he's passionate about. I don't actually get the sense that he's passionate about comedy at all; I get the sense that he was a kind of nerdy kid who made bad jokes in school to try to befriend the popular kids. They threw him some pity laughs, and he decided to go with it. But his "sets," if you can call them that, aren't real-- they're not about anything, let alone him. There's nothing to connect to because he himself feels disconnected, like he's just floating along, going through the motions. He's not good, but he's spinning his wheels. When he said "We all should have heard by now," I couldn't help but retort "Well, all but you."

Tariq (Benjamin Charles Watson), on the other hand, is the one making dumb decisions. Sending his track to Drake is one thing, even though he was going behind a very powerful man's back. But putting his boss' name on it basically just means his boss is getting credit for something he did not create, and Tariq still has no proof of just how good he is. He has his name on nothing; he's still "just" an intern. That's no way to get ahead. His misguided naivety worries me for the bad decisions he will surely make in the future. 

Raquel, so far, is hands down my favorite. There's something so sad about a woman who was told she was going to have it all once, a long time ago, and is still hopefully holding onto the idea, even though everything since is proving otherwise. Some might say she needs to grow up and move on, but what is Hollywood if not a playground for those somewhat suspended in an adolescent state, even if just an emotional one? She's been hardened by her years of nothing happening, unreturned phone calls, rejected auditions from even those who she once called friends. She may be a cautionary tale, in some ways, to the rest of these kids at The Lux, but that's what makes this show so well-rounded: it shows all sides to this industry. And it does so without glamorizing any of it. But maybe she's my favorite right now because I identify most with Raquel-- the uncertainty of how good I may actually be after people pumping me up but no industry actions to prove their praise, and the sheer desire. 

The color blind casting situation she found herself in? Priceless. And something on the forefront of my mind right now as I prepare to pitch my pilot. Something I'm also working on for a feature article. Raquel was right, as inappropriately blunt as she put it in the waiting room: the sassy black BFF who helps the white girl with her issues is not a reflection of reality. As a friend of mine says: "Black girls have problems, too!" I'm not a fan of diversity for diversity's sake, but I'm also not a fan of nepotism or friends pulling favors the way Raquel wanted everyone from Connor to the producers of that (ironic) new CW show to do for her. But both are strong commentaries on the way this industry works. Does anyone really know what they're doing? Or they all just fake it, surround themselves with people they think will make them look good and support them when they don't?

Thankfully, though a little late (but still better than never, right?) Raquel is finally proving she does (know what she's doing) by taking charge of her own career by finding a script that is perfect for her and trying to get it made (even if it did kind of fall in her lap in the first place). And maybe it's because I need my own Raquel-- someone to walk my stuff into an agency or a studio and believe in me, even if it's just because I'm a way to get him or her back in the Hollywood relevancy. Regardless, Raquel is a huge part of why I'm so hooked on this show. I literally cannot wait for new episodes, and I am seriously hoping you all watched and loved as much as I did so The CW sees its appeal and picks up the next batch that are currently shooting in Canada.

But even if you're not into the whole industry insight, there are ample things to grasp onto and relate to here. You could pluck any one of these characters from their artistry and put them down in another situation, another career setting, another location, and they'd hold up just as strongly. Hollywood or not, they're only human. It seems to be a trend these days to focus on the "lost" twenty-somethings of the world, but those on The L.A. Complex aren't aimless or lazy or entitled. They're all clinging desperately to hope and a dream. It fuels them; it lights their fire; and theoretically, when they achieve it, it should make them whole. They are hyper driven and focused; they are passionate and free-spirited. In a way, they are what we all should strive to be.

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