Tuesday, May 1, 2012

'The L.A. Complex' Introduces The Most Unique and Fascinating Relationship of Any TV Drama...

It is perhaps apt that the second episode of The L.A. Complex was entitled "Do Something" because it was a sentiment everyone with eyes on The CW was asking of the network itself. Critics have long-since written the fifth-rate network off for not being a power player in ratings, let alone what they consider quality programming, and even the fans have seemed to fall out of love with a lot of their offerings lately. In truth, though, The CW is a niche network, reaching out to a very specific demographic, and ironically, for what they are hoping to accomplish, The L.A. Complex seems to be its best fit.

Picking up after the pilot, The L.A. Complex' second episode really seemed to find its footing by cementing just who its players were. Abby (Cassie Steele) may be talented; she may be hard-working; she may be well-meaning, but she's extremely naive. And that could end up being the trait that does her in in a business like this. Canada is the land of the nice people, and that's an endearing, adorable quality to have. At first. But soon it will grow old; people may get frustrated with the "cutesy" nature of it all; and this town will eat her alive. 

Let's look at her experience in the strip club, shall we? Does she not watch TV? It's the champagne room! She's extremely lucky her breast was all he tried to grab. I was glad to see she had standards-- and that her means to make money to keep her in this town still had boundaries. In all honestly, though, it's probably better for her that the so-called deal maker got pissed she wouldn't let him touch her anyway. Better to get fired than constantly typecast, or worse, denied jobs because of a salacious stripper past. 

But even in the audition waiting room, Abby was trying to make nice with Raquel (Jewel Staite), who clearly wasn't having any of it. It's one thing to try to make the best out of a bad situation, but no one in those rooms is there to make friends, and watching her fumble her way through the experience made me cringe a little for her. She's like the little sister who borrows your make-up, goes way too over the top with it, and then tags along when you and your friends go to the movies. She thinks she's doing everything right to fit in with the "cool" kids-- she's trying to project a false confidence and maturity. In the end, you just roll your eyes. 

Abby's too old for condescension, though. You don't want to roll your eyes at her, but you do want to sit her down and give her a lesson in how this town works. For example, if she says she wants to sneak onto her potential boyfriend's set to get in some more alone time with him, you tell her it's a bad idea (as Raquel did, though she had her own motives) because her focus is off. If she's on the lot, and she wants to wander and make something happen for herself, she needs to get invited to his set to make connections with the producers and directors there. It's not enough for her to make an impression, as she bemoans to Raquel; she has to make a good impression. And dropping by to a set unannounced, to distract a potentially already befuddled new star, is so not the way to do that!

Though, come on, how funny was the reference to "pink pages?" Connor's (Jonathan Patrick Moore) genuine baffled astonishment that someone else could be thinking of him that way was pinch-his-cheek worthy.

Is it wrong I'm rooting the most for Raquel, even when they pit her and Cassie against each other? I don't think so. I think it's just a personal bias, an identification thing. But I think there is profound subtext, and true travesty, in the show putting them in direct competition so soon, not just with Connor but for their livelihoods. It was a wake up call as to what this industry does to friends and neighbors. And to me, it also perfectly explained (without having to use exposition to do so) why Raquel exhibits the bad behavior or pulls out such snide remarks as she does.

One of the strongest parts of this episode, I think, was Connor bringing Nick (Joe Dinicol) into his world. Sure, selfishly he just wanted to keep his friend close because he's so desperate to have people around him in order to not feel alone or neglected, but setting up that he's basically buying his friendship now, in a very Vincent Chase sort of way, leaves a lot of room for what's too come. Nick is too earnest to actually mooch off Connor the way those Entourage d-bags did, but it set up an interesting dynamic nonetheless. Suddenly there was a sense of "you need me" in this relationship that was never there before, and is that true friendship at all anymore? I hope they explore that more.

It was also just an interesting juxtaposition with Nick's relationship with Abby. He's doing everything wrong there. He's mayor of the friend zone already! He's a push-over; he's basically a sugar daddy without the benefit of real money or sex or wearing the girl on your arm. Inviting her to crash with him when she got tossed out of her own room was basically moving in an escort. And he has The Notebook!? Oh, Nick, no... This can't be all there is too you. You have to have a drug dealing side gig or a dark, Dexter past, right? Otherwise you're the stereotypical wimpy good guy, and that's no fun for anyone!

In a way, the same can be said of Ricky (Aaron Abrams). He's a little too good to be true right now. For Alicia's (Chelan Simmons) sake, I hope he genuinely likes her so maybe he can take her away from all of this. I know that makes me a hypocrite, considering how I've praised this show for being so realistic in the past, but what can I say? I was raised on fairy tales and soap operas. Besides, this is a teen drama, and things are not nearly depicted as gritty or harsh as they could be! 

In truth, though, the minute Ricky pointed out that he had been watching Alicia dance, and harping on how hard it's been to be taken seriously since his more youthful roles, the red flags went up, dashing all hopes that he was some kind of Hollywood prince-- a former child star living off residuals and "Where Are They Now?" appearances and specials who could give her a somewhat charmed life while she still auditioned for more mainstream, socially acceptable dance jobs. His offer of a drink seemed much more of a business proposition than anything romantic, and my mind just started scanning to see what his angle could possibly be. I immediately thought he needed a beard. Anyone else?

But now, let's move on to my absolute favorite thing about "Do Something": the introduction of Kaldrick King (Andra Fuller) and his sure-to-be complicated relationship with Tariq (Benjamin Charles Watson). I am so intrigued by this-- something we (or at least I) literally have never seen on television before-- that I'm willing to overlook the ridiculous loophole that got Tariq to be put in front of the hip-hop star in the first place. Fuller was absolute perfection from the minute he opened the door as the gruff, "every" rapper, to the subtle ways he would drop his own shoulders, as he advised Tariq to do, and loosen up around him. I wish he had told Tariq to unbutton the top button. I know it would have been too leading for what would come at the end of the episode, but seriously, it just bugs me how that a grown man looks like his mother dressed him for school in the morning!

Kal is a unique character, and I mean that in every positive sense of the word. He's a guy whose career seems to be mimicking Eminem's in a weird way. He complained to Tariq that he just spits the truth in his songs, but the truth of the challenges he faced in the past can't possibly still be there now that he has a ton of money and international (well, at least around the Lux!) fame. His fans want the same old "hard" Kal who went to jail, but if that's not a reality for him, then he's going to be accused of fronting in his lyrics. Yet, the real truth, the story that has never been told in his line of work, is something too scary for him to consider sharing, assuming he would never be accepted.

It was fascinating to watch Kal let down his guard a little, let someone see past his facade, only to turn around and wile out stronger when he realized the faux pas in closeness he just made. He clearly has a lot of demons inside him and a lot of trust issues. And this is where the complexity of Fuller's performance really should be praised. You could see him doing the math, weighing his options, deciding if and how he could play this. I don't think he Googled Tariq and stalked his Facebook page to know he was gay. I think he picked up the flirty vibes in the bar (where, man, that subtext and sexual tension was so thick there was nowhere else for the story to possibly go!). Tariq telling Kal "that's the man I want to get to know" could have been innocent, just a way for a guy hoping to get a job to kiss ass to get it, and if Kal misread it, he could lose everything. It tells you a lot about Kal that he may push things along so far but then stand back and tell the other person to "Do Something." It makes the "blame" of any fallout or consequences from actions truly on them. He's stepping back and taking the passive role, in many ways exactly how he has with his career (letting others decide who he is based on the work he puts out; keeping a huge part of him locked away in secret). That has to breed a lot of anger and resentment, and I don't doubt the receiving end of some of that will befall Tariq. I'm not saying I'm rooting for that to happen, but I am saying I am not as excited about watching any other story on television right now as I am theirs.

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