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TV Review: The L.A. Complex – “Down in L.A.”

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Premiering tonight on the CW (though the first episode is already available on Hulu) is Canadian series The L.A. Complex. Think of it as a sort of Melrose Place, where a bunch of people who want to be famous in Hollywood live in a motel together. There’s the actress, the dancer, the stand up comedian, the music mixer, the new star, and the aging performer. Well, aging by Los Angeles standards, which means she’s almost 30. Will any of them succeed?

Despite this being a Canadian show, The L.A. Complex feels like it takes place in Hollywood. And why not? Film and television types have been taking advantage of the tax breaks in our northern neighbor for years. The people who work up there have a pretty good idea of what they are doing.

“Down in L.A.” starts a little rough. Perhaps to introduce the characters quickly, small snippets of each are shown, with their names flashing across the screen. These moments are meant to highlight the main cast, and they do, but only in retrospect. They do not last long enough to make a memorable impression, and though only six players are featured, it feels like more, and a bit overwhelming, as before viewers can get an idea of who one person is, the episode is on to the next one.

That being said, it settles down relatively quickly after that, and it has a nice little spice. The cast is mostly young, which one would expect for the CW, but they aren’t all gorgeous. Some are, but some are around normal levels of attractiveness. The writing is also sharper, and the personalities more layered, than the typical CW fare. Which means The L.A. Complex should still appeal to CW’s bread and butter demographic, but perhaps introduce a little more quality than one might expect from most (not all) of the shows on the network.

There are many flavors at work here. There’s a bit of Melrose Place, as mentioned above, because of the basic set up. There’s also a little of Undeclared, given the naive eagerness of several of the characters, who haven’t yet found their groove. Fame could also be mentioned, because of those trying so hard to get their big break. Though, only parts of the first episode seem like a retread, as other scenes feel fresh and original. The L.A. Complex is a new twist on a classic set up. In all, it’s a satisfying mix.

The biggest obstacle to reaching a large audience may be the network airing it. Although The L.A. Complex fits on the CW, it would also fit nicely on other networks, too. Hey, FOX and NBC, do you need their number? With the edgy content of some scenes, however, the series might play best on Showtime, as toning things down actually hurts the mood a little bit. And with a few tweaks, it could be another How to Make It in America-type series for HBO.

The cast is more than capable. While a couple of the players seem interchangeable with other television performers, several do stand out, and it leads one to believe that The L.A. Complex could help several careers along.

Leading this pack is welcoming familiar face Jewel Staite (Firefly, Stargate: Atlantis). Though not even thirty yet herself, Staite makes Raquel a relatable character. Wrestling with the failure of an early hit show called Teenage Wasteland (interestingly, the original title of That ’70s Show), Raquel now can’t get another part, and casting directors keep wanting her to play the mom. She clings to her youth, and her actions seem desperate and pathetic. Yet, Staite somehow makes Raquel likeable, and viewers will root for her. She can be refreshingly honest, such as when she asks a room full of black girls if any of them has a white best friend, playing on a television trope. And though she is not a mentor to the younger ones yet, there are hints that she might be in time, once she finds her path a little bit better.

Chelan Simmons plays Alicia Lowe, the dancer. At first glance, she might seem like just a hot blond, but she is also really nice, which comes a little bit out of left field. Simmons’ work in The L.A. Complex calls to mind her previous series Kyle XY, and makes one wonder why ABC Family hasn’t made another decent show in awhile. Which is a tangent, to be sure, but Alicia doesn’t get a lot of her own story in “Down in L.A.,” so it’s hard to go anywhere else with her yet.

Nick (Joe Dinicol, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World) has the best scenes in “Down in L.A.” Hopelessly unfunny, despite living and breathing stand up, he is thrown completely off of his game by meeting Mary Lynn Rajskub (herself, 24), who is very rude to him, in line with her own comedic sensibilities. Adding insult to injury, Rajskub and Paul F. Tompkins (himself, Best Week Ever) lambast Nick after the show. Somehow this sequence is hilarious, despite its cruelty.

The young lovers are Abby (Cassie Steele, Degrassi: The Next Generation) and Connor (Jonathan Patrick Moore, Neighbours). He has just made it big through dumb luck, and she is failing miserable. He is kind to her, but in retrospect, he sleeps with a girl he knows has a boyfriend, so is his nice guy thing just an act? It’s hard to tell, especially as he sadly moves into his empty house. Both of these characters are going to be the focus of many teenage crushes, and the reason young girls tune in week after week.

Sadly, Tariq’s (Benjamin Charles Watson) tale is the one that fails to resonate. He desperately wants to be respected, and makes a bold move to do so. However, he also comes across as someone not willing to pay his dues before he finds recognition, already refusing to keep his head down in “Down in L.A.” Not that his boss, Dynasty (Dayo Ade), isn’t unnecessarily harsh, because he is. But will Tariq’s character turn this around? Let’s hope so.

The L.A. Complex has already been given a second season in Canada. Hopefully, the CW will continue to air it, as “Down in L.A.” is a promising start. Tune in Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on the CW.

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About JeromeWetzelTV

Jerome writes TV reviews for BlogCritics.org and Seat42F.com, as well as fiction. He is a frequent guest on two podcasts, Let's Talk TV with Barbara Barnett and The Good, the Bad, & the Geeky. All of his work can be found on his website, jeromewetzel.com