Chronicles of the aspirations and ordeals of young performers have a lengthy cinematic history, including such memorable examples as “Fame” and “A Chorus Line,” and the less known but extremely worthy “Echo Park.” A Canadian import airing on CW, “The L.A. Complex” borrows from all of them, and nevertheless emerges, unexpectedly, as one of the best things the netlet’s offered in ages. It’s an affectionate, amusing, sometimes surprising takes on would-be stars, as well as the established luminaries and has-beens who pass through their orbits. Turns out the route to get “Melrose Place 2012” right starts not in Hollywood, but Toronto.
Actually, it’s pretty impressive how well the producers approximate Southern California with establishing shots and clever editing. What really makes the show tick, though, are the situations dreamed up for its assortment of characters, who occupy various rungs of the Hollywood ladder but share a common sense of striving, and occupy the same seedy apartment complex (ironically named the Deluxe). Given all the nubile flesh on display, the place considerately comes with a pool.
Most of the best lines, initially, belong to Raquel (Jewel Staite), an actress who had her fleeting moment on a show that met an inevitable end, prompting her to wearily tell every admirer, “We had a bad timeslot.” Now, she’s fretting about being long in the tooth for young femme roles — the kind fresh-faced Abby (Cassie Steele), a financially strapped import from Canada, is also seeking.
Beyond those kinds of parts, the two women also share a common interest in Connor (Jonathan Patrick Moore), a hunky Australian who’s landed a starring role on a medical soap. Then there’s his former roommate Nick (Joe Dinicol), an aspiring comic who reads audiences about as well as he reads cues from women; Tariq (Benjamin Charles Watson), suffering through an internship at a rap label; and Alicia (Chelan Simmons), a dancer who in later episodes befriends an aging teen star not known for “Goonies,” but “the other one.”
If it all sounds familiar, series creator Martin Gero manages to give the show a fresh vibe, perhaps because assumptions about characters keep getting turned on their heads. There’s also a knowing quality, even for cynics weaned on “Entourage,” to a Hollywood where sex tapes and AA meetings are potentially savvy career moves, and a lap dance can turn into an impromptu interview with a potential agent.
Even with some amusing bleeps and pixelation to obscure saucy language and (apparently) beer labels, “L.A. Complex” feels pretty authentic, and gets the relationships much better than something like the increasingly preposterous “Smash” does.
Sure, people have rooftop sex and conveniently wake up with their underwear on. “L.A. Complex” still manages to have fun with the town’s stereotypical image while zeroing in on some fundamental truths, and creating characters who quickly merit interest.
“You’re the lead. You don’t ask. You tell,” Raquel counsels Connor.
Whether the series works (and one suspects the financial terms were favorable as an acquisition), this isn’t so much a stylistic breakthrough for CW — they’ve done plenty of shows like it — as a demonstration of nifty execution.
Who would have thought it would take Canadians to get Hollywood right, eh?