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Television review: 'The L.A. Complex' twists the familiar

The new show on CW features attractive young people with Hollywood dreams. But the Canadian youth-soap puts a nice, fresh touch on it all.

April 23, 2012|By Robert Lloyd, Los Angeles Times Television Critic
  • Cassie Steele as Abby in "The L.A. Complex."
Cassie Steele as Abby in "The L.A. Complex." (Darren Michaels, The CW )

Oh, Canada, so near and yet so far. We share a language, albeit with different notions of how to pronounce "sorry" and "about"; we use your streets and your studios to stand in for America in our budget-conscious television shows, and your actors to represent Americans, and your film crews to record them. And yet your own television is something quite different.

"The L.A. Complex," which premieres Tuesday on the CW, is a Canadian youth-soap from Martin Gero (a veteran of"Bored to Death") about trying to make it in Hollywood. By the standards of similar American series, it is conspicuously modest — less aggressive, less glamorous, less heavy-breathing, more ... nice. This will make it a hard sell to some, but I find these qualities appealing.

Much about the show will seem stock. In their broad outlines, most of the characters come right off the rack: the naive ingénue (Cassie Steele, who was Manny Santos on "Degrassi: The Next Generation"), the fading star trying to stay in the game (Jewel Staite, "Firefly"); the good-looking success the ingénue desires (Jonathan Patrick Moore); the slightly less good-looking, self-sacrificing nebbish (Joe Dinicol) who desires her in turn; the sexy thing with a sensitive core (Chelan Simmons, "Kyle XY"); the cheeky kid riskily asserting himself among the old pros (Benjamin Charles Watson).

All but one live in the same motel-apartment house (thus the punning title), set like"Melrose Place"around a courtyard swimming pool but with peeling paint and a clientele mostly one step removed from a dorm room. That most of them are actually poor and struggling — they get around by bus and borrow floors to sleep on, work dull day jobs, strike out at auditions, bomb onstage — feels novel and refreshing.

Indeed, most are on the verge of complete failure: Nick (Dinicol), who wants to be a comic, is, for the moment, terrible — real-life American comics Paul F. Tompkins and Mary Lynn Rajskub are brought to deliver that verdict officially. Even the momentarily successful Connor (Moore), who has been cast in a lead in a network doctor show — reflecting current trends, the character is an Australian playing his role-within-a-role with an American accent — is seen to be less than secure in his job.

Executive produce Linda Schuyler co-created the "Degrassi" franchise — "Degrassi High" fans will note the presence of Dayo Ade, who played BLT, as a record producer — and, like those series, "The L.A. Complex" is gently instructive without being moralizing or sensational. Actions are shown to have consequences, but there is a matter-of-factness to it all that can seem even a little radical in its unwillingness to judge. And there are no villains.

Even the most concocted bits play out in a relaxed way, as when a drummer lays back behind the beat, putting new life into an old tune, making the corn convincing, the familiar unpredictable.

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