Even by CW standards–and this is a network where shows that could barely hold a slot in basic cable get renewed–THE LA COMPLEX is a clear flop, watched by about 2/10 of 1% of the 18-49 year old audience and less than half a million people in total. So although it’s been reported that the series is only taking a break after tonight, and that it will return in July–and presumably the network has a contractual obligation to air the episodes, as a US broadcast is often needed by producers to qualify for higher license fees overseas–the fact that tonight’s broadcast conspicuously didn’t mention any upcoming episodes may not be an accident.
Still, let’s assume the best for the poor little Canadian show and accept that those few who care will be able to watch more LA Complex episodes this summer. The series itself, while a very mixed bag, has considerably more grit and sometimes more emotional substance than CW’s usual programming. The set-up is very familiar, centering on a group of goodlooking show-biz hopefuls who mostly live in a D-level apartment building near Hollywood and can barely make the rent. But over the course of the past several weeks, dancer Alicia (Chelan Simmons) has not only considered, but actually performed in an adult movie (did Vivid pay for the product placement?), Tariq (Benjamin Charles Watson) has entered into a relationship with a closeted rapper that turns abusive whenever his lover thinks they may be discovered, and even the most successful of the group, Connor (Jonathan Patrick Moore), who has a regular TV series job and a house of his own, has turned self-destructive both emotionally and physically. Not exactly a typical episode of 90210.
In tonight’s [fill in the blank] finale, written by series creator Martin Gero with Co-Executive Producer Aaron Abrams and Consulting Producer Brendan Gall, and directed by Gero, there was melodrama to spare. Tariq’s relationship hit its nadir when his lover smashed his face in while screaming anti-gay epithets when co-workers walked in on them kissing; Connor, having had his own face smashed in last week, set fire to his new house; and there were a number of last-minute job offers for Alicia, aspiring comic Nick (Joe Dinicol) and actress Abby (Cassie Steele); not to mention the ever-popular close-up of a “positive” pregnancy test result for Raquel (Jewel Staite), who had just finished confessing to the presumptive father that she’d only pretended to be an alcoholic and interested in him in order to network at his AA meeting and get him to invest in a movie project.
Not all of this works. The Nick character continues to be annoyingly dim, and while it may be a brave choice to make him a decidedly untalented comic, forcing viewers to sit through his comedy club routines is a punishment for all. He and Abby, as the show’s ingenues, get the bulk of the worst dialogue, which is only compounded now that they’re a couple. The Connor and Tariq stories, with their bloody violence, sometimes feel like they belong in a different kind of show. All through the series, there are endless Hollywood cliches of the “You’re gonna keep trying, and one day I swear you’re gonna make it” variety. At its best, though, Complex sometimes manages to live up to its title.
As low-budget summer programming goes, we’ve all seen worse than LA Complex. It’s certainly understandable that CW won’t air the show again during the regular season–even that network has some ratings standards–but it’s preferable to Gossip Girl repeats, and should get the chance to finish out its scheduled run.