Apologies for the hiatus during the warm months. It was certainly not for a lack of great viewing options. In fact, this summer brought to mind how much we’ve progressed from the dark and dreary, pre-ubiquity of cable past of not having anything at all to watch between the season finales of May-June and the premieres of September-October. I once spent a whole summer just watching reruns of Xena: Warrior Princess. Oh, how I miss Lucy Lawless and the New Zealand countryside. But it was a tragedy nonetheless. These days, the bounty of new offerings on summertime television work, along with climate change, to tear down whatever semblance of seasons we once had — way back when we had ice in the arctic or when social media was just for the living. Times are a’changin’, premieres are a’premierin’, but before that, let’s look back at a summer show that The CW feigned interest in as they waited for Gossip Girl to return. Shall we?
I want to discuss The LA Complex for two reasons: 1. Canadians are pretty much our summer saviors here in the states whether we like it or not; and 2. Degrassi: The Next Generation. The second reason pointedly alludes to television’s yesteryears in that, as many of us know, Degrassi: TNG, the most recent installment of a Canadian teen drama franchise that stretches as far back as 19791, was a angsty, rapey, stabby-shooty gem of a series that completely ended after its seventh season — completely1 — but before then, it brought the lovely Cassie Steele into our lives as the incorrigibly adorable Manny Santos. Fundamentally, Manny is back in The LA Complex. She has the same penchant for making poor romantic decisions; same confusingly misguided Hollywood aspirations; same infuriatingly naive disposition; same Manny. And we love her for it through thick and thin. But somehow she manages to find herself again playing second fiddle to the rest of the ensemble despite The LA Complex being transparently a vehicle for her to shine. Her character Abby Vargas (subtly, almost repentantly Latina, same ole Manny) galavants around town in a way that actually gives me pause to criticize because I would hate to get caught up in something like slut-shaming. Because it’s not her sexual body count (which is high and rising) that is an issue, it’s more so that as a character and as a storytelling channel for the show, her hook ups and the usage of her sexual body seems primary to her contribution to the show. And that comes across to me as either lazy or demeaning; demeaning maybe to women, but definitely to those that wanted to see Manny as a full-fledged adult, as the series was implicitly billed.
Luckily, The LA Complex offers Jewel Staite as Raquel Westbrook for our fix of all-grown up favorites. (She’s Canadian. Did you know? See the first reason above why this series is worthy of note.) With Stargate Atlantis and Firefly not too far from anyone’s mind (read: nerds), Staite portrays a bitter has-been actress down on her luck but very much up on her scheming. In fact, she plays the role so well that I’ve bookmarked her IMDB and Wikipedia pages just to remind me not to despise her.3 The premise of the series, young people struggling to make it in the city of angels, is legitimized through Raquel Westbrook. Her ofttimes noxious and wicked interactions with the wide-eyed other characters is at points the only way to distinguish this Faux Angeles from the soft-pedaling melodrama of Degrassi Community School. And then like a cute toddler with a sharpie in an all white upholstered room, the viewer is almost forced to forgive Raquel’s misdeeds. She’s too cute. She’s still young (sort of). She’s an imperfect vessel, like us, after all, and she just wants to be loved and have nice things, like we do. She aggressively pursues ends like the woman-of-action we wished Manny had grown up to be, and suffers for it each step of the way. Raquel Westbrook is the most LA the show has to offer, as well as one of the most complex characters the show has bothered to roll out up to this point, and she is the unexpected heart of the series — not the whiney children running around humping one another. And she’s damn good at it.
But then there’s Kaldrick King. Besides filling the series to the brim with just the right amount of heated man-on-man-against-wall-or-floor make out scenes and (literally) explosive sequences of violence, the hip-hop superstar caricature, played by Andra Fuller, brings a dimension to the series that — while so distant from the rest at times it seems like its own show — is needed to dilute the white whines. At its core, The LA Complex is about a bunch of self-indulgent dreamers living and building their dreams — gigs, parties, big city, sex aplenty, ostensibly cheap rent — but blinded to it by their self-indulgence. It’s an interesting contrast to see the Black man with all the money and fame, taking indulgence to another level, struggling with it so much, and desperately seeking repentance and acceptance. His kisses appear distinct from the other kisses in the series, not because they’re with other men, but plainly because they mean more. They speak to indulgence in more than flesh and conflicts of interests that are more than just fame and fortune and glitz and glamour. Not to give the super two-fer tokenism too much credit, there’s certainly a lot of unflattering discussion happening over this story arc of the show, but Kaldrick King and his new budget Obama love interest is surely compelling, provocative drama if not just an unconventional sexual aesthetic for primetime network drama. He also doesn’t look too bad in a tank top. I definitely look forward to seeing
him the season finale next week.
1Apparently TVs did exist back then. Whodathunkit?
3 OMG, she was in Flash Forward too!