After spending 14 days in a patriotic fever while watching the Summer Olympics, I feel like a heretic saying that the best new drama to air on The CW since, like, ever is actually an import…from Canada. (Calm down, Supernatural and Vampire Diaries fanatics — I’ll respect your right to exist if you respect mine.) But it’s true: This soapy dramedy from the Canucks who brought us Degrassi weaves an unexpectedly smart and honest tale about young fame-seekers in the City of Angels.
Initially, the action centered on Abby (Degrassi: The Next Generation’s Cassie Steele), a ridiculously gorgeous aspiring actress who’s fled Canada for the glamour of Los Angeles — a town she quickly discovers is built on the crushed dreams of ridiculously gorgeous aspiring actresses. Broke and annoyed, she takes shelter at a crappy motel nicknamed the Lux, which is what Melrose Place would have looked like if it rented rooms by the hour. Of course, behind each of the Lux’s grimy doors is another Hollywood hopeful, including Nick (Joe Dinicol), a sweet stand-up comic who usually bombs with jokes and women; Raquel (Firefly’s Jewel Staite), an aging (read: almost 30) former teen star who’s now reduced to accepting a spot on Celebrity Halfway House; and Connor (Jonathan Patrick Moore), a dreamy Australian actor starring on a new medical show.
These folks may all be young and pretty, but they also make bad, sometimes desperate decisions in their quest for fame. After Abby earns a hard-fought spot on Saving Grace, a 7th Heaven-like Christian drama, her gig is threatened when her costars pressure her into a threesome; and Nick beats out his much funnier crush Sabrina (Georgina Reilly) for a job on a late-night talk show by becoming the head writer’s brothel buddy. Even the ones who’ve actually made it aren’t immune to the pitfalls of humanity. Superstar Kaldrick King (Andra Fuller) — a closeted gay man trapped in the shell of an angry gangsta rapper — struggles daily to balance the expectations of his audience, his producers, and his soul. And Connor, a guy so damaged from his abusive past that he often burns himself with boiling water, finds a much-needed mother figure in fortysomething A-list actress Jennifer Bell (Krista Allen). That wouldn’t be so weird, except for the fact that she’s paying Connor to play her boyfriend in public.
All of this makes the residents of the L.A. Complex far more interesting, relatable, and likable than the glambots we normally see on L.A.-set dramas — like, for example, The CW’s ill-conceived Melrose Place reboot. Their cautionary tales never become dreary, thanks to artful, funny writing that examines the absurdities of Hollywood life with a wry frankness, as when the delightfully acerbic Raquel orchestrates an image makeover on Celebrity Halfway House. ”If we could move away from this crazy misconception that I’m a bitch and start organically developing me as a compassionate and loving individual,” she snaps to a producer, ”that would be super.” L.A. has definitely given these people a complex, and it’s very entertaining to watch. A-