The fast-paced first season of The L.A. Complex ended on the sort of bittersweet note that Entourage kept trying—and failing—to hit. The naïve newcomer, Abby (Cassie Steele), finally booked her first film role, while her new boyfriend, Nick (Joe Dinicol), a cripplingly sincere would-be stand-up comedian, got hired for his first professional gig. But unlike other shows that offer realistic—and at times grim—behind-the-scenes looks at show business (like the peppy Smash), The L.A. Complex isn’t marred by its characters’ improbable successes: “I feel like we’re on the edge of something amazing here,” said Abby last season, and by the looks of the first couple of episodes of the new season, on the edge is where many of the characters are. Abby’s movie is indefinitely postponed, driving her to audition for a Bible-thumping actor/director/producer (Alan Thicke), while Nick finds himself working for his biggest heckler, Paul F. Thompkins (as an exaggeratedly and hilariously nasty version of himself), alongside an angry, half-crazy one-night stand (Georgina Reilly).
The most interesting subplots, however, belong to the characters who are falling off the edge, even as everything seems to be falling into place for them professionally. King (Andra Fuller), a hot new gangsta-rap artist, quickly realizes material success isn’t the same as happiness, and he turns on his gay lover, Tariq (Benjamin Charles Watson), and beats him to a pulp when his posse walks in on the two kissing in the studio. Likewise, Connor (Jonathan Patrick Moore) is struggling under the good fortune and stress of being the lead of a new television show and wants nothing more than to drink and fuck his way out of his dulling responsibilities. And finally, former star Raquel (Jewel Staite), inches from a potential comeback, finds herself reevaluating her icy personality and stoic loneliness when she realizes she’s pregnant. These stories aren’t exactly new, nor is The L.A. Complex always above its soap-like weaknesses (constant exposition, shocking reveals), and yet the show is so unrelentingly specific in its depiction of Hollywood’s most deplorable lows and surreal highs that it makes each episode seem almost revelatory.
For instance, Nick finds himself working in the writer’s room of a new late-night talk show, where he’s scolded for eating the free danishes instead of working, actively schemed against by his fellow writers, and struggles to keep up with their pace. Raquel, looking for that extra edge at auditions, gives even the most new-age-y of personality coaches a shot, attempting to sit still while complete strangers assess the vibe she gives off. King is forced to sit through dour group-therapy sessions, and Connor, looking for something solid in his life to hold onto, finds himself considering Scientology. If anything, this drama is filled with too many new scenarios. But even spread thin, The L.A. Complex manages to be far more relatable and honest than other self-referential shows about “the biz” (Episodes, Californication, and even Life’s Too Short).
Like its characters, The L.A. Complex is serious about its setting, a “city that trades on desperate people.” Time-lapse photography and vibrant montages emphasize the bustle and size of a city that threatens to swallow people and their dreams whole. And as the title suggests, it’s also interested in the complexities of life there, especially in the moral choices being made. Alicia (Chelan Simmons), a talented dancer, has finally made it onto the Usher world tour, but if she’s having trouble celebrating, it’s because it wasn’t her dancing that earned her the job; it was her choice to sleep with a brazen, propositioning producer. (This, mind you, after being tricked into making a sex tape with a former child actor and then being driven into the porn industry.) Although each character may be on a different career path, there’s a universality in their struggles to succeed, and it’s this investigation of the costs they’re willing to pay—and the ones they’ll have to keep paying once they’ve “made” it—that makes the series so compelling.