The L.A. Complex Isn’t The End Of The World For The Canadian TV Production Industry, But You Can See It From There

If I were Jewel Staite, (IMDB) I wouldn’t answer the door. I wouldn’t open my mail unless it was the bills. I’d take a deep breath – better yet, several deep breaths into a paper bag to avoid hyperventilating. Staite, a good second-banana actress in several short-lived television series and a few Grade B movies (Higher Ground, Firefly, Serenity, Wonderfalls, Stargate Atlantis), (IMDB) turns 30 in less than six months, where the Logan’s Run button on a female actor’s career blinks if she isn’t an A-lister, hasn’t appeared on the cover of People or Us at least three times, or isn’t the life partner/sex partner/beard of an A-lister.

I would answer not the phone, texts or emails until I’ve really thought about things. I’d give a short call to parents and one or two best friends to let them know I’m all right. Everybody would want to talk to you as if had been stricken with a terminal disease, and while things may be bad, they’re not that bad (or if she thinks it’s that bad, I’m pretty sure Vancouver has a crisis/suicide line). If I would want to continue in this career, I should, for inspiration, search YouTube for Space 1999 scenes involving Barry Morse, the late great Canadian thespian who managed to do professional work during the first season of that Godawful 1970s British science fiction show.

If CTV/MuchMusic’s publicity department keeps calling, tell them you’re not feeling well, which will be true, in a way. And if the producers, directors or writers from The L.A. Complex (CTV) call, you think very long and very hard before you reply. The Canadian television industry is a small community, and you really can’t afford to alienate anyone if you want to keep working, so you have to eat it and smile. But, unless Staite has the hide or the self-awareness of a stegosaurus (prairie dog), she should be cursing anybody involved with the design and structure of this show with the intensity of a supernova.

(more after the jump: not all of it is safe for work)

The makers of that TV show have not only made her career a Shatneresque self-parody, but they have also dreamed up the dullest, most mean-spirited, and ugliest television show currently on the air (Caveat that: as a fiction drama. But it’s venturing in Khardashian or Real Housewives smugness territory). And, in this blogger’ opinion, The L.A. Complex is one of the five worst Canadian-made television shows I have ever seen. Worse than The Trouble With Tracy or The Littlest Hobo: (Wikipedia) despite their primitive budgets, direction, scripts, and production, they contained a sincere desire to entertain their audience. This show instead is a cynical piece of crap, and, combined with all its other myriad faults, it’s worse, in the end, than The Starlost . (Wikipedia)

The L.A. Complex is a night time soap following the lives of Canadians trying to ‘make it’ in Hollywood. Staite’s character is Raquel, an ex-child star fearing her career is over, who resents trying out for roles that go to younger actresses, and would be willing to do anything, including presumably things on her back, on her knees, or in a harness (hey, sweeps week. Go figure), not to slide into obscurity (think of a very low-rent Heather Locklear in Melrose Place). Coincidentally, Staite started acting on network TV kids’ shows at 13, and has had only sporadic acting work since Stargate Atlantis ended in 2009.

The show could not have made a bigger fool of her in the setup if Bob Saget had done the narration of her character’s outline for America’s Funniest Home Videos. And what they got her character doing in the show is little more than a collection of soap opera cliché’s.

Staite is the only name I recognize from the show’s ensemble (unless your into nerd/SF TV, you probably haven’t heard of her). There are actually seven caricatures – they’re nowhere near fleshed out to be characters – in the show. There is the ‘what’s a nice girl doing in a business like this?’ person (Cassie Steele as Abby), and the unfunny comedian who couldn’t get laid if girls were the North Magnetic Pole and he possessed an iron penis (Joe Dinicol as Nick), but don’t get attached to them – if by some quirk there’s a second season, they’ll be written out. Hollywood’s dog-eat-dog world requires fresh bait.

Raquel is the apparent fuckbuddy of Connor (Jonathan Patrick Moore). He’s a hairstyle who’s having the most success, playing a doctor on a TV drama. His character bio says he has a deep, dark secret, which means either he’s got a chemical dependency or gay. Raquel is also friends with Alicia (Chelan Simmons), a dancer who turns to stripping to pay the month’s bills. This is something that happens only in television, to draw voyeurs to the show. In the real world, everybody in either dance industry – from Carol Gay Bell at Sask Express to Fadadance to New Dance Horizons to the bikers and gangland figures who control the Alberta, B.C. and Ontario strip-club circuits – knows better. Once a woman becomes a stripper, she doesn’t get back into the regular dance world.

Alicia is also, supposedly, from Regina, though the Regina she’s from probably has Spock with a beard. There’s no reason to mention this unless the writers want to tweak their nose at the CRTC’s CanCon regulations, and provide incessant giggles to 14-year-old American virgin boys who stumble on this show when the CW network airs this. Alicia isn’t a character, she’s more of a plot device to get a Britney Spears lookalike semi-naked.

From the looks of things, there’s going to be a contest between Raquel and Alicia as to who produces their first home-made sex video, breaks up an A-lister’s marriage, and/or engages in other sexual acts to gain notoriety. Like car chase and fights, sex scenes are put into television shows and movies when the director and screenwriter have nothing else for their characters to say. Yet this show’s sex scenes remind me of curling rocks being tapped out of the house in a small-town bonspiel. Sex is about communication of needs and wants, and satisfying your partner’s needs and wants – but people wrapped up in themselves, as everybody is in this show, use their sex partner solely as masturbation devices. For all their energy trying to find someone to bonk, they may as well have dated the Palm Sisters.

And, in the case of women characters, I wish there was a way writers and directors could show sexually active women without portraying them as either whores or bitches. But the last time I saw that, almost a decade ago, was in the Firefly episode ‘Out Of Gas’ when Joss Whedon told how Kaylee (Staite’s character) joined Serenity’s crew.

(not only that, Kaylee got rid of two useless parts in one scene.)

There’s also an intern to a rap music producer. Tariq (Benjamin Charles Watson) is used as a verbal punching bag. Tariq’s not very interesting either, but he’ll stay because this show can’t lose its main black character, and there may be more dramatic possibilities as he continues the cycle of abuse onto his intern, or a female performer.

How in the name of Pierre Juneau did crap like this end up on the air? In his now-abandoned blog on the Canadian television industry, the author of Dead Things on Sticks once said Corner Gas was the greatest thing to ever happen to Canadian television. We could produce shows that were as good as American shows, and Canadians would watch them. So, there was a market for CanCon.

According to a friend of mine who works in television, that blogger got only half the story. Canadian television dramas and comedies don’t pay for themselves – they have to sell the shows over several seasons in order to get syndication (The general rule is that a show has to run five years before there’s enough shows to sell for syndication). So a show has not only to be good and connect with a Canadian audience, it has to sell internationally or the show will be even more likely to be axed. This explains, for example, why Corner Gas and Little Mosque on the Prairie stayed on for six years (both sold well overseas), while other highly-rated shows such as Robson Arms, 18 to Life, and Alice I Think, which were really good, were strangled at birth. CG and LMontheP made their money back in international syndication, the other shows wouldn’t.

In the case of the L.A. Complex, there’s a greater likelihood that this show could be sold internationally, or at least to the Americans, because (a) it’s about celebrity culture, (b) there’s not that much distinctly Canadian about it, and (c) you’ve cast seven hardbodies. Empty-headed hardbodies, but hardbodies nonetheless.

The problem is though, that the viewer has to be brain dead to care about such dim, unhappy, and nasty characters. They’re not trying to achieve a common goal, they’re working in different careers, they have nothing in common save satisfying their fame addiction, and some like Raquel or Nick are so unlikeable that if I saw them coming down the street in real life, I would increase my IPod’s volume and cross at the nearest intersection to get away. Essentially The L.A. Complex is an inside story of seven uninteresting, narcissistic, fame whores minus the fame — people living in a world where people screw each other and get screwed – and, about 20 per cent of the time, they take their clothes off to do it.

Wouldn’t it be better to do this show where the characters are self-aware enough to comment on the nature of what constitutes fame in the 21th century? In an age where social media such as YouTube can make Justin Bieber and Rebecca Black (Friday) famous, what is the purpose of fame? Isn’t it better just to concentrate on the ability to do good work? Then again, to do good work, you first have to get hired, and you’re back to square one.

I’ve probably spent more time talking about this show than I want to, but only because I’m really concerned of the state of Canadian television. What shows died on the drawing board to greenlight this show’s budget? Don’t the people who make this give a damn? Don’t the actors? Maybe not, they need paycheques as much as anybody else. If I’m Jewel Staite, I’m curled up on a couch in the basement, hugging a pillow, and one of the few things getting me through this crisis is the fact that there are some who, wittingly or unwittingly, are made fools of on television. But in Canadian television, there’s a greater chance that nobody will notice. That may be her saving grace.

Or, think of Barry Morse, with the grace he possesses while sitting at the end of the universe.

Author: Stephen LaRose

2006 winner of the Canadian Association of University Teachers’s Award of Excellence in Journalism for a bunch of prairie dog stuff. Invited into the best homes in Regina. Once.

2 thoughts on “The L.A. Complex Isn’t The End Of The World For The Canadian TV Production Industry, But You Can See It From There”

  1. The whole premise of this show is a rip off. Brigitte Bako did it all in the underrated ‘G-Spot’ series that ran for 3 seasons. Aging actress struggling to find work, Canadian, gay boyfriend, etc. etc. only Bako’s show was clever, sexy and somewhat autobiographical.

  2. A. I didn’t know that. B. In a way it doesn’t matter, since Hollywood thinks the most interesting subject in the world — or the business it knows the best — is show business.

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