Between 2009 and 2012, The CW technically rebooted Melrose Place twice. First, there was the obvious one: the one-season flop known as Melrose Place 2.0, the official modern-day, next-generation revival of the original series, in the same vein of The CW’s 90210. (And I’ll admit it: I loved it.) A couple of years later, The CW basically tried it again with brand new intellectual property: The L.A. Complex, a two-season flop that was developed by creator/showrunner Martin Gero (Blindspot, The Lovebirds) and Linda Schuyler (co-creator of the Degrassi franchise).
The L.A. Complex followed a cast of struggling (and predominantly Canadian, in-story as well as in reality) twentysomethings living at The Deluxe Motel (aka “The Lux,” the titular complex) in Los Angeles, all hoping to make it big—or make it at all—in their chosen fields. The characters that The L.A. Complex focused on (at least in its first season) were:
- Aspiring actress Abby (Cassie Steele), the naive new girl fresh off the bus from Toronto.
- Connor (Jonathan Patrick Moore), the successful-but-tortured—in a way that actually succeeded, as opposed to being as corny as it sounds— Australian heartthrob actor suffering from severe depression.
- “Nice Guy” Nick (Joe Dinicol), a Calgary native whose choice to pursue stand-up comedy ended up proving just how little life experience and comedic perspective he really had. (It also allowed for real-life Paul F. Tompkins and Mary Lynn Rasjkub—as themselves—to clown on him for the good of all who watched the series.)
- The jaded Raquel (Jewel Staite, who would truly be reason enough to watch the show even if the rest of it wasn’t good), a Halifax actress who starred in a beloved, successful, now-canceled series (“It had a bad time slot.”) but can’t catch a break to save her life now that she’s 30 years old and every project she wants ends up going in “a different direction.”
- Regina native Alicia (Chelan Simmons), an aspiring dancer who keeps failing at making it, despite her obvious talent.
- Montreal’s Tariq (Benjamin Charles Watson), the music intern with a dream of becoming a hip-hop producer.
- Kaldrick King (Andra Fuller), an Oakland-bred rapper who struggles both with his desire to stay relevant in the hip-hop world and with his closested homosexuality.
Unlike Melrose Place 2.0, The L.A. Complex never quite reached the melodramatic highs that were Ashlee Simpson’s crazy eyes, Stephanie Jacobsen’s character’s med student-slash-sex worker storyline, and literally everything Katie Cassidy did in that series. It was genuinely good—not “just good for a nighttime soap”— and managed to be sexy and fun without glamorizing or sugarcoating the struggle of wanting to make it in Hollywood.
Still, The L.A. Complex was certainly idealized and aspirational in some ways. Like the now-defunct Toronto band Whale Tooth serving as the house band of The Lux, and Abby as the obvious typical romantic comedy-style lead at times, who trips and falls at the worst possible moments and gets into misunderstandings that could have easily been resolved. (Steele, however, did carry the show well in this role, though it was also for the best it was an ensemble.)
But unlike Melrose Place 2.0—and early Melrose Place, which is why it was for the best it pivoted to soapy chaos once it did—there’s an actual investment in the hopes and dreams of the characters, as well as a belief that they exist for more than just wanting to be rich and famous. (Even the Nick character, an unfunny comedian.) The L.A. Complex was able to tell these lofty stories as truthfully as it possibly could without being too naturalistic, and as dynamic as it could without being too far-fetched or over-the-top. There was a balance that made the series impressive from the beginning.
The lack of After School Special-ness in its storytelling was also refreshing: One of the most understated moments of the pilot is when Abby is offered ecstasy at a party at The Lux and just casually accepts it, with no need for the show to weigh the pros and cons of it for an entire episode (unlike Melrose Place or even the “sexier” Melrose Place 2.0). That also brings up a very good point about the series overall: It holds up really well in 2020, which is something we all kind of have to check these days; it’s simply not something a lot of shows from that era do. Many tend to not hold up well even right after their run.
The L.A. Complex originally aired on Canada’s MuchMusic (now known as just Much) back in January 2012, with a six-episode first season. It was announced prior to premiere that the series would then re-air in the States on The CW that same spring (they ended up airing that same April). Then Much’s parent company Bell Media—which also owned the larger network CTV—then ordered 13 more episodes, meant as an additional order for the first season but ended up becoming the show’s second season. It then aired on both MuchMusic and The CW on the same nights, starting in July 2012.
The quickness of all of this makes it sound like The L.A. Complex was actually a success for both MuchMusic and The CW. The simulcast of the pilot on CTV got 351,000 viewers … while it only got 60,000 viewers on MuchMusic; it then got either 630,000 or 646,000 viewers on The CW, an improvement compared to Canada but ultimately the lowest-rated network drama premiere ever. So with those ratings and a guaranteed second season, the only thing that could possibly save The L.A. Complex to move passed a second season was critical acclaim and a truly fast word of mouth. The former, at least, actually happened: The L.A. Complex has a score of 100% on Rotten Tomatoes.
- “Surprise! The Lowest-Rated Show in Broadcast History Is Actually Great” – Slate
- “’The L.A. Complex’: What’s not to like?” – Newsday
- “Why you should be watching ‘The L.A. Complex’” – Entertainment Weekly
The L.A. Complex wasn’t a perfect show and not everything worked about it—the orphan siblings (Canadian, of course) in Season 2 were certainly a misstep—but it was absolutely a breath of fresh air, especially when you consider just how uneven of a network, quality-wise, The CW still was at this point. A few months before The L.A. Complex premiered in Canada, Mark Pedowitz had just taken over as President of The CW, replacing Dawn Offstroff in the position. The L.A. Complex was perhaps one of the earliest examples of the type of quality-yet-underdog series he’d go on to (and continues to) champion for the network, with the only issue being that the ratings were just too bad to justify The CW picking it up for a third season where they’d completely foot the bill after Canada canceled it. It was also another example of The CW’s history (which is still spotty now) when it came to summer and second-run international series (see: past ICYMI feature Hooten & The Lady, even though The L.A. Complex at least completely fit the bill, stylistically and demographic-wise, for the network.)
A number of actors who were on The L.A. Complex have since appeared on and had major roles on Martin Gero’s Blindspot, officially (based on my calculations) making that the most Canadian show that films in the States. And all 19 episodes of The L.A. Complex live on the mythical CW Seed app, readily available for anyone else who wants to yell at friends to watch the series, since no one watched it when it aired. (The series finale was viewed by 11,000 people on MuchMusic and 390,000 on The CW.)
But going back to Pedowitz’s approach to running The CW and the very cult legacy a show as good (but unseen) as The L.A. Complex has carved out for itself, it makes sense—as surprising as it was—that in 2018, it was announced that Gero would be developing a reboot of The L.A. Complex for The CW, now in an era where the series could actually succeed on the network. As of February 2019, this reboot (along with reboots of The 4400 and Good Christian Bitches) was still in the development phase—but for it to even exist in that phase after its one-year existence on The CW in 2012 is still rather impressive. Especially for a show with the ratings it had.
Watch on CW Seed
Despite her mother’s wishes, LaToya Ferguson is a writer living in Los Angeles. If you want to talk The WB’s image campaigns circa 1999-2003, LaToya’s your girl. Her writing has been featured in The A.V. Club, Indiewire, Entertainment Weekly, Complex, Consequence of Sound, and Flavorwire, among other publications. You can find her tweets about TV shows, movies, and music you completely forgot about @lafergs.
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