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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

The L.A. Complex: “Stay”

Illustration for article titled The L.A. Complex: “Stay”
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There isn’t a duller, deader, more played-out trope in series television than “family”: how important it is, how empty and meaningless life is without it, how those who haven’t scored a great one through the usual genetic channels may yet find one through friends, co-workers, neighbors. It’s a credit to the kernel of genuine emotion at the heart of this subject that it can still be effectively re-activated after having been so badly used so many times, and it’s a tribute to what a good show The L. A. Complex is that it can ring fresh changes on it.

Last week’s episode closed on two frightened, lonely little boys: Simon, the child actor who needs a new agent, since his sister is doing for his career what Melvin Purvis did for John Dillinger’s; and Connor, the TV hunk who managed to reunite the movie actress he’d contracted to “date” with her errant husband. Fed up, and harboring an insane fantasy of lighting off to Alaska to reconnect with their runaway dad, Simon ran away, while Connor was last seen playing Pictionary with his new surrogate mom and dad. Not for him the conventional attitude that this game ranks somewhere between sleep deprivation and Carlos Mencia monologues on Amnesty International’s list of unacceptable interrogation techniques.  Teasing the woman he himself had been sleeping with just the day before about her inability to create a drawing that doesn’t look like a penis, the light in his smiling face seemed to say: six-figure salary, sex with supermodels, a mansion in the hills—it was all worth it to get to this.

Connor is much the sadder of the two, and the show has never done better by Jonathan Patrick Moore’s talent for making the misery of the beautiful and over-privileged simultaneously funny and touching. There’s a tear-stained comic gem of a scene in which Mom and Dad sit him down by the pool and explain that, yes, just as he hoped, they’re getting back together, and, no, he can’t actually continue living with them, and they’re sure as hell not taking him to Six Flags so the paparazzi can photograph them taking him on rides and buying him all the cotton candy a good boy can eat. So Connor heads back to the Lux, where he finds Simon huddling in a corner of his empty room, photographed so he looks like the kid in the poster for Insidious. Happily, he’s not possessed or anything, just depressed.

Because Connor and Simon are the same emotional age, Connor knows instinctively that a poolside pizza party will fix that, and also give him, the kid who can pay for it, the chance to play grown-up. It’s not a role that he savors, but it may be beginning to dawn on him that it’s one he needs to get used to playing. After brother and sister have been reunited, and everyone in the show except for Kal has shown up as if they were all Waltons reporting for Thanksgiving dinner, Beth looks at her phone and sees a message from Dad, which she wisely ignores. If you’re going to peddle a message about how family is all-important, it’s just simple decency to include a proviso acknowledging that your preferred family members may not include anyone you’re related to. The episode ends with a blonde who’s been shadowing Connor introducing herself and telling him she’s her sister, which may mean a resumption of this very topic next Monday.

As for Kal, one night of bed-breaking sex with his new lawyer friend seems to have been enough to cure him of any desire to bond with his estranged father or date women for appearance’s sake, and even though the relationship hits an impasse over Kal’s unresolved feelings about Tariq—about everything—it’s a great relief that the one-night stand doesn’t turn out to be some entrapment scheme engineered by the lawyer’s knucklehead client, Infinite Jest. In every way not related to the workings of his heart, Kal can walk away clean. The same can’t be said for Raquel, who tries to redeem herself after Zach’s suicide attempt by attempting to persuade Zach to walk off their reality show. Unfortunately, she’s used up all her credit with the rest of the cast—“I’m through trusting you,” Rickey tells her, “because people who do tend to wind up lying on the floor, frothing at the mouth.”—and ends up walking off the set without Zach in tow, while the show’s lawyers ready a lawsuit for her to add to her growing collection. Given the reckless cruelties she now has to live down, it would be disingenuous to pretend that she doesn’t deserve whatever’s coming. Personally, I'd probably forgive Jewel Staite if doused me with kerosine and set me on fire, but The L. A. Complex is made of sterner stuff than I am, and it has its priorities in order.

Stray observations:

  • Nick spends the entire episode Experiencing Life—through answering ads on the Internet, which figures—after Sabrina challenges him to get some new material before performing again. He is dumbfounded to learn that she herself is abandoning her set list—which, it goes without saying, kicks his set list’s ass—because it’s all stuff she’s triumphed with, and it’s time to move on. “No ‘Hipster Haiku’?” he says. “No ‘Keep It Cool’? No ‘Babypockets’!?” This is almost as good as the movie titles on Seinfeld.
  • Abby finds true love with a handsome blond dude who says he’s in the military, and who she meets while working as an extra on a TV show: The job “pays $100 plus two substantial snacks,” says her agent, who thinks that sounds so good that he shows up to get some of that for himself. “Okay, here’s the deal,” yells the man with the bullhorn who plays inadvertent matchmaker. “You’re a couple group. So try to buddy up with somebody you can pretend to like for the next 12 hours.” The whole extras-work sequence is so funny that it’s as if Sabrina wrote it.
  • One of the indie filmmakers hanging around the edges of the Lux, and the show, gets to help Beth look for Simon, and play the voice of reason, as if he were a real character; for a minute there, for the second episode in a row, it sort of looks as if they might even be one scene away from kissing. He must have thought all his Christmases were coming at once. Then the little bastard turns up safe and sound, and he, like his buddy, have to settle for free pizza.
  • This is also the second episode in a row where, in the closing moments, there's an abrupt close-up of Jonathan Patrick Moore laughing in a way that makes it look as if he's either choking or experiencing an ill-timed, on-camera orgasm. Did he eat the editor's lunch or something?
  • Kal: “I don’t get intimidated. I intimidate.” “Intimidate me into having breakfast,” replies the lawyer. It’s not exactly Nick and Nora, but as sexy banter goes, it lays waste to pretty much anything else ever uttered on The CW.