A Look At CW's 'The L.A. Complex' And Its 'Down-low Rappers' Story Thread

Television
by Tambay A. Obenson
June 7, 2012 12:15 PM
15 Comments
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Continuing to play catch up on all the TV shows that feature black characters in prominent roles, or significant storylines... I gave this one a shot, going in blindly, really not knowing what the heck to expect. But I figured I'd give it my customary 3-episode viewing to get a good enough feel for it, before deciding whether to continue watching, and so that I can at least talk about it with some authority.

I don't believe Curtis has covered this series in his This Week In Black TV series, so I thought I'd mention it because there's some stuff going on here that I think you folks should be aware of, if you're not already.

Plus the series was renewed for a second season (which will premiere next month); so, obviously, folks are watching this. I'm just not sure if a lot of black folks are.

Here's the rundown... earlier this year, the CW network acquired this Canadian soap titled The L.A. Complex (6 episodes produced for season 1), which drew comparisons to Melrose Place - essentially, a show revolving around the lives of a group of 20-somethings living in the same LA apartment complex, each chasing Hollywood dreams.

So here's what you need to know... Canadian of Jamaican decent Benjamin Charles Watson (seated in the above photo) and LA-based Andra Fuller (standing in the photo above) are members of this international group of 20-somethings, which also stars Jonathan Patrick Moore, Cassie Steele, Joe Dinicol, and Chelan Simmons.

Of obvious interest to this blog are characters played by Benjamin Charles Watson and Andra Fuller.

WARNING: SPOILERS Ahead.

Watson's character is named Tariq, a talented hip-hop artist (primarily a beat maker/master/producer) from Montreal working as an intern, who happens to be gay, although he's not completely *out* yet; only his closest friends are aware of that fact. This is obviously of significance to his storyline otherwise I wouldn't mention it. The fact that he works in the world of hip-hop should clue you into some of the challenges he faces.

And Andra Fuller's character is named as Kaldrick, a very successful rapper who trades on his outwardly thuggish image. The problem there is that it's all a front so that he can sell records, because that's what sells (I suppose speaking to the frustrations many have expressed about hip-hop in recent years); and oh, by the way, he's also gay, but deep in the closet. 

And here's where it all gets funky. Straight-laced Tariq the intern is assigned by his boss to work with client Kaldrick (whom everyone believes to be the thuggiest of thugs, and generally hard to deal with and please; even though all that's a front; but nobody knows that); Tariq is at first scared of the proposition, but he's ambitious and all that, and so he takes on the challenge. 

The two meet to begin working on some tracks for Kaldrick. They spend a day together, with Kaldrick being his faux thuggish self, and Tariq the opposite; neither knows the other is gay. There's all kinds of initial conflict and drama, and Tariq is a bit scared to work with this dude.

The day comes to a close, and they end up back at Kaldrick's mansion, still playing their individual fake *roles.* But something's obviously changed during the course of the day, as Kaldrick now seems to have realized that Tariq just might be gay, or is gay. He challenges Tariq to "do something," thuggish style, aggressive, in his face, as music he put on blasts in the background. And suddenly, they're sucking face and ripping each others' clothes off. 

And that's just in the first 2 episodes. Keep in mind that there are about 5 other different stories, following the lives of others, happening simultaneously.

I actually didn't see any of that coming until much later in that second episode, so it was a bit unexpected. 

I won't say anymore; you'll just have to watch for yourselves to see what happens next. I haven't watched all the episodes, and don't know if I will continue; I've done my 3-episode duty :)

What I can tell you that, as you'd probably expect, there's plenty of conflict between these 2. They apparently develop a relationship, with Kaldrick having to maintain his thuggish front to his entourage and to the public, while Tariq wants to go public with it all. How long they sustain this back and forth, I don't know.

But you may want to consider checking out the series for yourselves, especially with all the talk over the years about homosexuality in hip-hop. This takes it head-on, and actually turned out to be a little more complex a depiction of a scenario than I expected; though the 'down-low rapper' thread might be tiresome to some, or seen as a little too late.

I'm curious about how this particular thread in the series is being received by the LGBT community - specifically the black LGBT community. It's not often that this kind of storyline shows up in a primetime network TV series, does it? So do chime in.

One thing I'm surprised by about the show is just how adult its depictions of sexuality (both hetero and homo) are, given that its on the CW. Nothing graphic, per say, but definitely a little more than you'd probably expect for a show like this, and on this network.

I'll close by saying that I was expecting the worst when I decided to finally check out the series myself, but I can say that it's actually not that bad. Or maybe my expectations were met. If you watched shows like Beverly Hills 90210 and Melrose Place back in the day, you'll probably like this. It's pretty much a similar kind of vibe. Comparisons to those shows, based on what I've seen so far, are accurate. 

And if you're chasing Hollywood dreams, you just might dig it too, even though the set-ups are a bit thin. But almost every kind of performer is represented - filmmakers, actors, dancers, comedians, musicians.

Despite what weren't the strongest ratings for season 1, there will be a season 2, which begins July 17 at 9 pm. I think I'm done with the series, as I move onto the next new series to catch up on. I watch so you don't have to :)

I believe you can watch episodes of season 1 on the CW website.

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15 Comments

  • Kid chaos | June 9, 2012 4:38 PMReply

    Why would a black man think its cool to be gay?I hope these actor never get another acting job punks

  • George | June 8, 2012 12:34 PMReply

    The song in the background was Baby Huey Hard Times.

  • LMG | June 8, 2012 4:11 AMReply

    The show has other black representation, including a screenwriter who is buddied with a white dude. So, Sinnerman is the boogeyman in this instance (and as one who rarely sees 3D versions of himself on TV, I say get over your homophobia, dude). As for the storyline, as a BGM writer who is very well connected in the BGM community, I can say that the dialogue in our community back when folks were leaking and sharing episodes from Canada (including a series where some poster ingeniously edited only the Kal and Tariq sections of the show and posted it online as its own show, episode by episode), the reception was exceptionally well received and many felt true to life, with BGM men who rarely get depicted (i.e., affectionate, masculine, not in heels, talented in traditionally male ways, wanting to be in love and have relationships, etc.). That is until the last episode with the couple's cliffhanging season finale. As a writer, I thought the direction they went with the last episode made sense and was appropriately built up to and the acting for it Emmy worthy on the part of the rapper played by Andre Fuller. But, so many in my community were invested in seeing this couple "make it" that the outcry and sadness at what I will only say was a horrific act of violence (and that's all the spoiler I'll give) made some swear that they couldn't/wouldn't watch a second season. Now my tribe is known for hyperbole and loyalty (see how we stuck with the highly problematic Noah's Arc as an example), so I'm sure when season two arrives they'll be tuned in if only to see how much more angry/hurt they should be. If Sinnerman is starved for 3D straight black male characters outside of the usual tropes, we're positively parched in the Mugabe.

  • blaqbird | June 7, 2012 10:30 PMReply

    On another note, glad to see Jewel Staite back in the game. Definitely a fan of hers from the 90s-2000s in Space Cases, Flash Forward, and Higher Ground.

  • Jacetoon | June 7, 2012 10:27 PMReply

    @the black police
    I'm referring to the same scene Nadine is talking about. 1st episode. I'm sure they have it on CW website.

  • Orville | June 7, 2012 3:56 PMReply

    LA Complex is actually a Canadian show because it is obvious Americans can't handle complex storylines with male homosexuality. The people behind Degrassi in Canada created LA Complex. One of the things I LOVE about Canadian television is the lack of fear to deal with issues such as homosexuality. Nobody complained in Canada about Tariq and Kal in fact I think their gay romance is perhaps the most compelling and interesting storyline on the show.

    I do have a problem with Kal being a thug? I am not sure why Tariq is attracted to him? Kal is cute but who would want to be a man that is dangerous? I guess the writers wanted an opposites attract romance. I feel myself more drawn to Tariq he reminds me of young gay black men I know.
    I like the Tariq and Kal storyline for a variety of reasons. First, Tariq and Kal are the first black gay men on mainstream North American television. I say North American because LA Complex is actually a Canadian show and most of the scenes were shot in my hometown Toronto! I also love the fact Tariq and Kal are so gorgeous! I love the chemistry the two men have with each other. I would prefer the sex scenes between Tariq and Kal to have more light. I notice Tariq and Kal only kiss in the shadows in darkness which I think relates to homophobia. However, I LOVED the fourth episode when Tariq takes Kal to a retreat and they get to bond as a couple and hold hands and really get to now each other.

  • Akimbo | June 7, 2012 2:30 PMReply

    I caught part of an episode a week or so ago. I saw the DL rapper grip Cassie/Mannie up and had to piece together what was going on. I actually respect the story they're telling. It's not about a villainous DL dude sneaking around on his wife and giving her AIDS, it's about a guy who can't be who he is because there's so much at stake. I don't have a problem with that. There is apparently A LOT going on on the show...some chick was about to do porn, some other chick is an alcoholic and got caught drinking & celebrating in the pool by her sponsor/sugar daddy/I don't even know. It's like Degrassi, but instead of "going there" and making it all about the message, they just go there. I won't seek this show out, but I'm not opposed to letting it play while I do other things.

  • Isistheblogger | June 7, 2012 1:54 PMReply

    I stumbled across this show on HULU a few weeks ago. I never made it through the first episode. I give you props for the 3 episode rule for yourself. I might have watched the first 30 or so minutes. Whenever the party started that is when I checked out. As far as representation goes of the entertainment struggles, this show is lacking. I enjoyed watching 90210 & Melrose place back in the 90's but as I grow older I can't watch anymore stories like this. It is such a bore. In film school you are told that there are only 10 stories that are told over and over but YOU have to do something new with it. I swear Hollywood is NOT trying to do anything new at all.

  • SinnerBlack | June 7, 2012 12:39 PMReply

    So, 3 Black Actors, 1. "Boogieman" Record Producer, 2. Gay "Wannabe" Record Producer, 3. Gay Rapper, and that's our representation on this show.

  • Darka | June 7, 2012 6:20 PM

    You're right , my bad, I should have been more clear in my statement. The lead black men on the show.

  • the black police | June 7, 2012 4:14 PM

    No, DARKAN, only TWO of the black characters are GAY. One of them is DL.

  • Nadine | June 7, 2012 1:41 PM

    ...but they don't hesitate to elude to Black actresses in one scene in the series where the supposedly aged actress freaks out about a role as "the best friend" being reserved for a Black actress as, again, it is not realistic... http://www.hollywoodlife.com/2012/04/24/la-complex-series-premiere-review-cassie-steele-abortion/
    CANADIAN teen dramas have been ridiculously problematic in terms of their removal of and storylines for their Black/bi-racial Black actresses (where Canada used to be more open and exemplary) . As for the rap storyline, well the " brothas" gave that music away, without hesitation and with dollar signs in their eyes... now, as no one could have predicted, the new owners are having their way with it and its people. Good luck with that...

  • Darkan | June 7, 2012 1:39 PM

    I think @SINNERBLACK is pointing to the fact that all of the black men on the show are either gay or DL, which is a glaring misrepresentation of black men in general not just that they are in the music industry.

  • the black police | June 7, 2012 1:21 PM

    @ JACETOON, can you please show me a source or verify the information you just gave? I'm serious.

    @ SINNERBLACK, there's also a fourth black screenwriter guy that is trying to get a flim made. Well since the show is centered on LA wannabes, I dont see the argument you're trying to make. The show has a white male actor, a white female actor wannabe, a white female dancer wannabe, a white male comedian wannabe. Are those stereotypical? Is it SO HARD to find a black wannabe record producer in LA? Or a black rapper? I dont see the record producer as a boogieman. If he was white and produced rock music would you still call him a boogieman? He is stern. Is that hard to find or believe?

  • Jacetoon | June 7, 2012 12:48 PM

    Don't forget through the script they stated that they would not cast a black actress because it was unrealistic.

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