“Choose Your Battles” S2 / E3
- B Community Grade
If Andra Fuller’s performance as the charismatic, miserably closeted rapper Kaldrick King hasn’t made him a TV star by now, I’m not sure what the term is even good for. Fuller has been racking up more and more time in front of the camera, and despite being asked to pull off some heavy melodramatics—King attempted suicide in the season premiere, and tonight he goes wandering down those mean streets, gifting hustlers with the jewelry from around his neck and searching for a mysterious figure form his past, who’d reached out to him by phone during a radio call-in segment—you never want to stop watching him. Fuller is able to make direct contact with the audience at the same time that he’s conveying the air of regal disdain that King, the superstar with the dangerous reputation, uses to keep his fans and the rest of the world at a distance. His sense of exhaustion is fed by the effort it takes him to appear hard and unreachable at all times, and when that drops—as it does when he’s one on one with his producer, who knows his secrets and has the means to make his worst problems disappear—he practically melts into a desperate little kid.
In his big scene in tonight’s episode, King is “relaxing” in his big house, hiding in plain sight among a hundred or so well-wishers who’ve been recruited to create the party atmosphere that his bodyguard-handler thinks is essential to keeping his charge’s mind off thoughts of straight razors and Seconal. In marches a ludicrous young rapper with the inspired name of Infinite Jest, accompanied by his fresh-faced mini-entourage, who demands that the tired old man accept his challenge to a freestyle rap duel, to settle which of them is the real star of the moment. King sits silently, eyes averted, while this joker lobs insults into his lap. He looks as if he’s torturing himself, swallowing spit in the knowledge that he’s played-out, or at least rusty, and can’t really answer back. Then, when it’s his turn, King jumps up and, looming over the younger man like an incoming tsunami, reels off a cascade of rhythmic abuse that scarcely leaves enough of him to bury. The exchange, which is less embarrassing than any rap battle in a Canadian-produced dramatic series on The CW has any right to be, confirms King’s stature as a star, without which the entire story line build around him would collapse. It makes sense that, even as a self-loathing, suicidal basket case with one foot out the door, his instincts as a performer would be the last part of him still functioning, and that nothing could switch them on like a direct challenge from a dork who wants to take his place.
Fuller’s performance, and the way the show has been making it possible, is all the more impressive for the fact that he was introduced as a supporting character in the story line of Tariq, the intern he bonded with, beat up, and drove away. One way The L. A. Complex has distinguished itself, over the course of one short season and three episodes, is its willingness to follow stories wherever they go, even if that means deemphasizing one character in favor of another, even to the point of dropping characters whose connection to the city has reached a logical stopping point. Right now, I wouldn’t mind seeing Nick the aspiring comedian join the procession of once-central departing characters. Did this guy’s life peak fast, or what? At the start of the season, he was bunking with Abby, the beautiful girl he’d fallen in love with in record time, and handed landed a job in the writing room of Paul F. Tompkins’ new TV show, alongside Sabrina, the funny girl with whom he’d enjoyed a one-night stand. Then, the show suffered an attack of contrivance, and Nick and Sabrina learned that they were engaged in a working audition, and only one of them would end up with a regular gig.
Nick, who seemed to be a promising character when it looked as if the show might use him to explore how an intelligent, funny person who isn’t yet a performer becomes a comedian, has settled into a doomed-nice-guy rut. Subjecting him to pranks and mind games, Sabrina keeps jerking the football away from him, but he runs toward it every time. He even bleats that what she’s doing isn’t “fair,” one word that should not be in a would-be professional funny person’s vocabulary. If this is meant to make him sympathetic, it’s only succeeding in making him pathetic, and it’s topped at the end of the episode by Abby’s announcement that they moved in together too fast and she’s moving out. (If Paul F. Tompkins fires him, will she at least front him her half of the rent money from all that sweet Christian TV loot she’ll be hauling in?) She even tells him that she probably wasn’t thinking straight when she agreed to live with him because she had no other place to go, instead of taking pity on him and pretending that she made such a rash decision because of her overpowering lust for his pasty frame and rabbity face. At least she doesn’t tell him the truth: It’s only a matter of time before you lose any girl you force to have sex with you beneath that clown painting on the wall above the bed.
I can’t tell yet where the story involving Raquel and the himbo Connor finding true love, only to have it tested by Connor’s contractually binding phony relationship with the movie star played by Krista Allen. (Is it a fluke of casting or an inside joke that Allen herself was best known as the off-screen girlfriend of George Clooney when she appeared on the HBO struggling-actors series Unscripted, on which Clooney was one of the executive producers?) But by giving Raquel a guest spot on Connor’s sexy hospital show, the writers did give themselves the chance to show that they’re funnier than Nick. The parody of Grey’s Anatomy included such lines as “I still have feelings for you, Margaret. Your calling off the wedding didn’t change that,” and “I can’t do this now. I have to go tell a little boy that the pain in his stomach isn’t appendicitis,” and a final slo-mo scene in which somebody runs in and kills Raquel’s character with a shotgun blast. As she’s lying on the floor with what looks like a fruit juice stain on her hospital gown, Connor looks into her eyes and tells her, “You’re gonna be fine.” She smiles at him and says, “You’re a better doctor than that.” It was so perfectly godawful that Shonda Rimes herself might not have been able to tell it from the real thing.
Thanks to Myles McMutt for covering the show last week, on very short notice. Even when The L. A. Complex is uneven, it's the kind of show you want to step up for, and Myles did.