Last week’s episode began with Raquel being stripped of her possessions and dignity while being processed for a night in jail. Tonight’s episode opens with a sequence that rhymes with that one: a production assistant going through Raquel’s bag as she’s about to enter the “set” of Celebrity Halfway House, a reality show that combines the pleasures of community service and shooting your career through the head. Happily, this means the return of Ricky, the likable sleaze of a former child star who, in the show’s early episodes, helped the sweetly pliable young dancer dynamite her own career by persuading her to make a sex tape with him, for purposes of publicity. Heeding his career advice was enough to get her written off the show, and listening to it himself has landed him here.
In the first group-encounter scene, the female Dr. Drew running the program asks Ricky when he was last happy. Tearing up, Ricky recalls that it was the last time he was being paid to be someone else, when he was a kid on a TV detective show. It’s a very effective moment, and when someone shouts that there was a problem with the audio, he’s happy to perform it again. He later says of the raving, crazy bitch in the cast, “I even made Cori cry, and she’s a terrible actress.” Raquel compliments him on his work, but urges him to rethink the way he’s cast himself on the show. Playing the lovable screw-up isn’t going to get him work when the show is over, and it’s a waste of his natural volatility, which Raquel likens to that of a “younger Ed Norton, Jewish Bruce Willis.” Liking the sound of that, Ricky throws a hateful fit in the next group session, taunting a younger pretty-boy celebrity for having cracked under the influence of that sissy drug, marijuana, and boasting of his own close familiarity with heroin. This gives Raquel an excuse to hold the pretty boy and comfort him, while practically sticking her tongue out at the counselor-star, who had been determined to cast Raquel in the role she doesn’t want, that of sharp-tongued bitch.
A rehab reality show is a terrific setting for The L. A. Complex, a show that is often sharpest when it can catch its characters shitting where they eat, so it can satirize their problems and the industry they’re part of at the same time. The storyline about Nick and Sabrina warring for their jobs in the writers’ room, even while they’re increasingly unable to keep their hands off each other may be spinning its wheels, but it’s spinning them in an engaging place, because the backstage dynamism among those writers is never not entertaining, even if it would be nice if the show would take the time to make some of them characters. On the other hand, I agree with Kaldrick’s pissed-off producer that it’s time for him to stop mooning around the city and return to work. Even if the story of Kaldrick’s efforts to impress his dad and continue to hide the truth about his sexuality by starting a relationship with a young woman who works at his father’s shelter is going some place, it would strike more sparks if it were played against the background of Kaldrick trying to reignite his career, the way the love story between Kaldrick and Tariq was in the first season.
I also miss Alan Thicke. (I swear, live long enough and watch enough TV, and there’s no telling what the next sentence out of your mouth might be.) Cassie’s hot affair with the pretend brother and sister from Thicke’s Christian TV show seems to be resting on its laurels, until it comes to a boil in a scene that promises repercussions to be played out at work, which I hope is a promise that can be taken to the bank. (The scene also marks two inevitables: the first time someone at the complex has been pushed into the pool in anger, and the first time I can remember that someone has yelled loudly enough to get the attention of the folks who are always playing music around the pool.)
On the other hand, the show’s other brother-and-sister act, Simon the aspiring child actor and Beth his supposed manager, could use some rethinking. I was sort of hoping that whatever was going on last week between Beth and that guy she screwed during Simon’s audition would get a revisit, an explanation, something. Instead, there’s a peerlessly dumb scene in which Beth costs Simon his job as a victim of a pedophile, despite the fact that it looks like a fairly professional, well-paying job and they really need the money. This whole sequence just looks like a carryover from a different, dopier show. And though Connor's storyline about meeting the husband of the actress he's pretend-dating (and for-real sleeping with) isn't as bad, you can anticipate every twist and turn a minute before they happen. He, too, has nothing to do all day but hang around his girlfriend's house, attracting mischief. Here’s hoping the show resumes working better when everyone on it is, well, working.