The L. A. Complex may be a soap opera, but it’s a soap opera that’s character-driven and that makes an effort to embroil its characters in fresh and knotty predicaments that grow naturally out of their individual weaknesses. I’m loving the storyline about Abby and her ménage a trois with the actors on the Christian TV show who aren’t even supposed to be sleeping with each other, let alone bringing in an auxiliary player. As Cassie Steele plays her, Abby is hard to dislike, but in addition to not being very bright, she keeps her eye on the main chance, and her opportunism and her eagerness to please are mixed together in a way that has her constantly doing the wrong thing for some selfish reason and then making it worse because she doesn’t want to upset anyone. Having made a play for Brandon, even though they work together and she knew he wasn’t unattached, she wound up in bed with Brandon and Megan, because that’s just where going with the flow took her. As she explains to the guy at the apartment complex who’s begun to function as the voice of the audience, she’s now hoping to drop Megan from the equation. But Megan seems to think that it may be Brandon who needs to be dropped, and given the right chain of events, it’s easy to imagine Abby going along with that, just to keep the peace.
Abby’s sort-of-ex, Nick, shows signs of blossoming this week, going from the guy in the writers’ room who survives out of dumb luck and because his miseries give his boss an excuse to blow off work and get drunk at a strip club in the afternoon to someone whose experience of spending the work day getting drunk at a strip club may have unloosened some crippling inhibitions that were getting in the way of his ability to be funny. “Kerouac drank whisky for three weeks and wrote On The Road,” he marvels. “I got bombed on Singapore slings last night and wrote 10 pages of pot jokes.” The show is quite effective in suggesting how formidable the right combination of haplessness, luck, and the occasional, unexpected outburst of applied talent might be in this environment, especially when it focuses on the frustration of Sabrina, the one-night stand who’s now Nick’s rival for a permanent position on the show. She’s smarter and more talented than he is, but everything she does to prove his inadequacy seems to strengthen his place in the food chain; it must be like running for office against Sarah Palin. As Sabrina, Georgina Reilly drops the confident body language she had at the start of last week’s episode and, sitting at the writing table listening to the renewed Nick reel off his new material, disappears into a black hole somewhere inside her own head. Reilly hasn’t looked this miserable since she was drooling and banging her bloody face against protective glass in the “language is a virus” horror movie Pontypool.
The show continues to give its most emotionally complex scenes to Andra Fuller and Jewel Staite, because it knows they can handle them. Fuller’s storyline about his character, the closeted rap star Kaldrick King, bringing his estranged father home to his mansion, where anonymous hangers-on are performing a continuous hip-hop party video without cameras, is the stalest thing the show has done, but there’s a redemptive sick joke at the end of tonight’s episode when King’s father asks him, “Those women at your house—are they what you really want?” King readily admits that they’re not, and there looks to be a flyspeck of a moment when he embrace the terror and relief of coming out to his father, before Pops grandly introduces him to the kind of “good” woman he thinks his son ought to be dating.
It’s Staite’s character, Raquel, who charts the widest arc in this episode, beginning with a low point that is actually lower than she, in her confused and shell-shocked state, is first able to comprehend. Having gotten into an accident while driving drunk, she gets a bandage on her forehead and a clean bill of health at the hospital before being whisked off to jail, where Staite gets to deliver the all-time perfect read of the line “I’m sorry, what?”—in response to being told to “Squat and cough.” (She says it in a way that’s not at all defiant, which makes it all the more touching, since it makes you realize that the person who’s been saying that to people all day is probably past the point of hearing it as anything but defiant.)
The last time we saw Raquel before the accident, she was high and giddy as she raced off, like some glamorous rom-com heroine, to convince the toy boy Connor that he'd never find a better woman than her. Now, shaken and down in the depths, she has to get Connor out of the bed he’s sharing with his fake girlfriend, Jennifer, so he can bail her out. When the two of them show up at the jail, she has to suffer the nightmare of seeing that the plastic bitch Jennifer is actually nice and mature and sane, and that everything she has to say to her about being insufficiently grateful to Connor is true. When Jennifer and Connor are alone, she tells him that Raquel is “toxic”—a painful moment for the viewer, who doesn't like having to concede that this, too, is not untrue. All Raquel can do is be truthful herself, as she is when she messages Connor to tell him that, by dumping her in favor of Jennifer, he’s confirmed his own weakness by trading in one mommy figure for another, and knowing this is true doesn’t do a thing for her.
Also not doing a lot for Raquel is her agent, who arrives at the end of a long, bad day with the happy news that one of the washed-up sitcom stars scheduled to appear on the next season of a reality show called Celebrity Halfway House has died, and Raquel is welcome to take his place. At the start of the series, Raquel seemed to be the only person on this show who, however things were going for her, at least knew how to play the game. That person is scarcely a memory when you see the expression on Staite's face as she says, "If I do that, it's over. I'm officially a joke." "You just got fired off Cactibear 2," says the agent. "If it's not over, we're definitely in the final moments." This is all pretty funny in theory, and in this case, it's to the show's credit that it doesn't seem like something to laugh at.