It’s been a long couple of months since the new Canadian soap The L.A. Complex premiered up north, but now that it’s arrived at its American home on The CW, it was worth the wait. Originally conceived by the Degrassi creators as a spin-off starring Cassie Steele‘s beloved character Manny Santos, it evolved into a free-standing series about a group of twentysomething Canadians and Australians trying to make it in L.A., starring Cassie as aspiring actress Abby. Honestly, that was the best decision the producers could have made, because it clearly marks the divide between Degrassi High and adulthood.
Degrassi has always “gone there” (it’s their tagline, after all), but many of their twists came off as campy. Don’t get me wrong, I love the guilty pleasure predatory characters, but the casual sex and even more casual drug use, getting booed out by celebrities, and scenes of characters running out on their landlords with stolen goods just fit better on the grittier L.A. Complex. Through Abby’s journey to the Delux Suites Motel, we meet the motley crew of foreigners all trying to break into a business that’s horribly foreign and competitive enough for its own citizens, let alone outsiders. (After watching the show, you’re not surprised that Degrassi actors seem to get recycled through Canadian shows, because why would they torture themselves with trying to break into American TV?)
You get a sense that the writers are picking and choosing their scandalous plotlines. Already they’ve dropped hints that something is off with dancer Alicia: There’s a sequence where she furiously works out while waiting for a call from her agent, only for it to be hours later and she still hasn’t heard if she got the callback. In a rage, she swipes everything off the kitchen counter and stands there heaving and sweating in her workout clothes. It was a powerful nonverbal moment that makes me wonder if she’ll have some sort of body image issues later in the season.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, you have aspiring artist Tariq slaving away as the assistant to rapper Dynasty, believing that it’s because of his talent even when Dynasty’s posse taunts him that it’s just because they needed someone to fetch them In’n'Out burgers. He sneaks one of his tracks to Drake – nice little Easter egg, Degrassi writers! — but when it turns out that they actually like it, Dynasty tells him, “That track belongs to me now.” Tariq actually seems OK with this; unlike a show like 90210, I don’t think we’ll be seeing some drawn-out plotline of him trying to get the rights back to his song. He understands that this is the kind of sacrifice you have to make when you’re paying your dues.
There’s plenty of romantic intrigue from the beginning. Dorky comedian Nick likes Abby, but she ends up having sex on the roof (awesome) with hot Australian actor Connor, who’s just landed his big break on a medical drama. But lest you think this is some sweet tale of puppy love, we get the following exchange the next morning, when they wake up in the L.A. sun and realize that Connor didn’t use a condom:
Connor: ”I thought you said you were on something.”
Abby: ”Yeah. Drugs.”
So Abby gets a different kind of pharmaceutical: The morning-after pill, even though it warns that it causes extreme nausea when she’s an hour away from her big audition. You get this gleeful sense that the plotlines will be “anything that can go wrong, will,” and in a way far more entertaining than when the shit hits the fan on Degrassi.