L.A. Complex: Canadian TV that straddles the border

Cross-border series like The L.A. Complex show off Canada’s prime-time strengths

An end to our inferiority complex


The L.A. Complex is a show about Canadians trying to make it in Hollywood, including a young TV writer. But its creator, Martin Gero, is a young TV writer who made it in the States and then came back. The L.A. Complex, a MuchMusic production which also airs on the CW Television Network in the U.S., is the latest of several Canadian shows with cross-border appeal. But in its story of young Canadians learning the realities of Hollywood, it may have more resonance for Canadians than most shows set in Canada. “There are people who have made an entire career up here and feel very fulfilled, and have done some extraordinary work,” says Gero. “But there’s no getting around it, the U.S. market is the big leagues.”

Gero spent years working in Canada, but the opportunity to create his own show only came after two years in the States working on the HBO show Bored to Death. “HBO is a prestigious brand to have on your resumé,” he says, “and that gets you more attention back in Canada. That’s how The L.A. Complex came up.” Denis McGrath, who has written for shows such as CBC’s The Border, says Gero is an example of how Canadian networks can be slow to recognize talent under their noses. “Martin was a top writer-producer on two iterations of the Stargate franchise,” a series of Canadian-made sci-fi TV shows. “It would have been smart to throw him a show then,” he says.

That ambiguous feeling about the U.S. entertainment industry comes through in The L.A. Complex, a show that, as Gero puts it, “straddles both borders.” It’s a soap about attractive young people and their romantic problems, but critics have found it less sensational than U.S. soaps, and Gero thinks the Canadian sense of detachment has something to do with that. “It seems to be grounded in something real,” he says. “From where we are in the entertainment industry, there’s a sense of irony to everything involving the States that maybe American shows don’t have.” One of the arcs in the current season has Nick (Canadian actor Joe Dinicol) competing for a staff job on a Hollywood show, and it incorporates some of the Canadian feeling of being an outsider—plus a soapy twist when another writer is his ex-lover.

But if shows like The L.A. Complex feel a little different from U.S. shows emotionally, they look just as polished. That’s a big change from a previous era when, as Gero admits, “you could tell a Canadian show by its look and sound.” Thanks to the sophistication of Canadian crews, Gero says that other cross-border dramas like Flashpoint and Rookie Blue have proven that we can “replicate the prime-time style” of American productions.

Still, there are disadvantages to making a Canadian series. “In the States it’s very simple to finance a show,” Gero says. “You go to a studio, they find a network, and that’s it.” In Canada, “you’re going to get your funding from nine or 10 different places.” And a Canadian show increasingly needs a U.S. partner: “Our international sales are going to do a lot better because it’s associated with a big brand like the CW than if it’d just been on MuchMusic,” Gero says. That situation may make it hard for Canadian networks to produce shows primarily for their own viewers, the way American and English networks do. McGrath says that executives sometimes seem to imply that the ultimate goal of Canadian TV is “to create a show that a U.S. network can plug in for cheap in the summer.”

On the other hand, reviews for shows like The L.A. Complex and Showcase’s Lost Girl (which got a rave from a leading U.S. critic) could indicate that Canada no longer needs to have an inferiority complex. And Gero is intrigued by the possibilities of going back and forth between the two TV industries. “I don’t have a family, so I can be a geographic nomad,” says the 34-year-old. By making these distinctively cross-cultural shows, writers may be breaking down some barriers between Canadian and U.S. TV. “When I talk to Canadian reviewers, they say, ‘The show is so American,’” he says. “And when I talk to American reviewers, they say, ‘It’s so Canadian.’”

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