Interview: Creator Martin Gero talks 'L.A. Complex'
Now might be a good time to tune in to The CW's Canadian transplant
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It's not too late to catch up with The CW's new drama "The L.A. Complex," but after last week's less-than-robust premiere numbers, you don't want to wait too much longer to tune in.
The story of a group of young transplants, mostly Canadian, trying to make it as actors, dancers, comedians and musicians in Hollywood is simultaneously familiar, but freshly executed and Sepinwall and I said nice things about "The L.A. Complex" in last week's podcast.
I also chatted [before the show's launch] with "L.A. Complex" creator Martin Gero, whose credits start with the indie feature "Young People ****ing" and also include writing and producing runs on TV shows as different as "Stargate Universe" and "Bored to Death."
A lot of our conversation hinged on me trying to get Gero to admit that "L.A. Complex" is a very Canadian-feeling show, but it also includes discussion of his approach to Hollywood, the show's approach to controversial subject matter and The CW's approach to side-boob.
Click through for the full interview... And don't forget that "L.A. Complex" airs its second episode on Tuesday (May 1) at 9 p.m. on The CW...
HitFix: I've seen "Young People ****ing," but coming off of "Bored to Death" and "SGU," why was this the show you wanted to make?
Martin Gero: It was one of those really weird situations that kinda never happens where I had a little time off between seasons of "Bored to Death" and Epitome, the company that makes "Degrassi" up here, came to me and said, "Listen, we've done this movie called 'Degrassi Goes to Hollywood' and the biggest thing that came out of that was we really feel like we can shoot a show in Toronto that feels like LA." And I was like, "Let me be the judge of that." And they sent me the movie and I live in LA and I thought they'd filmed most of it there. The success of the execution of that movie got in everyone's head up here. There's probably more Canadians living in Los Angeles than in Halifax, so the idea from CTV was "We should do a show about Canadians living in Los Angeles." And for whatever reason, I think mostly because of "Young People ****," they were like, "Get that '****ing' guy. He'll do something good." So we just started talking about what a show would be about Canadians living in Los Angeles.
HitFix: Do you see any through-lines at all between what you'd been working on in TV and this?
Martin Gero: Absolutely. What I loved about "Young People ****ing" is that we took kinda stock situations that you'd kinda heard of before and tried to put a fresh spin and surprising take on them. I think that's what we're doing with "The L.A. Complex." These are The New Girl In Town, The Dancer, The Young Comedian and these are all kinda archetypes that people might, on first glance, be like, "Well there's no way that there's a good show in here" and then it's our challenge to sit down and be like, "OK. Well, what's the awesome version of all of these stories?" Hopefully we did that.
HitFix: But I was more talking about "SGU" and "Bored to Death," which already seem like very different shows from each other and neither seems all that similar to what you're doing here.
Martin Gero: I've been very fortunate in my career. I've really been all over the map. I haven't just done sci-fi. I haven't just done half-hour comedy. I don't know. I have trouble finding the through-line through all of the work.
HitFix: You say you live in LA, but you've also done TV shows that have been based in Vancouver and New York. What has your relationship with Los Angeles been like?
Martin Gero: When you're kid who wants to be in the entertainment industry, that's where you think the entertainment industry is. Since I was nine, I wanted to move to Los Angeles and I'd visited a bunch. It's a real intoxicating city. So I moved there about three years ago, right before I started working on "Bored to Death" and I really love it. But what's tough is that I've lived in LA exclusively as an employed person. It's a very difficult city to live in when you're not employed and that's kinda what the show's about.
HitFix: We've never had a shortage of TV shows or movies about making it in Hollywood. What did you most want to make sure you got right and what did you most want to avoid getting wrong?
Martin Gero: That's a tough question. I can't speak to that. I didn't want to do "Entourage" again, so we started talking about this and started talking about doing a show about the entertainment industry, people are right to be like, "Ugh. There's enough of those already." But for me, being in your 20s and that kinda Bohemian, extreme-poor life and doing it in a city like Los Angeles, there's a danger there that maybe doesn't exist in another city. It's equal parts glamorous and terrifying and I think that's good fodder for a show.
HitFix: Did you always expect that "L.A. Complex" was going to find an American home?
Martin Gero: We certainly hoped. I think the goal is obviously to make something where... When we do shows up here in Canada, they're never just for Canadians. Shows are expensive to make and so ideally they appeal to an international audience. But I think that this show in particular, because it takes place in LA and, for the most part, is populated by American characters, I thought we had a good chance. The CW and I had been talking for a couple years about trying to do something together and then they really responded to the material really well and felt like it was a good fit for them. They've been extraordinary partners on these new episodes that we've been working on. We're really excited and I don't think we could have found a better home.
HitFix: I noticed a couple bleeps and a couple little bits of blurring. What is it that you can't say or show on The CW?
Martin Gero: It's pretty much the same. We can't swear up here. I think Canadians are just a little are lenient with their side-boobs than Americans are, which is totally fair. Totally fair, America. So that's what the odd blur is. As far as the bleeps, I don't know. What did they bleep?
HitFix: There were just one or two bleeps here and there. I can't remember what it was, but I didn't assume the language was getting all that racy.
Martin Gero: Maybe they just did it to be mysterious. But it's the same thing. MuchMusic is a basic cable channel and the show airs sometimes at like 2 p.m. in the afternoon, so the stuff that we can get away with is basically the same in the States as in Canada.
HitFix: So I interviewed Jewel Staite the other day...
Martin Gero: She's awesome!
HitFix: Yes she is. And I mentioned how Canadian the show felt to me...
Martin Gero: Oh really?
HitFix: Exactly, because she said that in Canada, the reaction was how different it seemed from other things on Canadian TV. Where do you fall on that?
Martin Gero: I don't know. It's interesting to hear you say that. The reviews up here are like, "This is a very American-feeling show." I don't know. I kinda feel like I'm stuck between both worlds. People think I talk with an American accent in Canada and people think I talk with a Canadian accent in America, so I guess it kinda fits that the show fuses those words. What do you think is Canadian about it?
HitFix: I think it's a very Canadian worldview, a very Canadian sense of humor, a very Canadian sense of underlying earnestness. But that could just be ANY outsider perspective, rather than a Canadian perspective, necessarily.
Martin Gero: I think what's fascinating about LA is that it's a city of immigrants, right? Even for Americans. Not a lot of people are born and raised in LA, so it really feels like a transient place for the most part anyway.
HitFix: But do you feel like there's a different Canadian-specific perspective to and on Hollywood?
Martin Gero: Hmmm... Well, no. I don't know. I don't know how my perspective would be different from someone who came from, say, Iowa. I think our perspective is that we certainly have a lot of reverence for it. Like I said, it's a pretty beautiful and intoxicating place. But also I think we kinda feel like it's a super-dangerous place. It feels like it's incredibly easy to get lost there and stuck, not wanting to leave. So yeah, I don't know.
HitFix: So psychically dangerous more than physically?
Martin Gero: Yeah, yeah. Nobody's gonna get mugged or anything, but it's not exactly the most healthy mind-space for a person to spend their early 20s in.
HitFix: How did the Toronto filming go from your perspective? How well did you feel like you were able to mask Toronto-as-LA?
Martin Gero: I think we did it pretty well. That's more of a comment for you guys to figure out, I think. The way that we did it was, I wanna say as many as 80 percent of exteriors were all shot in Los Angeles and then all of our interiors were show up here, with the exception of the main hotel set, which we built on a backlot here. I don't know. These are maybe just my kiss-ass friends, but a lot of my friends in Los Angeles when they saw the show were pissed. They thought I'd spent way more time in Los Angeles than I had. They were like, Hey man, this looks like it was shot all here. You don't call for dinner?"
HitFix: Speaking of those friends, how big was the pool you were able to tap for personal Hollywood stories?
Martin Gero: Oh, God. Embarrassingly large. Everyone I know is an actor or in the business in some way, so from collecting from the past 15 years, some very literally and some we changed to make them a little more TV-friendly or a little more salacious, but there were some uncomfortable moments showing the show to some of my friends who could see their lives directly lifted and portrayed on screen was weird for some of them, for sure.
HitFix: Are any circumstances or characters particularly autobiographical for you?
Martin Gero: Autobiographical? I don't know about that. I'm probably closest to Cam and Kevin, the two weirdo filmmakers who live downstairs there. I think Nick and I have a lot in come. We both worked in a coffee shop and did a lot of comedy when we were younger, or he's still young, so he's still doing a lot of comedy. But I've been friends with Jewel for a long time now and have watched her certainly struggle with the industry and kind of always had her in the back of my head for this role. So you steal where you can without it hopefully ending friendships.
HitFix: Could you talk about the show's approach to topicality and Big Issues? There are a lot of big things that come up here, very matter-of-factly, it feels like.
Martin Gero: Yeah, well, for instance with the morning-after pill. In my experience, it comes up matter-of-factly. I don't sit around talking about the morning after pill unless I need the morning after pill and then it's probably not something I really want to discuss, we just want to be cool about and figure it out. I think most of those issues, you don't need to present a biased case just to talk about something a little bit more controversial, you know? I think you can just take an opinion and run with it, because I think that's kinda true to life?
HitFix: Does the fact that Epitome had done "Degrassi," does that give them a greater ease with certain approaches to certain subject matters?
Martin Gero: What Epitome is great at is that they've tackled pretty much everything under the sun and why they're successful is they do it in an organic way. They don't go out of their way to deal with crazy subject matter. It just happens in the show and when it does, they treat it cool. So for us, again, we took these really archetypal characters and then had to do decide, "How do we make them interesting, not just for 18-to-20-year-olds, but how do we make them interesting for everybody?" For us, that's putting them through a real gauntlet of s*** that happens to them.
HitFix: And there were no restrictions put on you guys in that respect at all?
Martin Grego: No. No. And, in fact, for the most part they just say, "More, more, more." I think there was some concern when we started these new episodes that we just starting shooting and having The CW come on board, it's always difficult to have two broadcasters, but they've both been in kinda lockstep with understanding what the show does well and understanding that talking about these seemingly controversial things is part of the reason why the show works. So yeah, they've been great. We haven't been told "No" once yet. In fact, we just got off a call the other where they were like, "I think you can go a little farther with this." We were like, "Great! We can? Delightful!"
HitFix: What do the additional 13 episodes allow you to do narratively and what has The CW's involvement/impact been on the 13?
Martin Gero: The CW, they're just great. We had a dream team of executives up here for the first season and they've just been augmented. Listen, man, there's no way to do this without sounding like a total corporate shill, but I've worked with HBO, who are famous for their creative freedom and fostering of the writer and artists, and I told The CW the other day that there's nothing worse than great network notes. They're really smart and they take a lot of time, but that's what we've been getting with both of our networks, is just really insightful ways into how to make the show better. So for us, these next 13 episodes... For me, what I think the first six did so great was that the pace of them is insane. We just burned through plot. So we're treating these 13 as like a seven and six, so it's almost like cramming in two seasons worth of story.
HitFix: The plot-burn issue issue is always a concern on shows like this. How are you facing it?
Martin Gero: The great thing is that there are probably more stories about people that haven't made it in show biz than people who have and so it's fertile ground for storytelling and people are, for the most part, kinda desperate on our show and that creates great drama. For us, having more episodes allows us to get deeper into the characters, tell some stories that wouldn't have made sense when you had just met them and open up about their lives and introduce some new characters as well.
HitFix: And given how central the residence is to the story and how central a certain income bracket is to the residence, how successful can these kids ever really get?
Martin Gero: I think for us, when someone gets super, super successful, they can't be on the show anymore and when somebody totally sells out their soul, they can't be on the show anymore. For us, it's about that balance in-between. Our characters need to have successes, otherwise the show is just a giant f***ing bummer. So they will, but they'll be the type of successes that don't raise you into the next stage of your life yet.
"The L.A. Complex" airs on Tuesday nights at 9 p.m. on The CW.