Los Angeles hipsters, wannabes and struggling actors get viciously skewered in The Great L.A. Pretenders, a low-budget indie web series about the perils of L.A. fakery that has just concluded its six-episode first season. We’re introduced to “The Pretenders” by main character, sometimes narrator, Sherman (Dan Shirey), who describes himself as “the badass—a sharp, edgy, angry, sarcastic American—tired of lies,” plus he’s a Muslim convert and raging alcoholic. Sherman, along with his French immigrant friend Felix (Garikayi Mutambirwa), has been hired by Mr. Adams (Gary Edward) to go under cover and infiltrate a group of yuppie wannabe actors. The reason or nature of the undercover operation is never made clear, although it’s noted that both Sherman and Felix will be paid well for their work on the project.
“The Pretenders” consist of Fernando (Nathan Marlow), a struggling Tom Hanks impersonator with a racial identity crisis, Beverly (Kara Chaput), a rich, aspiring actress/socialite who idolizes Paris Hilton, Glen (Owen Williams), a starving actor who may be too nice for L.A., and Holly (Sherry Romito), an aspiring actress and wannabe lesbian.
All of these characters converge at Sherman’s house, allegedly for social reasons, despite the fact that Sherman makes it very clear that he detests them all. This group of good-looking twenty-somethings spend their days pondering the rules of dating in L.A., the virtues of MySpace and text messages, and what it means to truly have a big-screen debut in Hollywood.
Despite some decent production value, The Great L.A. Pretenders often comes across as an over-wrought cautionary tale on how not to behave in modern day Los Angeles. The series opens with a quote from Kurt Vonnegut, stating that “we are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful what we pretend to be.” Whether this is meant to be deliberately pretentious or not is one of the more puzzling aspects of the series. The show creators, Djamel Bennecib and Renaud Fouilleul, clearly have some strong feelings about L.A. culture, but the tone of the show is so relentlessly mean spirited and characters they’ve created are so unlikeable that one wonders who would possibly want to spend time with these people.
By the end of season one, Sherman has had it with these sad stereotypes and begins plotting his escape from L.A. As a viewer, it was the first time I was inclined to sympathize with him. Let’s hope season two offers more hope to the droves of bright-eyed aspiring stars and starlets-to-be that arrive here in Hollywood every day.