It was while watching Episode 3 of Season 2 that I began to realize that Kaldrick King, played with remarkable focus and depth by the phenomenally talented Andra Fuller, was quite simply the most complex and truly human black homosexual male character ever on television.
Kal throws a party, hiding his pain and anguish in plain sight, when Infinite Jest, a young upstart rapper played by Steven James, challenges his throne. The rap battle between the two men provided the show with the opportunity to underline the fact that Kaldrick King is a performance, a ferocious character that is suffocating the real man even as it is quite literally the only thing he has left. It’s no surprise it takes him a second to drop the pose long enough to stop the beat down of Infinite Jest. Moving in and out of Kaldrick King is just getting harder and harder to do.
The first season of The L.A. Complex had many pleasures — Jewel Staite’s performance as “aging” actress Raquel Westbrook chief among them. But, despite the general sentiment among black gay and SGL brothers that the Tariq/Kaldrick relationship was great, I was annoyed by yet another portrayal that suggests black homosexuality can only be “the DL.” When the season ended with the violent beating of Tariq, I didn’t know what the show could do to make that storyline work without sending a really bad message to black gay and SGL men.
The easy road would have been to dump Kal and continue to tell Tariq’s story. After all, Tariq was considered one of the main characters in Season 1 and fit with the show’s overall storyline of Canadian transplants trying to make it in Los Angeles.
But the show didn’t do that. The producers chose to tell Kaldrick King’s story, and in the process provided us with the first time that a DL character is deconstructed on television. We now get to see what it means to be black and homosexual in America in a way that recognizes and honors our humanity. We now have a brother who suggests the turmoil and depth of emotion beneath the posturing of black men in the public sphere. Kaldrick King is us. And it’s thrilling.
Kal’s life has been tremendously difficult and, to its credit, the show doesn’t take the easy way out and suggest that it’s just the hip hop industry that forces Kal to hide his sexuality. It’s more complicated, and human, than that. We learn that Kal is really a warm, sensitive man who was raised by a patriarchal ex-con father, played by Eugene Clark, who berated him to “be a man.” Kal is self-aware enough to find his father to exorcize some of those demons and we get to watch him struggle to both impress his father and unlearn the lessons his father taught him. He tries to romance a young woman, but ends up fuckin Chris, Infinite Jest’s lawyer played by Jarod Joseph, who just may be the first person to truly see Kal for who he is.
And though the spectre of Tariq lingers (in ways both literal and figurative), I’m most excited to see how this new romance with Chris will challenge Kal to be more fully comfortable with himself. Last week’s episode featured some wonderful moments where we got to see Kaldrick King really fight all his learned impulses — to intimidate, to fight, to fuck instead of talk, to run, to shut down.
Blessed with a great character to play, the quality of Andra Fuller’s work can’t be overstated. He’s asked to play a lot of different emotions, sometimes at the same time or in quick succession and he nails it every. single. time. He can play Kaldrick’s rage full throttle one minute and then with just a slight twitch of those deeply soulful hooded eyes, he can convey the little wounded boy at the heart of this character. There’s that scene where he hands the man his gold chain. That moment where he says “I’m a faggot” with tears in his eyes. There’s the way he looks at his father as if to say “love me. heal me.”
You never catch Fuller acting. And he manages to fully inhabit Kaldrick King in all his complexity, never missing a single beat, conveying the brokenness of black homosexuality in a society with contradictory and unhealthy expectations of black men.
It’s one of the finest performances on TV, every bit as complicated and full-bodied as what Jon Hamm is doing on Mad Men, what the actors on Game of Thrones are doing, and, in my opinion, dwarfing the deeply overrated work of Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul on Breaking Bad.
In a more fair world, Fuller would be winning (or at least in the running for) every award there is. Maybe he’ll get a Golden Globe nomination.