Think of the Fairfax district. What comes to mind? The Grove, Canter’s, CBS, maybe Pan Pacific Park or The Cinefamily. If you’ve spent time in the area, you’ve probably also noticed that it’s a hub of Jewish life in Los Angeles. But if you tune in to Pivot’s new reality series Welcome to Fairfax, you’ll see an entirely different neighborhood.
Fairfax is also a hotbed for streetwear vendors and urban art, thanks to shops such as the Odd Future store, Dope, Crooks & Castles, and YOUth. Gavin “Mizzle” McNeill, the owner and proprietor of YOUth, is one of the stars of Welcome to Fairfax, a show that focuses on several young entrepreneurs hoping to find success in the neighborhood. Other characters include Felicia, who wants to start her own makeup line and reach out to troubled youth; BMXer Gabe; Dope employee Tori, who hopes to work with domestic abuse victims; and rap trio CBG (Chill Black Guys), who are either on the cusp either of success or breaking up.
Welcome to Fairfax premieres today, but its pilot is already available online. One thing that’s apparent about the show is that it doesn’t feel exploitative. While there’s surely been tinkering done in the editing room to concoct storylines from real life (standard for any documentary undertaking), these struggles are depicted in a manner that’s markedly low-key. A reality show that doesn’t traffic in sensationalism? In 2014, that’s nothing short of remarkable.
Mizzle juggles his shop duties while taking care of his ailing father. Felicia, his girlfriend, is pregnant, a situation that both are handling with varying degrees of success. Gabe has trouble finding a job due to his history of incarceration. None of their problems are played up, just presented matter-of-factly. It’s the deliberate antithesis of the programs you’ll find on Bravo or E!
Additionally, Welcome to Fairfax is distinctly a Los Angeles show — but one that’s not obsessed with showbiz. Multiple cast members grew up in South Central and some are recovering from past traumas. Tori is getting over an abusive relationship, while CBG member Jay’s father was murdered at 26, a fate Jay wants to avoid. None of this is dwelled on with a lurid eye. It’s simply information to help viewers understand these characters.
Pivot was launched in August of last year as a network aimed at millennials. Part of its mandate is to generate discourse and inspire action. A “start your business” link on the Welcome to Fairfax website contains information so anyone can start a venture of their own. While other networks stick to a limited vision of millennials as white and middle class, Pivot seems to be looking beyond that. In its second year of existence, it’ll be good for the channel to branch out further. Sure, the characters of Welcome to Fairfax feel the economic squeeze of the times, but a sense of purpose and optimism permeates the show’s pilot, its website, and its commercials. Part of the Los Angeles lore is that this is a city where anyone can make their dreams come true. Welcome to Fairfax sells that vision to another generation.