God Save The B----!

Why you – and ABC – should trust The B---- in Apt. 23.

Don't Trust the B---- in Apt. 23

Airtime: Tuesdays 9:30pm
Cast: Krysten Ritter, Dreama Walker, James van der Beek
Network: ABC

Trying to explain the abysmal ratings of ABC’s agreeably daft and eccentric comedy Don’t Trust the B---- in Apt. 23, perhaps it's a case of audiences taking the advice built directly into the name of the show too literally. And the name is a problem, if only because it seems to want to keep the viewer continually at arm's length, deflecting rather than inviting with its initial “Don't” followed by a sing-songy jumble that skirts the line between clever and obnoxious, and goes on just a bit too long besides. It’s like it's knowingly overcompensating for being so coy by being a mouthful, trying to be both risqué and cute, never quite succeeding either way.

And this is entirely apropos of what the show ultimately delivers, a sharp bit of clever coyness cut through by an acerbic, anarchic streak of obnoxiousness that seems hell bent on alienating just as many people as it appeals to. It never falls into a familiar or regular pattern, even if the premise is overly familiar, straight out of TV 101: optimistic, wide-eyed Midwestern girl moves East after college, trying to make it in the Big City; moves into hip apartment with jaded party girl; wacky neighbors flit in and out*; hilarity (hopefully) ensues. It’s neat and pat, but almost too pat, like an in-joke built straight into the DNA of the show, throwing its clichés into high relief. Yet it never goes all in for suffocating self-awareness and genre-referentiality (like its partner show, Happy Endings, which weaves comedic gold out of its awareness of its own sitcominess), content to follow its own ridiculousness wherever it may lead – even if it's straight to cancellation.

There’s room to breathe here, a free-wheeling, anarchic spirit presided over by the erratic whims of our boozy, blowzy anti-heroine Chloe. As the resident titular “bitch” of the apartment, her one vocation in life appears to be to sew madness into everyone and everything unfortunate enough to cross her path, leaving a trail of chaos and disaster in her wake. But, predictably, all her nonsensical, drunken bon mots and outrageous antics conceal (sometimes carefully, sometimes not so much) a heart of gold, which evinces itself in any given episodes waning minutes, when it’s revealed (shock!) that maybe she’s not such a colossal bitch after all.

Krysten Ritter – gawkishly teetering about like a drunken giraffe on her spindly legs; whipping and jerking her head like she’s a marionette; eternally clutching a drink and braying with overloud laughter; and parading around in endless Holly Go-lightly get-ups – is such a natural as Chloe it’s hard to believe that she is actually acting, and this isn’t just her. Her overexaggeration of every typical trait of a young, myopic, eternally self-centered New York party girl somehow pulls the character of Chloe past being a flat, two-dimensional cartoon and presents her as, if not an actually recognizable human being, then maybe some sort of heightened ideal of a particular type of human.

But all apologies to Ms. Ritter (who really should always be on something on the TV) and name of the show, the real scene stealer here is her odd couple roommate June, the eternally sunny, perpetually optimistic and determined foil to the brash, sociopathic Chloe. June is much of a two-dimesnional type as well – naïvely trustful, but a fast learner, indefatigable and always hopeful – yet Dreama Walker gives her just enough of a subtle edge that you always feel like maybe she’s actually got the inside line on Chloe (well, except for those times when Chloe does something really, truly egregiously bitchy, and Walker delivers such a look of perfectly aghast outrage that it’s worthy of being framed) and might be the true scammer and grifter here. I might be reading her all wrong, and really, I haven’t had enough evidence yet to justify my position yet (mostly due to ABC’s erratic, and now suicidal scheduling of the show’s episodes all out of order), but perhaps our assumptions of who the true B---- in Apartment 23 is might be off.

Ritter and Walker mesh and play off one another so well that it would be a real shame if they were broken up. But this is exactly what it appears ABC is intent on doing. The show came teetering into its second season already a hard sell, but the network's handling of the show’s scheduling could only lead one to assume that any confidence they might have had has long evaporated, and that no one there trusts The B---- any longer. With the close of the fall TV season, ABC decided to spend much of January and February burning off any remaining episodes of the show (and, distressingly, Happy Endings as well), and then pulling it straight off its spring schedule from March on to make room for an extended results show of the unstoppable Dancing with the Stars. Compounding this no-confidence vote is the even more confounding choice to air all the episodes out of order, mixing leftover season one episodes that never aired in with the far better season two episodes, leaving new viewers utterly confused and languishing fans just shaking their heads.

While I’m sure that The B---- won’t garner the same sort of widespread outrage and write in campaigns on the Internet that NBC’s treatment of Community has (or any network of any Joss Whedon related show), it is not unworthy of becoming such a rallying point, a young fledgling comedy with infinite that refuses to stay in place too long, cut down before it could get its legs under it. Perhaps TBS can come to its rescue, like it did for the similarly odd Cougar Town, salvaging one or two more seasons and let the show fulfill its true potential of becoming one of the better cult shows of the early part of this decade.

*One of these wacky neighbors is James van der Beek playing....well, James van der Beek, albeit an exaggerated version of himself (a la Neil Patrick Harris in the Harold and Kumar movies). It's a gimmicky stunt that occasionally results in some of the biggest laughs of the show: van der Beek trading off his Dawson's Creek fame to bed impressionable young girls, serenading them with “I Don't Want to Wait”; coming out with his own line of skinny jeans (tagline “Put Your Cheeks in a Beek”); wistfully pining for the Danish beer named after him (“Ahhh! VanderBrau!”). He's good for these quick. nonsequitur gags, but the lengthier subplots they have tried to build around him are generally tired and not all that funny, a case of the show trying too hard.

In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

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The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

Nonetheless, there are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. There are singers tackling deep, universal matters of the heart and mind. Artists continuing to mess around with a genre that can sometimes seem fixed, but never really is. Musicians and singers have been experimenting within the genre forever, and continue to. As Charlie Worsham sings, "let's try something new / for old time's sake." - Dave Heaton

10. Lillie Mae – Forever and Then Some (Third Man)

The first two songs on Lillie Mae's debut album are titled "Over the Hill and Through the Woods" and "Honky Tonks and Taverns". The music splits the difference between those settings, or rather bears the marks of both. Growing up in a musical family, playing fiddle in a sibling bluegrass act that once had a country radio hit, Lillie Mae roots her songs in musical traditions without relying on them as a gimmick or costume. The music feels both in touch with the past and very current. Her voice and perspective shine, carrying a singular sort of deep melancholy. This is sad, beautiful music that captures the points of view of people carrying weighty burdens and trying to find home. - Dave Heaton

9. Sunny Sweeney – Trophy (Aunt Daddy)

Sunny Sweeney is on her fourth album; each one has felt like it didn't get the attention it deserved. She's a careful singer and has a capacity for combining humor and likability with old-fashioned portrayal of deep sadness. Beginning in a bar and ending at a cemetery, Trophy projects deep sorrow more thoroughly than her past releases, as good as they were. In between, there are pills, bad ideas, heartbreak, and a clever, true-tearjerker ballad voicing a woman's longing to have children. -- Dave Heaton

8. Kip Moore – Slowheart (MCA Nashville)

The bro-country label never sat easy with Kip Moore. The man who gave us "Somethin' 'Bout a Truck" has spent the last few years trying to distance himself from the beer and tailgate crowd. Mission accomplished on the outstanding Slowheart, an album stuffed with perfectly produced hooks packaged in smoldering, synthy Risky Business guitars and a rugged vocal rasp that sheds most of the drawl from his delivery. Moore sounds determined to help redefine contemporary country music with hard nods toward both classic rock history and contemporary pop flavors. With its swirling guitar textures, meticulously catchy songcraft, and Moore's career-best performances (see the spare album-closing "Guitar Man"), Slowheart raises the bar for every would-be bro out there. -- Steve Leftridge

7. Chris Stapleton – From a Room: Volume 1 (Mercury Nashville)

If Chris Stapleton didn't really exist, we would have to invent him—a burly country singer with hair down to his nipples and a chainsaw of a soul-slinging voice who writes terrific throwback outlaw-indebted country songs and who wholesale rejects modern country trends. Stapleton's recent rise to festival headliner status is one of the biggest country music surprises in recent years, but his fans were relieved this year that his success didn't find him straying from his traditional wheelhouse. The first installment of From a Room once again finds Stapleton singing the hell out of his sturdy original songs. A Willie Nelson cover is not unwelcome either, as he unearths a semi-obscure one. The rest is made up of first-rate tales of commonality: Whether he's singing about hard-hurtin' breakups or resorting to smoking them stems, we've all been there. -- Steve Leftridge

6. Carly Pearce – Every Little Thing (Big Machine)

Many of the exciting young emerging artists in country music these days are women, yet the industry on the whole is still unwelcoming and unforgiving towards them. Look at who's getting the most radio play, for one. Carly Pearce had a radio hit with "Every Little Thing", a heartbreaking ballad about moments in time that in its pace itself tries to stop time. Every Little Thing the album is the sort of debut that deserves full attention. From start to finish it's a thoroughly riveting, rewarding work by a singer with presence and personality. There's a lot of humor, lust, blues, betrayal, beauty and sentimentality, in proper proportions. One of the best songs is a call for a lover to make her "feel something", even if it's anger or hatred. Indeed, the album doesn't shy away from a variety of emotions. Even when she treads into common tropes of mainstream country love songs, there's room for revelations and surprises. – Dave Heaton

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Scholar Judith May Fathallah's work blurs lines between author and ethnographer, fan experiences and genre TV storytelling.

In Fanfiction and the Author: How Fanfic Changes Popular Culture Texts, author Judith May Fathallah investigates the progressive intersections between popular culture and fan studies, expanding scholarly discourse concerning how contemporary blurred lines between texts and audiences result in evolving mediated practices.

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Which is the draw, the art or the artist? Critic Rachel Corbett examines the intertwined lives of two artists of two different generations and nationalities who worked in two starkly different media.

Artist biographies written for a popular audience necessarily involve compromise. On the one hand, we are only interested in the lives of artists because we are intrigued, engaged, and moved by their work. The confrontation with a work of art is an uncanny experience. We are drawn to, enraptured and entranced by, absorbed in the contemplation of an object. Even the performative arts (music, theater, dance) have an objective quality to them. In watching a play, we are not simply watching people do things; we are attending to the play as a thing that is more than the collection of actions performed. The play seems to have an existence beyond the human endeavor that instantiates it. It is simultaneously more and less than human: more because it's superordinate to human action and less because it's a mere object, lacking the evident subjectivity we prize in the human being.

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