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.