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A perception persists — dwindling but still lingering in a 52-week television season — that a broadcast series launched by a network in late March or especially April is being burned off. Not so with ABC’s surprisingly strong new sitcom Don’t Trust the B—- in Apt 23, which premieres April 11. Yes, like ABC’s GCB, that B-word was originally “bitch.” The name may be clunky (what is it with ABC and bad show titles?), but the show from creator Nahnatchka Khan is fresh and funny, with fast-paced jokes and witty?cynicism in abundance.
The b—- is the apparently evil Chloe (wonderfully portrayed by Krysten Ritter, who was so good as Jane on Breaking Bad), a New Yorker with uncontained confidence and an impressive ability to wreak havoc — emotional and sometimes even physical. Her new roommate is June (Dreama Walker), just arrived from Indiana for the perfect job only to have the company go down in a Madoff-like scandal. Chloe’s best friend is James Van Der Beek (playing himself), who is pretty damn awesome in this role, spoofing himself as well as the craft of acting. But if you’ve never seen Dawson’s Creek, a whole lot of jokes will go over your head.
Of course, one mean girl toughening up a city newbie isn’t enough to sustain a sitcom, even with an assist from Van Der Beek. That’s why Don’t Trust the B—-’s supporting cast is essential. Chloe’s world — which June finds “weird” — revolves around a coffee joint, the wonderfully named It’s Just Beans. June’s would-be boss is barista Mark (Eric Andre). Eli (Michael Blaiklock) first appears as Chloe’s pervy neighbor, seen only through her kitchen window, but by episode four — yes, you should get there — he becomes a favorite character with a full-on cult of personality. Slowly being developed are Liza Lapira as Chloe’s stalker/devoted ex-roommate, Robin, who lives down the hall and Ray Ford as Van Der Beek’s dedicated assistant, Luther.
Khan’s writing is strong, and the tone is loose but confident, though some lines come preciously close to 2 Broke Girls (shudder). It helps that Ritter is magnetic, “JVDB” gets it, and Walker’s innocence cuts down on the snark. More often than not, the lines are clever and reflect the characters’ personalities, as when June asks how Chloe’s mom ended up in a wheelchair and Chloe replies: “I don’t know. I always thought she wanted me to ask, so I never did.”
Meanwhile, Van Der Beek nails his part, especially in one episode in which he laments that everyone sees him only as Dawson and not as an actor with range. He tweets that he’ll be performing at It’s Just Beans, and loads of people show up. After he reads some Shakespeare, a member of the crowd yells, “The Creeeeeeek.”
Van Der Beek complains in private to barista Mark: “What’s wrong with people? Why won’t they see me as something else?”
Mark: “So let me get this straight. All these people dropped everything to come see you. All these girls and that dude in the mesh tank top would clearly have sex with you. You’re rich, famous and adored, but you’re upset that you’re adored for the wrong reasons?”
Van Der Beek: “Exactly. I walk a lonely road.”
Mark: “I made four dollars today”
Van Der Beek: “Yeah, you’re right, I’ll figure it out.”
Don’t Trust the B—- in Apt 23 will no doubt surprise people put off by the title and others who are just looking for an excellent comedy. Let’s hope that ABC is smart enough to keep this one around.
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