ABC’s Don’t Trust the B— In Apartment 23 premieres on 11 April as a midseason replacement. It would seem that the network is going both light and swear-avoidant with its midseason pickups; both Apartment 23 and GCB are comedies that have gone through multiple name changes to avoid using the dreaded B-word. This half-hour situation comedy has all of the bark and none of the bite, through. Unlike GCB, it’s not a biting satire on modern society, not is it intended to be.
In the time-honored tradition of half-hour comedies, it’s just supposed to be funny, and so far it’s doing a fairly good job, even if the humour sometimes is a bit cringeworthy. However, it may not stand out enough from the pack, which could be a stumbling block to success; Apartment 23 may be a short-lived entry on the ABC schedule, even with the draw of James Van Der Beek as himself. There’s may not be quite enough going on to attract viewers, leaving NBC the reigning king of comedy with its Thursday night programming block. (Apartment 23 wisely airs on Wednesdays to avoid conflict, indicating that the network is well aware the show doesn’t stand a chance of beating out crowd favourites like Community.)
The setup is simple and easy for viewers to hook on to: June (Dreama Walker) moves to New York City pursuing a hot new job with a mortgage firm, only to discover that the company’s assets have been seized because the owner defrauded people of millions of dollars. Thrown out of her company-provided apartment, she stumbles upon Cloe (Crysten Ritter), the eponymous B—-, who agrees to take her on as a roommate, and promptly starts taking her for a ride.
Between swigging mint schnapps as a morning mouthwash and setting June up with her father, Chloe makes sure there’s never a dull moment on the show, and the two actresses have great chemistry with each other. Ritter’s slightly jaded, hard-edged, hipster look pairs with Walker’s fresh-faced girl next door appearance for a dynamic and interesting couple who keep the screen bubbly from opening credits to the fade to black. There is an element of The Odd Couple to the budding relationship between the girls that makes them play well off each other and the characters around them.
Chloe’s tough girl act is an easily broken-down facade, as she quickly starts showing her vulnerabilities even as she tries to keep up her front. June, meanwhile, is being quickly initiated into the ways of urban life and all that comes with it, requiring a fundamental realignment of her personal beliefs along with an acceptance of the fact that her roommate can and will wander into the bathroom to chat while she’s taking a bath.
The small town girl in a big city trope is easy to overplay, but Apartment 23 does a reasonably good job of balancing it by keeping viewers on their feet with Chloe. She’s a loving mentor who takes June under her wing to teach her how to navigate the world, but there’s a sharp, sardonic edge to her that keeps her interesting, rather than noxiously sweet.
Supporting characters in Apartment 23 also hold their ground well. Mark (Eric Andre), the manager at the coffee shop where June works, would have been her boss at the mortgage company if it hadn’t gone under. His casual attitude from the mortgage firm, where we were introduced to him encouraging employees to loot various office supplies, carries over to the coffee shop, where I fully expect to see him ‘liberating’ things from the stockroom by the middle of the season.
In addition to James Van Der Beek as Chloe’s friend and partner in crime, the show also features Michael Blaiklock as Eli, the creepy neighbour next door. In true apartment living style, his window faces directly into their kitchen across a narrow airshaft, so close that the members of the households could practically touch (and probably will at some point). He provides the leering factor and occasional sage psychological advice to the girls as they get involved in a series of mishaps.
Apartment 23 is not high art, nor is it amazing television. But it is entertaining, with a fun dynamic between the characters, and just enough pop culture references to ensure that it will be amusing to viewers in their 20s and 30s, although also dated almost immediately. The half-hour sitcom format is a perfect medium for the series, where tight storylines that are short on drama and complexity are the most effective way to play with the characters. It thankfully avoids pratfalls and physical comedy, which have a tendency to get dull extremely quickly, focusing on quick dialogue and snappy scene-setting.
While not the most enlightened or culturally sensitive of television, Apartment 23 is exactly what it advertises itself as, no more, no less. And beneath the surface, there’s some surprisingly slyly embedded content; social commentary seeps out between the lines when it’s not necessarily expected and it’s integrated subtly and without being flashy, which puts the show a cut above recent series that are struggling to position themselves as socially progressive icons and failing miserably. The second episode, for example, features a character who uses a wheelchair for mobility and the dynamic in her scenes is fascinating, in addition to being a far cry from the ‘very special episode’ and ‘fragile: handle with caution’ treatment of many wheelchair users on television. Apartment 23 is more interested in letting characters be themselves than teaching viewers a lesson, and the comedy cuts close both to life and the bone.