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New TV Show Review: “Don’t Trust the B— in Apartment 23″

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Apt. 23 press photo

TV critics generally tend to grade comedy pilots on a curve. The consensus seems to be that making one that’s actually funny is exceedingly difficult for various reasons: Good comedy mostly comes from our long-term, deep understanding of characters and from the chemistry of an ensemble gelling together, both of which by definition can’t exist yet in a pilot. Most of a pilot is taken up by utilitarian premise-building etc.  Some of the best comedies of the last few years – 30 Rock, Happy Endings, and Parks and Recreation to name a few – started with pilots that barely revealed a hint of what the show would become.

Whether or not you’re judging on a curve, the pilot for Don’t Trust the B— (the title only becomes more annoying and awkward the more you type it/think about it) is strong and funny right out of the gate. Whether that means that the show has the potential to rise from good to very good/classic or means that they’ve set up something in the pilot that can’t be sustained in the series (a problem more common for dramas) remains to be seen.

While initial TV critic talk compared the show to the recent surprise ABC critical fave Cougar Town in being part of the annoying name/surprisingly good show club, in reality it seems to be going for more of a combination of the basic premise and the raunchiness of 2 Broke Girls with the crazy surrealism of ABC’s recent short-lived cult comedy hit Better of Ted. The two leads, Krysten Ritter and Dreama Walker, pretty much exactly recreate the character dynamic of Kat Dennings and Beth Behrs on 2 Broke Girls. The difference is, thus far at least, Ritter and Walker have better chemistry and the writing is much funnier and sharper, particularly the shocking/raunchy dialogue for Ritter’s character, which is both more clever and more bawdy that the stuff they come up with for Kat Dennings’s character to say on 2 Broke Girls, which oftentimes seems predicated solely on the supposed hilarity of the word “vagina”.

But yes, the show is extremely raunchy, even by the recent more relaxed standards of network comedies. At times it even flirts with the outright depravity of cable comedies like It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, an element which is supposedly taken even further in the second episode (available on ABC’s website) which I haven’t seen yet. For those watching the show non-time-shifted, it’s an extreme tonal shift from to go to this show from its Modern Family lead in, even bigger than the shift from Family to Happy Endings already was.

The basic premise of the show sets up the clichés of “young people in New York” sitcoms only to knock them down. The show opens with Dreama Walker’s character, June, in an enormous, “loft style” Manhattan apartment saying “Just like Friends!” The catch is that the apartment is paid for by her employer, a sleazy mortgage-industry concern which is just about to be taken apart by the SEC. So, within the day June, who has come to Manhattan from Indiana to work her fancy new job, has lost both said job and her dream, Friends style apartment. She can’t admit what happened to her clueless parents in Indiana, who, in a strong bit of social satire tell her they missed three mortgage payments to pay for her MBA courses, so she gets a job at what’s clearly meant to be a Starbucks and starts looking for a new apartment. The search leads her to Chloe (Krysten Ritter) who has her own unrealistically huge Friends style apartment and is looking for a roommate. This too-big-for-twentysomethings-in-Manhattan apartment is based on a different sort of scam than the one June was in earlier in the day. Chloe simply advertises for a roommate, gets them to give her two months rent and a security deposit, and then acts horrible and psychotic enough (not a stretch for her) to get the roommate to run away screaming.

From there the pilot goes into a huge amount of business. There probably hasn’t been a pilot this overly packed with incident since the aforementioned 2 Broke Girls. Suffice it to say, a compulsively masturbating neighbor, a compulsively cheating fiancé and an ottoman filled with pills later (among other things), the two girls (with James Van Der Beek playing himself as their “gay BFF but straight”) are ensconced in Apartment 23 as uneasy allies, ready to take on whatever a heightened, surreal version of New York City has to throw at them. I, for one, am excited to follow them.

 

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