Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Pilot Review: Don't Trust the B- in Apt 23

Don't Trust the B- in Apt 23 (Wednesdays at 9:30 on ABC)

It's so refreshing when something witty, subversive, funny and entirely entertaining finds its way to television. When the need to be politically correct or cater to the masses evaporates, and something truly special emerges, it's triumphant. And for the first time in years that is happening on ABC with the premiere of Nahnatchka Khan's Don't Trust the B- in Apt 23.

Bright and doey-eyed June (Dreama Walker) has just graduated with her MBA and makes the move from Indiana to the Big Apple. She's full of hope for her future: she's got a great job in line, her fiance is meeting her in the city as soon as he finishes his grad research, and everything she'd hope would happen by the time she turned 26 is being realized. Until the firm she's working for collapses due to a higher-ups embezzlement, she gets kicked out of her apartment, and her fiance cheats on her. So June has to start over, beginning with finding a place to live. She answers an ad for a roommate and ends up with Chloe (Krysten Ritter), a seemingly perfect match for her. It's not long, however, until June realizes that Chloe is something of a con artist who gets girls to move in, takes their rent money, and drives them away screaming and crying.

The set-up is fairly typical and even reminiscent of CBS's hit comedy 2 Broke Girls. Where Apt 23 differs is in its execution. Whereas 2 Broke Girls often goes for the easy joke about genitalia or race, Apt 23 finds humor in its strangeness and in its characters. Rather than basing its supporting cast on stereotypes and stock characters, Apt 23 invites the completely crazy into the fold. There's the neighbor in the next building who never wears pants and is constantly watching the girls in the apartment, the crazy girl down the hall who is obsessed with Chloe, and James van Der Beek, playing a caricature of himself (a la Neil Patrick Harris in the Harold & Kumar films) as a heartless womanizer. Not that the two leading ladies are funny (they really are), but the strongest moments in the series have to do with these zany supporters, especially van Der Beek. Episodes are capped with scenes from the Beek's (fictional) appearances in foreign commercials and fake films, and they're laugh-out-loud hysterical.

The performances all around are great. Aside from the scene-stealing appearances of James van Der Beek, Krysten Ritter (Breaking Bad) is the most fun. Chloe is a trip, the kind of girl you'd love to be friends with but would be scared to talk to. Her madcap energy carries Apt 23. Dreama Walker (Gossip Girl) is adorable as June, and she does a great job of making her relatable. She's the character we'd traditionally root for (small town girl tries to make it in the big, bad city), though Kahn's (American Dad) writing has made us cheer for both girls equally; Walker, unfortunately, gets the less-showy role. Still, when she rises up against Chloe in the pilot and sells her roommate's furniture to even the score between them, we feel the pride we would feel if it were our best girlfriend getting some sly revenge on the bitch who betrayed her.

The series' manic energy is its strongest point. It almost reads as a live-action cartoon when we see Chloe tear open a family heirloom, her great-grandmother's ottoman, because she has hidden illegal Chinese energy supplements in the fabric. The first two episodes are filled with moments like these. The dialogue is snappy and witty, full of quotable one-liners that could fill a Twitter feed. But the crazy situations are the reasons sitcoms (SITuationla COMedies) even exist. Apt 23 is a modern, more risque I Love Lucy or The Odd Couple. You take funny people and put them in ridiculous situations. It's simulatenously a love letter to this type of storytelling and reinvention of it, and it comes across so successfully that it's almost joyful. You'd be hard-pressed to find a show currently on-air (nevermind on the broadcast networks) that so revels in its weirdness and its offbeat comedy and does it all while actually making the audience laugh.

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