Forget James Van Der Beek playing himself (in a lazy attempt to transform him into the next Neil Patrick Harris, copying the joke of NPH's Harold & Kumar apperances), I was mostly interested in Don't Trust The B**** In Apartment 23 because of a likable pair of young actress: Dreama Walker, terrific in The Good Wife; and Breaking Bad alum Krysten Ritter, who has talent in both comical and dramatic disciplines. Sometimes just having fresh and interesting folk in a sitcom will draw you in, but you still only stick around if they're given funny things to do.
The premise of Don't Trust The B*** In Apartment 23 (hereafter Apartment 23) is that June (Walker), a naïve country gal from the Midwest, fresh from a painful breakup with her boyfriend, moves to the bright lights of Manhattan for a dream job that falls through when the CEO's jailed for embezzlement. Unexpectedly down on her luck, June gets a modest job at a coffee shop and moves in with the seemingly amiable Chloe (Ritter) of apartment 23, whom she comes to realise is actually an unmanageable, erratic "bitch" on many levels.
The good news is I wasn't bored by Apartment 23 when Walker or Ritter were on-screen, and there's rarely a scene without them. (So yay.) Effervescent Walker's all big eyes, cheesy smiles and blonde hair; cynical Ritter's a heavy-lidded scowl beneath a raven's hairdo. It's a female "odd couple", essentially, and a decent one for now. Although you have to wonder how long the premise will sustain keeping these two as "friends", before it becomes ridiculous how many times Chloe manipulates June for her own idle amusement. But for now there's fun to be had in seeing smiley optimist June struggle to fathom the offhandedly cruel and peculiar Chloe, then show unexpected fortitude and play Chloe at her own game (earn her respect along the way). But is this game going to be repeated every single episode, ad nauseam? How long until playing the "frenemies" card starts getting old?
I'm not sure what to make of the fact Chloe knows James Van Der Beek, erstwhile TV hunk of late-'90s hit Dawson's Creek. I never watched "the Beek from the creek" in his famous role, so the underlying joke of his presence is perhaps lost on me. I understand why it might work for his fans, because it's been done to rehabilitate Neil Patrick Harris (who was at one point, lest we forget, just the long-forgotten, grown-up star of Doogie Howser, M.D). Now he's one of TV's most revered comedy actors in How I Met Your Mother. I'm not sure Van Der Beek's going to find himself in a similar position just because Apartment 23 pokes fun at him. It doesn't help that the gag feels inconsistent, too, because JVDB keeps giving self-deprecating examples of how low his career's sunk, yet he's simultaneously presented as a cooler-than-cool ladies man with a never-ending supply of Creek groupies to shag.
Overall, Apartment 23 has definite appeal if you like Walker and Ritter (although Walker's not particularly funny here, just appealing), plus it has that bright and vibrant aesthetic I know people love about slick US sitcoms. It also earns respect by refusing to have a live studio audience guffaw and whoop over everything (which isn't a terrible sin, but for whatever reason US comedies go overboard with the sound-mix). I just don't know if the premise will last without the show becoming increasingly generic, because it'll be hard to keep June and Chloe on a knife-edge around each other, but that's never stopped other US sitcoms running for years... if the cast's pretty enough and the humour's kept fairly broad.
written by Nahnatchka Khan / directed by Jason Winer / 24 May 2012 / E4