Beyond its provocative title (and even that trails “GCB” by five weeks), “Don’t Trust the B—- in Apartment 23” has a familiar feel, down to the device of an actor, James Van Der Beek, playing a jaundiced version of himself. That isn’t to say the show lacks charm, only that its irreverence and madcap energy disguises a conventional mismatched buddy comedy, which turned out pretty well for CBS’ “2 Broke Girls.” ABC has obligingly given the show its best timeslot, behind “Modern Family,” though as “Happy Endings” can testify, retaining those viewers can be a real bitch.
“B—-” is hardly the first live-action series to attempt to replicate the zany qualities of Fox’s animated comedies, but after a lot of teeth-gnashing exercises, it’s among the more successful. Perhaps that’s because series creator Nahnatchka Khan worked on “American Dad,” and the show exhibits a similar rapid-fire, almost scatter-gun approach to comedy.
Of three episodes previewed, the pilot is the least satisfying, perhaps because it has to go about setting up the series. Wide-eyed Indiana native June (Dreama Walker) arrives in New York to start an exciting new job at a brokerage house, only to have the firm implode (yes, another Madoff-inspired gimmick) on her first day. Desperate to find an apartment, and after meeting a number of freaks and losers, she meets Chloe (Krysten Ritter), who says all the right things.
As played by Ritter, Chloe is part psychopath, part Holly Golightly — a free spirit with a slightly sadistic streak. Her best pal, it turns out, is Van Der Beek, who is certainly game in portraying himself as an egomaniacal star clinging to past glory, both weary of “Dawson’s Creek” chatter and more than willing to exploit its fans’ adulation. In terms of amusing non sequiturs, the closest parallel would be Jennifer Grey’s turn as herself in an ABC comedy of yesteryear, “It’s Like, You Know…”
Khan also punctuates the show with lots of little touches and pop-culture references, some funnier than others. In a subsequent episode, Van Der Beek teaches an adoring acting class using a subtle riff on Indiana Jones, while June refers to 11 years as equating to “600 Nicolas Cage movies.” On the flip side, a peeping-tom neighbor (Michael Blaiklock) in the adjoining building is one of those “Only in New York” cliches this “B—-” could probably do without.
All told, though, there’s a lot to like here, and even an evolution to the Chloe-June relationship that — the former’s eccentricity notwithstanding — borders on a budding friendship.
Although both employ a single-camera format, “B—-” and “Modern Family” don’t necessarily seem all that compatible, but funny is funny. And after a stretch where ABC’s signature half-hour hit has often appeared to be surrounded by Lilliputians, credit the network with putting “The B—- in Apartment 23” where it should have a better than fighting chance of finding a home.