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Published: Tuesday, 4/10/2012 - Updated: 2 years ago

The writing sings in new comedy on ABC

BY DAVID WIEGAND
SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE
From left, Eric Andre, Michael Blaiklock, Dreama Walker, Krysten Ritter, and James Van Der Beek star in an appealing
new sitcom, ‘Don’t Trust the B— in Apartment 23,’ premiering Wednesday at 9:30 p.m. on ABC. From left, Eric Andre, Michael Blaiklock, Dreama Walker, Krysten Ritter, and James Van Der Beek star in an appealing new sitcom, ‘Don’t Trust the B— in Apartment 23,’ premiering Wednesday at 9:30 p.m. on ABC.
ABC Enlarge

ABC seems to have this weird fascination with the B-word and an even weirder fear of actually saying it. First it gave us GCB, based on the book Good Christian Bitches, and now comes Don't Trust the B-- in Apartment 23.

Spelled out or not, B--, premiering Wednesday at 9:30 p.m., is a sassy and welcome addition to ABC's sitcom lineup. It's just too bad that it will initially remind viewers of CBS' Two Broke Girls.

Like that hit, freshman show B-- is about a naive blonde woman who moves in with a street-smart brunette, but, in all the ways that count, the comparisons end there.

In this case, June Colbern (Dreama Walker) arrives in New York, fresh from Indiana, to take a new job with a high-powered brokerage firm, only to find the company shutting down and the CEO under arrest when she shows up for her first day of work. With few resources, she answers roommate ads until she finds a seemingly compatible young woman named Chloe (Krysten Ritter) and moves in.

Only then does she find out she is sharing space with the roommate from hell. Chloe, it seems, has been running a scam for some time, as her pal James Van Der Beek helpfully summarizes, where she lures other roommates to move in, takes their first and last month's rent, and then proceeds to drive them crazy until, after only a few days, they move out.

That's just one example of Chloe's unapologetically bad behavior. She conveniently gets a 13-year-old kid tipsy to make him spill dirt about June's fiance, Steven (Tate Ellington), hides questionable Chinese energy pills in the furniture to sell, and thinks nothing of walking out of a bar without paying for her drinks. Chloe pulls even more outrageous stunts in the first three episodes of the new show but since they involve major plot developments, I'll leave them for viewers to discover on their own.

Of course, Chloe has a heart of gold, albeit gold plate, and June soon wins her over by toughening up and resolving to lose some of her countrified naivete about big city living. June still has occasional relapses, but then again, it's not as though Chloe's suddenly become Glinda the Good Witch either.

As for James Van Der Beek, he is played by James Van Der Beek, and he's terrific, as are the two actresses in the lead roles. Like Matt LeBlanc on Episodes and Neil Patrick Harris in the Harold and Kumar movies, JVDB plays an exaggerated (one hopes) version of himself as a pompous, self-involved dolt who fancies himself a Shakespearean actor. He also dresses up like Indiana Jones' father to teach acting classes to college students who just want him to do speeches from Dawson's Creek or tell them what it was like kissing Katie Holmes. Clips from fake commercials he's done and a fake role in a Guy Ritchie movie are hysterical.

That's the set-up for the show, but what makes it all sing is the writing by series creator Nahnatchka Khan (American Dad). It's also what separates B-- from 2 Broke Girls. Khan's sense of humor is outrageous and, for TV, rather daring. She has a deft touch with one-liners, such as quantifying the 11 years June and Steven have been dating as equivalent to "about 600 Nicolas Cage movies." But what's really daring about the show is that while Chloe is a borderline sociopath and June is forced to give as good as she gets in order to co-exist with her, the humor doesn't fall into the all too prevalent "nasty trap" in TV sitcoms. Khan doesn't have to resort to having her characters trade insults or, when all else fails, throw in a genital reference or two to get a laugh.

The result is not only that the show is funny, but that we actually like both June and Chloe. While June may look as though she was manufactured by Mattel, she's smart, determined, and fearless. And while Chloe may have the moral fiber of a praying mantis, she's also smart, determined, and fearless. More to the point, when the chips are down, she has June's back.

Any very good new show has its own big shoes to fill as it continues its first season. Good shows have to stay good, which means they have to be inventive week after week. By the same token, their creators are often afraid of straying too far from what made them good in the first place, which can find the show treading comedic water all too soon.

The challenge is big enough when the new show plays it safe in its early episodes, but it's even bigger when you take the chances Khan has taken primarily with Chloe's character and to a lesser degree, with June's.

She can't let Chloe be too edgy, for one thing: Yes, Chloe may be able to sell mysterious Chinese energy pills, but she can't actually be a drug dealer. And June can still be chirpy and cornfed, but she can't be allowed to get cloying.

It's a fine line, but the first three episodes of the show suggest Khan is up to walking it.

You can trust that this B-- is pretty d-- funny.



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