For those who couldn’t wait for tonight’s premiere, ABC already has not one but two episodes of its new comedy, “Don’t Trust the B— in Apt 23,” online. But a problem arises by getting to see beyond the pilot: Chloe (Krysten Ritter), the b— referenced in the silly title (I guess we should be thankful it’s not “DTTBIA23,” a la “GCB”), goes from exhibiting, well, bitchy behavior, calculated and conniving, to appearing to be far more clueless about her outrageousness. The series’ tone doesn’t change, as it continues to rely on slightly absurd situations and characters, not to mention a slightly absurd caricature of James Van Der Beek, played by himself. But Chloe’s intentions toward her new roommate, June (Dreama Walker), shift 15 minutes into the pilot and continue in the second episode, “Daddy’s Girl”: She’s not vindictive; she’s flaky. Chloe is a modern, far less classy Holly Golightly. That shift undermines the entire premise of The Evil Roommate and presents viewers with a familiar tale: hardened New Yorker shows innocent newcomer the ropes of big city life and, oh, the hijinks! It’s not a bad starting point — it has worked countless times before — and “B—” delivers some chuckles here and there. But there’s no telling where it’s headed.
We’re only given snippets of insight into Chloe’s life; we don’t even know if she works or how she makes a living. She does, at least, have a nice racket going of luring in unsuspecting roommates, hiking up their half of the rent and then maniacally making their lives so miserable they move out. Chloe sees the arrival of June as a chance to scare yet another wide-eyed Midwesterner away from New York — “I’m part of the great digestive system that is New York City,” she tells her best friend, who happens to be Van Der Beek, a former boyfriend. June moved to the city to work for a mortgaging firm, only to see her dreams squashed when the firm is shut down and with it, the company apartment she was to live in. Homeless and desperate, she finds Chloe through an online posting and is fooled by Chloe’s to gain another gullible roommate. Chloe cheats June on the rent and does her best to break her so she moves back home, pulling stunts such as walking around naked to throwing loud parties to selling June’s belongings.
The wholesome June soon wises up, though, and strikes back, selling Chloe’s belongings to make up for what she overpaid in rent. That surprise move is all it takes for Chloe to back down, and from then on, she actually tries to help June, first to realize her fiance is cheating on her and later trying to set her up with a new beau (the twist of which I won’t spoil here). Chloe continues her carefree lifestyle — she’s filled with stories of strange escapades — and really, the gimmick is watching June, the kind of girl with a strict life plan and the immediate desire to mate, find herself routinely tangled in whatever eccentric web Chloe has spun, such as being an accessory to the sale of illegal Chinese energy pills. (“Anyone wanna get weird and play Mario Kart?” Chloe asks.) Is Chloe a bitch? Hardly. She’s fun, and Ritter, who has bounced around TV for years on shows such as “Gilmore Girls,” “Veronica Mars” and “Breaking Bad,” delivers this crazy and tough heroine perfectly. Likewise, Walker doesn’t rely on ditziness for June; she may be naive, but she’s not dumb, and Walker walks the cuteness line carefully.
The standout star, however, is Van Der Beek, milking his public persona to the last drop. Here, he embraces his “Dawson’s Creek” past to appease (and often bed) fans, even as he would like to be taken seriously as an actor. But no one, not even NYU acting students, wants to hear him recite Shakespeare, not when there’s a melodramatic “Creek” monologue to reenact. (Fun fact: College freshmen this year were roughly 5 when Dawson first began pining for Joey Potter. Yep, you’re old. Happy Wednesday!) But for every wish of his to move past his past, there’s a flannel shirt ready to be pulled out when he wants to woo someone over. At times, it’s hard to tell if it’s the real Van Der Beek or the exaggeration that is longing for genuine recognition. Who knew this is what it would take?
What is unfortunate is that Van Der Beek doesn’t have his own show, perhaps a network comedy like “B—” or a vehicle more akin to Showtime’s “Episodes,” featuring Matt LeBlanc as himself. Van Der Beek’s story is just as ridiculous as Chloe and June’s, one that also features strange neighbors, such as Eli (Michael Blaiklock), who has a habit of pleasuring himself as he talks to the girls through their windows, and Robin (Liza Lapira), a former roommate of Chloe’s obsessed enough to buy her belongings from June and then talk to them. Combining the narratives is a stretch, but at this point, Van Der Beek’s presence is too good to ditch. “Don’t Trust the B— in Apt 23” has the cast, and the potential, to be a standout comedy. Now all it needs is to pick a direction with the b— in question.
“Don’t Trust the B— in Apt 23” airs at 9:30/8:30C Wednesdays on ABC.
Sarah Carlson is a TV Critic for Pajiba. She lives in Texas.