'Don't Trust The B- In Apartment 23': A Great Little Hidden Comedy Gem
For those who don’t know, I live in London. The weekend of the 8-10th December saw the worst snow to hit the city—and country—in about a decade. I love snow. As soon as it starts falling I turn into a giddy ten-year-old. Everything’s okay when there’s a bit of snow. Grudges are forgiven, stresses forgotten. A good snowfall transforms the discordant orchestra of the city into a deadened stage ambience and all is well.
But we almost never get it here. It’s too hot. Even when it’s theoretically cold enough, the city still generates its own heat sink, so that in the very odd moments when some crystals actually fall from the sky, they very rarely have a chance to settle on the ground and to become a part of something bigger. But not the weekend of the 8-10th December. For over 48 hours, blizzards assaulted Britain and London and my Facebook feed was assailed by friends smiling and frolicking in a city transformed and brought to a standstill.
But me? Snow-loving me? I was in the Baltics. I had taken my girlfriend on a surprise birthday weekend to the Latvian capital Riga to see some snow. The snow had other ideas.
So while London looked like this:
I know I said an avalanche was coming to #StopBrexit but it wasn’t supposed to stop me getting to London for 11/12. Now have guests snowed in at my B and B and think it’s highly unlikely I can make it. If you don’t have #snow please #SnowFlakes go for me pic.twitter.com/AlUob9AF6j— Polly Ernesr #FBPE (@RemainingKind) December 10, 2017
Our snow-seeking adventure in the Baltics looked like this:
But that wasn’t enough for the Baltic city troll, no. To compound its cocktail of disappointment it decided to mix in a good dose of Stranded and Cash-strapped. Oh yeah, baby: Thanks to the snow back home in London pretty much eating all of the airport runways, all flights were grounded, and we were forced to stay—and pay—for another two days in Latvia.
To distract ourselves from the shitty way the airline handled our plight, and to save some cash, we opted to spend a few hours of one of the Latvian evenings trying out something new on Netflix. We decided to plump for Don’t Trust The B— In Apartment 23. I’d seen some bits of faint praise bouncing around the internet before, so why the hell not. We needed to kill some time, and something vaguely entertaining that we could half pay attention to would be perfect. I was expecting a few decently distracting laughs scattered among mostly disposable fluff, and a show as easy to stop watching as it was to start.
Cut to two days later, finally back in London, and we’re still watching the damn thing! Why’d no one warn me that this show was so damn addictive and fun?!
For those of you who don’t know, Don’t Trust The B— In Apartment 23 was a sitcom that ran on ABC from April ‘11 to January ‘13. The brainchild of Nahnatchka Khan (who would later go on to create Fresh Off The Boat), Apartment 23 followed starry-eyed June (Dreama Walker) as she moved from Indiana to New York City to pursue a high-flying financial job. That job, however, pretty quickly evaporates when the firm gets shut down for corporate malfeasance and June has to make a decision whether to give up on her dreams and move back to Indiana to live with her parents or to stick it out and try to adapt in the big city. Naturally—otherwise there’d be no show—June opts for the latter. She finds an apartment and gets a job at a coffee shop. The one catch of the apartment—the eponymous number 23—is that June has to share it with its other inhabitant and lead tenant, Chloe, whose character may or may not be implied by the show’s title. Spoiler alert: It totally is.
But while Chloe may earn her title to some extent, thanks to Krysten Ritter’s livewire and electric performance, she is always an entertaining-as-hell presence to be around. From the distance inherent in seeing her as a character in a TV show that is. If you actually knew her in real life, the story would be very different. Chloe is one of those people who upon meeting you would learn very quickly to either not hang around with at all, or to ration your interactions with her very strictly indeed. Picture poor June, who learns very quickly the true nature of Chloe’s character when she finds out that the latter does not intend for her new roommate to stick around for long—as Chloe makes her pay rent upfront and then acts in the most obnoxious and unwelcoming ways in order to force June to ‘voluntarily’ leave, before beginning the cycle again with another victim. When confronted with June’s outrage at learning of her scheme, Chloe—as usual—has a way of justifying things: She considers herself part of New York’s fragile ecosystem, or at least a microcosm of it, ravaging newcomers with difficulty so as to break them and send them packing home again, quickly and with less pain than the protracted way the city would otherwise inevitably do it. June doesn’t buy it, and in a show of pure defiance and low key Midwestern mettle she fights back.
Don’t Trust The B— In Apartment 23 starts off with a kinetic energy it never really loses. It reminded me of 30 Rock. The jokes and one-liners and cutaways come thick and fast—some working better than others—and it can feel at times as if you’re watching a live action cartoon. The characterisation is fairly broad at first, but as the show goes on it gets more precise and reveals a surprising amount of heart and emotional truth through the twisted lenses of its characters. Because these are twisted characters, make no mistake. Similar to It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia, this is a show that gives us a gallery of largely unlikable characters and then tricks us into caring for them. Or at least about them. It never quite goes for the jugular in the sustained and relentlessly depraved way that Sunny does, but it’s in that ballpark. Chloe is a psychopathic and callous con artist with an addiction to hedonism and consumerism; her best friend is James Van Der Beek (the actor playing a hilariously fictionalised version of himself) who bankrolls Chloe—sometimes knowingly and sometimes less so—because she flatters his ego and is a kindred spirit in debauchery and takes equal joy in bad-mouthing others; and Eli, Chloe’s perverted peeping Tom neighbour from the apartment seemingly about a foot away across the gap, and who, it is implied, barely ever wears pants while he dispenses occasionally inspired—though equally often disturbing—life advice to the girls in 23. These are just some of the main monsters whose company we get to keep here. It’s not entirely a horror show of course. June remains largely sympathetic, and her friend and maybe love interest Mark (Eric Andre) has a naive and fairly wholesome air about him, but overall the depravity is never in short supply on Apartment 23.
And crucially, the majority of the time, that depravity is pretty damn funny. Chloe’s bacchanalian and often consequence-free life leads to all sorts of distasteful situations that vary from mildly off-putting, to stuff that sometimes skirts around the edges of taboo. And whether it’s a quick-as-a-flash cutaway gag or an extended riff, the show knows its characters well enough and understands tone competently enough to make sure things land. Chloe’s whirlwind existence is not entirely consequence-free however. Occasionally we see the impact her escapades have on her, as well as those around her—with June’s reactions often providing some measure of heart, as well as (more and more as the show goes on) some of the biggest laughs. And that’s important because it grounds things enough to make sure that we still remain (relatively speaking) within the realm of the human, and that actual, real emotion isn’t discarded entirely in the quest for dirty laughs. It doesn’t pull off the karmic balancing act quite as well and with as much nuance as It’s Always Sunny, but hey, who does?
Don’t Trust The B— In Apartment 23 is a show too fast moving and scattershot to describe as having any sort of central thesis, but there is one target at which it takes aim more often and more viciously than any other: Celebrity. Through Van Der Beek’s entitled, vain, and hyper-insecure performance and Chloe’s fame-adjacent life, Nahnatchka Khan’s show skewers the toxic world that we have let build up in and around Hollywood. The obscene wealth; the mindless and rabid worship that gets inculcated in the people who call themselves fans; the deep psychological troubles that so often follow for those involved on the inside—Apartment 23 goes after celebrity from the get go. It doesn’t preach, it doesn’t proselytize; it just shows you a very colourful, very funny, surprisingly emotionally resonant story that lets you draw your own conclusions about this inescapable pillar of our modern existence.
Plus it has Krysten Ritter drunkenly terrorising a little baseball game. The fuck more do you want out of a show?
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