We've seen network TV talk the talk when it comes to producing "edgy" shows, only to tune into the first episode to find a toothless sitcom that's about as modern as one of Mary Tyler Moore's neckerchiefs. When hearing that ABC's Don't Trust the B---- in Apartment 23 had removed the "bitch" from its title I was prepared to go through it all again, until I watched the first episode. Yes, the show isn't as cutting edge as something on FX or HBO, but it's quite dark and dangerous. Best of all, it's really funny.
The defanged "B" of the title is Chloe (Krysten Ritter of Breaking Bad and blunt bangs fame), a potentially sociopathic New Yorker who finds new roommates on Craigslist, lures them in with her sunny demeanor and chicken satay, and then terrorizes them until they flee the apartment, leaving behind their half of the rent and security deposit, which she pockets. In the pilot her latest mark moves in. However this new girl, June (Dreama Walker, who knows a thing or two about dealing with raven-haired bitches from playing one of Blair's underlings on Gossip Girl), isn't a pushover and strikes back at Chloe. They strike up something resembling a friendship, that's if Chloe was capable of having friends.
Oh, she has one friend, James Van Der Beek. Yes the Dawson's Creek crybaby (who I once costarred with in a regional production of Anything Goes back in the '90s) is playing a jerkier version of himself, using his teen heartthrob status to bag the ladies. It's like an aninmated .gif come to life. How meta! How postmodern!
The jokes on the show veer slightly past quirky and are sometimes downright dark, a distinct pleasure for those who prefer the comedy of Sarah Silverman or Ricky Gervais rather than Ray Romano and Larry the Cable Guy. Since this is ABC and not FX you expect the final scene to be Chloe and June sharing a cosmo and a hug and for us to realize that Chloe is just misunderstood and has a hurt heart of gold underneath her prickly exterior. Thankfully, it never comes. Instead they do shots and Chloe walks out on the bill. She is just a bitch, plain and delightfully simple. The tension of the show arises from what sort of imaginative and sadistic trick Chloe will come up with next and how June will adapt to it in order to survive. The pilot starts off with Chloe having sex with June's fiancé on her birthday cake (spoiler alert) — such a great gag that the writers are really going to have to put on those thinking caps.
Ritter plays Chloe brilliantly, infusing her with a deceptive brightness that masks the pure evil beneath and draws all these targets in. The weakest spot in the show is Van Der Beek. He's as dreamy as ever and quite good playing a jerk, but I have a feeling that the Dawson jokes are going to be stale and all used up by the end of season 1. Where can he go from here?
The same could be said for the premise for the show. Just how long can we watch Chloe torture June before it becomes a parody of an Itchy and Scratchy Show episode? Awhile it seems. Just when you think it couldn't get worse, things get even dicier in the second episode when Chloe sets up with the man of her dreams who is not quite who June thinks she is.
Yes, I've seen the first two episodes, but it's not like I'm some TV reviewer saying "Na-na-na-na-pooh-pooh. ABC sends DVDs to me and not you!" No, I just watched them on Hulu like everyone else. ABC is continuing a growing trend of releasing shows before their air date (B doesn't come on the air until April 11) to churn up some buzz for their projects. (Wow, edgy programming and getting hip to the internet and social media. It's like ABC had lunch with its teenage niece and just found out about this "The Facesbook" thing.) Most media outlets will hold their reviews until the show is on an actual television set, but that's the kind of prehistoric thinking that keeps edgy programming off the old boob tube in the first place. So, here are both episodes, reviewed and presented below, for your pleasure.
Let us know if you think ABC is doing a good job living on the edge or if it should just bring back Family Matters.