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TV Review: Don’t Trust the B---- in Apartment 23 Is an Intriguing Balance of Sweetness and Sleaze

Don’t Trust the B---- in Apartment 23 (ABC, 9:30/8:30 central) is a trifle, but it's intriguing for how it balances sweetness and sleaze. Its mismatched-roommates premise is an ancient TV trope, but like Two Broke Girls, and definitely unlike the sweet/kooky New Girl, the show has a wicked, at times vile undertow, and that keeps it watchable even though a lot of it is tiresome. Creator Nahnatchka Khan — who also penned the pilot episode — used to write for Seth MacFarlane’s American Dad, and the show’s structure owes a lot to the ten-sight-gags-a-minute style perfected by McFarlane’s animated sitcoms (and The Simpsons before them).

Dreama Walker (what a name!) plays June, a literally wide-eyed innocent who arrives in New York City from small-town Indiana, only to discover that the mortgage firm job she had lined up has disappeared thanks to the company’s involvement in a Bernie Madoff–like financial scandal, and the immense company apartment she was supposed to inhabit has been taken away, too. Left on the street with her furniture, she sinks her first month’s, last month’s, and deposit into sharing a flat with the “B” in question, Chloe (Krysten Ritter of Breaking Bad).

Men co-creator Lee Aronsohn recently griped of raunchy femme-centered comedies that “we’re reaching peak vagina point on television.” He might have been describing Chloe. With her narcissism, lack of empathy, voracious sexual appetite, and utter contempt for innocence and vulnerability, she’s like a female version of Charlie Sheen’s character on Two and a Half Men. Whether inviting an aghast June to join her in a four-way or getting a barely adolescent boy drunk, she’s so decadent that she doesn’t so much revel in her badness as lounge in it like a beanbag chair.

The pilot’s flash-forward structure has June walking in on Chloe while she’s trysting with June’s fiancé on her birthday, then flashes back to show how the hookup came to pass, and why “it’s the best thing that ever happened to me.” Along the way, we learn about Chloe’s scam (invite people to live with her, drive them crazy until they move out, then keep their deposits) and meet a few co-workers, friends and neighbors, including a young woman (Liza Lapira of Traffic Light) who was jilted by Chloe and has been stalking her ever since. One of Chloe’s paramours is James Van Der Beek, played by none other than James Van Der Beek. It’s an amusing send-up of the past-his-prime TV hunk still coasting on youthful fame, but I’d be more taken with it if I hadn’t seen it done so often recently, starting with Neil Patrick Harris in Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle and continuing on through Matt LeBlanc on Episodes. The pilot is funny but exhausting, but I doubt the show’s ability to sustain this tone and these characters over the long term — although, given the critic-proof success of Two Broke Girls, I guess anything is possible.

Photo: Richard Cartwright/ABC