Don’t Trust the B in Apartment 23 was a misfit comedy from the start; it had a naughty word in the title and a protagonist (Krysten Ritter) who was practically a sociopath, and it starred James Van Der Beek, who hadn’t been a TV-series regular since Dawson’s Creek, as himself. In 2011, ABC cautiously ordered a half season, changing the show’s title three times in the process. Don’t Trust the B pulled enough viewers to merit a full second season, but when ratings began to sag, the network yanked its eight remaining episodes. Fortunately, the sweet yet cynical comedy has now arrived on Hulu* and iTunes, where all 33 episodes are available for your viewing pleasure. Among those who will be watching: James Van Der Beek. While he’s already moved on to a new network comedy, CBS’s Friends With Better Lives, the actor retains a soft spot for Don’t Trust the B. Vulture spoke to Van Der Beek about the role that showed us he’s even better at making us laugh than he is at crying.
It sincerely ruined my day when I found out that Don’t Trust the B in Apartment 23 had been canceled.
Awww! Well, I’m sorry to hear that and happy to hear that at the same time. Yeah, it was kind of weird, people would stop me in the street and say, “Omigod, congratulations on the show! It’s such a huge success!” And I’d say, “Thank you. It was canceled, but I appreciate it.”
The short first season did well enough that ABC ordered a full second season.
Yeah, so we were all excited about that. And then there was a hurricane, and an election, and it just seemed like the stars were kind of crossed. Then they started airing us on Sunday nights, and I thought, That’s probably not a good sign. I was surprised that they actually just pulled the remaining episodes and didn’t even air them at all. I felt like we never really got a chance to gain any traction. But you know, the whole network-scheduling game is such a strange one. And I mean, God bless ABC. They tried. They had the balls to pick it up. I really respect them for even giving it a shot. It’s just that the network business model depends on the gross number of people watching a television show when it’s on. And I think an edgy, bitchy comedy, like we were, doesn’t go for those mass numbers.
It’s great to see the unaired episodes on Hulu. We finally find out why Fake James hates James Franco. We also see you go on a quest to find your real father. Did you have any say as to whom they cast in that role?
No, but as soon as I heard — I don’t want to spoil it — but once I heard who it was, I was over the moon. I was very, very excited.
I know that you worked on stories with the writers. Are there any story lines you would have liked to see that you didn’t get around to doing?
Oh, yeah. Nanatchka [Khan, the show’s creator] and I would have a drink every once in a while and just start riffing back and forth, and any ideas I had that weren’t completely horrible, she would put her own spin on and make work. One of the things we were talking about was the movie that I wrote at the end of the first season, the cop drama Fingered. I always thought it would be great if at some point James decided to turn it into Fingered: The Musical. I thought, that’s something that the world needs to see.
You now have a new show on CBS, which happened pretty quickly. Had you already decided that you wanted to move on to another comedy?
You know, I wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted to do. I thought, do I want to do a gritty, dark cable show, do I want to just do features? And then Friends With Better Lives came along, and I really like Dana Klein, who created the show. And they talked about rewriting it and tailoring it to me, and then James Burroughs was directing it — who’s the multi-camera legend. He directed all of Cheers, Will and Grace, Frasier. And he was doing the pilot. So I thought doing that pilot would be an opportunity to take a master class with him. Again, knowing that CBS’s schedule was pretty chock full. They had what they needed in terms of comedy. So it was not a “Hey, what’s going to get picked up?” kind of calculation. I just thought it would be fun to do, I liked the people involved, and they got a really great cast. And I’ve never really done a lot of multi-cam before, or TV in front of a live audience. I started out doing theater, so I thought, this might be a fun way to get in front of an audience on a regular basis, and also be a job that would allow me to see my kids. So all of that factored in. And we got picked up.
And you play a gynecologist?
Uhh … yeah. I don’t think there are any vagina jokes, though, in the pilot. Really what it is: He’s a guy who’s recently divorced and kind of gobsmacked by it. So his journey will be one of getting back in the dating pool, and yeah, hilarity ensues.
Looking back now at playing Fake James, with the constant Dawson’s Creek references — do you feel like it put Dawson behind you, in a way?
You know what? Yes. It absolutely, I think, took me out of one mold that I’d been in for a while. It’s tough to compete with something that was the cultural phenomenon that Dawson’s Creek was. It ran for so long. That’s a lot of hours playing one character in front of people. So it’s natural that they associate you with that. And also the nature of television, you’re in their living room, so it’s even more immediate. I wish I could say it was a calculated, intelligent decision, but it really was just something that I thought was funny, that I hadn’t really done before, and there were just great people involved. In terms of what it did for me? It was an opportunity to do comedy on a regular basis. Which I really enjoyed. I feel like walking down the street, I do get called “Dawson” a lot less these days. So maybe that’s a measure of what the show did. Now when people mock me on the street, they use my real name. So there you go. [Laughs]
One day I want to do a round table with you and other stars who have played mocking versions of themselves, and talk about how it affected your lives.
It’s funny, I remember the first time I did an episode of How I Met Your Mother, I was talking with Neil Patrick Harris. And Neil said something about, “Have you learned how to have fun with the whole image, really lampoon it?” At the time I said, “Oh, yeah, I was doing that even while I was on the show.” And he kind of said, “Okay,” and nodded. And cut to [laughs] me on the FOX lot really lampooning the image. It’s just fun to stay in the game. And I think that’s probably the most important thing for an actor, especially one with some success in the past. Just stay in the game. And that’s what Apartment 23 allowed me to do.
*Van Der Beek points out that Hulu has the episodes listed in the wrong order. He’d like you to watch season two like this:
“A Reunion …” — Episode 201
“It’s a Miracle …” — Episode 202
“Love and Monsters …” — Episode 203
“Sexy People …” — Episode 204
“Paris …” — Episode 205
“Teddy Trouble …” — Episode 206
“Monday June …” — Episode 207
“Dating Games …” — Episode 208
“The D …” — Episode 209
“The Seven Year Bitch …” — Episode 210
“Using People …” — Episode 211
“Ocupado …” — Episode 212
“Original Bitch …” — Episode 213