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Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Racy new sitcom also rather funny

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Two weeks ago, I included a brief and fairly positive review of ABC's new grown-ups only sitcom "Don't Trust the B-- in Apartment 23" inside one of those "random thoughts" columns, which I occasionally put together when my brain is addled (or more addled than usual, anyway), which it certainly was that week. Since then, my flu has subsided -- finally -- and because my mind is clearer (and I've re-watched the pilot plus took in the second episode scheduled to air), I've decided to pass along a more comprehensive review of this new show.

"Apartment 23," which airs on ABC Wednesday nights at 8:30 p.m., centers around June (played with perk and pluck by Dreama Walker), a wide-eyed optimist from small-town Indiana who, toting a newly-minted MBA, heads to New York City for a big-time Wall Street job. The company has handed her the keys to a huge apartment with a picturesque view, her kid-testing grad-student fiancee is set to join her soon, and except for the fact that her mother is promising (or is it threatening?) to send her bread so she doesn't have buy any, June's life is bright, beautiful and full of promise.

And then she goes to the office for her first day of work. This is -- coincidentally -- the day that the Feds swoop in, arrest pretty much every executive in the company and seize all the company's assets, leaving her jobless and without an apartment.

But June knows she can't turn tail and run, so while sitting outside a coffee shop, she opens up her laptop and starts looking for a place to live.

After a couple of false starts, she meets Chloe (Krysten Ritter, sly and sharp), who shares a snack with June, tells silly jokes and speaks warmly of her last roommate ("of four years," she gushes). Chloe even happens to have a famous friend in actor James Van Der Beek (Yep, Dawson of "Dawson's Creek" fame, playing a caricatured version of himself, and rather successfully). Yes, sir, Chloe appears to be the perfect potential roommate -- sweet, friendly, generous.

Everyone's heard the old chestnut "appearances can be deceiving," I'm sure. Whoever came up with that more than likely crossed paths with Chloe. A young woman down the hall warns June about this, and her turn of phrase is where the show finds its title.

Almost immediately, the real Chloe, jaded and acid-tongued, launches into a kind of psychological warfare against June -- lying to her about the rent, hassling her while in the bathtub, walking around the apartment stark (but pixilated) naked -- all with the intent of making June run away and stay away. (There's a scene when Van Der Beek challenges Chloe on her actions -- "Maybe this is why you don't have any female friends," he says to her -- and her simple response, "Girls are too mean," is surprisingly poignant and telling, and indicates a depth to the material that is quite pleasing.)

And here's where June surprises Chloe. She doesn't scream, cry or flip out while sprinting for home; she actually digs in and pushes back, turning the tables on her new roommate with a very Chloe-esque act. (I won't tell you what it is, but it's no small undertaking.)

After June surprises -- and even impresses? -- Chloe, she's about to walk out for good, and that's when her fiancee turns up at the door, a young male test subject in tow, along with the boy's nurse, ostensibly to help June celebrate her birthday. Chloe immediately smells a unfaithful rat; after coaxing details out of the kid (though not necessarily with kindness; "You know what else is fun? Alcohol," she says to the teenager just before he lets details slip -- as well as his lunch), she confronts the cad in her own inimitable way -- by tempting him into a compromising position, one that he runs headlong toward; the guy is a creep, after all.

June and the nurse do indeed catch them in the act; June is hurt, the nurse-slash-mistress is furious, and the now ex-fiancee is sent packing. Chloe later tracks June down at a bar, where the sadder-but-wiser June thanks her for "saving me" from a sad fate. It's another moment where the show displays a surprising level of humanity, even while the bulk of the show's running time is pitched at a heightened reality.

There aren't many shows these days that can pull off emotional truth inside of an outrageous, irreverent frame, but "Apartment 23" does. This show belongs to Walker and Ritter; either one of these actors could carry a program on their own, but they bring out the best in each other. Of the supporting players, Van Der Beek does an tremendous job sending up his own aging teen-star image (particularly in the second episode, when he tries to teach an acting class at NYU and finds himself fielding endless "Dawson's Creek" co-star questions instead), and Eric Andre, who plays a co-worker of June's, is charming and sweetly awkward.

I do quibble with some of the show's raunchier aspects. In particular, there's a peeping-tom (played by Michael Blaiklock) who lives in a nearby building, and seems to be perpetually staring into the women's kitchen. He has dialogue and business that's more creepy than funny; the character feels like a wedged-in element rather than someone the show couldn't do without. And some of the more sexually-charged turns of phrase from any number of the characters made me groan.

As I mentioned in my comments a couple of weeks ago, this may be the raciest show that ABC has aired in some years. Some of the ads for the show are advising -- albeit with a mock-sternness -- that parents should put their kids to bed after lead-in "Modern Family." It's not the worst idea anyone ever put out to the public. (But I must stress that "Apartment 23" is nowhere near the raunchy league of CBS' "Two and a Half Men" or "2 Broke Girls," which seem to be straining against each other to see who can be more offensive on a week-to-week basis.)

For adults, though, "Apartment 23" is a solid comedy with a surprisingly soft heart, plus a good deal of potential. If you're in the mood for a sitcom with some grown-up sensibilities, it's worth checking out. Three and a half stars (out of four).

Content advisory (for the first episode only): The show is rated TV-14 DLS. There's an extended sequence of Ritter's character in the altogether (but not); a played-for-laughs near-sex scene that ends on top of a birthday cake; a creepy neighbor hints at doing something creepy just below camera-view; a teenager goes through the joys and pains of first beers; and of course, the "b-word," because it's in the title, sort of.

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Jeremy Blomstedt
The Entertainment Center