Early on in the pilot for the new ABC comedy Don't Trust the B---- in Apt. 23, the series quickly distinguished its voice as wacky and cartoonish: June (Dreama Walker), freshly uprooted from her safe haven of the Midwest, arrived for her first day at her new downtown financial paper-pushing job to find the office in chaos because the company was being shut down by the government. A man in a suit ran around with a stack of papers on fire. Fax machines were rolled out to be pawned and bagels were stuffed in pants as the sweet sounds of panic alarms and rioting reverberated. It was an uproariously silly scene, a Family Guy-style cutaway in glorious live action.
From there the set-up was fast and furious: June needed to find a job and a place to live (her apartment was owned by the now-seized company) and she found the latter through Chloe (Krysten Ritter), an elitist, low-stakes con artist who has short-term roommates just to collect rent money to provide funds for ridiculous partying. Odd Couple 2012. We've seen this set-up a million times before and we know what will happen: They'll beef, they'll have their touching moments, and their roles will even reverse at some point (Episode 4, to be exact).
But what separates Don't Trust the B---- from other satisfactory sitcoms, aside from its polarizing title, is its dizzying tone and fun setting. There's something exciting here, and the goofy world the show has built is full of colorful characters and ridiculous situations. Just as Suburgatory created a nightmarish take on the suburbs, B---- has crafted a whimsical take on life in New York City, where underground sushi joints, druggy four-ways, and James Van Der Beek are a part of the everyday. And that's propped up by the frenetic pacing of the show. Series ceator Nahnatchka Khan also has a producing credit on Seth MacFarlane's American Dad, and it shows.
I could spend hours spouting off about how amazing and gorgeous Ritter is—you may know her as Breaking Bad's Jane—but we can discuss that in the bushes outside her apartment. And in later episodes, Walker (Gossip Girl) gets better as June as her character strays away from the role of the victim. Finally, Van Der Beek is great as a version of himself that we all like to think exists. That guy has really earned a lot of respect from me in his post-Dawson days (I loved him in The Rules of Attraction).
The pilot also introduced us to a host of great supporting characters—one of the show's strengths. Most notable is Eli (Michael Blaiklock), the pantsless, wanking neighbor. He's the modern-day Wilson from Home Improvement, someone who peers into the lives of our central characters, except he keeps a different head out of view. And he goes well beyond one-note jokes in later episodes to become one of TV's best new characters. Eric Andre is also perfectly understated as Mark, June's coworker at the coffee shop.
The pilot was far from perfect, but it did what it needed to do: Portray the world and tone of the show. And that's the important takeaway here. The stories get much better in subsequent episodes (I've seen two more, and ABC has made Episode 2 available online), and they're much more indicative of what this series can do.
Unlike most of this year's late-season sitcom entries, Don't Trust the B---- in Apt. 23 is a pleasant surprise. It has a clear sense of its cartoonish style and goofy tone, and it came out with confidence last night. It's not quite appointment television, but it definitely works as a substitute for Happy Endings.
– Few opportunities are wasted on this show, as tiny details amplify the effectiveness of scenes. Examples: Chloe eating (and not liking) the yogurt that June had JUST wrote her name on and put in the fridge, the Beek doing curls during a phone call. There's a refreshing lack of "set-up, set-up, punchline" comedy going on here.
– I'm not sure how we're supposed to believe that June and Chloe were amicable at the end there. For the sake of the series, they obviously have to be, but finding that balance between friendship and enemy-ship without defanging Chloe is going to be tricky.
– Chloe-stalker Robin (Liza Lapira) is going to be hit-and-miss as a character. But I laughed when she was screaming, "Take it! Take it!" while spraying Chloe's ass with champagne.
– At least no one said the word "vagina"!
– Good start for the show ratings-wise: a 2.9 in the adult demo and just under 7 million viewers.
Follow TV.com writer Tim Surette on Twitter: @TimAtTVDotCom