On the surface–starting with its inauspicious title–Don’t Trust the B in Apartment 23 is a sitcom I should hate. The entire premise is that the titular “B,” Chloe, has no respect for boundaries: she attempts to swindle her roommate June, lies to June and everyone else repeatedly, interrupts June’s privacy while keeping herself inaccessible, and undermines and belittles June in every episode. A virtual fistful of red flags.
But I love the show. Here are 11 reasons why.
- The plot is driven by a friendship between two women. It’s a tempestuous friendship, and often seems like an unsafe space for one or both of the women, but at the end of the day this is a show about two women who continue to choose each other over men, money, or mayhem.
- Chloe is the kind of deliciously wicked and selfish bitch that made us love Mean Girls so much. Like the Plastics, Chloe is inaccessibly cool, fashionable, sarcastic, and greedy; when you see a beautiful woman with that kind of drive to have everything and have it her way, it’s hard not to envy or admire her. But in Krysten Ritter’s hands, this character is also extremely funny, smart, and unpredictable. Whatever you expect her to do in the role of vamp, con artist, and It Girl, she just does. . . . something else.
- I know some people find June annoying, but I love her. She remains utterly herself despite the attraction of Chloe’s life and style; in fact, if she did try to Chloeify herself, Chloe would have her out of Apartment 23 in a hot minute. June values her work, her friends, and her alone time; she’s funny and charming and holds her own against her hard-partying friends. I even appreciate that, in her own way, she sometimes crosses boundaries or acts selfishly just as egregiously as Chloe would–but she always learns, and repents.
- Female desire is a thing in this show. When June apprehends masculine beauty and her brain starts thumping “Good Good,” I recognize a spiritual sister.
- Speaking of music, I appreciate how much this show lives in the 90s. The characters are meant to be young women living in the present year, but the writers are obviously my age: at one point Chloe laments that the supposed rockstar she intended to meet turns out to be in Candlebox, and June grimaces in sympathy.
- James Van der Beek is hilarious playing the role of himself. Like Chloe, he’s shallow, selfish, and yet completely likeable; June’s mom develops a warm, (mostly) maternal friendship with him. JVDB the actor has sharp comedic timing, so he delivers JVDB-the-character’s ignorance of “real person” troubles, unintentional cruelty, and bloated “artistic” advice as though they were zingers. The zing, though, is directed toward his celebrity-imposed insulation.
- The characters are fairly diverse for a sitcom–there are a number of nonwhite characters, and the script allows them to own their race without defining them by it. Not all characters are straight; not even all of them seem interested in romance at all. (I am ambivalent about Robin’s character, but at least she is motivated by something other than greed or lust.)
- While we’re on the topic–so many platonic friendships on this show! Between men and women, women and women, and men and men! It’s unusual enough to notice.
- The show is smart about film and television tropes: sometimes it makes these quite obvious, as when June and Chloe consciously buck against acting out conventional romantic comedy roles; sometimes it’s a gentler allusion, as when they travel out to the Hamptons to attend an outrageous party thrown by a mysterious man named Willoughby.
- Cameos galore! Studded with celebrities who passed their peak, if they ever peaked in the first place, the cameos emphasize half-glamorous-half-seedy world inhabited by Chloe and James. My favorite is when Mark Paul Gosselaar drops by to talk James out of doing a Dawson’s Creek reunion show. The cameos also serve to show how much these characters–like us–are influenced by the world of television and film.
- This show is is, after all, a fantasy: an impossibly desirable woman who wants to be your friend; a friend who knows what you need better than you do, and gets it for you against all protests. It’s the same fantasy that drives romantic fiction: the fantasy of being known and loved in spite of everything. And while you wouldn’t necessarily want to live out such a fantasy, it is great fun to see it play out onscreen.