'Don't Trust the B---- in Apartment 23' debuts on ABC

Posted: April 11, 2012

DON'T TRUST THE B---- IN APARTMENT 23. 9:30 p.m. Wednesday, 6 ABC.

GIRLS. 10:30 p.m. Sunday, HBO.

THE PROBLEM of too much TV comedy being placed in the hands of women is such a new one it probably takes a man to explain it.

"Enough, ladies. I get it. You have periods," "Two and a Half Men" co-creator Lee Aronsohn told the Hollywood Reporter in an interview this month at the Toronto Screenwriting Conference. "We're approaching peak vagina on television, the point of labia saturation."

Coming from a guy who's helped write the longest-running dirty joke on television, this struck some people as ironic, maybe even a little mean. But I'm sure Aronsohn was just trying to help.

One of the great things about being female is that you never have to worry about accidentally taking more than your share of anything, whether it's pizza or time slots.

Because there's always a guy around to point it out if you do.

If only Aronsohn had waited a couple of weeks, he would have had even more to warn us about, as ABC's "Don't Trust the B---- in Apartment 23" and HBO's "Girls" join the ranks of shows about young women who sometimes talk about their private parts.

I've already written about the run of vagina jokes, but that's only one aspect of a season in which more than one network ordered a comedy about odd-couple female roommates struggling to make it in New York in circumstances partly precipitated by a Bernie Madoff-like financial swindle.

ABC has waited so long to premiere the show it finally decided to call "Don't Trust the B---- in Apartment 23" (after the network that also shortened "Good Christian Bitches" to "GCB" flirted with spelling out the B-word or dropping everything but "Apartment 23") that viewers who tune in Wednesday might suspect the show of copying from CBS' very successful "2 Broke Girls."

That would be wrong. "Don't Trust the B----" - and don't think I'm not going to get tired of typing all those dashes - was reportedly developed a few years ago for Fox, where show creator Nahnatchka Khan wrote for "American Dad." So the answer to any questions fans of "2 Broke Girls" or Fox's "New Girl" might have about vaguely familiar plot points is the standard one Hollywood insiders give whenever anyone asks how there could be two or more new shows in one season about flying-monkeys-who-moonlight-as-mixologists: It's in the water.

I'll have whatever Khan's drinking, because her "Don't Trust the B---- in Apartment 23" is one of the funnier network shows of the season, taking some of the stuff that's swirling around, adding a renewed appreciation (in some circles) for funny women, an economy that's shutting the door on twentysomethings and the rise of the celebrity as a separate persona and whipping it into a frothy confection with a bit of a kick.

Krysten Ritter ("Breaking Bad") stars as B-girl Chloe, a gifted con artist who shakes down roommates for their deposits and then tortures them until they move out. She frequently parties with best friend James Van Der Beek of "Dawson's Creek" fame, who plays a version of himself, à la Larry David in "Curb Your Enthusiasm" or Matt LeBlanc in "Episodes," and she's being semi-stalked by a former roomie who now lives down the hall ("Traffic Light's" Liza Lapira).

Enter June (Dreama Walker), a wide-eyed newcomer to New York who expected to be working on Wall Street and living in luxury but who's instead about to become Chloe's latest mark. Or not.

Talking 'bout bad girls

"Women behaving badly has not sort of in the past been something that's just readily accepted," Khan said in an interview in January. "Either there's an actress that can pull it off or it's the right venue, but you could probably count on your hand the number of times worked. So I think that people have to be ready for it, prepared for it, and you just have to get the right person in that slot."

In Ritter, Khan has her. "Don't Trust" (see how it's getting shorter already?) mostly sticks its landings, in its first few episodes, pushing Chloe further even than her counterparts in NBC's "Whitney" or "Are You There, Chelsea?" toward the brink of unlikability, trusting in the actress' charisma to save her.

Which mostly it does.

Lena Dunham has charisma, too. But it's as if she's almost hoping you won't notice.

The 25-year-old creator and star of HBO's much-anticipated "Girls" is a 2008 graduate of Oberlin College, a 2009 South by Southwest award winner for her semiautobiographical film, "Tiny Furniture," and a good enough actress to deliver the line, "I think I that I may be the voice of my generation - or at least a voice of a generation" in a way that makes you believe her 24-year-old character, Hannah, really is deluded.

Dunham, however, is anything but, having crafted an honest and at least occasionally hilarious show that might even live up to its hype.

Generation Next

A member of the latest labeled generation - I'm pretty sure I was a bouncing Baby Boomer before my parents ever heard they were Silent - Dunham, working with Gen X executive producer Judd Apatow ("Bridesmaids"), is playing both sides of the Millennials street in "Girls."

Her four main characters - Hannah, Marnie (Allison Williams, the actress daughter of "NBC News" anchor Brian Williams), Jessa (Jemima Kirke) and Shoshanna ("Mad Men's" Zosia Mamet, daughter of playwright David Mamet and actress Lindsay Crouse) - are all in their early to mid-20s and trying to make it in New York City, a place that will tolerate their presence as noninvestment bankers only as long as their parents can afford to foot the bill.

"Sex and the City" notwithstanding, this has always been to some extent the truth about that city and the people, like Hannah, who aspire to work in industries like publishing. But such arrangements, and the extended adolescence that sometimes accompanies them, have spread far enough to make it possible to identify with both camps in the scene in which Hannah's parents (Peter Scolari and Becky Ann Baker) tell her that after two years, they're abruptly cutting her off from the monthly support that allowed her to live in Brooklyn while working as an unpaid intern.

Not that not getting paid is Hannah's only problem.

Carrie Bradshaw probably wouldn't have wasted a column on Adam (Adam Driver), the elusive object of Hannah's affection, but theirs is, sadly and comically, an utterly believable (and intermittently horrifying) non-relationship, and Dunham's willingness to do whatever it takes to show it is - well, let's just say I watched the first time on an airplane, raising and lowering the screen frequently.

Williams, who plays Hannah's best friend and doesn't trade here on her made-for-the-CW looks, has at least one eye-opening scene of her own. Kirke's Jessa is a bit of a mess, and Mamet's Shoshanna is as naive as her "Mad Men" character is knowing.

Dunham, though, seems to have saved most of the heavy lifting, both comedically and humiliation-wise, for herself, casting herself as the Rhoda in her own show and reveling in the freedom to not only use any language she likes but to show women behaving as stupidly as men get to.

"It's important that you realize that it's OK to be annoyed by them, that they're making terrible mistakes. There's a sense of self-entitlement. They're immature, and it is every disaster that happens before you figure out your life," Apatow told reporters in January.

"I hope you're going to watch the show and go, like, 'That hand job joke was Judd's. That crying girl was Lena's.' Flip it," said Dunham. "And I feel like I just brought, you know, my desire to sort of almost share my shame with the world and be sort of comforted by how these personal experiences can feel really universal." n

Contact Ellen Gray at 215-854-5950 or graye@phillynews.comor follow on Twitter @elgray.Read her blog at EllenGray.tv.

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