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Welcome once again to our annual "first look" at the broadcast networks' offerings for the 2011-2012 season, now in its sixth year! Each day we'll walk you through one of the new series set to premiere next season (or one that didn't make the cut) and go over our initial impressions after viewing the pilot. Keep in mind that a lot can change from what's being screened right now - recasting, reshooting, etc. - but we still want to give you a heads up on what you should (and shouldn't) keep on your radar in the coming months. So enough of our rambling, on with the show!
[IMPORTANT NOTE: The following is based on the original sales presentation which was screened to us privately or supplied by a third party NOT an informational, not-for-review screener provided by the network in question.]
APARTMENT 23 (ABC)
(written by Nahnatchka Khan; directed by Jason Winer; TRT: 22:28)
The network's description: "After a naive Midwestern girl's big city dreams are dashed her first week in New York, she finds herself living with her worst nightmare in this hilarious, contemporary comedy about a female odd couple who are surrounded by an outrageous cast of characters. June (Dreama Walker) moves to Manhattan for a dream job and the perfect company apartment, only to have them disappear in a puff of reality, thanks to a CEO from the Bernie Madoff school of embezzlement. Deep in debt and out on the streets, June scrambles to land a job and place to live. It seems her luck has turned around when she gets hired at a coffee shop and finds Chloe (Krysten Ritter), a charming, vivacious roommate... with the morals of a pirate. She swindles June out of all her savings, but she and her snarky friend, James Van Der Beek (playing himself), soon learn that, just because June's naive, she isn't stupid.
June ingeniously turns the tables on Chloe, who is so shocked about being scammed herself that she decides to pull June into her colorful band of friends. Sure, it's all dysfunctional, bizarre and overwhelming, but so is New York City. And with the help of Chloe and the other oddballs around her, June might just learn the survival secrets she needs to make it there. "Apartment 23" stars Krysten Ritter ("Breaking Bad," "Gilmore Girls") as Chloe, Dreama Walker ("The Good Wife," "Gossip Girl") as June, Eric André as Mark, Michael Blaiklock as Eli and James Van Der Beek ("Varsity Blues," "Dawson's Creek") as James Van Der Beek. Created and written by Nahnatchka Kahn ("American Dad"), "Apartment 23" is executive-produced by Kahn, Jason Winer ("Modern Family"), Dave Hemingson ("American Dad," "How I Met Your Mother") and Jeff Morton ("Modern Family"). Winer is also the director. "Apartment 23" is a production of 20th Century Fox Television."
What did they leave out? The show's moniker previously began "Don't Trust the Bitch in..."
The plot in a nutshell: "Living in New York has taught me that life is full of surprises," fresh-faced Midwestern transplant June (Dreama Walker) explains via the opening narration. "They can be scary but if you're open to them, they can also change your life." Such was improbably the case when her new roommate Chloe (Krysten Ritter) screwed her fiance Steven (Tate Ellington) on her birthday cake. One week earlier, June however had yet to learn said lesson. Fresh off the figurative boat from Indiana, June arrives to find her new job as a mortgage broker no longer exists and with it, her fancy new corporate digs.
Rather than return home a failure, she tries to make the best of a bad situation. First up: a roommate. After wading through the usual barrage of freaks and weirdos, her luck turns for the better when she meets Chloe, a seemingly well-adjusted and friendly gal whose previous roommate left to get married. And so, June dumps all of her savings into first and last month's rent. That's of course when the first warning sign appears all may not be so perfect. "Don't trust the bitch in Apartment 23," her new neighbor Robin (Liza Lapira) says via hushed whisper.
And so, when Chloe begins parading around the apartment naked, throwing late night parties and splurging with the "extra" rent money she charged, her true colors begin to show: she wants to drive June so nuts that she'll move out, leaving behind the aforementioned cash. "You think maybe this is why you don't have any female friends?" asks her best friend James Van Der Beek (as himself). "Whatever I don't want any. Girls are too mean," she fires back. June however isn't your typical pushover - she sells Chloe's belongings to make up for the swindled rent money - and the battle lines are drawn.
What works: The show, if anything, is a harmless collection of silly moments, whether it's Chloe explaining why she and Dawson don't date ("We weren't really compatible, genitally: imagine trying to fit a cucumber into a coin purse. Now he's like my gay BFF but straight."), Dawson's willingness to poke fun of himself ("Don't be a blonde dude in a Vietnamese jail, June. That's the real life lesson here.") or cutting to slow motion in order to exacerbate June's realization that their neighbor Eli (Michael Blaiklock) is pleasuring himself when he talks to her from across the alley.
Plus any show willing to the make random references to Jessica Tandy and Hume Cronyn (Google it kids) or try its hand at an original theme song ("I'm not perfect, I'm no snitch but I can tell you she's a bitch" will be rattling around in my noggin for a while) is cool in my book. Throw in the always welcome Ritter and Walker, it's just...
What doesn't: ...unfortunate then that the whole proves to be less than the sum of is parts. For all the aforementioned sound and fury between June and Chloe, the pilot ends on far too pat a note, as if said events are some giant "meet cute" story. "Apartment 23" is actually at its strongest when it sticks to the cycle of Chloe screws over June, June fights back, Chloe plays hurt and emotionally blackmails June only to screw her over again, so the prospect of defanging them even a little is far from welcome. It also doesn't help that for all the appreciated silliness above, there's just as much that falls flat.
Whether it's a running gag involving Steven's work as a behavioral psychologist that seems silly for the sake of being silly ("I made a giraffe out of pipe cleaners," his subject meagerly proclaims); how June's new company doesn't just go under, there's flames and DEFCON 5 sirens involved; or Chloe's dealing of black market ADD pills ("Anyone want to study like an Asian teenager?" she quips.), there's frequently a limp aura to the show's mechanizations that feels decidedly underwhelming. That's not to say it can't be a fun half-hour (a feat in itself considering the upcoming season's relatively weak comedy crop), I...
The bottom line: ...just wish it was better.