Last fall, FOX gave us one of the current TV season’s breakout characters in Jess, the wistfully “adorkable” sprite Zooey Deschanel plays in that network’s hit sitcom “New Girl.”
This week, as the season starts winding down, ABC trots out a character who could be Jess’ Bizarro World twin in Chloe (Krysten Ritter), the bohemian, totally amoral title character at the center of “Don’t Trust the B—- in Apartment 23,” a risky and utterly fearless new comedy series premiering Wednesday, April 11.
Chloe is the ultimate free spirit in many ways, but unlike the nurturing Jess, she has the morals of a pirate, preying on the weak and trusting to survive. Blessed with the pale prettiness of a model who hangs out at cutting-edge late-night clubs, she also has dazzling surface charm and, most important, a delightfully quirky New York apartment.
In the series opener, that’s quite enough for this spider to lure her latest, wide-eyed fly: June (Dreama Walker), a sunny Midwesterner newly arrived in the Big Apple to start a job in the city’s financial district, only to see her world fall apart almost instantly as both her firm and her corporate dream apartment are seized by the feds in a toxic-mortgages scandal.
Homeless and with limited funds, June endures a series of creepy roommate interviews before “lucking into” Chloe, who welcomes her to Apartment 23 like an improbably thin earth mother. What June doesn’t know is that Chloe plans to plunder her meager funds with rent and bloated deposit fees, then make her life so utterly miserable that June flees the apartment as soon as possible.
How this odd couple meet, spar and ultimately come to a place of grudging mutual respect unfolds in a fragmented narrative style that’s heavy in fast-forwards and surreal flashbacks, while the hilarious pandemonium at June’s office looks like a live-action version of a Seth MacFarlane sitcom — not surprising, since series creator and executive producer Nahnatchka Khan used to work on “American Dad.”
In fact, there’s so much surprising and audacious about “Don’t Trust the B****” that it’s almost gilding the lily to have James Van Der Beek in the cast doing a nicely self-aware parody of himself as Chloe’s ex-lover and confidant, James Van Der Beek.
“This series is really groundbreaking, I think, every episode I’ve seen,” Ritter tells Zap2it, previously best known as Aaron Paul‘s doomed, drug-addicted girlfriend on AMC’s “Breaking Bad”“There’s always something that you haven’t seen before. We don’t follow any rules, really. It’s not a conventional setup-and-joke kind of show. The rhythm of it is not your typical sitcom.”
Ritter may have the flashier role, but the show wouldn’t work nearly as well without Walker, who played quite a memorable “b****” herself as the conniving teenage back-stabber Becca on “The Good Wife.” As it turns out, the actress is a lot more like June in real life, however.
“I told the producers how I’m always apologizing for everything, and I want to be friends with everybody, and I don’t want anyone to get mad at me, and they said, ‘Wow, that’s June in a nutshell,’ ” Walker recalls. “June is an extremely bright, assertive young lady, very much a go-getter, and she has great morals and wants to please everyone, but there comes a point where she is not a pushover.”
As a big “Breaking Bad” fan, Walker says she came to her new role a little intimidated by the chameleon-like Ritter, who can handle both comedy and drama with ease, but the two actresses quickly hit it off and fell into a natural character rhythm together.
“Our chemistry works because Krysten has a side to her that is definitely Chloe, and I have a side to me that is definitely June,” Walker says. “She has a great sense of humor and came up with a lot of things in the show on the fly, and we just work very well together because we’re both very passionate about comedy. We’re totally committed, and there were days when we both looked like maniacs because we were throwing ourselves into it 110 percent. Hopefully it’s going to pay off.”
Ritter says that, so far, this has been a dream job for her as well.
“The writing is just heaven,” she says. “Hands down, this was the unique script that I saw this year, and I think it stands out over the course of my whole career as the best comedy pilot I’ve read. In the pilot alone, my character has a switchblade, is naked, is in a hip-hop video and more. I’ve never seen anything so outrageous and delicious.
“If you are going to sign on to do a show, in the event that you are so lucky that you get to do it for several years, you want it to be something special, and I would play this character for 100 years.”
At the same time, the actress is pragmatic enough to recognize that, in today’s unstable network TV landscape, sometimes a show this edgy and offbeat can polarize audiences, which is one of the reasons she’s glad they got to film all 13 episodes of the first season in a kind of creative bubble, without any kind of network or studio interference.
“Go big or go home, I say. I don’t want to be on a show that nobody cares about and nobody sees and doesn’t excite me.” Ritter says. “I can’t predict the future, but I felt that this show either is going be really awesome and work, or it’s not and it’ll be gone in five seconds. I’d rather play my cards that way any day.”