Confession: We love “Dawson’s Creek.” Love it. We can rattle off embarrassing facts like the name of Jack’s dead brother and exactly how many pounds of marijuana Joey Potter’s dad was accused of trafficking. We may or may not have a terrier named Pacey at home.
So it’s no surprise that “Don’t Trust The B—- in Apartment 23,” which is stuffed with references to the late-’90s WB drama that shaped our adolescence, was one of our favorite pilots of the season. The show centers on June (Dreama Walker) who moves in with Chloe (the incomparably awesome Krysten Ritter), an almost-sociopath with an exhibitionist streak and no mind for social formalities or, you know, laws. Chloe’s “gay best friend, but straight” happens to be one Mr. James Van Der Beek.
A couple years ago, if you’d suggested to Van Der Beek that one day he’d be playing an incredibly offensive version of himself, wearing ’90s flannel, and blasting Paula Cole’s “I Don’t Want to Wait” in a sitcom pilot, he probably would’ve thought you’d lost your mind. When Nahnatchka Khan and David Hemingson’s “Don’t Trust The B—- in Apartment 23” landed on his desk, though, he tells us he had absolutely no hesitation about jumping in and embracing the joke.
“I just thought it was the best pilot script I’d read in years,” Van Der Beek tells us, calling from his home office while his wife and two children (yes, you are that old) go about their day downstairs. “The people involved with it were so good, particularly Natch and Dave. The shows they’ve produced together, like ‘How I Met Your Mother,’ ‘American Dad’ — they’re truly a comedy dream team, which took away any hesitation I’d have at all about playing myself. I knew it’d be funny.”
You’d think that his wife, Kimberly — who keeps a blog about their family — might have some reservations about her husband playing himself as a womanizing, misanthropic d-bag, but apparently she’s just cool enough to love it. “She thinks it’s funny!” Van Der Beek insists. “She looks at it the way I do, which is that it’s a complete and total character. By the second episode, he really started feeling like a creation that we all made. As long as I leave that guy at the door, I think I’m okay.”
Though “Dawson’s Creek” is mentioned a ton in the pilot episode — June is a very big fan, though Walker insists she never saw an episode — the character evolves into a hilarious commentary not only on Van Der Beek himself, but on the inherent hilarity of C-list celebrities in general. “We just started adding things to my resume that aren’t real,” Van Der Beek tells us. “A Guy Ritchie movie that I never did, foreign commercials, ‘Dancing With the Stars.’ If there’s anything he won’t do, we have not found it.”
The parody succeeds because it’s written fearlessly. “I told the writers from the beginning, don’t ever be afraid of offending me, just always go for what’s funniest — and they did. It’s funny, because when we pitch things, going back and forth, they’ll be like, ‘Yeah, that’s funny! Because you’re so narcissistic!’ and they’re talking to me, right at me, using my name, but it’s not a comment on who I really am. When that started happening, I knew we were on the right track.”
Though there’s been a considerable amount of press attention paid to Van Der Beek’s return to series television — due, in part, to the nostalgia kick and in part to the novelty of an actor playing himself in a series role — Van Der Beek himself is quick to cede the spotlight to his co-stars. After six years on the creek, he’s happy to play a supporting role and embrace his sidekick gig. “What allows me to have as much fun as I’m having is the fact that the girls are so strong,” he says. “Dreama is the emotional and moral center of the show, and Krysten is a rockstar, so it gives me a long leash to be as ridiculous as you can dream up.”
Speaking of ridiculous… Van Der Beek tells us he will not be reaching into his usual bag of tricks for “Apartment 23” — though we promise he’ll give you plenty of new things to make into .gifs for your Tumblrs.
“There will be no crying Dawson,” he laughs. “I think we didn’t want to repeat what had already been, well, repeated. Endlessly.”
Check out the premiere episode of “Don’t Trust the B—- in Apartment 23” on ABC Wednesday, April 11 at 9:30 p.m. EST… or watch the full episode right here, right now, below.