ICYMI: The Wonderfully Surreal Don’t Trust the B— in Apartment 23 Deserves to Be Seen as Intended

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ICYMI: The Wonderfully Surreal <i>Don&#8217;t Trust the B&#8212; in Apartment 23</i> Deserves to Be Seen as Intended

“I’m not perfect
I’m no snitch?
But I can tell you
She’s a b— (buzzer sound)”

When the official announcement came out that James Van Der Beek would be a competitor on the newest season of ABC’s Dancing With the Stars, it clearly revealed that there are two types of people in this pop cultural world: those who figured it was an inevitability that “Dawson” would be on the Dancing With the Stars someday and those who took the ultimate delight in the fact that life was finally imitating (severely-underrated) art. After all, Van Der Beek’s major “first” season arc (proper, a point I’ll go into) in ABC’s two-season wonder Don’t Trust the B— in Apartment 23—in which he played an exaggerated version of himself—also involved him competing on Dancing With the Stars. In fact, in the show much ado was made about the lead-up to his performance, specifically against his main competition, Superman himself (to quote the series, “like seven Supermans ago”), Dean Cain.

And then it all came crashing down, as accidental dosing led to an embarrassment of a performance, dashing Van Der Beek’s dreams of going all the way and winning the gold Mirrorball trophy—which hopefully won’t happen on the real Dancing With the Stars. (Other competitors on this particular “season” were Al Roker and Fred Savage; it was a stacked fake cast.)

Surprisingly, though it was a main story arc in the series, James Van Der Beek on Dancing With the Stars probably wouldn’t even crack the top 10 weirdest plot points in Don’t Trust the B— in Apartment 23, neither as a whole nor just as a Van Der Beek-centric plot. Created by Nahnatchka Khan (Fresh Off the Boat, Always Be My Maybe)—who functioned as co-showrunner with David Hemingson (Kitchen Confidential, Whiskey Cavalier)—Don’t Trust the B— in Apartment 23 (the “B—” stands for “Bitch,” as is usually the case with ABC shows and the letter B) starred Krysten Ritter as Chloe, a chaotic grifter (among other things) and the titular “B—”, and Dreama Walker as June, her new roommate, fresh off the bus from Indiana. June was technically the audience surrogate character, moving to New York City right out of grad school, with a long-distance boyfriend, a brand new job in finance, and a kickass apartment to go along with all of it… that immediately all came crashing down (both figuratively and literally on her birthday cake) to create the series’ premise.

I say “technically” about the audience surrogacy, because the entire point of Don’t Trust the B— in Apartment 23 was to warp and subvert standard “fish out of water” and hangout sitcom tropes: the wide-eyed new in town protagonist to the wise next door neighbor (Michael “Mookie” Blaiklock’s Eli, an all-around pervert who actually does provide sage advice); the wacky neighbor (Liza Lapira’s Robin, a former Chloe roommate who is absolutely obsessed, wanting to both be and be with her); the “straight gay BFF” (James Van Deek, in a role as himself that was originally written for Lance Bass); and the put upon celebrity personal assistant (Ray Ford’s scene-stealing Luther Vandross Wilson). Surprisingly, the most normal character of the bunch was the one played by the most unlikely actor: Eric Andre as Mark, the other half of the series’ eventually will-they-won’t-they pairing with June. Andre’s Mark even had a Maris Crane-like girlfriend (especially when it came to her physical thinness and emotional coldness) named Jennifer, who was often spoken about but never seen.

While June tried to teach Chloe—whose youthful past involved “psychopath camp” and resenting her extremely kind mother for being in a wheelchair—how to be a decent person or at least less of a “B—” (in the pilot, she does call Chloe “the bitch in apartment 23”), it tended to come with her jumping through her own insane hoops to do so. In fact, while the series very much touted the concepts of “women behaving badly” and “unapologetic women”—what networks supposedly wanted in a post-Bridesmaid world, only to seemingly be surprised by just how badly and unapologetic these women would behave—there was a lot of heart to Don’t Trust the B— that existed without ever losing any of the series’ edge. And, without ever losing its non sequitur-heavy approach to humor, like referencing Bowfinger for no reason (the moment I knew I’d love the show forever), or a character whose entire personality is quoting or referencing La Bamba, or the specificity of Peri Gilpin being someone’s celebrity “freebie” (“She’s so dry”).

As the series was smart to explain very early on, while Chloe was certainly not a good person, she was the type of fiercely loyal person you’d want in your corner, which allowed for her to work as a character who never truly learned the right “lesson” on an episode-to-episode basis. The general principle would be that June was making Chloe better, though it was more that Chloe was making June worse … which may have, in turn, actually made her better. Sometimes that required Chloe to tranq June or dose her or trick her into signing adoption papers or (the original tactic) having sex with her boyfriend on her birthday cake.

It goes without saying that Ritter was the MVP as the titular “B—”, but Walker was also able to play June in a way that wasn’t just a buzzkill for Chloe’s insanity, instead leaning into the exaggerated nature of all of it, with every reaction (June’s shock and horror at Chloe’s actions are all-time great reaction shots) more impressively exaggerated as time went on. One of the greatest moments of the series is a mostly wordless scene where Chloe walks in on June in the bathtub, a knowing look on her face, and June finally just screams “NO I WASN’T !”

With this cast and the creative pedigree behind it, Don’t Trust the B— in Apartment 23 certainly had the ingredients for success, but it also had the weirdness to remain cult hit. In all honesty, that the series ever got two seasons was impressive, as it was truly too weird for network television. In Season Two’s “The D…” (aka “Making the Grade…”), a guy that June’s dating tells her, “You’re weird. I like you.” The same could be said about Don’t Trust the B— in Apartment 23 itself. It was very niche, its references often even more niche, and it regularly relied on non-sequiturs, as well as very flexible “rules” when it came to particular narrative structure. The series also featured voiceovers, but even that wasn’t just a “normal” aspect of the series: In Season One’s “Making Rent,” June’s voiceover turns into an inner monologue about how hungry she is, and then it turns into an upper-crust stranger’s (who we never see again) inner monologue, right before segueing into the opening theme.

Don’t Trust the B— in Apartment 23 was a live-action cartoon in a lot of ways, as if Khan had taken her American Dad sensibilities and simply transferred them into human—specifically, female human—characters. Again, weird. Yet also surprisingly detailed, with bizarre moments like James Van Der Beek ordering a whole roasted chicken for Busy Philipps—because he doesn’t “know what girls eat”—being later explained by a seemingly throwaway line in a separate episode about how that’s all his mother ate. Or June’s rambling about learning to scream (not attack, just scream) “NUTS, NOSE” in her self-defense class paying off in a later episode when there’s an intruder (and again, she doesn’t have an attack ready). There’s also the running joke about Chloe’s mother, who she first describes as a pill addict who never took her horseback riding before we even know the logical reason why that’s the case.

And honestly, while James Van Der Beek had that self-aware renaissance going in the early 2010s—which then continued with the surprisingly delightful What Would Diplo Do?—it’s Don’t Trust the B— in Apartment 23 that is the pinnacle of it, as his “character’s” vanity and overinflated sense of superiority are never once obnoxious. Which is surprising, given that Van Der Beek’s most well-known character—to quote Don’t Trust the B— in Apartment 23, “YOU’RE EVERYWHERE AND NOWHERE, DAWSON!”—was not intentionally written as obnoxious, but has carried that reputation for decades at this point. While the June character’s humor comes from her exposure to this new world and Chloe’s humor comes from her selfish approach to this world, Van Der Beek is particularly impressive in how he maneuvers around this world while mentally living in another one altogether.

But while Don’t Trust the B— in Apartment 23 was certainly destined to become a cult sensation in part because of its weirdness, that wasn’t actually its downfall as a series. That weirdness, despite its cartoonish sensibilities, was rather tightly-plotted in terms of continuity and world-building. It was instead the show-killing decision to air the series wildly out of order; a decision that’s not even been fixed in the series’ afterlife in streaming, though it’s been somewhat fixed (in proper production order, at least) in DVD form.

People get frustrated with the concept of sticking around with a show for a number of episodes for it to “get good,” but what about the concept of having to manually switch between episodes—when a streaming source is supposed to streamline the viewing experience—for it to even make sense?

The series, which was originally developed at FOX in 2009, ran on ABC from 2012-2014, airing 18 of its 26 episodes before the network pulled the plug (it aired the last eight episodes as burnoff during the summer of 2014). At this point, besides James Van Der Beek as himself—during the peak of his super self-aware renaissance that featured him in Ke$ha’s “Blow” music video and the Funny or Die Van Der Memes bit—Don’t Trust the B— in Apartment 23 is perhaps best remembered for being aired so far out of order that it could be considered clinically insane. As it’s nearly impossible to find a completely correct listing of the proper chronological order to watch the series, But readers, I will provide it here alongside how the series actually aired it. Note: Both seasons should actually be 13 episodes apiece, not 7 and 19.

Season One
1×01 – “Pilot”
1×02 – “Daddy’s Girl…”
1×03 – “Mean Girls…” (originally aired as 2×10)
1×04 – “Making Rent…” (originally aired as 1×05)
1×05 – “The Wedding…” (originally aired as 1×04)
1×06 – “The Scarlet Neighbor…” (originally aired as 2×09)
1×07 – “Whatever It Takes…” (originally aired as 2×05)
1×08 – “It’s Just Sex…” (originally aired as 1×06)
1×09 – “The Leak…” (originally aired as 2×12)
1×10 – “The Parent Trap…” (originally aired as 1×03)
1×11 – “Shitagi Nashi…” (originally aired as 1×07, the Season One “finale” — in its defense, it actually worked as such)
1×12 – “Bar Lies…” (originally aired as 2×06)
1×13 – “A Weekend in the Hamptons…” (originally aired as 2×07, the actual Season One finale)

Season Two
2×01 – “A Reunion…”
2×02 – “Love and Monsters…”
2×03 – “It’s a Miracle…” (originally aired as 2×04, the production code even says it should’ve come before Halloween episode “Love and Monsters,” despite being a Thanksgiving episode)
2×04 – “Sexy People…” (originally aired as 2×03)
2×05 – “Paris…” (originally aired as 2×08)
2×06 – “Teddy Troubles…” (originally aired as 2×14, post-cancellation)
2×07 – “Monday June…” (originally aired as 2×13, post-cancellation)
2×08 – “Dating Games…” (originally aired as 2×11, the last episode aired before cancellation)
2×09 – “The D…” aka “Making the Grade…” (originally aired as 2×15, post-cancellation)
2×10 – “The Seven Year Bitch…” (originally aired (originally aired as 2×16, post-cancellation)
2×11 – “Using People…” (originally aired as 2×17, post-cancellation)
2×12 – “Ocupado…” (originally aired as 2×18, post-cancellation)
2×13 – “Original Bitch…” (originally aired as 2×19, post-cancellation) ***the last five technically aired in order

Not only did six Season One episodes find their way into Season Two, but they weren’t even aired first to keep some semblance of logic; instead, they were scattered around the season. Throughout the years, airing a freshman series’ episodes out of order has been a network tactic to air a series’ supposedly stronger episodes first. Don’t Trust the B— in Apartment 23’s contemporary, Happy Endings, also experienced this in its three-season run—though, not to this extreme—but in the first season, the decision actually made a lot of sense: ABC wanted to focus less on the Dave/Alex post-runaway bride aspect of the series early on, as that ultimately wasn’t representative of the series as a whole. Really, the biggest issue the new episode order created came in the form of Dave’s food truck and its existence. Historically, this type of episode rejiggering has really affected and hurt genre drama series like Firefly or Sliders the most. But really, when a series is serialized—be it drama or comedy—it’s created to exist in a certain order. And Don’t Trust the B— in Apartment 23, as bizarre as it definitely was, was always serialized and created to exist in a certain order.

Yet, even in its death, it’s not been allowed to do so. Supposedly, Logo TV aired the series in proper production order in syndication, but that was clearly an anomaly.

The unevenness created by the episode order mangling didn’t just exist in season episode-count, it ultimately affected characters’ relationships, arcs, and the general story being told by the series. With the aired episode order, Mark’s feelings for June (and his own rocky relationship) would go from realized to unrealized to overwhelming; James would go from living in a post-Dancing With the Stars world to being on Dancing With the Stars to preparing for Dancing With the Stars; June would be struggling to get back in finance to back in finance to back to the coffee shop. (It was almost as though ABC thought that June getting her dream of being back in the finance world would hurt the series, even though Harkin Financial-focused episodes like “Paris…” and “Monday June…” were two of the best of the series. The latter, unfortunately, aired during the summer burnoff post-cancellation.)

Characters like Chloe, Eli, and Luther were luckily unable to largely be affected by the episode shuffling—and it at least made it seem like Robin was in more than one episode in Season Two—although it could slightly affect the level of familiarity and relationship from episode-to-episode between Chloe and June, which was always the heart and soul of the series. The final episode of Don’t Trust the B— in Apartment 23 that aired before ABC pulled the plug (“Dating Games…”) was the height of these characters’ insanity and self-absorption, as a competition between Chloe and June for the affection of a cute guy (played by Kyle Howard) turned into a literal Diet Dr. Pepper competition “game show” hosted by James Van Der Beek, as well as a missing person case. So, in theory, the series died as it lived: Absurd, surreal, and clearly too weird for the network it was on in the first place.

Nahnatchka Khan went on to work with ABC again, creating her current show, Fresh Off the Boat. The series has dabbled with moments of this type of weirdness (especially when it comes to Eddie’s circle of friends), but it’s never gone full tilt the way Don’t Trust the B— in Apartment 23 did. No series has yet, which has been unfortunate. At least, not successfully on network television: NBC’s Great News and Trial & Error and FOX’s The Mick (the closest in tone and humor to Don’t Trust the B— in Apartment 23) got two seasons, but also weren’t highly-rated and ended after not long afterwards. Meanwhile, on Netflix, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (which Great News shared a lot of comedic sensibility with, given the Tina Fey connection) lasted four seasons and got to end on its own terms. Don’t Trust the B— in Apartment 23, on the other hand, can’t even stream in its afterlife on its own terms (those being proper episode order). But it’s certainly a series that’s worth watching over and over again, regardless. Because for two literally uneven seasons, ABC had something special. It just clearly had absolutely no idea what to do with it, and that’s the legacy it has to carry.

And one more thing: Now that James Van Der Beek on Dancing With the Stars is a reality, James Van Der Beek as People’s Sexiest Man Alive must become one, too. Well, that or James Van Der Beek starring in a Guy Ritchie flick. “Le Beek c’est chic.”

Don’t Trust the B— in Apt 23 is current streaming on Hulu.

Despite her mother’s wishes, LaToya Ferguson is a writer living in Los Angeles. If you want to talk The WB’s image campaigns circa 1999-2003, LaToya’s your girl. Her writing has been featured in The A.V. Club, Indiewire, Entertainment Weekly, Complex, Consequence of Sound, and Flavorwire, among other publications. You can find her tweets about TV shows, movies, and music you completely forgot about @lafergs;.