There’s a reason the straight man is a comedic archetype. Comedy that relies on totally unreasonable behavior needs at least one semi-sane character to act “normal” by contrast. (Jerry Seinfeld, Lana Kane, Jim Halpert, etc.) The “What is wrong with you?” role that sitcoms use to anchor themselves is often female and almost always thankless, and the obvious draft pick for that role in Don’t Trust The B----- In Apartment 23 is June.
It’s a surprise that June gets to act ridiculous in “Daddy’s Girl,” with primary voice-of-reason duties falling to June’s coffee-shop boss Mark. (He’s not condemned to being unfunny, either: “Hey, a stuffed animal from a much-older man! Nothing weird about that!” is a funny line sold by Eric Andre’s delivery.) In tonight’s episode, June reveals a whole bunch of personal details that suggest she’s not saner than Chloe, but rather that she is better at masking her deep inner weirdness. “We just dry-rubbed for hours”? Thinking biking will help her meet life-plan-worthy dudes? Bringing her own citrus to bars because of an exposé in Self magazine? (Later in the episode, June does indeed pull a Ziploc bag of lemon wedges out of her purse.) It’s weird, and I’m happy that the show lets June be a weirdo rather than a straight-up Chloe foil.
But how do you balance the need for a straight man with the desire not to have any dud characters? Though it’s still early in the show’s run, I do hope the writers make a clear decision without confining their characters to tossing around the hot potato of sanity. That particular aspect bugged me about Mark in this episode, though I did like Eric Andre: He doesn’t possess much credibility as The Sane One to Chloe or JVDB’s Crazy Ones after oversharing cartoonish details about his girlfriend being so thin they can only make love in water. His return to bemused normal-guy foil status (as in “Let me get this straight. All these people dropped everything to come see you. All these girls and that dude in the mesh tank top would clearly have sex with you. You’re rich, famous, and adored, but you’re upset that you’re adored for the wrong reasons? ... I made $4 today”) when people with superior crazy ratings show up seems abrupt.
The plot of “Daddy’s Girl” got me but good, though, managing not to telegraph its hairpin turns to someone who didn’t notice the episode’s title beforehand. The early reveal that Chloe is trying to set June up with her father comes as a complete surprise; the same can be said when it turns out that charismatic amorality—like the habit of “hiding behind chubbos,” runs in Chloe’s family. And maybe it’s because I’ve been stuck in a wheelchair a few times in my life, maybe it’s because I’m a terrible person, but I just howled when Chloe’s poor mom wheels herself out from behind the counter. Didn’t see that one coming, either.
JVDB’s B-plot, where he teaches a drama class at NYU specifically to one-up James Franco, has some excellent moments: His resentment of Franco for getting the role of Harvey Milk’s lover; the visual of JVDB as Professor Indy; his starting to write a tiny “Hamlet” in the corner of a chalkboard dominated by “JAMES VAN DER BEEK!!!” I haven’t seen the episode of Dawson’s Creek that his coerced monologue is drawn from, but his quick-change into an earnest teenager is impressive. (Given what we’ve seen of his sex life, though, JVDB’s probably done that scene without pants at least once.) The recurring offscreen shouts of stuff like “You’re everywhere and nowhere, Dawson!” sound like they were being yelled by some PA’s niece rather than by an actor, though.
As for the tertiary characters, Robin still doesn’t have any funny lines and still doesn’t do much acting-wise to overcome it (“My compliments to the chef!” is especially bad on both counts). The introduction of JVDB’s personal tailor, Luther, however, presents a recurring character with more potential. Eli, providing psychoanalysis and advice through the window, looks like he’s shaping up to be a pants-less equivalent to Home Improvement’s Wilson. I wondered after the first episode whether Eli masturbating was part of Chloe’s scam, and now I believe it was. He’s still pervy in “Daddy’s Girl… ,” but not in an aggressive way; his only response to seeing June’s single pair of “sexy” underwear is to comment poetically that they’re “red and big, like an angry Montana sky.” Only one thing about Eli’s super-obvious blow-up girlfriend (“She’s a Republican!”) gives me a bit of hope: how the script signifies the doll’s party affiliation by having her wear pearls but doesn’t grab the low-hanging joke-fruit.
- Another show with few reliably reasonable characters that faces the same dilemma as Apartment 23: It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia. When the gang needs a “What the hell, you guys” wall to bounce off, it often feels like the writers arbitrarily duck-duck-goose a character into being rational for five minutes, which bugs me enough that I’ve never been able to get into the show. (I admittedly have probably walked by the filming of more It’s Always Sunny episodes than I’ve watched—I know, right?—so feel free to suggest persuasive counterexamples.)
- “I was in an all-white production of Raisin In The Sun!” “That was a long night.”
- I find “Hello” by Lionel Richie inherently hilarious—particularly so when paired with an ugly baby.
- At first I assumed the coffee shop’s name, “Its Just Beans!” was a failed pun attempt on the part of the chain, and thought that was a nice subtle detail. Looking more closely to check the name—which infuriatingly lacks an apostrophe—the mascot guy appears to be ambiguously Mexican, with a sombrero, serape, and big mustache, which could make the name really terrible in a way that fits the show’s vibe. Or it could just be a cartoon Colombian fair-trade coffee grower (whose pinky fingers have been chopped off by kidnappers).
- “High five!” “No, no high five.”
- Chloe appears to have decorated her apartment with a huge portrait of herself (looking Patrick Nagel-esque) and a huge letter C.
- “I touched it through bike shorts!” Twice!
- In Russia, Dawson’s Creek is called Diaghelev Sad Show. I may be over thinking this because I love Archer’s occasional super-esoteric jokes and last week’s Hume Cronyn reference got my hopes up, but… is there a joke here I’m not getting? I lack in-depth knowledge both of the Ballets Russes and Dawson’s Creek.
- “One-night stands? Blackout sex? Redheads? … Girls?” Chloe apparently might be applying the same logic to redheads that a dieter might to vacation calories.
- This week’s thing in Apartment 23 not to trust: Beret.