Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Don’t Trust The B---- In Apartment 23: “It’s Just Sex…”

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The co-education of Chloe and June continues this week in the vein of “The Wedding.” In that episode, Chloe taught June how to play the part of a Mean Girl, then proved she was starting to sprout human feelings by taking drastic measures to cheer an upset June up. In “It’s Just Sex…,” she gives her protege the lowdown on how to have casual sex. The show, wonderfully, cuts out everything between the first step, June asking the dreamboat soy-latte-ordering regular if he plays guitar, and the two of them back at his apartment. That cut really got me on board with this as a reasonably realistic depiction of the female side of casual hookups — no need to show the undoubtedly boring date; the deal-sealing moment was when June showed a tiny bit of interest, just as it probably would have been in real life. I’m always a little irritated when asked to believe that an extremely attractive woman who’s not an obvious serial killer (or one who is obviously a serial killer, for that matter) has long-term problems getting laid.

This week’s episode involved lady-type sexuality that felt less cartoony than Chloe’s vague promiscuity or her endless synonyms for “vagina” in previous episodes. (In my experience, having a thousand humorous ways to refer to your own junk is mostly a guy thing, or at least definitely not a lady thing outside of women’s rugby parties; it always felt a bit female-sexual-empowerment-as-imagined-by-dudes when Chloe would rattle a string of 'em off.) Because in addition to “How to do casual sex,” we have June masturbating! In primetime! On ABC! I was dying at the cuts between June’s horror-struck face and the slow dawn of delight on Chloe's when she walks in on her — Walker and (especially) Ritter can do some seriously funny reaction shots. (And of course when June masturbates, she does so to the image of a corn-fed boy next door smiling. While in a bubble bath. And listening to terrible acoustic-guitar chick-rock, a song that a preliminary Shazam/Google failed to identify.)

As soon as the boy next door’s macaw shows up, scaring the bejesus out of June (“AAAH, KILL IT! …I thought it was a clawed rainbow!”), I started picturing the horrible things that were undoubtedly in store for it. But the writers continue to subvert my expectations. By the end of the episode the bird is not only alive, unmaimed, and reunited with its abs-and-tear-ducts owner, it’s been rescued by Chloe, whose capacity to feel guilt appears to have expanded its radius from immediate friends to fuckbuddies-of-friends. And Chloe wasn’t even involved with the bird getting lost! She just felt bad.

This was in a moment of weakness, though. In the JVDB subplot, June accidentally donates the Rain Man DVD case containing Chloe and JVDB's sex tape to the Korean Baptist church (it’s back!), and it then falls into the hands of a porn distributor. Since the tape’s coming out with or without JVDB’s blessing and his lack of chapstick makes him constantly lick his lips like a serial killer in the original,  he and Chloe decide to reshoot the scene. Their giggling attempts to make with the party-hat-wearing sex don’t work out, ending in a pretty emotional exchange about actually caring about each other.  It's nice to see, but hopefully every single baby step of character growth in Chloe will not be accompanied by a reiteration of “Ugh, June’s making me into a good person, gross!”

We’ve established tier 1 (June and Chloe), tier 2 (JVDB), and tier 3 (Robin, Eli, Mark, and Luther) characters, but I’m really starting to appreciate the minor-minor characters of tier 4, people like June’s weird coworker Ellen, Pastor Jin, and Mark’s unseen but increasingly terrifying girlfriend. We learn one new thing about them per appearance, and it’s usually something silly — almost as if they’re a pressure vent for insane ideas — but it’s oddly comforting that they come back at all.

MacFarlane-empire shows, from which A23 definitely takes some genes, have always come off to me as oddly cold, almost nihilistic. I think it’s not just because people do pretty awful things, but because nothing has any consequences or effects outside that particular episode (or that throwaway flashback, in many cases). It’s a world with no rules, no cause and effect — a place that never changes but still feels unstable. That’s not to say I don’t find MacFarlane shows funny sometimes, but they’re never going to be something I care about or make an effort to watch, as every episode seems pretty much interchangeable. So far, A23 has done a decent job of matching throwaway jokes with main-character growth, though it’s going slowly; given that the show just got a second season, they’ll have a lot more time to do it.


Stray observations:

  • JVDB’s getting a longer arc with Dancing With The Stars, which I like despite it being a shameless network tie-in. It could pretty easily have been a one-episode throwaway, but instead it continues to spawn his jeans line and his undead-looking DWTS partner, though she’s unceremoniously booted from the episode by the appearance of the sex tape. I hope we’ll get to see him actually on it for longer than a cutaway at some point — ABC synergy ENGAGE! Come on, Modern Family got to go to Disney World…
  • The handcuffs June discovers during spring cleaning give me an excuse to mention the handcuffs necklace that Chloe is always wearing, and also that she apparently was semi-choking JVDB in their sex tape.
  • Chloe’s random trips to France were apparently funded by Sarkozy (maybe they hooked up at the U.N.?), which is both perfect for both of their personalities and a masterstroke of scheduling around the real world.
  • Aw, June’s mom is JVDB’s Skype advisor!
  • Excellent quasi-silent sequence where Chloe grabs a baguette from a man walking by, ignores his protests, takes a bite, tosses the entire thing over her shoulder, and JVDB already has the 20 held up to pay the guy off.
  • Liked the callback to Chloe using casual sex to have Eureka moments about the true meaning of Lost or where she left her purse in the way she figures out where the lost bird is.
  • Grandpa’s stirring last words: “It was the tuna.”
  • Some incidental ba-ba-ba-da-da-ing music near the tail of a pretty good episode just reinforced my hatred of that McDonald’s-jingle-ass theme song and how poorly it suits the show.
  • No blurred clip of the sex tape as the tag. I know, right?
  • This week's Thing Not To Trust In Apartment 23: Besom.