Sunday, April 8, 2012

The Replacements: Spring TV Shows for Your Teen (and You)

ABC’s Scandal and Don’t Trust the B in Apartment 23
Two new spring replacement shows are sure to catch your older teen’s eye. Both on ABC, Scandal’s an hour drama and the Don’t Trust the B in Apartment 23 is a half-hour comedy, but both put women front and center in interesting variations on the modern woman.

Scandal is the latest from Shonda Rhimes, better known as the creator of the mega-hit Grey’s Anatomy and respectable mini-hit Private Practice. I like Scandal’s concept: it stars Kerry Washington as Olivia Pope, an unapologetically direct, take-no-prisoners head of a firm of “fixers.” They take on clients who have found themselves at the center of a situation that COULD erupt into a major scandal. Olivia and her team get ahead of the story and diffuse the potential scandal before it has a chance to ignite.

The show’s premise is a tricky one. For example, would they take on clients similar to the Watergate burglars? Well, no, because Olivia takes it personally and will only take on cases on the side of good and right. Her test? Her gut. And she’s quick to say, “her gut is never wrong.” Except when it is. In the very first episode. I don’t respect the narrative device of “magic” talents such as being able to tell someone’s lying, because you know what a liar is? A liar is someone who can look you right in the eye and tell you an untruth without flinching. And that’s all. Your character’s “super power”—unless we’re talking Marvel Comics—should be a power that a human can actually possess.

The supporting cast is solid: Henry Ian Cusick, Katie Lowes, Columbus Short, Darby Stanchfield, and Guillermo Diaz comprise Olivia’s crack team. Scandal features the recognizable (almost expected) Shonda Rhimes “music video” within the narrative. And Olivia mixes it up with the big boys, telling the President of the United States (Tony Goldwyn—good to see you again!) and his chief of staff where to get off. One of Olivia’s team refers to them as “gladiators in suits,” and the shows shrinks a little every time it gets smug, but it’s a fun fantasy ride nonetheless, all shiny surface and stare-down matches. There are some flaws in its interior logic just below the surface, though.

Strike two: I was really liking actress Darby Stanchfield who plays Abby, an investigator on Olivia’s team, another super-competent woman. Then, when asked to research the past of a murdered young woman, Abby practically skips into the room, gleeful with the discoveries she’s made. She announces, “She’s a whore!” Wait for it: thud! That was the sound of my glee hitting the floor. So much for feminism. You know what a feminist is? A person who believes women should be treated equally in this world. That means you don’t get to call them whores, sluts, or any other derogative word because they call the shots in their own lives. Simple test: what’s the male equivalent of a “whore”? Exactly. A character gleefully screaming, “She’s a whore” sets back the cause of feminism to, well, Babylon. That's Abby in the middle between Olivia and Guillermo Diaz as "Huck."

Message to Shonda Rimes (the rest of you can skip to the next paragraph): you are one of the most successful, powerful women in Hollywood. Please stop putting sexist dialogue into the mouths of your supposedly admirable characters.

And hey, guess what? In episode two of Scandal, Abby calls a woman a “whore” again. At least this time she was talking about an actual prostitute. Mimi Kennedy plays a mostly cliché riddled, grandma-type classy madame. Her client list is her trump card. Olivia supposedly gets on the “right” side of the issue when she marshals the group of “Johns” on the list to pressure the district attorney to drop the case against the madame. Yet at the same time, Olivia herself browbeats an ex-sex worker into confessing her past to her husband. Olivia tells her, “Dirty little secrets always come out,” except that the high-profile Johns get to keep their secrets and their anonymity. All in all, Scandal is a familiar cocktail with a few new garnishes. It doesn’t break new ground for women; it only seems like it on its shiny surface.

Don’t Trust the B in Apartment 23
Now, Don’t Trust the B in Apartment 23 is another story. Krysten Ritter plays Chloe, a Holly Golightly party gal for the 21st century, and I’m already crazy about her. Chloe is just as much a fantasy character as Olivia Pope, but Chloe’s unbelievably nervy, blunt, and brave, in possession of an unshakeable ego and she’s got the soul of a con artist.

The show opens on June (played by Dreama Walker) as she moves to New York City for a new job and new apartment with the plan to wait for her fiancé to join her. But as the old saying goes, if you want to make God laugh, make some plans. Suffice to say, June is looking for a new job and living situation by day’s end, and Chloe seems like the perfect, fun roomie. Except that Chloe’s “con” is that she takes roommates’ deposits and rent, then drives them crazy so they move out quickly. Only this time, June proves to have more backbone than the rest. She reacts to Chloe’s manipulations by selling her furniture. Chloe, instead of getting angry, is impressed, “Look who picked up a racket and got in the game.”

Chloe and June become friends, or however you’d describe a serious relationship with Holly Golightly. Chloe is selfish and impulsive but she brings the fun and excitement, too. She also brings her “best gay friend who isn’t gay,” James Van Der Beek, who turns out to be the best choice to play, well, James Van Der Beek. This is the best “meta” role I’ve seen, and Van Der Beek sends up his iconic Dawson past extremely well. And the guy in the next (very close) building, Eli (played by Michael Blaiklock) is the “ugly naked guy” from Friends, only he gets to have lines here.

Don’t Trust the B in Apartment 23 offers one type of fantasy of life in New York City: interactions with fun, outrageous people; brushes with celebrity; every day a different, exciting, often frustrating adventure. Every season gives us shows that desperately try to be the new Friends. I think Don’t Trust the B… has succeeded, mostly because it doesn’t try so hard to be Friends. Stay on your toes with this crowd.


  1. I just saw the "B" and loved it. Chloe clearly has issues and the heart of a dead person, but she's got some loveability in there, too, which makes you like her. Great chemistry and I just love James VDB. Perfect.

  2. So glad you liked it. It's a fun show.