Requiem for BEN AND KATE and DON’T TRUST THE B— IN APT. 23

Slipping quietly into the night, sitcoms Ben and Kate and Don’t Trust the B—- in Apt. 23 stopped airing new episodes a couple weeks ago. Ben and Kate was in the middle of its first season and Don’t Trust the B—- in the middle of its second (the first was short as well since it debuted mid-season). Their cancellations are a TV tragedy. The networks are struggling to create good new material, and they were both fresh, funny, female-centric (and both from female creators) sitcoms that could only have gotten better with age.

Don’t Trust the B—- in Apt. 23 starred Dreama Walker (June) and Krysten Ritter (Chloe) as odd couple roommates. June, a sweet, responsible wanna-be financier moved in with Chloe, who, as it turned out, was a careless bitch. The show mined a good deal of comedy from pitting June’s naivete against Chloe’s manipulating bad-assery, but the show really shined when the two roommates were navigating an unlikely friendship… and whenever James Van Der Beek was on screen. The former Dawson’s Creek star played an exaggerated version of himself who was friends with Chloe and soon June… and then June’s mom via Skype. His charming narcissistic behavior brought another level of zaniness.

Underneath the laughter, however, the show presented an unapologetic version of one’s 20s and 30s that examined transitioning identity, whether it was James figuring out his role as a former TV star, June discovering the joys of new-found singlehood and the pitfalls of suddenly being on the job market, or Chloe realizing that what she gets away with now won’t work forever. It also explored the two facets of feminine identity–the good girl and the mean girl–and what happened when those facets mixed. I’ll miss Don’t Trust the B—-‘s boldness and sass.

Ben and Kate
focused on both family and friends, and, as often happens, the lines were not always clearly drawn. Ben (Nat Faxon) moved in with his younger sister Kate (Dakota Johnson) both to help her raise her young daughter and because he needed a place to live. The rest of the cast included Kate’s hilarious British friend B.J. (Lucy Punch), Ben’s friend Tommy (Echo Kellum), and Kate’s daughter, Maddie. Their breezy, relaxed rapport separated the show from the fast-paced, pack-in-the-jokes comedies currently populating prime time.

Ben and KateMarc Hirsh’s post on points out that Ben and Kate is one of the few shows on television in which all the characters actually like each other:

The siblings have occasionally butted heads, but more important than them loving one another is the fact that they like one another. And they like their friends Tommy and B.J. And Tommy and B.J. like them back. So do Tommy’s parents, whose mild exasperation at being occasionally drafted as last-minute babysitters for six-year-old Maddie can’t disguise their affection for everyone involved. Everyone is happy to have everyone else in their lives. They’re all one team, them against the world.

Not until there is a show like that–and until it’s taken away–does one realize that sitcoms should come in different styles because there are many different styles of people who watch television.

I’ll miss Dakota Johnson‘s delightful awkwardness and Lucy Punch‘s delivery. I’ll miss Ben and Tommy’s friendship and even Maddie because her cuteness was never overplayed. The show at least ended in a good place. Ben’s business idea was taking off and Kate’s relationship with her neighbor was back on track. Still, 13 episodes is not enough for a sitcom that was just getting started.

When I think about the many comedies that hit their strides in the 2nd and 3rd seasons, I mourn for what could have been. Happy Endings, which is looking good for a season four renewal, is having its best season yet. When ratings are low, however, as they were with Ben and Kate and Don’t Trust the B—-, sometimes viewers just have to take what they can get. At least these shows made it to air, and I hope those who haven’t seen them are able to check them out even though they’ve gone.

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