Apartment 23: The Line Between Parody and Problematic

I've written before about how much I love Don't Trust the B-- in Apartment 23. I think it's a refreshing and irreverent comedy, and I look forward to it every week. But Chloe's exploits, and some of the show's jokes and characters (including the pervert across the way and the characterization of James' gay assistant), walk the line between being fun, and being kind of problematic. Usually, I think the show falls on the fun side, and find that its approach to this line leads to some pretty feminist (not to mention enjoyable) comedy. But one of the episodes that aired last week, The Scarlet Neighbor, tripped straight over that line into plain uncomfortable territory. In the show's defence, this was clearly an older episode shown out of order, from when the show was still new and trying to find its feet. On the other hand, if the episode was both out of date and subpar, why show it at all?

The episode focusses around June's horror to find that the neighbors do not like her and Chloe because they think they are "sluts," and her attempts to get Chloe to change her unsuitable taste in men as a result. The final message of the episode is that Chloe should not change who she is, and that the judgemental neighbors who call them sluts are far worse than she is. And that's awesome. But there's a huge disconnect between this conclusion and the stuff that comes before it.

First, we have the actual reason that the neighbors hate Chloe: she announces that she's a registered sex offender. "Haha," we go. "She slept with a 17 year old when she was younger, because she always likes the unsuitable types." Except that there's a huge difference between "slut" and "sex offender," and even though the show makes an effort to tell us that it was nothing more than an unfortunate incident, those are powerful words to invoke when trying to tell a story about being your true self. When the neighbors hear those words, their refusal to spend any time around Chloe and June seems justified, and the whole message of the episode falls apart.

Then there's the sequence where June takes Chloe to a "cougar bar" to convince Chloe to change her ways. In the bar, we see terrifying caricatures of older women who think that they're still sexually attractive and who still want to lead the life that Chloe leads. The show often deals in caricatures, but this is the first one that I've positively flinched away from. Again, the message at the end, that Chloe is fine the way she is, seems negated by the fact that the show so visually and insistently mocked the idea of any older woman behaving that way earlier in the episode. The message almost seems to be that it's OK for Chloe to act this way, because she's Chloe, and she's still young and fabulous, but on other people, it's ridiculous.

All in all, it was more than a bit uncomfortable, and more than a bit confused. I still love the show as a whole, but I wonder if old unaired episodes, where the show hadn't quite grasped the line it wanted to walk, should be left unaired.