Despite its silly name, Don’t Trust the B- In Apartment 23 was one of my favorite pilots that I saw this fall. I like Krysten Ritter a whole bunch, and her odd-couple roommate schtick with Dreema Walker felt plausible and funny. Ritter plays Chloe, a manipulative New Yorker who takes roommates only to drive them nuts and keep their deposits, who ends up with more than she bargained for in June, a wholesome Midwesterner who came to New York only to find the job she planned to take wiped out by Bernie Madoff’s fraud. Chloe also maintains a nicely platonic friendship with James Van Der Beek, playing a slightly-altered version of himself a la Larry David, something that, as Ritter said today, is all too rare on television in particular and pop culture in general. I was intrigued by the Madoff references, and other riffs on things like June and Chloe walking out without paying a bar tab and blaming it on times being tough, so I asked creator Nahnatchka Khan what role the recession plays in the show.
“I think we’re trying to make it feel like it exists in the world. I know a lot of my friends are feeling the recession and it’s a real thing that exists,” she said. “Dreema’s going to continue to try to get a job. She’s trying to get hired by a Wall Street firm and people aren’t hiring, so she’s working at the coffee shop with Mark. But not giving up, and that’s the hopeful message. Times are tough but people aren’t giving up.”
I sort of like that perspective. 2 Broke Girls tends to tell specific stories about why the characters don’t have any money. Max grew up poor and has financed her attempts at self-improvement with debt, which haven’t yet paid off for her. Caroline lost her family’s money when it turns out her fortune was built on a foundation of lies. But the people around them seem relatively unaffected by the recession. Han’s trying to make the diner take off, but it’s not like there are very specific problems he has because of the recession. Hipsters continue to spend ridiculous amounts of money. Peach’s friends are only affected by Ponzi schemes, not by their tanking investments.
Other shows are doing one-offs. I think we’ll see a lot of things like Raising Hope‘s planned Occupy Natesville episode, that weave in the symbols of the recession in the same way most people will have glancing contact with the bleeding edge of the conversation without being permanently on the vanguard. But getting that persistent environment right is a tricky thing that involves thinking out your characters’ motivations in a really complete way. People are affected by recessions in ways that they don’t necessarily name, and figuring out how to articulate that and keep their motivations consistent is important.