There's a moment in Alone Together, Esther Povitsky and Benji Aflalo's vaguely autobiographical new comedy series, where Esther lusts after Benji's extremely handsome and successful older brother. "In real life I would not try that," Povitsky told Variety. "I know my place in life. That's never going to be me. But in the show I'm a little more delusional, and I try to go for it." That might as well be Alone Together's ethos: Esther and Benji may be losers, but they firmly believe they deserve a shot.
It's a slyly ambitious show — and an especially odd fit for Freeform, a channel whose bizarre and storied history began back in 1977, when it launched as the Christian Broadcasting Network.
Alone Together — which Povitsky made into a film in 2015 — became a series on the strength of its blasé attitude toward life and love. Benji plays the well-meaning and talentless younger son of wealthy parents; Esther is basically his Kramer. She rents out her L.A. apartment through Airbnb to periodically sponge off him. Both are a little old to be as awkward as they are; that they know this only makes them more quietly resentful and gently crabbed. This is the anti-When Harry Met Sally. It believes men and women can be friends (and should probably leave it at that). If everyone else in the show believes they belong together, they really, really don't.
Povitsky — who you know as Maya from Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, her stand-up as "Little Esther," or her podcast Weird Adults with Little Esther — has spent a long time plumbing this specific kind of stalled-out L.A. adulthood.
The term "Weird Adults" came about because five years ago my friend [Aflalo] and I said, "Should we move in together and share the same room and be, like, weird adults?" It's always stuck with me since then. I just love the idea of being a weird adult. You're not a kid anymore, you can't just be silly — it's almost like you're a grown-up doing things kids would do — but you shouldn't be doing it. [PedestrianTV.com]
The result is an artifact so aggressively lackluster it's almost annoying ("Esther's way of being cute is like, not trying at all," Benji says), but its gently indifferent gravity sucks you in until you've watched five episodes without really noticing — and been joined by everyone else in the house.
The reason, I think, is that Esther actually does try. She's a comic, for one thing — a vocation that demands ceaseless, thankless effort and a constant mining of the ego. For another, her understanding of her place in L.A.'s pecking order doesn't keep her from treating a hard aesthetic hierarchy as if it was a meritocracy. She will wait hours for a very specific kind of makeup. She'll ask pretty baristas for their "hot girl secrets" and buy huge quantities of spirulina chips as a guess when they won't tell her. She'll decide she needs to freeze her eggs, accept she'll have to donate some to pay for the procedure, predict no one will want them, then take it very much for granted that they do.
This last plot point is noteworthy since Alone Together (along with grown-ish, a spinoff of black-ish) is airing on a network that still — due to a fascinatingly weird history — airs the Christian Broadcasting Network's The 700 Club a few times a day. You may or may not know that Freeform, the ambitious 2016 rebrand of "ABC Family" that aims to target a younger demographic, is owned by The Walt Disney Company. Or that it used to be owned by Fox. Or — most significantly — that it was launched in 1977 by Pat Robertson as part of his Christian Broadcasting Network. When Fox purchased it from CBN, Robertson stipulated that The 700 Club had to be broadcast at certain hours. ABC inherited that requirement, which lives on in Freeform. The channel finally started to find some success with Kyle XY, Greek, The Secret Life of the American Teenager, and Pretty Little Liars. But always, in the background: Pat Robertson.
The surprising result is that Esther's smugness about her antral follicles and Zoey's reckoning with hard partying in grown-ish are airing on the same network that spends part of its time as a kind of zombie Christian channel. You can flip from Esther and Benji's drab familiar struggles to "Isela's" struggle with her mother's distressing, sometimes sensuous habit of consulting the tarot.
It's the kind of whiplash even Esther would enjoy.