Esther and Benji insist they’re not getting together.
They’re just two platonic best friends with endless time who say that sitting on the same side of a restaurant booth is the best way to share nachos.
Welcome to “Alone Together,” the new TV series on Freeform (formerly known as ABC Family) created by and starring Esther Povitsky and Benji Aflalo — best friends and comedians in real life.
Produced by Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone of sketch comedy troupe The Lonely Island, the show explores the possibility of true male and female friendship.
The two creators play fictionalized versions of themselves trying to find their place as they lounge, bicker and occasionally work on their careers as aspiring comedians among LA’s beautiful people.
“For me growing up, a lot of my favorite shows, there always was that will-they-won’t-they,” Povitsky told Vanity Fair. “And it was really fun and I enjoyed it, but I never saw anything on TV that was a guy and a girl that were just buddies, and it was an authentic friendship. So that’s kind of what we’re going for.”
The characters tend towards the pathetic side, and are self-aware enough to know it. “Just because both of us are small and undesirable doesn’t mean we should date,” Esther says defensively in the first episode.
Povitsky and Aflalo actually met over a decade ago at The Comedy Store, a Hollywood comedy club. It wasn’t until they bumped into each other again at Whole Foods that Aflalo invited Povitsky to come over. They’ve been hanging out ever since, said Povitsky in Vanity Fair.
In 2014 the duo turned their friendship into a short film after a friend told them that their “weird” relationship could make good comedy. This led to the online short film, “Alone Together,” which eventually got the attention of Samberg and The Lonely Island production team.
The basic plotline of “Alone Together” isn’t all that original: two privileged but unhappy lost souls in their 20s stick together to distract themselves from flailing careers and unhealthy relationships.
The characters find themselves continuously together confronting awkward social situations. Even a trip to “the juice place” is a minefield of put-downs. The very tall well-juiced barista behind the counter tells Benji she’s a lesbian to guys under 5’10, while Esther grabs every bag of spirulina chips.
“What are those? Is that what hot girls eat? Will it make me glow?” she asks.
You might recognize Povitsky as Maya from the CW’s “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.” At 5’1, the Skokie, Illinois native who goes by “Little Esther,” bases her comedy on real life.
“It’s me but exaggerated,” Povitsky told Variety on the difference between herself and her character of the same name in “Alone Together.” “We’re both short and the youngest siblings and have parents who don’t think we’re that special.”
“Cute but weird” is Esther’s on and off-stage brand.
“The name Esther like isn’t really for a hot girl, so like I’m Esther-pretty. That’s as pretty as you can be with the name Esther,” she jokes in the premiere.
Povitsky’s father is Jewish. In a 2012 stand-up set, she joked, “I’m not technically a Jew because my mom is Christian and sexually attractive. But my dad is so Jewish that I didn’t go to Hebrew school because my dad didn’t want to pay the dues you have to pay to belong to a Temple.”
Aflalo grew up in Los Angeles and went to Temple Emanuel Academy Day School through 8th grade.
When asked on a podcast if he was the class clown, Aflalo responded, “One of them — I went to Jewish private school so there were a lot of funny Jewish kids, but I was on the funnier end of the scale.”
In “Alone Together,” his character is a seemingly talentless aspiring comedian who lives in his parents’ Los Angeles mansion, surviving on the gift cards they throw at him once a month.
Povitsky’s character, Esther, is from the Midwest. She crashes at Benji’s while renting out her apartment on Airbnb for extra cash and desires love from the baby boomer generation, not having gotten enough affection in her childhood.
Together, the two have little working for them but each other’s friendship, and few qualms with that.
— Alone Together (@AloneTogether) January 16, 2018
Shows such as Lena Dunham’s “Girls,” Cazzie David’s (daughter of Larry David) “Eighty-Sixed,” and Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer’s “Broad City” all share the same premise of Jewish millennials stumbling through life.
Yet Povitsky and Aflalo bring a new level of honest comedy to the genre. While their helplessness and downward-mobility can get a bit cloying, this anti-“When Harry Met Sally” will leave you wanting your own platonic “Benji” or “Esther.”
Sure, they can’t afford their phone bill, but at least the duo leaves us with zero false expectations on life or love.
As Aflalo told Vanity Fair, “… let’s be honest, romance doesn’t really work out for anybody, ever.”