With the Tedious Cynicism of Alone Together, Freeform Goes Off BrandPhoto: Freeform/Byron Cohen TV Reviews Alone Together
Next Thursday, Freeform is hosting its first ever “Freeform Summit,” with the tagline “Real Issues. Bold Voices.” One of the panels is entitled “Millennials Are Destroying All the Industries.” The panel promises to negate that statement, claiming, “The truth is they’re saving the world. Today’s young adult is leveraging technology to disrupt fundraising, demanding transparency from our government, challenging gender stereotypes, modernizing the retail segment and breaking down traditional organizational norms.”
So it’s curious that the network’s new comedy, Alone Together, plays into and, dare I say, celebrates, all the negative stereotypes surrounding the millennium generation. Esther (Esther Povitsky) and Benji (Benji Aflalo) are two twentysomethings living in Los Angeles and failing (miserably) to assimilate into their surroundings. They spend their days eating, lounging, waiting in line for free make-up, basically doing anything but working. Benji comes from a wealthy family. More than once we’re reminded that his housekeeper Marisol raised him. Esther comes from a much less affluent background and constantly laments her size and her looks. There’s a lot of talk about her being fat and ugly. She is absolutely neither. And even if she is, by Hollywood standards, it still doesn’t quite track to the average viewer when you see her flat stomach pictured above. (Benji also mocks his looks and size, but not nearly as often.)
I think they’re both supposed to be aspiring stand-up comedians. They refer to improv classes, but after viewing five episodes it’s still not entirely clear what Esther and Benji want to do with their lives except feel sorry for themselves and complain.
Povitsky and Aflalo are real life stand-up comedians, and one gets the sense that their shtick works better in that forum. Here, in the half-hour set-up, they come across as lazy, whiny and oh-so-annoying. It’s not that Povitsky and Aflalo aren’t funny. They are. And some of the one-liners are fantastic. “Moana was so good. It’s like the only time the Rock has been believable,” Benji says when discussing his love of the film. “[My father] says I’m failing because at my age Amy Winehouse was already famous and dead,” Esther tells a date. “One day your trust fund is going to kick in and you’re going to find someone who loves you for you,” she tells Benji. I’ll confess I laughed out loud at each of these lines. But overall, the show has a tedious vibe. They endlessly debate sugar cookies versus snickerdoodles. They try to steal things from the doctor’s office. And they will mooch off anyone at any time.
Clearly, Povitsky and Aflalo are not this lazy in real life, or they wouldn’t be starring in, writing and executive producing their own show. In addition to Povitsky and Aflalo, Akiva Schaffer, Andy Samberg and Jorma Taccone, the Lonely Island trio, are executive producers, which probably explains the presence of Samberg’s Brooklyn Nine-Nine co-star Chelsea Peretti in the fifth episode. Denise Richards, Chris D’Elia and Jim O’Heir are among the other early guest stars.
There’s also a lot of talk about how Esther and Benji will never be a couple, which seems to be setting up some sort of will they/won’t they romantic tension that’s simply not there. Your tolerance for the show will be rooted in how you feel about unlikable characters doing unlikable things.
Freeform wants to position itself as Disney’s “young adult television network,” and although not always explicitly stated, the network is aimed at young women. But its brand wavers. It’s a niche market, and unlike big networks, it would serve Freeform well to have series that are instantly recognizable as Freeform series. The Bold Type, about three young professional women in the media world, seems totally on point, as do the recently announced The Fosters spin-off and grown-ish, which premiered last week. These shows celebrate the best Freeform’s target generation offers. That doesn’t mean the characters aren’t flawed: Zoey (Yara Shahidi) is already using prescription medication to cope with college on grown-ish, and the ladies of The Bold Type made many professional and personal mistakes during the show’s inaugural season. But Alone Together, which is steeped in cynicism about the millennium generation, Hollywood, and even being gainfully employed, seems better suited for Comedy Central. Freeform has already picked up the series for a second season, so they are clearly banking on viewers watching the series—either together or alone.
Alone Together premieres tonight at 8:30 p.m. on Freeform.
Amy Amatangelo, the TV Gal®, is a Boston-based freelance writer, a member of the Television Critics Association and the Assistant TV Editor for Paste. She wasn’t allowed to watch much TV as a child and now her parents have to live with this as her career. You can follow her on Twitter (@AmyTVGal) or her blog .