How 'Alone Together's' Stars Disrupt TV's View of Sex, Food and Fitting In
Esther Povitsky and Benji Aflalo tell Playboy about their Freeform comedy, 'Alone Together'
"I will say, I am gorgeous," Esther Povitsky tells Playboy with her characteristic blend of irony and self-evaluation ahead of the premiere of her new Freeform comedy Alone Together, which has already earned a vote of approval in the form of a second-season pickup before tonight's first episode even airs.
The comedian, podcast host, Crazy Ex Girlfriend actress and Twitter favorite—not to mention, former Playboy intern—stars as Esther in the show that she created with fellow stand-up and longtime friend Benji Aflalo, who co-stars as (you guessed it) Benji. Alone Together, hailing from Andy Samberg's Lonely Island production company, is based on the short film that Povitsky and Aflalo made together in 2015.
As it turns out, a recent review of the new series—a clever look at milennial Los Angeles life through the eyes of two plantonic, ne'er-do-well pals—remarked on the attitude that Povitsky's character appears to have about herself.
I'm slutty when I feel like, and I'm prude when I feel like it. I'm a real woman—I'm not only one thing in the bedroom.
"I just read a review of our show by the New York Times, and they said that I need to try harder to be cute—and I stand by that I'm cute," Povitsky quips to me. "Whoever wrote that article doesn't know the game of being cute."
Povitsky and Aflalo—who met years ago in the L.A. comedy scene—also tell Playboy about hoping to change TV's depiction of female sexuality, enlisting lawyers to defend their vision and why Alone Together will never go the Ross-and-Rachel route.
Why do this show? What does it allow you to say that you can't with stand-up or social media?
Esther Povitsky: This show allows us to actually just tell bigger stories—tell the story of wanting to freeze your eggs and not being able to afford it. Or the story of being deseperate to find a female mentor, or desperate to find female friends in L.A. when youre already an adult and everyone already has their friend group. We can really tell stories about our lives and about who we really are. [With] your stand-up, you can really [only] do so much.
Aflalo: With our ability. I'm, like, a C-minus comedian.
Povitsky: I'm a C-minus-minus.
How did the show end up with the Lonely Island team?
Povitsky: We shot our short film, and then we intended to send that to all the production companies in town and get a bunch of meetings and pick one. And then the Lonely Island comapny was literally the only company who would take a meeting with us. We walked into that meeting, and we were just like, "So you guys are our only chance." And we just kept it really real.
The next day, we got a call from them saying that they loved it and they wanted to work together. And we're so happy because we felt at the exact right place with the exact right people and the right sensibility, and we only had to take one meeting to find them.
It's pretty sexist that people will look at … a guy and a girl hanging out, and will assume the only reason that guy is hanging out with that girl is because he wants to have sex with her.
Did you already know Andy Samberg and the guys beforehand?
Aflalo: I had worked with Andy once. I used to write on the Comedy Central Roasts, and so I had worked with him before. That was just a small connection we had.
Povitsky: I had done an episode of Brooklyn Nine-Nine around that time.
What was their input like?
Aflalo: They were helpful. We used their office space a lot, so just having them around was cool. Akiva [Schaffer] would sit in on some meetings—he came to set for the pilot and helped out. It is our project, but they're helpful.
On paper, Freeform doesn't feel like an obvious fit for the show. How did you decide on this channel?
Aflalo: We just don't really have much self-worth or self-esteem, and we didn't want to go to a network that seemed like they weren't really into us.
Povitsky: Our show is tricky beause we are such misfits, and we really feel like we don't fit in, and we're such underdogs and outsiders, and I think it would feel really false to who we are if it was marketed like, "Look at these cool new funny guys!" But instead, Freeform really listened to us, and they went with our angle of, "Hey, this is a show we don't really care about, and they shouldn't be on our network." And they went with our vision and executed it and then some, and I feel really lucky about that.
Aflalo: It's also fun because a lot of their TV shows have great-looking actors. So it's sort of fun when we have to go to press events, and we're surrounded by these gorgeous humans.
Povitsky: Although I will say, I am gorgeous. I just read a review of our show by the New York Times, and they said that I need to try harder to be cute. And I stand by that I'm cute.
Aflalo: If you try too hard to be cute, then people know you're trying. You want to be approachable-cute.
Povitsky: Whoever wrote that article doesn't know the game of being cute.
Can it be tough to read things that people write about you?
Aflalo: Mostly everyone's super nice. And that New York Times was mostly just poorly written—it wasn't super mean, besides calling her not cute. There's some white supremacists talking some shit online—that's a little uncomfortable, but I'm just trying not to engage for now.
Esther: The white supremacists don't like us. They call us an anti-white show. No one will claim us!
Aflalo: There was a bus bench ad, and someone put a swastika on my forehead.
Povitsky: They do that to everybody.
I do have a wide range of clothes that could fit three different people because I fluctuate.
Were there any jokes that Freeform didn't like? Was there a limit to how much you could discuss sex?
Aflalo: Definitely not. They pushed us to be edgier and push it more, and they've done that since the beginning. Our pilot is me dating an escort. We pitched our escort idea, and they were like, "Awesome—move forward with that." I think on any network, you have to count your "shits" and stuff—there's basic limitations. But no, they don't restrict us in any way.
Do you get notes from the network about them wanting to push the two leads to have a romance?
Povitsky: They're really supportive of our vision and our true relationship. We're not a will-they, won't-they. We're just a buddy comedy. We're just two best friends—one of us happens to be a guy. I think it's pretty sexist that people will look at those kinds of relationships where it's a guy and a girl hanging out, and will assume the only reason that guy is hanging out with that girl is because he wants to have sex with her. So I feel like that show is really trying to fight against that stereotype.
Aflalo: When you're a young man, and you have a close female friend, literally every bro is like, "Hook up with her, go for it!"
Povitsky [to Aflalo]: Why are you yelling?
Aflalo: It's this whole mentality of putting pressure on people. I don't think it's normal—I think you can be friends.
Is your show trying to depict sex in a different way than we tend to see on TV?
Povitsky: I think our approach, at least to a female character's sexuality, is a little different because I feel like typically on TV shows, especially when you're talking about TV development, it's like, "Well, is she slutty, or is she prude?" "Oh, that's the sexy one." For our show, when people ask me that, I'm like, "I'm a person, dude." I'm slutty when I feel like, and I'm prude when I feel like it. I'm a real woman—I'm not only one thing in the bedroom. I hope people take that in, and I hope that on TV shows, women can have sex sometimes and not want to have sex other times.
Aflalo: I think Esther is saying she doesn't believe in sexual consturcts—is that right, Esther?
Is there pressure to having your faces at the center of the show? What's the biggest challenge of leading a show?
Aflalo: For me, my whole life, I've written everything for myself. So at first, it was uncomfortable for me to have people help me and trust people because my whole life I've been a stand-up, so every joke I've ever said, I've written. Everything I've ever written is me. You have to learn to work with people and trust the people you're around.
Povitsky: Having to see Benji every day is not easy. [Laughs] It was more fun when I only saw him when I felt like, but now I'm forced every day, and that has been a challenge I wasn't expecting to face.
The Times review mentions your relationship with food on the show. [Note: The review writes that the characters "compulsively talk about food and shame."] Were you surprised by how your remarks about food were perceived?
Povitsky: I have an eating disorder, and I was in an eating-disorder program, and I've been in and out of that kind of treatment for the last 15 years. So having an eating disorder is part of my comedic voice, it's part of who I am. And I felt like that article kind of shamed me for wanting to be open about my point of view on food. That's the way I see it.
Aflalo: You can't tell by looking at someone, what their relationship with food is like. I'm also pretty weird with food—I don't want to compare myself to anybody else. But I do have a wide range of clothes that could fit three different people because I fluctuate. [Laughs]
Povitsky: We feel that's actually an asset to our show because a lot of people relate to that. I know that food talk can be triggering to anybody, but hopefully people will watch this with a comedic sensibility in mind, and will enjoy it and be able to laugh at us with us because food is a way that we are self-deprecating.
Aflalo: If guys have food stuff—like, if I'm sensitive about what I eat, or having whatever neuroses I have attached to that—it could be a whole thing if you're a dude, too. People just call you a pussy.
Is there a joke that you didn't agree on? Who wins in that situation?
Aflalo: Honestly, it comes down to who has more conviction about it. If one of us is really so strongly for or against it, it's like, "All right, fine." I like to trust other people—I'm not always right, so sometimes I'm wrong about something I think is funny.
What are you proudest about with the season?
Povitsky: There is a location in our show that I can't tell you about because it's a spoiler, but it's from the sleepover episode. And on the first day of the writers room, it's something I wrote on the white board as a dream, and it's really weird because it's a place in real life that I go to, and it's creepy, and it doesn't make sense. But we got to shoot there, and it was a legal battle, and a battle with production, and a battle with Freeform's lawyers and all that. But we got it, and I'm really excited about it, and when you see what it is, you're going to think I'm completely insane.
Aflalo: We got to do a whole episode about ska music, and ska was a really big part of my life in high school. It's always this obscure thing that I still hold onto as part of my identity.
What do you two do when you're hanging out together and not working?
Povitsky: Sit quietly.
Aflalo: We look at our phones together. We eat.
Povitsky: We eat quietly.
Aflalo: We eat fast.
Povitsky: We eat fast and silent.
Aflalo: Every time I'm done eating, a waitress is, "Oh, that was [fast] …"
Aflalo: Speaking of food-shaming: Waiters and waitresses, stop commenting on how quickly I finish my food. I know.
Or when your plate is clean, when they say, "Wow, you really liked that."
Aflalo: Yeah! And you're so vulnerable after you're done eating, you're like full and vulnerable, and then they start narrating you to you. And you're like, "Can you not?"
Alone Together airs Wednesdays at 8:30 p.m. on Freeform.