This episode might be the simplest premise Alone Together has had yet, and it’s almost its own version of a bottle episode, with most of the action taking place in the same line for the titular pop-up. However, the mix of simplicity and attempted hijinks that are supposed to keep our protagonists away from their goals don’t end up mixing in a convincing way.
The simplest way to explain the plot is that Esther and Benji are waiting in line for a pop-up shop for Kylie Jenner’s lip kits. They never say Jenner but they mention Kylie and lip kits and so I assume that’s what they’re going for. Esther invites her “new boyfriend,” (they’ve been on one date) David, to join, because she needs reinforcements to get all the makeup she wants. Benji briefly leaves the line but gets distracted by a fish store, and Esther and David spend the rest of the episode trying to get him back and then trying to get into the store to get Esther’s makeup.
The episode starts strong enough, with a kind of continuation of Esther’s arrested childhood that we saw last week. We see them in their overnight tent baking with an Easy Bake oven. Esther then reveals she’s wearing a “medium child-sized” diaper to guarantee her spot in line. If anything, it shows how much Benji actually likes Esther, since he was willing to stay all night and day in this line with her just so she has another person to help her get her lip kits. He would probably say it was because he had nothing better to do, but that’s hard to believe. There is a chance he loves ripping into teenagers, because he is really good at it. Esther was smart to bring him along to help her navigate the “good teens and the bad teens,” the bad which might try and steal her spot in line. She almost gets tricked by a teen dishing out compliments before Benji makes her realize the girl is just playing her. One of Esther’s best moments of the episode was her yelling after the teenager like a full-on elderly woman, “What is your name?! Get out of here, before I call your principal!” One of Benji’s best moments comes when he turns to a teen behind them who is upset about Esther’s date David “cutting” in line. His emotionless glare has never been used better than when delivering a line like “your parents got divorced because they couldn’t stop fighting about how to deal with your learning disability,” followed by a casual smile. Ice. Cold.
But let’s get to David (Jon Barinholtz). David, the sweet paramedic, proves himself throughout the episode to be pretty much perfect. David is only thrown for a quick second when introduced to Benji (who immediately assures him “we haven’t had sex or anything”). He is pretty good at picking out “bad teens” who try and become Esther’s friend by suggesting she would look good with the dark-hued winter collection (girl, no). He goes to find Benji, and when he sees that Esther tracks Benji’s phone for his location he thinks it’s a great idea (“gotta be safe!”). He’s even into Benji’s fish and helps him set up his fish tank. Amidst all this, he even memorizes the lip kits Esther wants and manages to get every one of them. All of this is why it was disappointing to learn at the end of the episode that David and Esther were over. It’s not totally surprising because of what we know about Esther’s personality, that she would be upset about “competing” with the responsibilities of a paramedic and would then lash out and send him a “million breakup texts I can’t come back from” (including a crying video), but to bring in an actual foil to Benji in Esther’s life would have been interesting.
Sitcom characters aren’t really meant to grow and change much, but to see Esther at least attempt – for a few episodes – to be in a relationship with anyone other than Benji, especially someone who Benji gets along with and who at least initially isn’t threatened by the Esther and Benji bond, would have brought a fresh dynamic to the table. If the creators are trying to lead to an inevitable, eventual confrontation about romantic feelings between Esther and Benji, it would have been something compelling to witness as a viewer. Maybe it would have helped us see that Esther really can’t function the same way with a different partner. But then again, maybe it would make it too obvious to Esther and Benji that they would rather be together and it would push them closer sooner than desired. I also would have loved to at least see some of Esther’s unraveling as a “paramedic wife” and those break-up texts she sent. Because David was such a trouper, I got a little attached, and the ending to his story would have been a little better if it wasn’t delivered in a couple lines of dialogue.
So, while we don’t get any complications from the Esther and David coupling, we do get a strange moment where in an attempted burn/self-burn Esther tells Benji the “only kind of girl you’re gonna get [now with this fish tank] is a girl like me…because I think your fish are cool.” This was a little surprising to hear, first because we had no indication before that Esther had any positive feelings at all about fish, and also because it’s teetering on the edge of self-delusion and awareness that these characters often tiptoe around. I just believe that Esther would be delusional enough to say something like this without realizing she Freudian-slipped (or whatever the term may be in this case), but with any other character it would seem a bit odd. Does she hear herself? She’s basically saying “I’m into you now because of your cool fish.” It’s no matter anyway, because Benji doesn’t appear to take anything from that exchange other than the reveal of Esther being a “fish person.”
Finally, we also get a few notable guest stars this episode, but they are hardly used at all, which further made it fairly disappointing. YouTube makeup guru James Charles was one of the bad teens that tried to “poison” Esther – but who just ends up messing up her hands a little and then disappearing. Gabrielle Ruiz (Esther Povitsky’s fellow cast member from Crazy Ex-Girlfriend) appears as the security guard at the Pop-Up door, but who only has to act tough and keep Esther from getting inside… which she does easily. Chelsea freakin’ Peretti shows up for one scene as a no-nonsense pregnant lady who bought Benji’s wristband, but isn’t given any other purpose than being Chelsea Peretti. Only comedian Bobby Lee as the fish store manager has any real purpose in the story, as he gets to be funny and sell Benji a fish tank.
Overall, the episode is fine – it at least maintains the personalities of Esther and Benji and their singular approach to everyday events. The potential for the episode felt a bit squandered, however, as we get an introduction to a (seemingly) viable romantic interest for Esther, a potential conflict within Benji, and a few should-be exciting guest stars to boot – but nothing much really comes of any of it. After all this, we only learn that Esther is a fish person and she and Benji have one more thing in common.
- This episode was written by Sarah Peters and directed by Kat Coiro
- Paramedics like to trash talk doctors, or “second responders.”
- I wonder what Benji and Esther think of The Shape of Water.
- Things Esther is Allergic To: dust, feathers, grass, some wheats, some cookies.
- Esther “always tattles.”
- A girl in line understands Esther’s problem with Benji and fish: “I lost an uncle to ships in a bottle.”
- Because David took the Hippocratic Oath, he “can’t refuse to help someone”… even If that help is setting up a fish tank.