Alone Together’s fifth episode, “Dean Girls,” harkens back to the pilot in a couple of ways. First, it features another plot that finds Esther and Benji’s actions and goals overlapping with each other and second, it brings back Benji’s older brother Dean (Chris D’Elia). Dean helps fulfill a classic trope of “the older sibling all your friends crush on even though he’s kind of the worst.” To refer to a show we know Esther and Benji love, Daria (again, something we learned in the pilot), Dean is the Trent to Esther’s Daria. That makes Benji the Jane Lane, which is actually kind of perfect. Esther carries a hopeless torch for Dean’s attentions, and Benji does what he can to support her endeavor all the while knowing that Dean isn’t worth it, and it will likely never happen – but they might as well try!
That goal leads Esther and Benji into their shenanigans this week. Dean has a problem in that an apparently “crazy” girl won’t stop trying to talk to him when he’s trying to shake her after what we assume was a brief hook-up. Benji sees the opportunity for Esther’s rise in(to) the ranks and proposes a plan to shake the woman, Amanda. Maybe Dean should take a photo with a girl who is less hot than Amanda, so she sees that he has lowered his standards and she’ll know she can move on and do better. It’s kind of a shaky plan, but you sense it might be able to work. Dean is out of ideas himself (outside of getting a restraining order and calling it a day) so he plays along. The ensuing scene where Benji acts as a professional photographer trying to coach Esther and Dean into looking like an adoring couple is pretty silly, but just the right amount of silly. I especially love Esther’s question as to what her “character” should be doing, to which Benji has to remind her that she’s supposed to be herself because this is just one Instagram photo.
At the same time Esther feels she makes some headway with Dean by actually talking to him and discovering they both don’t really do laundry. Benji reveals to Esther that he’s kind of into Amanda because he wants so badly to date an “artsy chick.” This tracks, as we learn that he used to use his mom’s art history textbooks for masturbation material. Lucky for Benji, Amanda soon shows up at their house looking for Dean and his new girlfriend. She thinks Esther is the “confident pizza chef” (what a win for Esther). While Esther is extremely awkward around Dean, Benji pretty easily charms Amanda, who offers up her phone number.
Benji lets Esther know about this new development just as she’s mourning her and Dean’s brief Instagram glory (“the likes have stopped rolling in”), which ignites a new plan: convince Dean he needs another Esther picture to chase Amanda into Benji’s arms. After convincing Dean he needs to take Esther to his real estate gala by making him think Amanda has started throwing her fertility goddess statues through their windows, Dean reluctantly takes Esther shopping because if he’s going to be seen with her “she can’t look like a fat kid on laundry day.” They have an extremely awkward moment (probably more for Dean, as Esther is just happy to be there) when they’re shopping in, of course, the children’s formal section and someone mistakes Esther for being Dean’s daughter.
Meanwhile, Benji invites Amanda over for dinner and tries to hide that he knows where Dean is – as Amanda is still pretty pissed at him and needs to speak her piece. What I love most about Benji’s brief “date” here is that we see him attempt to transform himself, but it isn’t mentioned until much later. He’s suddenly wearing jewelry (necklace, bracelets, and rings) and has applied a lot of self-tanner, and maybe some hair gel. That evening ends pretty quickly once Amanda sees the invite for the real estate gala and decides to go there to tell off Dean. Benji has to follow and leave behind his onions that have been caramelizing for eight hours (yum).
At the gala, Esther is a hit and is surprisingly great at effortlessly charming Dean’s co-workers, and even managing to impress Dean for about thirty seconds before he gets annoyed with her again. Naturally, everything blows up between the foursome in no time as Amanda is finally able to tell her side of the story which includes Dean sleeping with her for three weeks and then deciding to disappear. Dean doesn’t believe that having sex with someone “like, ten times” warrants a callback. We should have known Amanda is actually cool and her anger was justified (after all, has Crazy Ex-Girlfriend taught us nothing?), but even she cannot resist the lure of Dean when left alone with him for a minute. Esther and Benji step aside from their potential paramours and within a minute or less they see that Dean and Amanda have “reconciled.”
The ending is expected – after all, who have we met in this world that really makes good decisions when they should? – but a little bit sad for Esther and Benji. It was interesting to see the flicker of growth in Dean’s opinion of Esther for five seconds, but of course someone like him is not going to change. It seems so far that most of the series’ few episodes (at least three, including this one) have featured an element of fumbled romantic matches. It’s enough to make you actually wish Benji and Esther could find somebody – which is convenient, because a lot of these episodes also work to illustrate just how similar to each other Esther and Benji are. If they’re going to ever end up in an actual relationship for more than a day, it will most likely have to be with each other. At this point I want that to happen more, as I do kind of want out of the pattern we’re in where they almost change, or almost get what/who they want, but never do. While the show is a sitcom, and doesn’t pretend to have any great aims towards intricate serialized arcs, it does seem a little too intent on resetting to zero at the end of each episode. Even Friends let its characters have relationships, jobs, and pets for more than a few episodes. That said, the show of course is still working well with its “hopeless millennial” characterizations, but I am ready for the central characters to face a tiny bit more lasting conflict in their lives.
- The episode was written by Caroline Goldfarb and directed by Tamra Davis (check out that resume).
- Benji is into The Killers? I don’t know why, but this surprises me.
- Esther trying to impress Dean: “I’ve just been getting full easier lately… my stomach must be shrinking.”
- Benji is convinced he’s small and weird because his mom had an elective C-Section two weeks early (“I could’ve used the 9 months”).
- Amanda: “Comedians are so brave.” Benji: “Oh, yeah, totally. Everyone’s like ‘marines,’ but… it’s comedians.”
- Benji has a “serviceman’s face” which is why people keep thinking he’s the valet.
- I do love Dean’s attention to how Benji and Esther are talking, whether they’re “too quiet” or “taaaalking like thaaaat.”