It’s deceptively quite difficult to make being a terrible person into comic brilliance — and there’s no better proof than a show like “Alone Together,” which strains to be more than bitchy but rarely manages it. The show, a vehicle for the comic duo Esther Povitsky and Benji Alfalo, relates the superficial, tawdry adventures of these two young wannabes in Los Angeles with an honesty that is in line with other millennial comedies of error. But the show is a poor facsimile of its forbears, without either the sharp observations or the engaging characters. The flimsy premise of the show is that Esther and Benji (the executive producers and stars, playing versions of themselves) are too dysfunctional to get along with each other but too awful to get along with anyone else. To their credit, the couple is recognizable — those perplexing fixtures at someone else’s party that are both codependent and unconsummated. But who wants to spend time with them?
As the show repeatedly demonstrates, the answer is “no one.” Esther and Benji manage to mooch off of, insult, or alienate nearly everyone who comes across their path — and unlike the more mature comedy “You’re the Worst,” the two don’t even have a charming, biting chemistry with each other. Povitsky, on her own, manages to sell her moments of absurd frivolity; you might recognize her as Rebecca’s stalker-ish hanger-on in “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.” In a few very L.A. scenes, she demonstrates an uncanny awareness of the social dynamics of “hotness” — playing up her girlish vocal tics when talking about her instagram, and impulsively buying five bags of spirulina crisps because she’s convinced they’ll make her glow. But Alfalo’s character is severely lacking charm — partly because his trust-fund-kid character has about a tenth of the appeal Povitsky’s hot mess does, and mostly because Alfalo’s a far less skilled performer than his co-star. (His expressions never reach his eyes, which might be one of the reasons that Esther repeatedly calls Benji a “sociopath” in the episode “Road Trip.”)
Undoubtedly, there’s a fresh, uncomfortable edge to their hijinks — including an adventure where Esther considers selling her eggs to a rapacious Denise Richards, and the unsettling pilot where Esther responds to Benji dating an escort by briefly becoming an escort herself. It’s fun to see the network that was once ABC Family showcase some adventurous topics that rival the unsettling humor of Netflix’s “Love,” and the series has the imprimatur of the comedy group Lonely Island, whose three members Andy Samberg, Jorma Taccone, and Akiva Schaffer serve as executive producers. But as a series that is more than just a collection of of-the-moment sketches, it falls short. The characters are hard to invest in, the relationship is really hard to invest in, and the show offers no narrative propulsion aside from their cutesy, vulgar dynamic. This feels like an amateur effort from two comedians on their way to producing better work. But given that Freeform has already renewed the show for a second season, we’ll just have to hope that this ungainly little comedy finds its voice.