Breaking Upwards: The Creative Uncoupling of Desiree Akhavan and Ingrid Jungermann

Curator's Note

Desiree Akhavan and Ingrid Jungermanns partnership engendered their pioneering web series The Slope and launched their careers. As its second season fictionally chronicled, the couples breakout project coincided with their breakup – a subject each explored in her subsequent first feature: Akhavans Appropriate Behavior (2013), about a recently uncoupled bisexual, and Jungermanns Women Who Kill (2016), about a commitment-phobic lesbian torn between her bisexual ex and a new love interest. The two continued to revisit their relationships afterlife with their solo forays into TV: Jungermanns (stalled) adaptation for Showtime of her web series F to 7th, featuring a homoneuroticlesbian adrift in queerer-than-thou Brooklyn, and the now-U.K. based Akhavans Channel 4/Hulu co-production The Bisexual, about an American in London who, after ending a long relationship with her girlfriend/business partner, starts dating men.

As I argue in my recent article in Feminist Media Studies, the reparative processes of relationship-mourning and self-examination portrayed in Akhavan and Jungermanns work model a queer-feminist praxis that converts loss into cultural creation and critique. In continuing to serve as the structuring absence in each others fictional worlds, the ex-couple transforms their former romantic-erotic attachments into creative investments that defy masculinist and monogamist models of individualist authorship and proprietary coupling.

From The Slope’s debut episode, “Miserable Animals,” in which Desiree and Ingrid (as their characters are named) dispute whether Desiree, as a bisexual, can rightfully re-appropriate terms like “dyke,” the couple’s self-professedly “superficial, homophobic” comportment and ironic takedowns of contemporary queerdom’s self-seriousness announce the shared sensibility that survives into their subsequent solo projects. Though (and perhaps through) parodying on-screen their own ambivalent attempts at conscious uncoupling, the real-life couple moved past the difficult early stages of breaking up, with the series finale (“Miserable Best Friends Who Used to Be Together”) returning them to the site of their first episode fight, ostensibly to determine custody of their dog. This parting scene retains their signature ridicule aimed at gay pop culture, Brooklyn hipsterdom, and their own self-absorption (indeed, when they walk away in separate directions at episode’s end, the dog remains, tied up and forgotten).

With Ingrid’s allusion to the series’ tagline (“superficial, homophobic lesbians”) breaking the fourth wall to recall their real-life uncoupling, their final exchange and the subsequent on-screen title reading “Ingrid & Desiree 2011-2012” is simultaneously ironic and moving. Even as we lament that their mutual misanthropy – and the irreverent comedy it yielded over two seasons – is a “terrible thing to waste,” their parting proves still more generative, both for deepening The Slope’s dramatic pathos and for marking the starting point of their still abundantly creative uncoupling.



Wow. Thank you for sharing this story and interpretation, Maria, I found it to be just so touching and optimistic.I can imagine it would be simultaneously comforting and sort of discomforting to similarly, but separately work with a breakup as the material for an exploration of what it means to separate and then no longer be together. And it's totally remarkable that they could do this as they were separating, culminating in that last episode. Off-screen to on, then on different screens, there's a artistic and emotional method working together here. I think it's beautiful, like an ideal that it could all be so generative of more and more even long after. I'll risk being sacchrine but stories like this are affirming that not all partings have the finality of an absolute end. The story, and life goes on :) 

Maria, I'm quite taken with the metaphors you are employing to think about our relationship with authorship! You've provided such a nice conpliment to Casey's writeup on Sunday. Borrowing your metaphors, I'm now thinking of the marketability of indie auteurs as a monogamous relationship with the single author. Can we consciously uncouple and learn to love the team? Doing so certainly desabilizes the power and market of the auteur. 

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