There is a good chance you still haven’t watched Strangers, despite it ending its second season last night. The comedy, about a bisexual woman named Isobel (Zoe Chao) who first rents out her apartment Airbnb-style and then becomes the one who couch-hops, airs on Facebook Watch — the tab you maybe didn’t even know existed. The first season was genuine and touching, following people who came in and out of Isobel’s life as she began to fully embrace her sexuality and dabble in new relationships. In its second season, she moved across the country to New York City to further explore the three b’s: bisexual, biracial, and bicoastal.
Season two has been a true joy to watch, as Isobel adjusted to her new home, celebrated turning 30, attempted to jumpstart a writing career, and began new relationships — most notably with another bisexual woman in an open marriage. Strangers confirmed it wasn’t a one-season wonder by crafting 10 episodes that felt both honest and intimate. Uproxx talked with creator Mia Lidofsky about writing authentic characters, queer love, and that big moment from the finale.
What were the origins of Isobel’s character? Why were you interested in her being bisexual?
I am a lesbian. I have been out for about 12 or 13 years and so, to me, it’s always really important to have your characters presented and hopefully represented authentically and with empathy, kindness, and love. I felt as though we hadn’t yet explored bisexuality through the lens of a female protagonist. Even though bisexuality has been dabbled in on TV for decades — I thought there was an interesting depiction of bisexuality with Alice on The L Word — I have yet to see a bisexual character at the forefront [of a series].
I think that bisexuality is so often [received] with such negativity in both the straight and gay communities. I wanted to depict it with a sense of love and generosity, and show the complexity of what it is to be bisexual outside of the stereotypes [such as] being a dangerous identity, selfish, self-absorbed, a stop on the way to being gay, or a detour back to being straight.
There’s a specificity and authenticity to both Isobel and Cam. You didn’t have a writers room in the first season, but you do now. What’s that room like?
I had an eight-person writers room. I hired this really wonderful woman, Neena Beber, to be our head writer and she and I co-ran the room together. It was all women and one man. It was quite diverse in terms of age, identities, sexual orientations. We ended up writing in a AirBnB because we wanted the writers to experience what it was like to be strangers sharing a space together and getting to know each other in this foreign space. That was fun and exciting and felt very familial. I am only one person, with one life experience, so I wanted an authenticity of voices going into the plethora of different characters we were exploring this season, including Isobel’s journey.
Isobel went from renting out her apartment in season one to being the renter in season two. What went into that decision?
I always knew that I wanted her to leave LA at the end of the season and move to New York. I always had the intention of her going from host to renter. Season one was, in so many ways, the journey to keep home — she uprooted her entire life and allowed herself to explore her sexuality and her identity, and to have wishes and desires outside of her current understanding. Home was such a rock for her. Season one was all about the strangers who came in and out of her life through her home and how they shaped her life. In season two, I wanted to strip away the stability of home and to have her step into other people’s lives and seize many different iterations of what her life could be, should she choose all these different paths.
There are quite a few sex scenes throughout the series and I was struck by how they felt free of the straight and male-gaze. What’s your approach to directing those?
The sex scenes were directed by all different directors [including me]. I was on set for all of them. Outside of Jesse [Peretz], it was all female directors; one is Celia Rowlson-Hall, who is my partner in life and my partner in the show. We’re both queer women and have a specific understanding of gay female sex and the intimacies and complexities and specificities of that experience. I wanted to have those sex scenes be sexy, thoughtful, intimate, and connected. It’s all about conversations: with the actors going into them, me as the show’s writer, with the different directors.
I approached the sex scene in the finale with a lot of intimate conversations — with both Zoë [Chao] and Kathleen [Munroe], our cinematographer, and our amazing cameramen — and just really talked out what feelings I was trying to evoke. The more people in one room that are on the same page with kind of what you’re going for, the easier it is to achieve it.
Do you want to talk about the sort-of love triangle between Milo, Isobel, and Mari?
I entered season two with the idea that Milo and Mari were each mirrors to Isobel. Mari was a mirror of this aspirational woman who has her life together — successful business, successful relationship. She’s this idea of a woman that Isobel wants to be like and be with. Isobel is all in the brain, writing and analyzing. Milo, on the other hand, is fully into his body. He’s a dancer, he’s a mover, and in many ways he’s this young, playful, kid-like man — a representation of Isobel’s lost years in New York. Milo is representing the youth that she’s saying goodbye to and Mari’s this version of adulthood that she can’t get to quick enough.
Isobel, from the moment of meeting Mari, falls head over heels for her and continues to just fall more in love but tries to protect herself — “Well, I can’t really have anything with her, so I’m just supposed to accept what I can get and enjoy that in the moment” — fighting the reality that she wants more. In the moments that she does get hurt by Mari, she kind of uses Milo — who’s super handsome, kind, and wonderful; who is there, and present, and wants to be with her. It’s that flawed reality: When people are in love they tend to hurt other people. That was something I was really curious about.
An interesting thing about Mari is that she’s in an open marriage, which we don’t often see on television.
I wanted to explore a kind of relationship that wasn’t typical to being seen on television. Isobel gets involved with this married woman who technically isn’t doing anything wrong — she’s in an open relationship, she’s being truthful to her partner, she’s being truthful to Isobel. She, from day one, told Isobel exactly what she can give her. It’s kind of about those lies we tell ourselves.
It works as both showing a non-traditional relationship but also gives Isobel that inner conflict of “I want this person but I can’t fully have them.”
Something I wanted to explore was my own experience, in many ways, of being out in my twenties and the different women I would often be drawn to [who] weren’t actually available. There was this sense of protecting oneself because if you’re not fully available then if and when they leave, you always anticipate it so it can never hurt so much. But in reality it always hurts just as much as if you thought they would never leave. The lies we tell ourselves to self-protect your heart can backfire if you’re not being truly honest with yourself about what you want and what you need. As the season goes on, Isobel starts claiming her own needs and her own desires, claiming her power a bit. That was really exciting to watch Isobel have that journey.
In the finale, Isobel and Mari start to reconnect. What went into that decision?
From the very beginning, Zoë and Kathleen had such dynamite chemistry that it was very easy to imagine their characters falling in love with one another. I was unsure if I wanted to tell the story of that “forever love” or the idea of the love that comes before “forever love.” I think it’ll be up to the audience in many ways to decide what that love is: if they’re meant for each other or is Isobel supposed to run.
Before even writing this season, I knew that at the end I wanted Mari to leave her husband and to come to Isobel as a single woman and be like, I wanna try this with you. When you finally get the thing you want, what are you gonna do? Are you gonna actually be excited and take it and take on the responsibility of that life experience? Or is it too much to have what you want and it’s going to make you run?
I loved that final moment because we spent so much of the season watching Isobel wait for Mari, and then we finally got Mari literally chasing after Isobel.
That was an incredibly rewarding scene to direct. If you think about all the rom-coms, there’s always a man chasing after a woman at the end. I don’t know that I’ve seen love stories where a woman literally runs towards a woman on the train or the plane. That [scene] was slightly spinning that trope on it’s head.
And it’s a happy ending! We don’t often get those in queer stories.
Yes. I think people will want Isobel to walk away from Mari at the end, but for me it’s a joyous ending no matter where they end up. They have really fought for each other and I think that’s incredibly beautiful. I do think it’s so rare to see love win in a queer story. That was something I was really striving for across the season, rooting for these two characters and their love no matter how complex it was. I aspire to see queer love win.
This interview has been condensed for length and clarity.