At the end of the fifth episode of the first season of Comedy Central’s new comedy series “The Other Two,” a down-and-out Cary (Drew Tarver) laments to his sister Brooke (Helene Yorke) about the dire state of his life as a struggling actor, fearing he’ll be consigned to waiting tables in perpetuity. “I feel like if I was going to be a famous actor, it would’ve happened by now,” he says. “Maybe I just missed my wave.”
“You are so dumb! Chase is your wave,” Brooke admonishes him, referring to their 13-year-old younger brother, played by Case Walker, who became an overnight singing sensation. “Cary, I’m going to say this with love: You are not above all of this. I feel like you had this romantic vision of how this whole thing was going to play out for you, and sometimes it just doesn’t happen that way. It happens in a million weird ways. Maybe Chase is your weird way.”
That was your classic “get your sh– together” pep talk, but it also encapsulates everything you need to know and what’s so great about “The Other Two,” which more than deserves to be in the Best Comedy Series Emmy lineup. Created by former “Saturday Night Live” head writers Chris Kelly and Sarah Schneider, who obviously know a thing or two about lampooning pop culture, “The Other Two” on the surface sounds like your average showbiz satire. Under the stage name #ChaseDreams, Chase is on the Justin Bieber-esque fast track to superstardom after his song “Marry U at Recess” goes viral, thrusting him and his family into an insane world of crazy premieres and events, image- and narrative-building (an unexpected pimple means he might have to transition to “sexy” sooner than planned), and outsized, vapid personalities and egos.
Like another showbiz satire from a former “SNL” head writer, three-time Best Comedy Series Emmy winner “30 Rock,” “The Other Two” bursts at the seams with a similar type of sharp, quick-witted humor so gut-busting that you have to pause, recover and rewind to enjoy it again. There are meta references, hilarious sight gags and tons of pop culture jokes, both topical and deep cuts. But where “30 Rock” had a cynical, snarky bent, “The Other Two” is surprisingly, welcomingly sincere. Oh, don’t misunderstand — it skewers and takes jabs at celebrity culture and media aplenty (Justin Theroux has a motorcycle toilet in his Soho loft; Ryan Murphy won’t consider anyone for his new show, “American Crime Story: Hot Coffee,” if they don’t have at least 50,000 Instagram followers) — but all of its absurdity is grounded in the fully realized and acutely pitched relationships at the center.
The titular other two are Cary and Brooke, Chase’s late twenty- and early thirtysomething siblings who have a front-row seat to little bro’s skyrocketing fame that they never (or haven’t yet) achieved. Ever so earnest, Cary has seen his acting career amount to the title role in a play called “While John Slept,” and the series opens with him auditioning for the part of Man at Party Who Smells Fart. A former professional dancer, Brooke is unmoored, uncertain what she wants to do with her life as she has periodic airport motel hookups with a pilot and squats in high-rise apartments she’s supposed to show as a realtor.
Lesser shows would take the incredibly obvious route of making Brooke and Cary embittered and rage with jealousy. And yes, they do have a complicated relationship with Chase’s stardom, but their actual relationship with him is anything but. They love their little brother and are protective of him — the whole family is, to the point that Cary, Brooke and matriarch Pat, a loopy but still very human stage mom played by Molly Shannon, haven’t told Chase the real way their father died (it wasn’t from cancer). There’s an underlying through line of sadness in the series that balances out the jokes and their heightened world.
Chase loves his big bro and big sis too. It would again be super easy to make Chase an insufferable dick who’s already let celebrity get to his head. But he’s just a kid who likes music and would much rather be a normal teen who goes to school dances than a megastar who jets to a photo op with Lil Wayne. He looks up to his siblings, and his second catchy bop, “My Brother’s Gay (And That’s OK),” is his genuine ode to Cary, though his record label has other plans to weaponize the song for Chase’s career.
The show treats Chase like a real person and respects him and his generation of empire-building, can-do teens and content creators on <insert social media platform>. This very real and booming world of Gen Z Internet stars and influencers is never the punchline on “The Other Two,” which would probably be another show’s default setting. The series makes fun of it, sure, like it does everything else, but with affection, not condescension and judgment. It instead saves its sickest burns for the industry, the ruthless, soulless machine of adult managers and publicists and reps that orbits around these young stars and leeches off of them. (Ken Marino, as Chase’s sycophantic manager Streeter, and Wanda Sykes, as Chase’s blunt record label executive Shuli, are absolutely hilarious.) That perfect alchemy of sweet and scathing is not a tone many can pull off, but “The Other Two” does it masterfully.
And here’s where the true genius of “The Other Two” lies: It’s for those of us who feel left behind, which everyone at some point will feel in their lives. (Did this get too deep? Sorry.) Brooke and Cary, of course, are left behind in the wake of Chase’s instant notoriety, but they’re also, as many of us are, left behind in the age of Gen Z. Be honest: How many times have you rolled your eyes when you heard the term “Instagram model”? Or you don’t understand how a 17-year-old has accrued 23 million subscribers for their YouTube makeup tutorials? Or you flat-out just feel old as hell?
Like Brooke and Cary, I am an older millennial. I didn’t grow up with social media and smart phones and fancy technology like <puts on bifocals> kids these days. I recorded my favorite shows on VHS, and if I missed it, tough; I couldn’t stream it online the next day. My friends and I had to actually talk on the phone, and by phone, I mean a landline. It took me at minimum four minutes to sign on to AOL dial-up (RIP AIM) only to get kicked off, like, 20 minutes later when someone picked up the phone and then I had to through the process all over again. I’ve always been a pop culture enthusiast, so I get the Gen Z zeitgeist, but I also don’t get it. And that’s fine; it’s not me and it’s not for me. I observe it with a mix of bemusement and get-off-my-lawn-ness. Kind of like Brooke and Cary. It’s probably how our parents’ generation felt about us and so on. We will always be eclipsed and flummoxed by whatever is coming up after us. “The Other Two” seeks to understand that new thing (Kelly and Schneider run jokes and references by 16-year-old Walker to ensure they’re on point). It knows it’s not better than this new type of stardom, and that fame “happens in a million weird ways.”
Comedy Central, thankfully, has already renewed “The Other Two” for a second season, which was teed up with some delicious last-minute twists in the Season 1 finale. So it has at least another year — and hopefully many more — in Emmy contention, but if voters know what’s up, they’ll check it off literally right now lest they get left behind on one of the best new shows of the year.
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