When “The Other Two” premiered on Comedy Central in January 2019, I became an instant fan. The premise is alluring enough: An adorable 13-year old boy, known as Chase Dreams, becomes an overnight YouTube sensation with his catchy pop video “Marry U At Recess,” and his two loser siblings, more than twice his age, must cope with standing in his shadow.
His sister Brooke (Heléne Yorke), an insecure, failed dancer who recently suffered a breakup, ends up as Chase’s assistant. His brother Cary (Drew Tarver) is a gay actor/waiter who endures a series of humiliating gigs and awkward encounters with dates. His self-absorbed, chirpy mom, Pat (Molly Shannon, in top comedic form) is thrilled with Chase’s newfound fame and craves being in the spotlight herself.
The incisive satire, created by former “Saturday Night Live” writers Chris Kelly and Sarah Schneider, is brilliant at skewering family dynamics and internet culture as it articulates the price of chasing fame in the digital age. A meditation on millennial angst, it celebrates and lambasts pop culture in equal measure. And the performances are spot on.
What makes the show work is that it flips the trope of the teen superstar on its head. Instead of a demanding brat, Chase is a well-adjusted, truly sweet kid. It’s his family who become monsters. Chase is played by Case Walker who, sure enough, was cast after being discovered on Instagram.
The writers are not afraid to explore heady gay themes. In an early episode, Chase releases a schmaltzy single on YouTube titled “My Brother’s Gay and That’s Okay,” crammed with images of Cary as a gawky teen. Problem is, Cary is barely out of the closet even to himself, and learns about the video when strangers start recognizing him on the street. In a recurring subplot, we see chill-outs on the couch with his hairy, shirtless “straight” roomie erupting into steamy man-on-man action.
The show received warm reviews, rated 94 percent fresh by critics on Rotten Tomatoes, but had trouble cutting through the clutter. When I raved about it to my friends, I was met with blank stares. They were too busy watching hits of the moment like “Succession” on HBO or “Russian Doll” on Netflix.
Once the Covid pandemic struck, I figured “The Other Two” was a goner, but thankfully, HBO Max rescued it from oblivion. I was delighted to see the production’s No Parking signs taped to lampposts on the streets of Chelsea, especially when there was scant filming activity going on in the city. On August 26, after a 29-month hiatus, the first two episodes of Season Two dropped.
The second season picks up pretty much where the first one left off, but the balance of power has shifted. Chase has put his singing career on pause to become a freshman at NYU (he did NOT get into their prestigious Tisch School of Arts, the show clarifies). Pat becomes a wildly successful daytime talk show host and overtakes Chase’s fame. Clearly Shannon clicked with viewers and has been elevated from a recurring role to main cast.
The titular other two continue to struggle to make their mark. Carey becomes a host of several insipid shows, like “The Gay Minute,” where he dishes on D-list celebs like Laura Dern. In order to pay rent, he resorts to posting Cameo videos at $18 a pop. Brooke becomes a manager for her mother. One episode finds her running interference with a rabid fan. “She loves you and is just like you,” she says of Pat, which, strangely enough, turns out to be true.
“The Other Two” is even gayer now than last season. The horned-up roomie is gone, yet Cary has a new boyfriend named Jess, played by Gideon Glick, best known for his Broadway turns in “Significant Other” and “To Kill a Mockingbird.” We see them having sex. But when the highly sensitive Jess proclaims his desire to settle down like the lovey-dovey gay couple with matching scruff and an exquisitely styled house upstate, Cary freaks out.
After Pat does a segment where a tortured gay son comes out to his father (Tuc Watkins of “Desperate Housewives” fame), Cary and Jess run into the duo at a restaurant, filmed at the iconic Elmo in Chelsea. They befriend them, not realizing they faked the story to get the $25,000 check gifted by the show. Moments earlier, the boy and his daddy were on Grindr, ordering up a hot top.
“I don’t want to do [Molly] if we’re gonna hook up. Last time I couldn’t get hard,” the daddy declares. When the guy shows up at the restaurant, things go downhill fast.
Insightful showbiz jabs aside, what really resonates is Cary and Brooke’s underlying fragility and humanity. It’s touching — and oddly comforting — to see Cary get rudely ditched at a swanky party for Vogue (Chase was the “guest editor” for that month’s issue), left standing alone muttering to himself. Or when a forlorn Cary, in a bid to cheer himself up, pays a surprise visit to one of his Cameo fans at a small birthday gathering in a West Village bar, only to realize they find him insufferable. Later, someone snarks that he bolted without paying for his drinks. Or his nachos.
With the marketing muscle and prestige of HBO Max, I suspect the warm-hearted, deliciously caustic “The Other Two” will achieve the fame it deserves, even if poor Brooke or Cary probably never will.
THE OTHER TWO | HBO Max | New episodes stream Thursdays