Fame, family and millennial angst: How The Other Two became TV’s funniest comedy

As the second season of the show about a teen pop star’s less successful older siblings arrives on HBO Max, Kevin E G Perry talks to creators Chris Kelly and Sarah Schneider about putting family at the heart of their razor-sharp satire of the pop culture machine

Friday 13 August 2021 12:49
<p>Double act: Heléne Yorke and Drew Tarver in ‘The Other Two’</p>

Double act: Heléne Yorke and Drew Tarver in ‘The Other Two’

The first episode of The Other Two opens with a montage of entertainment TV hosts breathlessly hyping the latest new arrival on the music scene. “Buckle up girls, there’s a sexy new singer in town,” announces the first, “and guess what? He just turned 13!” Another adds: “Some in the music industry are already calling him the next big white kid.”

The pre-pubescent heartthrob in question is Chase Dreams (Case Walker), a pre-fame Bieber-type fresh from racking up millions of views on his first music video, an undeniably catchy tween-love anthem called “Marry U at Recess”. It’s the start of Chase’s journey from wide-eyed naif to fully fledged pop superstar, but that’s only a sliver of what this hilarious, sharp-witted and heartfelt comedy is all about. The “other two” are Brooke (Heléne Yorke) and Cary Dubek (Drew Tarver), Chase’s decidedly less feted older siblings, both living in New York and in their late twenties. Brooke is a former dancer seeking new purpose; Cary is struggling to make it as an actor. Neither is where they’d imagined they’d be in their professional or personal lives by now. Neither has any idea just how famous their kid brother is about to become.

The Other Two, the first season of which is streaming on All 4 in the UK and HBO Max in the US, is the brainchild of former Saturday Night Live head writers Chris Kelly and Sarah Schneider, who have hit upon the ideal story to combine their knack for note-perfect pop culture satire with a more grounded take on what it’s like to feel rejected by the dreams you’re, well, chasing. “We wanted to tell relatable stories about where you are when you’re in your late twenties to early thirties and trying to figure out your career,” Kelly tells me. “Concerns that come from comparing yourself to other people, and always wondering if you’re as far along as you should be at this point in your life. Then putting this showbiz umbrella on top of it let us do some of the more fun, dumb pop-culture stuff that we really liked to write at SNL. It basically let us have our cake and eat it too.”

Yorke and Tarver are perfectly cast as the central duo, making you feel for their characters’ struggles even while you’re crying with laughter over them. Many of the stories about the pair’s grind to “make it” are drawn directly from Kelly and Schneider’s own lives. When we first meet Cary, who’s gay, he’s at an audition for an advert attempting to land the uninspiring role of Man At Party Who Smells Fart. He gets a callback, but his agent Skip (Richard Kind) tells him they want it played “straighter”. “Otherwise,” he says, “he’s gay, he’s at a party, he’s smelling a fart – it’s a lot for the audience to digest in 30 seconds.”

The request may sound absurd, but the same thing happened to Kelly when he was starting out a decade ago. “I auditioned for a commercial and all I had to do was pretend to lay fertiliser and grunt – I didn’t have any lines,” he says. “They were like: ‘Great, let’s try it again, but I think this guy’s a family man, he has a wife…’ They were basically saying: ‘Can you lay the fertiliser straighter?’ Those are the little things you remember.”

Brooke and Cary aren’t the only ones caught up in the whirlwind of Chase’s sudden fame. There’s also their mother, Pat Dubek, played with a staggering blend of humour and heart-wrenching pathos by Molly Shannon. As is slowly revealed over the course of the first season, they are all still mourning the death of her husband, the siblings’ father, six months before the events of the first episode. This tragic undertow gives the story a deeper weight, yet never slows the relentless jokes-per-minute ratio. “We always pitched it and pictured it as a show about a family,” says Schneider. “That’s really what the show is about.” In that light, it was important to the creators not to paint Chase as a spoilt brat. “We wanted people to care for him, and we wanted Brooke and Cary to be looking out for him,” adds Schneider. “You don’t care as much if that person is a little asshole.”

In Case Walker, a first-time actor they unearthed by scouting TikTok-precursor Musical.ly for lip sync videos, they found a perfectly believable and genuinely likeable young pop idol. “A lot of these pop stars that people write off as jerks, or troubled, or divas are probably victims of what’s going on around them,” points out Kelly. “They started as a regular kid but their life has been turned so upside down that they’re being told when to eat and what to eat and how to act. We were more interested in satirising the machine around him as opposed to making fun of one kid in particular.”

Bieber energy: Drew Tarver, Case Walker and Heléne York in ‘The Other Two’

In Chase’s case, the person telling him how to act and what to eat (sometimes just lots of eggs) is his manager, the perfectly named Streeter Peters, played by Ken Marino. Kelly and Schneider say Marino made the part his own by imbuing the often maniacal character with a necessary dose of vulnerability. “He can play hurt and insecure so well,” says Kelly. “We liked that for this character because otherwise he could just be too sleazy or gross or scary or manipulative. I mean, as Chase’s manager he does godawful things to him. He dyes his tongue pink, because girls love a pink tongue, and he binds his neck to keep his Adam’s apple from getting too big. It’s child abuse, basically, but you also see that he’s needy and just wants to be liked and wants Chase to love him.”

The Other Two is full of these sorts of nuances and seeming contradictions, never losing sight of its characters’ humanity even in their most deranged moments. The Dubeks are real people with real feelings trapped in an absurd world, just like the rest of us. By the time the 10-episode first season wraps, you’ll be jonesing to spend more time with them, so the forthcoming second season can’t arrive soon enough. It promises to be a riot. Fame, it seems, is coming for Pat Dubek, even while it still manages to evade The Other Two.

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Season one of ‘The Other Two’ is available on HBO Max in the US and on All 4 in the UK. Season two premieres in the US on HBO Max on 26 August.

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