In 2019, one of the year’s best new TV series rode into the zeitgeist hidden inside a conspicuous, headline-making Trojan horse: one in the shape of Justin Bieber.
The Other Two, created by former Saturday Night Live head writers Chris Kelly and Sarah Schneider, cannon-balled into the pop culture conversation with its juicy hook. Ask them—or any of the SNL players at Studio 8H during their tenure—who was the most difficult host to work with, and even the most gossip-shy would almost immediately blurt out the Biebz’s name.
Here was a show from Kelly and Schneider that was being sold as a roast of that superstar petulance and blinding hubris: a comedy about a teenage boy who goes viral on YouTube, is quickly hooked by the industry’s butterfly net, and fashioned into a sexually non-threatening, focus group-groomed Next Big Thing.
The dialogue was packed with references to celebrities and inside jokes about show business. Because of Kelly and Schneider’s years spent observing the behaviors of A-listers at SNL, it was like eavesdropping on a call that was coming from inside the house. The show hilariously sent up the jaded quirks and normalized extremes of the entertainment industry and the people who propagate it—people who don’t realize that their heads are so far up their own asshole that they’ve long stopped noticing the putrid stench.
But that was the big ruse. The Other Two wasn’t about skewering Justin Bieber, or even about the young character, Chase Dreams (Case Walker), that was loosely based on him.
It’s in the title, folks. The Other Two was actually about the collateral damage: Cary and Brooke Dubek, played by Drew Tarver and Heléne Yorke. They are Chase’s older millennial siblings, tumbleweeding through life’s endless desert of disappointments and, now, trapped in an existential crisis by their younger brother’s instant success.
Through the surreal-looking glass of fame, The Other Two manages to be one of TV’s more carefully observed series about millennial anxieties and pressures at a time when we’ve long moved past the avocado toast discourse. Further proof of that comes Thursday, when, after an overlong hiatus (a pandemic and a network change will do that), season two of the series arrives on HBO Max, moving from its original home on Comedy Central.
“It’s hard in press, especially in a season one, because you want to hook people, and there’s only a couple of things that they know about us or the show,” Kelly says in a recent Zoom interview, alongside Schneider, with The Daily Beast. “We were not known, so there was the SNL thing. We’d tell the Justin Bieber story once, and then it kind of became, ‘Here’s what the show is.’ Which is fine and great. But yeah, we were a little, like, I hope people watch it because I don’t think it’s quite what they think it is—maybe in a good way.”
To be fair, Kelly and Schneider are opining about the meatier show hidden within the buzzier logline because I’ve asked them about that Trojan horse. Another hollow equine appears to be galloping in right behind the Bieber-shaped one as season two begins. This one, however, seems to be modeled after two different, much more revered SNL tentpoles: sketches skewering daytime talk shows, and Molly Shannon.
Shannon plays Pat Dubek, mother to Cary, Brooke, and Chase. A season-finale twist reveals that, due to her popularity in appearances alongside Chase, she’d been given her own daytime talk show. Now, Cary and Brooke aren’t just navigating their own personal struggles alongside the chaos of a famous younger brother. They have a famous mom, too—one who spends every morning talking about every aspect of their own lives on national TV.
Both seasons of The Other Two depict the rapid fame of two people in careers that have given birth to monsters. (The scripts for season two were written in 2019, and roughly 40 percent of the series had been shot before the pandemic shut down production… and before Ellen DeGeneres had her comeuppance.) Yet both Chase and Pat are extraordinarily nice and decent people. Is that at all idealistic course-correcting for behavior the SNL alums witnessed on set?
“We thought in season one that if Chase was a sweet little kid, that would be more infuriating to the Other Two,” Kelly says. “If he was a little shit, you could be like, ‘Oh, my brother who is rich and successful, he’s a shithead.’ But the fact that he’s a nice, sweet kid that you love and you care about and he’s more successful is just even more frustrating.”
It’s the machine around celebrity more than celebrity itself that they set out to satirize.
As my colleague Matt Wilstein reported, a season one scene in which Chase is put on a raw-egg diet by his manager is inspired by a real-life SNL incident. Instead of showing up to 30 Rock to meet the cast and writers, as is custom, Bieber sent his manager, Scooter Braun, who explained that his client had been fed raw eggs in an attempt to “get his body jacked,” but instead started “puking his guts out.” (Other scenes in which Chase’s tongue is dyed pinker and his Adam’s apple is bound to keep it from growing involve more creative license.)
Pat’s talk show in season two prods at the cult of daytime TV fandom. She leads her audience in increasingly complicated chants that they somehow all recite in unison: “Reading is good!” “Every chance you choose to take is a path that you create.” “The grind never stops, but it can stop if you want it to—and that’s what’s cool about the grind.” Fans are tickled by the banality with which she discusses personal details about her life and family. You see her FaceTime her children on air, “as I do every episode.”
More than any current talk show, Schneider says they used their own mothers and aunts as jumping-off points for what Pat might be like as a host. “We literally would just be like, ‘What would it be like if my mom had a talk show?’ It would look something similar to this. She would be pulling strangers out of Duane Reade and telling them to come on the show because she thinks they are Mayim Bialik, and they’re absolutely not.” (Yes, Pat does this.)
But she also stresses that, like with season one and the backdrop of Chase’s celebrity branding, Pat’s talk show is a tool, not a focus. “We use it to tell stories about the Other Two.” And the Other Two? They’re still going through it.
When we first meet Cary and Brooke in season one, he’s a waiter rehearsing his audition for “Man at Party Who Smells Fart” while she is squatting on an air mattress in a luxury apartment she is supposed to be selling.
Their personal lives aren’t going much better. Cary, who only recently came out of the closet, is struggling with his own internalized homophobia, the realization that aspects of self-loathing and insecurity don’t disappear once the words “I am gay” float into the air. (That he is sorta hooking up with his straight roommate doesn’t help matters.)
Brooke, meanwhile, is keeping her doofus-with-a-heart-of-gold boyfriend on the back burner while attempting to opportunistically date her way around the city, to no avail.
It’s refreshing, at least for this millennial, to see things are going marginally better for the two when the second season begins… even if those small wins pale in comparison to, say, a brother who is making millions and a mother who may be the next Oprah.
“You know, Brooke and Cary are crazy and they make dumb decisions, but they’re smart people,” Kelly says. “So we think they would have learned from season one. They would have grown. They would have been taking strides and trying to make changes in their life.”
Cary, for example, is now a busy host of online TV content, albeit for programs like Age, Net Worth, Feet, in which he asks celebrities on red carpets about the only three things fans online google most. Then there’s, The Gay Minute for HuffPo, Sponsored by Advil. The content is a rundown of what Laura Dern has been spotting doing recently. The big evolution, though, is that he has a boyfriend, played by Gideon Glick.
Riding her 15 minutes of success as Chase’s secret music manager, Brooke is hitting the streets in an attempt to find the next viral star. What that really amounts to is scrolling through videos of children singing on TikTok and messaging them, “Move to NYC. I’ll represent you,” or setting a Google alert for “Beyoncé child gay drag.” Eventually she caves and accepts an offer to co-manage Pat’s talk-show career. She’s surprisingly great at it.
“They are starting to get a little bit of success, and what they thought that was going to feel like and look like—which was they work hard, they get their thing, and they live happily ever after—isn’t necessarily the case,” Schneider says.
There’s something deeply relatable about that for an aging millennial generation that was told what trail up the mountain they were supposed to climb and what the view from the summit was going to be, only for the path to be destroyed by an economic avalanche.
“You’re so used to struggling and so used to, like, being shit on or feeling like you’re not doing well enough, that you don’t realize when you actually do start to make progress,” Kelly says. “You don’t see how other people are looking at you. It feels like you are moving the goalposts for yourself, but other people are seeing you differently than you’re seeing yourself.”
That extends to how you see yourself and your personal relationships—and, in Cary’s case, your sexuality—too.
If you run in certain circles, you couldn’t go a day in the last two years without someone posting an “I am gagging for you, faggot” meme on social media.
That is, understandably, a shocking reference for the uninitiated—you know, what with constant talk of cancel culture, inappropriate slurs, and society’s ever-latent bigotry. But the joke is the perfect example of how The Other Two nimbly hopscotches through cultural tripwires.
That joke and the episode it’s from, “Chase Gets the Gays,” earned The Other Two some of its biggest accolades in season one, cheering how it explored Cary’s discomfort with being out and proud, and the crass ways in which pop culture has commoditized LGBTQ+ acceptance.
After Chase’s management team posits that releasing a pro-gay anthem called “My Brother’s Gay” could expand his cultural reach, Cary is publicly outed and made to stand in an uncomfortable spotlight. People recognize him on the street and shout, “Hey! Gay!” A talent agency wants to meet with him discuss his career now that he’s a fledgling gay icon, creating tension between his acting aspirations and his insecurities.
That corporate vulturism is sharply lampooned, most memorably as Kate Berlant, playing one of those agents, startles Cary with her frankness. “I am gagging for you, faggot!” she greets him, as if he’s OK with her using that word.
It’s a satire of an interaction many gay men know well—the people who learn of your sexuality and assume you’re going to be their best friend because they fancy themselves an ally or have, like, gone to a Lady Gaga concert and watch RuPaul’s Drag Race. That the person is a full-on stranger and that such internally colloquial language would be highly inappropriate doesn’t cross their mind; they’re deluded by their own presumptiveness.
The attention throws Cary’s life into a tailspin, a clever narrative device that reveals how Chase’s fame impacts his siblings. The modern nuances of how certain millennial gay men view their sexuality continue to be explored in season two through Cary’s journey, once again using a more famous Dubek as a creative impetus: a mom who brings up “my gay son Cary”—and his new boyfriend—every day on her talk show.
The question becomes, “What can Pat’s show do to exacerbate Cary’s sexuality?” Kelly says. He had struggled with his own homophobia and self-hating tendencies. But now in season two, he sees how he has grown and can spot the red flags. He has a boyfriend, which he thinks means he’s worked through his issues.
“He’s like, ‘I’m in a relationship with a man and I’m having sex with a man, so that equals better,’” Kelly says. “Like you can’t be self-hating and you can’t have hang ups if you’re fucking a man. But that’s not quite true.”
“Similar to what we were talking about with the career stuff for both, with Cary’s sexuality, he also thinks he’s reached his destination,” Schneider says. “He’s reached where he thought he was supposed to and it doesn’t feel quite right, so then he realizes there’s so much more in his story left that he needs to explore and discover.”
There’s more to The Other Two than these meaningful lessons, of course. Few shows contain as much rapid-fire, laugh-out-loud dialogue and hyper-specific cultural references, ones that manage to see-saw between believable and absurd.
Season one sees the gag about Pat and Chase moving into Justin Theroux’s grimly appointed Manhattan loft and raises it with the Dubeks nervously attending the opening of Blake Lively’s new Asian-fusion restaurant. Why is there spaghetti? “That’s the fusion.” (It’s not racist, they’re repeatedly assured.) And there’s a joke about Dave Franco being cast in a biopic of Matthew Shepard that is almost too plausible.
Kelly and Schneider say they were nervous that, after the pandemic delay, some of the season’s cultural references might be stale. Luckily, comedy about gays being obsessed with Laura Dern is evergreen, as is the internet’s fascination with celebrity feet.
When I ask what pop-culture diet they have that elicits these drive-by jokes, they shrug and admit that these are just things that they like and find funny themselves. Then Kelly starts laughing. “I feel like I just answered that question in a way that made it sound like I love feet, Dave Franco, and Matthew Shepard. Like, I’m obsessed with those three. The trifecta.”
“I don’t know why feet are so funny to us,” Schneider adds. “We like to think of our show as a foot show first, and then second is a family comedy.”
Kelly nods. “This is a very foot-positive family comedy.”