On its surface, “The Other Two” is a half-hour comedy about two ambitious millennials thrown into dueling identity crises after their younger brother shoots to overnight fame as a pop star. Narcissistic, fame-hungry, and emotionally stunted, Cary (Drew Tarver) and Brooke (Heléne York) often fling themselves into humiliating situations, like getting baptized in the Soho House pool by a guy with angel wing chest tattoos. But hiding beneath the hole pic jokes and Laura Dern shout-outs is a sweet comedy about family, the limits of success, and adjusting expectations for your life.
Like the show’s popular contemporaries “Ted Lasso” and “Hacks,” “The Other Two” lets us laugh at our sorry selves through the shared experience of being alive in today’s uncertain world. Highbrow film references and the particulars of Grindr culture may be lost on some viewers, but everyone can relate to a little imposter syndrome. Creators Chris Kelly and Sarah Schneider met while writing for “Saturday Night Live,” so comedy writing comes naturally. The secret to keeping “The Other Two” heartfelt, they say, is staying grounded in the relationships.
“The core of the show is this family and their relationships and their dynamics with each other,” said Schneider during a recent phone interview. “[Cary and Brooke] are these real human people going through the world, so it shouldn’t be this insider show. It’s just the backdrop against which we’re telling these grounded family stories.”
This season, aspiring actor Cary begins booking some work as an on-camera host, while Brooke’s taste of success as a talent manager isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Though they still see themselves as failures, tension rises when people around them aren’t buying that narrative anymore.
“We have dramatic goals and wants and desires that we think are worth exploring for each character. And then there’s also a grab bag somewhere else, another list of things that we think are funny in pop culture,” said Kelly. “What does it feel like when you’ve always looked at yourself as a loser, [and] what happens when other people start to tell you that’s not true anymore? And then we’ll be like, ‘What’s a dumb way to show that?’”
Molly Shannon and Ken Marino in “The Other Two”
Greg Endries / HBO Max
They both demur when asked about the similarities between themselves and the two main characters. But it’s hard not to see the siblings as avatars for the writers, albeit wildly exaggerated ones: a straight woman and a gay man, both in the entertainment industry, who keep each other in check but always have each other’s back. Despite few specific similarities, the archetypes are there.
“We do pull from our personal lives, like Cary in a struggle with his sexuality or what would it mean to get a little bit of success and then have it not be exactly what you thought it would be,” said Kelly. “Or to feel a little lonely, even though theoretically things are going well.”
There is one character, however, they’ll admit to pulling from real life. Brandon Scott Jones, who plays Carey’s best friend Curtis and is always ready with a quick bit or a dramatic fur coat entrance. A longtime New York improviser, he’s also a writer on the show.
“He is our friend Brandon,” Kelly said, before walking it back. “I don’t think [Brandon] is Curtis necessarily, but he comes up with a lot of his lines. He’s such a part of the show in general that we just want him in the show as much as possible.”
Having writers from a wide array of backgrounds is important to both of them, not only to mix up the gene pool, but to keep the humor specific to the characters they’re writing.
“We try to be extremely specific. We’re trying to delve deeper into the experiences we’re exploring, and we’re not going to get that from a writer that hasn’t actually experienced them. So I think having representation in the writer’s room is crucial,” said Schneider. “Obviously they’re funny, but they also have real life experiences that might kind of overlap with the character so they can best pitch on those characters. We try to make sure our writers’ room has a lot of women and a lot of queer people.”
They take the same approach to casting. New York comedy fans will recognize gay actors and stand-ups in bit parts throughout Season 2, such as Noah Galvin, Ryan Leach, and Joe Castle Baker. (Not to mention a few fun cameos, like Debi Mazar, Zosia Mamet, and even an unexpected appearance from “Beverly Hills, 90210” star Steve Ziering.)
“It’s the same thing with casting. If you’re going to tell a queer story, making sure that there’s people who know what they’re talking about and the jokes are coming from inside of the room, basically,” said Schneider.
Since the show’s move from Comedy Central, where it originally aired its first season in 2019, to HBO Max, the series has gained attention as it’s become more accessible. Last week, ahead of the season finale, HBO Max announced it was ordering a third season. While they haven’t had a minute to think too hard about it, they did offer a few insights into what Season 3 might hold.
“The season ended with the family airing all their grievances with each other. So there’s no more coy issues that they have. […] It’s all out there. So that can let us go any number of ways with their dynamic and what’s next for them,” said Schneider. “We’ve talked about doing a time jump into the future a little bit, just to jump into a new time in their lives. All we know for sure is that we’re not doing a pandemic season. That’s not interesting. We’re going to skip right over that.”
“The Other Two” is available to stream on HBO Max.
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