Pop Culture Deep Dive

HBO Max’s The Other Two Is a Perfect TV Comedy

The long-gestating second season of the showbiz joke machine more than justifies the wait.

By Conner Reed September 3, 2021

Heléne Yorke (left) and Drew Tarver in The Other Two

Image: Jon Pack

Sometimes, being a journalist means holding truth to power; other times, it means holding space for the 25-minute TV comedy you and your gay friends love.

Starting today, Portland Monthly will take some time each month to shine our flashlight outside the bounds of the Rose City and onto something in the broader popular culture that deserves your attention. Hot takes, cold takes, celebrations, excoriations—all are welcome. This week, I am choosing to hoist up the TV comedy of my dreams, The Other Two, like baby Simba in The Lion King

The Other Two doesn’t need my support. It has a cozy Thursday night time slot on HBO Max, following in the footsteps of the massively successful Hacks, and its stellar first season (which aired on Comedy Central in 2019) was a cult phenomenon in itself. Still, it doesn’t quite have the on-paper watercooler pedigree of Hacks (no showy, once-in-a-lifetime Jean Smart role) or HBO’s other recent smash, The White Lotus (very little thinkpiece fodder, no starry ensemble cast). That's too bad, because The Other Two is, for my money, one of our most top-to-bottom perfect TV comedies.

The premise is straightforward in an "I can't believe no one has done this before" way: it follows the family of 13-year-old Chase Dubek (stage name ChaseDreams, played by Case Walker), who becomes an overnight pop icon after his debut single "Marry U at Recess" goes viral. His buoyant, semi-clueless momager is played by a pixie-cut-clad Molly Shannon, but the real focus is on his much-older siblings Carey (comedian Drew Tarver) and Brooke (Broadway performer Heléne Yorke). Carey is a late-20s gay man with a flailing acting career and confusing sexual tension with his roommate; Brooke is a former dancer with a himbo boyfriend; both live middling lives in New York City. They are, in case it wasn't clear, the titular Other Two.

That logline sets us up for something mean—a deliciously nasty show about washed-up artists taking their family down from the inside in the wake of their kid brother's success. The Other Two, though, goes for something much more specific and satisfying. There's tension, sure, and a season one plot sees Carey go especially off the rails after he rises to fame as the subject of Chase's song "My Brother's Gay (And That's Okay)," but the show has a big, squishy heart, and its dysfunctional family truly loves each other, albeit in a slightly more complicated way than the Roses on Schitt's Creek.

Instead of harvesting its laughs from cat fights, The Other Two weds an ultra-online gay sensibility with a light dusting of the surreal. It's incredibly pop culture literate, with the joke density of something like 30 Rock minus the cartoon aesthetic. A recent episode revolves around a Vogue event where Anna Wintour will "reveal the new Hadid"; an episode in season one contains an incredible, painstaking recreation of the final tableau from Call Me by Your Name. Creators Chris Kelley and Sarah Schneider stuff every scene with jokes that you can't believe you haven't heard before, and blissfully few of them go right where even the most seasoned viewer might expect.

In its second season, The Other Two is even more confident than it was on its first outing. Where season one was occasionally overwritten, a few jokes belabored beyond the point of utility (in ways that could sometimes scan as studio interference), the four episodes of season two that have hit HBO Max so far are note-perfect. A friend told me to text her my favorite lines from the premiere; in five minutes, I had texted her 12 times. 

Beyond the restless spirit of invention—in the premiere, the Dubeks go to Blake Lively's new Thai restaurant, where a server tells them "Blake has had a passion for the culture and cuisine of Thailand ever since she had a layover there in March"—and its core kindness, The Other Two works so well because it understands how weird it is to live your life in public, and how extra-weird it is to wish you were doing that. Carey is constantly pulled between riding his brother's coattails to success and wondering why he wants to host The Gay Minute on HuffPo Live (sponsored by Advil) in the first place; Brooke is constantly enticed and then repelled by the absurdity of branding her teenage brother who, all told, cannot sing very well.

It leans into the bewilderment of (gag) the attention economy, but leaves room for softness, and it also has an unprintably exceptional cameo from Kate Berlant that homosexuals the world over will quote until we are dead. (To say nothing of Molly Shannon's late-season one monologue!) The hooks are maybe a little less sexy than other comedies floating around the streaming ether, but you have my word: none of them are doing what The Other Two is doing.

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