As Cary (Drew Tarver) watches his 13-year-old brother’s insanely popular music video for “I Wanna Marry U at Recess,” he nods slowly. “I don’t not get it,” he admits to his sister Brooke (Heléne Yorke). Cary is an aspiring actor and Brooke is a (very) former ballerina, and both are drifting in and out of bad jobs and unfulfilling relationships. But then their younger brother Chase (Case Walker), also known as #ChaseDream, became internet famous and then actually famous, and it changes everything.
Over 10 half-hour episodes, The Other Two, from SNL writers Chris Kelly and Sarah Schneider, follows Chase’s rise to fame, and the tide that lifts his siblings with him. Their mother Pat (Molly Shannon) is enthusiastic and supportive of all of her children — she goes to Cary’s unattended theater performances and encourages Brooke to chase her own dreams (an intentional play on words, of course) — but she soon becomes particularly focused, as does everyone, on her youngest son and his meteoric rise.
The series is incredibly smart and savvy when it comes to its portrayal of the monstrous business of fame-making, and its characters are both overblown and familiar. Yet the series also makes sure that its satirical portrayal is not a hollow one. Like everything else in the show, even the episode titles are focused on Chase. And yet, he’s a sweet kid; Walker has the patter of a media-trained young star down so well it’s eerie. But he’s just one of many happily brainless characters who populate the otherwise very smart series. He hasn’t turned into a monster yet, as he smiles and goes along with what the various adults looking to exploit him and his popularity have planned for him (Ken Marino, as Chase’s manager Streeter, is particularly nauseating in a way only the hilarious Marino can be).
Cary and Brooke support their brother, of course, but are also forced to confront their own career failures alongside his success. Cary boasts from a bathroom stall that he went to “the theater school where Patrick Wilson’s cousin went. I didn’t know him, but …” while Brooke takes a selfie in front of a red carpet backdrop and photoshops a Getty watermark on it to send to her friends back in Ohio. But soon, their lives become part of Chase’s, not only in affording them new opportunities, but also by becoming exploited themselves (a particularly witty episode deals with a song Chase writes about being proud of his gay brother, which turns Cary into an object of ridicule, then a gay icon, and then back to being ridiculed). Yorke plays Brooke as especially over-the-top, and it works well in this elevated context. But Tarver is also really fantastic as the hopeful but hapless Cary, giving him a sweetness and vulnerability that is at total odds with the industry he’s so desperate to be a part of.
As biting as The Other Two’s dialogue is, the show doesn’t undermine genuinely emotional moments for its characters, allowing Brooke and Cary especially to have real feelings beneath the jokes and snark. They genuinely care about Chase, and their desire to protect him culminates in two very different and equally terrible ways in the season’s final two episodes. Each is a moment of truth for the “Dreamers” that helps make The Other Two more than just a cartoon of a shallow and fickle industry. The first season is also a full story that viewers won’t be punished for becoming invested in — with the potential for more, of course — rather than just a series of increasingly crazy antics.
The antics are, however, both hilarious and sad. When Chase is set up in a fake relationship with another singer to promote their albums, Cary and Brooke are told “this is how kids meet these days. They work for the same label and they fall in love.” Turning to Chase, Wanda Sykes’ label executive assures Chase, “you’ll love her, she has 8 million followers!!” The characters worship youth and fear anything old or outdated, but there are moments that take things a little deeper, like when Brooke accidentally befriends a lonely 11-year-old girl because her makeup made her look like she was 30. As Brooke would say, “in this climate …?!”
For those in Chase’s world as well as the show itself, everything is an opportunity — even (and perhaps especially) failures and mistakes. But The Other Two doesn’t actually make many mistakes in its short and delightful first season, as it holds a mirror up to our celebrity-saturated culture while also making us admit that sometimes we deride it only because we aren’t a part of it.
The Other Two premieres Thursday, January 23rd on Comedy Central.