tv review

Please Pay Attention to The Other Two

Cary (Drew Tarver) and Brooke (Heléne York), not trying too hard at all in The Other Two. Photo: Greg Endries

Working in the entertainment industry can look pretty enticing from the outside. There are all those red carpets, and private-jet rides, and encounters with celebrities who use hydrating serums that cost more than your monthly mortgage payment, and also encounters with celebrities who don’t necessarily shower very often but are nevertheless fine as hell because celebrities: They’re not like us. Even if you’re not at the top of the show-business food chain, to outsiders, a job in that world can still seem pretty cush.

The Other Two is here to tell you that’s a lie. When you’re trying to establish yourself as an actor or wrangler of talent, your entire career is actively demoralizing and pretty much cush-free. Instead of swag bags, you get a constantly bruised ego. In lieu of one-on-ones with hot movie stars, you get two-hour branding-strategy meetings in which it’s possible to watch your soul actually leave your body and run screaming from a conference room. On the off chance that you get invited to a party, you probably can’t go because you have too much work to do. It’s exhausting. But as fodder for comedy? Oh my God, it’s fantastic.

As in the first season of The Other Two, which was criminally overlooked when it aired on Comedy Central back in 2019, the second season continues to throw dart after dart at the celebrity/media complex and hit bull’s-eyes every single time. Series co-creators and former Saturday Night Live head writers Chris Kelly and Sarah Schneider, along with their fellow writers, sling jokes about streaming infotainment shows, Hillsong Church, Cameo, the never-ending absurdity of daytime talk, and the idea that everyone in the biz needs to be a “multi-hyphenate” now. There’s even a swipe at the TV-blogging game: “The A.V. Club wants me to start recapping old episodes of The West Wing,” Jess (Gideon Glick) tells his boyfriend Cary (Drew Tarver), one of the show’s main characters. “Why?” Cary asks. Reader, I felt every part of that exchange, in every bone in my body.

As an entertainment-industry satire with a smartly trained eye for absurdity and a high joke-per-minute ratio, The Other Two is on par with 30 Rock. With its second season rolling out in two-episode-per-week batches on HBO Max rather than Comedy Central, starting today, here’s hoping this series will finally get what Cary and his sister Brooke (Heléne Yorke) are also craving: more people paying attention to it.

In the first season of this series, Cary and Brooke were struggling to achieve a basic modicum of success while living in the shadow of their younger brother, Chase (Case Walker), a.k.a. Chase Dreams, who Biebered his way into teen-pop superstardom. In season two, while Chase is trying to get back on the pop-star track after an extremely brief stint at NYU, it’s the matriarch of the family, Pat Dubek (Molly Shannon), who has become its brightest star as host of an affirming daytime talk show.

Fans of Pat! The Pat Dubek Show worship Pat and her wall-to-wall feel-good segments, which don’t have to make sense as long as they’re oozing with positivity. When Pat introduces what is supposed to be an interview with Big Bang Theory star (and now Jeopardy! host, kinda?) Mayim Bialik, the guest turns out to be a Mayim Bialik look-alike who works at Duane Reade and was booked in error. Pat still interviews the woman anyway: “You do know who Mayim Bialik is? She’s so cute on that show.”

Cary, an aspiring actor, and Brooke, who wound up co-managing Chase’s career in season one, are doing a teensy bit better for themselves in these new episodes — critics were given six of the ten — but both are still relatively minor planets in the Dubek solar system. Even the titles of the episodes highlight Chase or Pat — “Chase Guest-Edits Vogue,” “Pat Becomes #1 in Daytime” — even though Brooke and Cary are the ostensible protagonists.

Though he really wants to be an actor, Cary’s agent keeps booking him as the host of random streaming infotainment mini-shows like The Gay Minute on HuffPoLive, sponsored by Advil, where every news item is about Laura Dern. But he’s persistent about wanting to take a shot at one of the many, many television series that are constantly being green-lit into production. “It’s statistically impossible for me not to be on one,” Cary complains. “I just saw my upstairs neighbor, who’s a shut-in, on Ozark.”

Brooke wants to break out on her own as a manager but eventually settles for steering the day-to-day for her mom and her brother, a status that makes Streeter (Ken Marino), Chase’s co-manager and Pat’s boyfriend, extremely insecure. Brooke’s job is overwhelming, too. When she finally gets an opportunity to go to a swanky party — specifically, a Vogue-sponsored industry-insider reveal of a third Hadid whose “features hadn’t settled in until now” — she can’t even slide inside because she’s stuck on a conference call trying to decide the name of a Pat! digital aftershow that’s sponsored by Chex Mix.

Even the Ps who qualify for VI status have downsides to their jobs. There’s a very funny bit in episode two where Pat, having stayed after a taping for hours to greet fans, gets in the car that’s supposed to take her home. The vehicle moves two feet, stops, and lets her back out again because it’s already time for her to go into makeup for the next afternoon’s show.

As cynical as The Other Two is with regard to the entire pop-culture-generating machine, the show never punches aggressively down. The most pointed episode is “Chase Gets Baptized,” which finds Chase joining the Christsong Church and being christened in the swimming pool of Soho House by a pastor who bears a striking resemblance to the disgraced Hillsong pastor Carl Lentz, who baptized Justin Bieber. After realizing that joining the church could boost their careers, Cary and Brooke immediately jump in the Jesus pool, only to realize later that the church is anti-gay and sexist. Instead of immediately denouncing it, though, Cary and Brooke spend much of the episode trying to find a gay man and a woman, respectively, who will give them “permission” to stay and reap the professional benefits.

That episode is emblematic of The Other Two’s approach to satire: It’s merciless and biting about the entertainment ecosystem and lets the Dubeks skate all the way up to succumbing to the dark side. But ultimately, Cary and Brooke — and Pat and Chase, too — have some measure of integrity that they cannot compromise, affording the series just enough sweetness to balance the sour.

A huge dose of the show’s sweetness comes from Shannon, playing a mother here who may be the diametrical opposite of the mom she portrayed recently on The White Lotus. Pat is a nurturer down to her core, and now that her children are grown, she’s made it her mission to nurture the entire world via her talk show.

A lesser actor might play Pat’s eagerness to please and her goofy platitudes as something fake. But Shannon invests fully in the sincerity of Pat’s niceness, instead of hinting at the idea that Pat might be a fraud. She’s not. She’s the real deal, and when she spouts one of her catchphrases, which her audience repeats in unison — “Give yourself a pat on the back,” they shout, while doing exactly that — she really means it.

But like everyone in The Other Two universe, Pat’s constantly being asked to cut authenticity corners. During a commercial break, Brooke tells her mom that she needs to start posting what she makes for dinner on her social-media accounts. On Friday night, she’ll make chicken paillard for the whole family.

“Oh, that’ll be fun,” Pat says.

Then Brooke explains that she’s not really going to do it because she has an important dinner on Friday night with the team from Crest. “Just hold this,” Brooke says while another assistant hands Pat a plate of prepared chicken paillard, “and smile.”

And so Pat does what any professional in this business would do: She holds the dinner she didn’t actually make, and she smiles brightly for the camera.

Please Pay Attention to The Other Two