One thing HBO Max’s “The Other Two” understands more than any show on TV right now is there’s nothing quite so destabilizing as comparing yourself to other people. Siblings Brooke (Heléne Yorke) and Cary Dubek (Drew Tarver) have come a long way since their teen brother Chase (Case Walker) became an overnight sensation under the moniker ChaseDreams. However, they still can’t avoid the pitfalls of comparing their progress against relatives, friends, acquaintances, and strangers. It has been nearly two years since Season 2 climaxed with a pitch-perfect pandemic joke, and the comedy from former “Saturday Night Live” head writers Chris Kelly and Sarah Schneider still hits in all the right spots.
In typical “The Other Two” fashion, Cary’s big break landing the third lead in the movie “Night Nurse” is immediately overshadowed by the reveal that it is March 2020. Even when Cary gets a big win, there are caveats, and when Season 3 begins, the timeline has caught up to 2023. Kelly and Schneider don’t ignore what occurred during those years. For Brooke, this time underpins her existential crisis about working in “the industry.” Cary’s momentum has stalled as “Night Nurse” had the most delays out of any movie shot during COVID-19, and it is only just seeing the light of day. Even watching his big debut hits some snags, and “The Other Two” has not lost any of its bite—or wit—in the first seven episodes (out of 10).
The jokes-per-minute ratio still rivals a sitcom like “30 Rock,” and references cover everything from ‘90s movies to being very online. Even if you don’t get every single nod or homage, there is plenty to laugh at, as the delivery ensures that even the more inside baseball dialogue is funny. Characters like Streeter (Ken Marino) are oblivious, adding to the set-up. The dysfunctional dynamics also haven’t lost their heart, and no matter how tone-deaf the characters are (Brooke and Cary can be very tone-deaf), they are not truly monstrous in their actions. Situations escalate to new surreal heights thanks to the siblings’ increasingly desperate moves, but it is always grounded in relatable emotions like jealousy and shame.
It wouldn’t be “The Other Two” if Brooke and Cary didn’t have a laundry list of concerns about their careers. Brooke worries that she is the only person who hasn’t become a better person during the pandemic. She is fixated on the concept of “doing good” and how this is at odds with being a talent manager. It took so long for Brooke to get what she wanted, and now she is caught in a cycle of self-doubt and self-loathing. Self-sabotage is rife, and her relationship with Lance (Josh Segarra) suffers as she cycles through various half-hearted attempts at a new career.
Doing the bare minimum is a Brooke signature. One area she will put maximum effort into is her closet, and costume designer Jill Bream briefly turns to a political figure for a new Brooke aesthetic. Details like this add to “The Other Two’s” rich tapestry and observational humor strengths—Cary’s red carpet look later in the season highlights his performative activism.
Brooke’s inner conflict about her career is not something she keeps secret, and this character could quickly become insufferable the more she obsesses. Thankfully, Yorke’s performance and Kelly and Schneider’s scripts walk a tightrope, doubling down on her ignorance and highlighting an emotional vulnerability. Brooke’s entertainment industry conundrum is a driving force behind her wild swings. This leads to heightened moments leaning into how working in the entertainment biz is extremely silly. However, it isn’t only poking fun at the lengths publications go to for an exclusive or maintaining a brand, as figures like the no-nonsense Shuli (Wanda Sykes) are on hand to offer a reminder that beneath all the artifice and toxicity is a job that some people take seriously—and are very good at. Rather than punching down, the creators manage to reflect on the absurdity and why so many are drawn to the roller coaster emotions of working in showbiz.
Brooke and Cary alternate between who is the most desperate (often, they are neck-and-neck), and whereas Brooke insists she wants out, Cary is looking to capitalize on “Night Nurse’s” release. His dating life picks up, but even that has a hilarious caveat that I won’t spoil here. A recurring gag about Cary’s new boyfriend is a joke turducken that hits on many pop culture and discourse references with wit, charm, and honesty—right down to pixelated body parts. And if you think Cary will do anything to get a role, wait and see what he is willing to do to get laid. One drawback is there isn’t too much sibling one-on-one time earlier in the season. Tarver and Yorke’s effortlessness is one reason why it is noticeable when their paths don’t cross too often—and why it is a relief when they finally do.
The siblings do share an innate ability to push those who are their biggest cheerleaders away. Cary’s bestie Curtis (Brandon Scott Jones) spilled some home truths last season when he told a despondent Cary, “It probably does feel like you are at zero sometimes because you keep moving the goalposts for yourself.” This was after Cary had another setback, and he reverted to this position in Season 3. It is a relatable conversation (whether you dream of being an actor or not), and beneath the endless jokes are nuggets of wisdom. Curtis is Cary’s no-BS friend but even has his limits. Jones is excellent in the CBS sitcom “Ghosts” and steals every moment as the increasingly frustrated—you will find yourself nodding to his justified annoyance. The same can be said for Segarra as the permanently optimistic (often shirtless) Lance, but the Dubek siblings don’t know a good thing until they’ve alienated it. Curtis and Lance are hilarious in their own right and as emotional anchors elevating the stakes.
Meanwhile, mom Pat’s (Molly Shannon) daytime TV empire has grown beyond their wildest dreams, and the tables have turned with how empty her schedule has become. Everyone is at a transitional stage, and Chase turning 18 also puts him at a crossroads. It gives “The Other Two” a stage to showcase how weird it is when a teen star becomes an adult, and you will never look at an armpit in the same way after the second episode.
It is the mix of heightened antics like Brooke’s road trip or Cary’s time on a procedural TV set that this show could dive too far into ridiculous territory. But even when it is at its most out there—such as when it riffs on a ‘90s movie I adore—it is grounded in either humor or heart. Returning guest stars like Kate Berlant and Jimmy Fowlie as Instagay Cameron Colby and new faces to this world like Simu Liu, Ann Dowd, Dana Delany, Kiernan Shipka, Lukas Gage, and Dylan O’Brien further add to these moments. In some cases, they make it more authentic; in others, they crank up the farcical tone.
Nothing is sacred in this fame-driven environment, and Kelly and Schneider are equally at home riffing on Broadway as they are on viral trends. The fifth episode heads to the theater with a production of “8 Gay Men with AIDS” that acts as a backdrop for the bubbling tension—and also offers commentary on how audiences engage with works of art like this. Cary also finds himself caught up in cultural discourse stemming from an “unapologetically gay” scene that is “The Other Two” at its funniest and most insightful.
By the halfway point, this comedy has already mined the post-lockdown world, particularly regarding the Zoom auditions that sprung up as an alternative to in-person. While Season 2 ended with a solid COVID joke, there are maybe a few too many references in the first half of the season—though it would make zero sense if they ignored the pandemic.
This topic does get a little repetitive, but it is the catalyst for Brooke’s inertia and Cary’s career blues, and the cloud that hangs over these characters can’t stop them from still wanting to be seen by an industry that blows hot and cold. Some big swings set up an emotionally charged second half of the season, showcasing how inventive and insightful the writing and performances are. These siblings still care what other people think, and while the success they crave still eludes them, “The Other Two” continues to fire on all cylinders. [A-]
“The Other Two” Season 3 debuts on HBO Max on May 4.