'The Other Two': TV Review

Your tolerance for the comedy of self-obsessed narcissism may vary.
1/24/2019

'Saturday Night Live' veterans Chris Kelly and Sarah Schneider bring a new comedy about fame and family to Comedy Central.

The story of a family of initially oblivious narcissists thrust into fame adjacency with little preparation, Comedy Central's The Other Two frequently feels like a fortune-reversed version of Pop's Schitt's Creek. The subjectivity of comedy being what it is, I can recognize that, very much as with Schitt's Creek, while the punchlines of The Other Two only erratically tickled my funny bone, there are things here that some viewers will find nonstop hilarious.

The Other Two hails from Chris Kelly and Sarah Schneider, who shared head-writer duties on the 42nd season of Saturday Night Live, also known as that season of SNL that everybody hailed as an election-fueled comeback and an Emmy-winning creative renaissance.

The title refers to siblings Cary (Drew Tarver) and Brooke (Helene Yorke). They've both spent years grinding in New York City trying to catch a break. He's a waiter and aspiring actor still desperately auditioning for roles as glamorous as "Man at Party Who Smells Fart." She's a former dancer working with limited motivation as a real estate agent and pondering her available aspirations. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, their 13-year-old brother, Chase (Case Walker), becomes a viral sensation with the hit single "Marry U at Recess" and moves to New York to become the next Justin Bieber. Their mother, Pat (Molly Shannon), is determined to milk Chase's fame for whatever it's worth, while Cary and Brooke are forced to deal with finding themselves proximate to a dream they've always chased, one that's now being lavished on an amiable kid who doesn't especially seem to care.

The show offers a so-so Las Vegas buffet of superficial laughs from the world of insta-celebrity where Chase, now dubbed ChaseDreams, finds himself. I don't think the series has much of depth to say about fame in 2019, but in terms of breadth it's hard to beat. From fake music videos and film premieres to appearances by real Fame Industrial Complex gadflies like Mario Lopez and Andy Cohen, The Other Two goes after some of the entertainment industry's hottest names and, periodically, picks on more obscure or semi-random targets like a running joke relating to interior design in Justin Theroux's Manhattan apartment. It's scattershot, but it proves how much you can get away with when you have pros like Ken Marino as Chase's name-forgetting manager, Wanda Sykes as Chase's publicist-or-something and Richard Kind as Cary's impressively bad agent.

The Other Two is a series that thinks its target audience possesses a boundless reservoir of pop cultural knowledge and yet requires nearly every joke to be repeated or explained so that they get it, not a combination that I especially love. One later episode, for example, includes a wonderfully detailed and specific Call Me by Your Name joke in which my laughter went from full-throated to muted when a character interrupted the gag to spell out the reference.

The repetition isn't always annoying. The Other Two actually does nicely layering callbacks throughout its 10-episode first season, things I probably wouldn't have noticed if I hadn't watched all 10 over less than 24 hours. Which means that even if I was frequently annoyed by the show's needless underlining or topping of its own jokes, there was enough I was enjoying to keep going along with the show, and enough that I was enjoying in the serialized story it was telling.

There's some very good character arcing with Brooke and Cary — not subtle, but good. Tarver, giving off the strongest of Young Jason Bateman vibes, has several of the show's more dead-ended jokes — gags relating to Cary's straight-but-maybe-gay roommate and his eager-to-seem-tolerant boss go nowhere — and also more amusing plotlines related to Cary's increasing desperation to get any sort of professional break, even at the expense of his own identity. Because Brooke's identity is less defined, at least initially, she goes the other way, and Yorke has fun introducing the character's negative traits and showing how some of them can be assets in the family's new sphere.

For me, the drama generated by these two characters was much more effective than the comedy, which falls into a vein of oblivious mortification and embarrassment that too often sells out more realistic character behavior. Brooke in particular swings wildly between two extremes — "Oh come on, that's too self-obsessed to be plausible" and "Oh, now you expect me to think she's a real person?" — with Yorke reconciling those extremes reasonably.

Kelly, the show's frequent director and co-writer with Schneider, knows Shannon's strengths and got one of her best performances in his feature Other People. He puts a lot of faith in her ability to swing between extremes, like the broad laughs that theoretically could accompany her character's wild evening on molly and then a climactic scene meant to sell almost all the show's emotional aspirations. If it works, it works because Shannon's versatility truly is a treat, and one that only a few directors have been able to tap. The creators get more conventional cameos out of SNL colleagues including Heidi Gardner, Beck Bennett and Michael Che.

Through my two-day binge of The Other Two, I was constantly aware that I wasn't finding it quite as funny as I wanted to and that other people were probably going to find it much funnier than I did. It's a feeling accompanied by no animosity — there are a lot of subpar CBS sitcoms that I'm sure somebody finds funny that engender no such warmth — and it's very similar to what I feel when I watch Schitt's Creek. The ideal audience might not exactly be me, but it's there.

Cast: Drew Tarver, Helene Yorke, Case Walker, Molly Shannon, Ken Marino
Creators: Chris Kelly and Sarah Schneider
Premieres: Thursday, 10:30 p.m. ET/PT (Comedy Central)