Maybe the least surprising thing about writers in the entertainment industry is that they love to make TV shows about … the entertainment industry. Hacks, Reboot, Party Down, Barry, Curb Your Enthusiasm—you name it, and a semi-fictional depressed person in Hollywood is kvetching about it.
But despite the high caliber of all these series, none of them is so specific—and so mordant—about the vagaries of life on the fame treadmill as The Other Two, created by former Saturday Night Live head writers Chris Kelly and Sarah Schneider. The show, about a family obsessed with making it to the A list, became a cult hit in its first season on Comedy Central before going on to reach a wider audience when it made the jump to HBO Max in 2021. In its third installment, which premieres May 4, the satire is as sharp as ever—and the series is unafraid to take its characters into deep existential darkness.
Siblings Cary (Drew Tarver) and Brooke Dubek (Heléne Yorke) began the series as two thirtysomething New Yorkers stuck in a rut—Cary as an actor who can’t even land a commercial gig, and Brooke as a washed-up dancer who camps out in empty luxury apartments. But then their stage mom, Pat (Molly Shannon), strikes gold when her youngest son, Chase (Case Walker), becomes an overnight YouTube sensation à la Justin Bieber. Cue the elder Dubeks clinging to their tween brother’s coattails in a desperate bid for fame.
By the end of the second season, each of them has become famous in their own right: Chase as an influencer/heartthrob despite the world discovering he can’t actually sing; Pat as a talk-show host who’s Oprah-level famous; Brooke as a successful entertainment manager representing her mom and little bro; and Cary having finally booked his first major acting gig in a prestige drama film opposite Edie Falco and Beanie Feldstein.
You may ask yourself: If the characters in a show about fame-seeking have all become famous, where do we go from here? In the seven episodes of season three made available to critics, Kelly and Schneider use the Dubeks’ newfound status to explore the corrosive effect that wealth and celebrity have on the human soul. At times, it’s also experimental to the point of magical realism, with a party where industry outsiders are literally invisible, a Broadway play that becomes a kind of purgatory, and a lovingly detailed sendup of Pleasantville.
Thanks to a mixture of great writing and a versatile cast, The Other Two has always been genius at walking the line between comedy and pathos; and it’s never more on display this season, which is simultaneously laugh-out-loud funny and profoundly sad.
Of the titular other two, Brooke has always been a kind of terrible person, while Cary has been the one who’s easier to sympathize with. He’s so genuinely passionate about the craft of acting that he’ll endure any humiliation if it means getting a shot at doing something meaningful down the road, and his experience as a gay man navigating both the dating scene and the industry has been lauded as one of the most spot-on depictions of queerness on TV. (It helps that canny LGBTQ+ comedians like Cole Escola and Joel Kim Booster—not to mention Kelly himself—have made appearances in the writers’ room.)
Season three’s biggest gambit is tracing Cary’s fall from grace as he rises to stardom and becomes obsessed with chasing acclaim. He becomes so divorced from reality that he embarks on a relationship with a Method actor (Fin Argus) whose true self is obscured by whatever character he’s playing at a given moment. The Other Two isn’t afraid to turn Cary into an ugly human being, one who compromises his own principles and abuses the trust of his best friend Curtis (Brandon Scott Jones). Tarver is such a charming performer that it’s easy to root for him until it almost hurts. His arc is hard to watch and more brilliant for it.
Brooke’s plotline is less compelling, as she waffles between maintaining her cushy but meaningless life in the industry and making a career pivot to “doing good.” It’s all fueled by a resentment of her almost psychotically chill fiancé, Lance (the effortlessly charming Josh Segarra), who gave up fashion design to become a nurse during lockdown. Though we found ourselves as annoyed by her narcissistic indecision as her boss Shuli (Wanda Sykes), Yorke is a compelling enough performer to keep us interested in Brooke’s journey.
No one’s better at walking the line between comedy and drama than Molly Shannon, which has been apparent ever since she effortlessly made the jump from SNL to Mike White’s Year Of The Dog back in the 2000s. Season three sees Pat trapped in the most gilded of cages, so famous that she can’t leave her gigantic mansion without a 10-man security detail. The sadness in Shannon’s eyes when Pat begins to realize how screwed-up her kids have become thanks to her own machinations is enough to make you weep.
Meanwhile, poor Chase has basically become a human Ken doll for his team to play with as they figure out how to spin his image now that he’s turned 18—spearheaded by Chase’s sweaty manager Streeter, who’s also dating Pat. He’s played by the always brilliant Ken Marino, who we’re delighted to see back on our screens mere weeks after the latest season of Party Down wrapped. (For those who watch both, you’ll be unsurprised that, like Ron Donald, Streeter made some pretty desperate choices during the pandemic.)
Season three continues to serve up The Other Two’s patented biting one-liners, clever sight gags, and wild celebrity cameos. And if you’re drawn in by that carrot, be prepared for the stick: This batch of episodes isn’t an easy watch. But we’ll take daring character development over easy appeal any day of the week. It’s not just lonely at the top; it’s pitch-black.
The Other Two season 3 premieres May 4 on HBO Max.