The Other Two is a comedy series so densely funny that even its throwaway jokes deserve to be kept. Provided, of course, that you and the show share a core set of references and vibrate at the same frequency.
How will you know if The Other Two is for you? I’ve selected two of those aforementioned throwaway gags, so you can take the test at home:
One character mentions the name “Justin Theroux,” causing another character to suddenly exclaim, with rapt delight, “LEGO NINJAGO??!!“; the scene progresses.
There. Did that … do anything for you? Did it, say, cause you to bark-laugh like an idiot, as it did me?
How about this: When asked what her latest book is about, a children’s picture-book author begins her explanation, “Well, it’s seven thick pages …”
Anything? No? Just me?
What if I told you that said children’s book author was played by the great and good Molly Shannon? Would that sweeten the pot? A pot already teeming with cameos from Saturday Night Live cast members and writers (Beck Bennett, Heidi Gardner, Julio Torres), comedy ringers (Ken Marino, Jackie Hoffman, Kate Berlant, Wanda Sykes, Richard Kind) and queer up-and-comers (Josie Totah, Jimmy Fowlie)?
Well then let’s talk plot: The Other Two, produced by Lorne Michaels and created by former SNL head writers Chris Kelly and Sarah Schneider, is about Brooke (Heléne Yorke) and Cary (Drew Tarver), two siblings in their twenties trying to get by in New York City.
Stop, wait, come back!
If that part of the setup seems overfamiliar, The Other Two keeps making choices that defy expectations — especially if one of things you’re expecting is the caustic tone to which similar sitcoms default. True, Brooke is headstrong, and a bit too convinced of her own fabulousness. And true, Cary is a struggling actor forever straddling the line between self-deprecation and self-pity. On their own, either character can start to test the viewer’s patience. But in the many scenes they share, the actors find an easy, unforced chemistry marked by mutual, unshowy affection and a warm sense of humor.
The conceit of the show — that their 13-year-old brother Chase (Case Walker) becomes an overnight pop star, causing the directionless Brooke and Cary to get caught up in his sudden fame — seems like a set-up for a lot of cheap jokes about the Internet, pop music, and the ephemeral nature of success. There’s some of that, to be sure. Mostly though, the jokes that grow out of Chase’s music career don’t feel like the products of the kind of L.A. writers’ room fueled by scorn for millennial culture. The show has an assured, unsweaty handle on the thing its making fun of, so even their broadest swipes find something specific — and funny.
It’s a big deal, for example, that the show depicts young Chase as a sweet kid who, while caught up in extraordinary events, never wavers in his affection for — his need for — his family. And that while both Brooke and Cary often find themselves absorbed by the glamorous selfishness of show business, they snap back to their better selves whenever they perceive anything that might threaten their kid brother.
There’s also something quietly revelatory about the matter-of-fact way the show treats Cary’s gayness as a facet of his character that impacts everything in his life. The show’s hilariously on-point about the stream of tiny, everyday negotiations queer people make as they move through the world. Cary struggles with a director’s request to play a character “less gay.” The boss at the restaurant where he waits tables keeps cornering him to talk about gay movies. Cary and a potential romantic partner (Daniel K. Isaac) sound each other out over dinner as they work out the, uh, logistics of their imminent sexual encounter. Cary’s imminent shirtless appearance on a TV show inspires a round of body shame, and he falls too-willingly under the siren-like temptation of a brace of gorgeous but tiresome Instagram Gays. And when Chase releases a song about how much he loves his gay brother, Cary’s hilarious panic exposes his internalized homophobia in a way the show wisely grapples with, over the course of these 10 episodes.
With its mix of broad comic moments (many provided by Ken Marino as Chase’s almost unbelievably dumb manager), strong, believable sibling connections and even a central mystery over the fate of their father, The Other Two is doing a lot of things at once. And if it takes a few episodes for the series to settle on a tone that’s nimble enough to encompass both its over-the-top elements and its warm, intimate humor, Kelly and Schneider happily keep the jokes –both the big alley-oop gags and the under-the-breath throwaway asides — coming. Along the way, it allows Brooke and Cary to start assuming greater control of their lives, such that their initial childlike selfishness softens and deepens, steadily if incrementally, into something approaching maturity.
Which makes The Other Two that rarest of sitcoms: one smart enough to realize that while emotionally stunted characters can be funny, it’s the humor of stasis — they’re always funny in the same way. Emotional growth, on the other hand, especially when its marked by fitful, unsteady, flailing attempts to risk something, to do better, offers more opportunities for laughs that come from a place of recognition, and empathy.
The Other Two premieres Thursday at 10:30pm Eastern Time on Comedy Central.