The title and premise of The Other Two, Comedy Central’s new sitcom about the directionless adult siblings of a viral teen pop star, suggests an acidic satire of celebrity where the kid is a vapid jerk and his older brother and sister are justifiably resentful of his instant worldwide fame. But the show, from former SNL head writers Chris Kelly and Sarah Schneider, makes two very smart and unexpected choices early on, and it sticks to them. First, the kid, a 13-year-old calling himself ChaseDreams (Case Walker), is a bit dim, but he’s also so fundamentally nice and eager to please that no one who meets him could really hate him. Second, while sibs Cary (Drew Tarver) and Brooke (Heléne Yorke) are both envious of Chase’s success, particularly when contrasted against their own lives (Cary’s a struggling actor, Brooke a former dancer with no goal in life other than to “see 50 dicks this summer” after ending a frustrating long-term relationship), they also clearly love their little brother and are protective of him in the face of a showbiz industrial complex designed to chew up kids like Chase and spit them out.
The version where Chase is an entitled brat whom Cary and Brooke rightfully loathe could be funny, if it were only meant to fill up a C-story on an episode of 30 Rock. But it would burn out as quickly as everyone assumes Chase’s career will after he becomes famous for a song called “I Wanna Marry U At Recess.” This version, where he’s actually a sweet kid and the title characters are complicated and very human, seems built for the long haul. I liked the first season (it debuts Thursday; I’ve seen all 10 episodes) in large part because the characters improbably liked each other.
The early episodes lean a bit towards the more obvious take on the premise, with Cary and Brooke bewildered by Chase’s newfound popularity amid their own ongoing struggles. Not coincidentally, this is yet another Peak TV show that doesn’t get good till around the fourth episode. (Though it’s loosely serialized, you could jump in here and do fine.) Called “Chase Gets the Gays,” this installment turns on the idea that Chase’s new song about Cary — with lyrics like “I think it’s cool / my brother’s gay / and that’s OK! / The haters may hate / but I love how he’s gay!” — goes through an entire viral life cycle in the space of a few hours. It’s the show’s sharpest jab at the crossover between internet fame and the more traditional kind, as well as the episode where the older siblings, and Cary in particular, start to be taken more seriously. Some characters (notably the reliably amusing Ken Marino as Chase’s insecure manager) remain largely cartoonish, but still others who seem that way at first — such as the three siblings’ mom, Pat (Molly Shannon), who views Chase’s rocket to fame as part of her “year of yes” — turn out to be much more interesting as the story moves along. The older siblings take turns behaving absurdly or sincerely in the face of what Chase’s career has done to their lives in such short order; when one of them is told late in the season, “It feels like you a month ago would make fun of you now,” the insult stings because we’ve seen the clear downward trend that’s led to it.
As you might expect from the concept, there’s a lot of cringe humor, sometimes too much. (In those moments, I would pause the screener in hopes that when I hit play again, Cary or Brooke’s mortification would have already passed. Reader, it turns out that’s not how storytelling or technology work.) But Tarver and Yorke and the creative team turn the sibs into appealingly three-dimensional and vulnerable characters for whom we want good things, even when they’re giving into their worst impulses.
Comedy Central is pairing this debut season with the final one for Broad City in a familiar tactic of scheduling as torch-passing. There are some commonalities. Both are New York buddy comedies, for instance, and both feature a lot of explicit drug and sex humor. (Pat takes molly in one episode, and some of the series’ most cutting humor involves the specific challenges of being an openly gay actor in a business that’s less LGBTQ-friendly than it likes to think it is.) Both even feature Wanda Sykes in a recurring role; here, she plays the head of Chase’s PR team. Broad City was more explosively funny from the jump than The Other Two is, but there’s also a sense of invitation that both share. Even when Broad City has been less than inspired, it’s still a pleasure to spend 20-odd minutes in the company of Abbi and Ilana. And by the time I got to the end of The Other Two‘s first season, I just wanted to see what would happen next for this family of endearing misfits. If they all hated each other, the laughs might have come a bit faster at first, but I don’t imagine I’d have made it to the finish line the way I did with this surprisingly sweeter take on the idea.