Becoming famous is allegedly easier than it’s ever been. Any kid with a smartphone can do it, right? It just requires charm, gumption, and perhaps the right hashtag. Maybe enough money to quit your day job and post every day. Also — and this is optional, I guess — moving into a collab house? But again: It’s so easy that someone who isn’t trying very hard can seemingly become an overnight success, stunning their friends and family in the process. So why is it so hard for The Other Two’s Brooke and Cary Dubek, adult siblings to teen pop-star brother Chase Dreams, to get anywhere near that fame? Like a lot of people who feel entitled to success that eludes them, the most obvious answer is also the one they refuse to consider: Maybe it’s because they suck.
Fortunately, hubris makes for excellent comedy, and it takes a very special kind of hubris to pursue fame in the 2020s, where it seems tantalizingly close and maddeningly distant at the same time. Through the increasingly desperate travails of Brooke (Heléne Yorke) and Cary (Drew Tarver), HBO Max’s series The Other Two surveys the ways modern fame is pursued and denied. Its target audience is anyone who has gasped or chortled at a TMZ headline, who follows celebrities on Instagram, or who wonders, however briefly, whether it’s possible to retire off TikTok money.
The show relishes both broad cringe comedy stemming from Brooke or Cary posturing as bigger deals than they actually are — the former assumes a quick portrait photo is actually a multi-hour fashion shoot, the latter opens up a Cameo account and promptly gets too chummy with fans who aren’t actually that into him — and highly specific jokes that require a bit more celebrity-gossip literacy. Episodes include jokes about a reveal party for a new Hadid sibling, prominently feature a character who is clearly an analogue for Justin Bieber’s former celebrity pastor Carl Lentz, and feature a meeting with ChristSong, a ridiculously hip church where it’s possible to meet the producer of a Riverdale spin-off about Goldilocks. (Yes, the fairy-tale one who met the three bears.)
Created by former Saturday Night Live writers Chris Kelly and Sarah Schnieder, The Other Two’s 10-episode first season aired on Comedy Central at the tail end of 2018, a little-watched cult classic that bolstered sharp jokes with excellent turns from actors like Ken Marino (Party Down, Agent Carter) as the spacey manager Streeter Peters, and Molly Shannon (The White Lotus, Promising Young Woman) as sweet stage mom Pat Dubek. Nearly three years later, the series has been revived as an HBO Max original, the only real differences being Chase Dreams’ postpubescence, and the number of swear words per episode.
In its new season, The Other Two doesn’t just lambast celebrity culture. At its heart, it’s mostly a family comedy about desperate social climbers who could be happy if they learned how to be happy for others. Cary, whose dating foibles characterized much of season 1, is now in a relationship he’s terrified of. Brooke, whose aimlessness colored her arc last season, now has a potential career as a manager in front of her, but refuses to embrace it because she’s worried about being pigeonholed. The Dubek siblings’ constant jockeying for attention is contrasted with the sweetness of their actually famous brother, who just wants to make music, in spite of the mania that naturally follows him as a teen pop star. Similarly, their mother Pat has been nothing but supportive of her children, and has improbably been rewarded with a daytime talk show where she’s getting famous just by being supportive on national television.
Cary and Brooke refuse to internalize this, of course — if they didn’t, The Other Two wouldn’t be much of a comedy. Some things about chasing fame always remain the same, after all — like the thin line between determination and self-delusion that comes with ambition. Cary and Brooke firmly fall on the latter end of that continuum, but in 2021, it isn’t impossible to empathize with them.
Wanting to be famous in the age of influencers doesn’t have to be about pure ego. It’s also the only conceivable way to obtain the largesse some members of the previous generation were able to enjoy without much thought. In the ashes of the current generation’s present and future, the bill for past excess is coming due, and a way out seems to sit on every smartphone. Underneath the self-absorbed desperation of Cary and Brooke’s quest for fame is something extremely recognizable: The fear that if this doesn’t work out, there might be nothing else for them, no other way to find meaning, purpose or security.
In the show’s warmer moments, the Dubeks are pushed beyond their shallow impulses toward more meaningful connections with each other and their work. In its darker ones, fame and wealth are golden parachutes to save them from a life that will otherwise be miserable, down here with the rest of us folk. After all, getting famous is so easy, your little brother could do it. There’s no way you could suck at it. Right?
The Other Two is now streaming on HBO Max, with new episodes on Thursdays.