Sun. Sep 20th, 2020

Hey, Emmys: Don’t Sleep on ‘The Other Two’

It was daring, I suppose.  While we were all nursing our holiday hangovers, withdrawing to our dungeons for the din of winter and committing to the idiocy of Dry January or Whole 30 (guilty and guilty!), Comedy Central released The Other Two – the best new show of the year – in the first month of 2019.

The Other Two follows the stunted adult siblings, Cary & Brooke Dubek (Drew Tarver and Heléne York), after their world is rocked by the sudden rise to fame of their much younger brother, Chase Dreams (Case Walker). Cary is a struggling gay actor in a, uhh, complicated relationship with his mostly-straight roommate, while Brooke, a former professional dancer is – how shall I put this? – not even reaching the lowest bar of her overall potential.

This magic trick of this show is that you watch it thinking you know what it’ll be: Mean-spirited about fame, Cary and Brooke will be resentful towards their marginally talented brother and yeah, it’ll probably be funny because Molly Shannon plays the zany Mom-ager who uses her iPad to take videos, but so what? We’re living in Peak-Golden Age-Meryl Streep is on Goddamn-TV Era TV – what else you got other than acerbic Millennials making fun of YouTube stars?

Turns out, quite a bit. By the end of the pilot all those assumptions are shattered, and I’m left wondering how I got so damn smug. Cary and Brooke are loving, doting siblings, whose suddenly fame-adjacency makes them re-examine their lives, their goals and relationships in ways that are both hilarious, and at times, incredibly moving. The great Molly Shannon might be hiding under a series of aggressive Coldwater Creek-style outfits and Kate Gosselin hair, but Dubek matriarch, Pat, is a ticking time bomb of repressed emotion mixed with maternal warmth, dutifully bestowed upon even her non-famous children.

None of this should be surprising, considering the show is the brainchild of Chris Kelly and Sarah Schneider, two of the sharpest, funniest people living on this planet. They are also two people who know how to wring all the humor out of the smaller, more ridiculous moments in this wild ride we call Life. Kelly & Schneider hit it big with “(Doin’ It On My) Twin Bed” video starring the ladies of SNL. The song is about the struggles of going to booty town (that’s doing sex, you guys) while back in your childhood home for the holidays. While the whole video is so absurdly, specifically funny, the part that sticks with me, is Aidy Bryant’s tangent about her mom getting a cough from friend/co-worker/nemesis, Jean. “Now it’s a whole thing with Jean” has actually been my religion since 2013.  

In addition to being one of the most joke-heavy shows on television, some episodes of The Other Two also doubled as one of our best dramas, complete with This Is Us-style cliffhangers. (I’d argue no show on television ended with a more “What’s going to happen next season!?!?” moment than The Other Two, but then I watched the season finale of Riverdale, because I’m only human.) We learn quickly that the Dubek family recently lost their dad, and the family – particularly, in denial Pat – is all dealing with that fallout in a variety of ways, some of which involve increasingly chunky turquoise jewelry. Oh, and just for kicks, there’s a mystery involving the father’s death that is played so perfectly, the absurdity of his death is also the emotional high-point of the season. This show has it all, y’all!

This will also be my bi-annual reminder for everyone to watch Chris Kelly’s beautiful, tragic, funny, brutally lived-in Other People. I’ve tweeted about this a lot, but this film contains one of my favorite movie scenes of all-time, in which Jesse Plemons has to explain to his friends (d’Arcy Carden & Brandon Scott Jones!) that his mom isn’t doing treatment anymore because there’s no more the doctors can do for her; that she is dying.  The specificity of the writing and acting in that moment is something you can only relate to if you’ve ever had a sick parent; it’s amazing. Finish reading this, vote for The Other Two and then watch Other People!

So, in addition to Best Comedy Series where else should Emmy voters place the superlative The Other Two on their ballot? (AwardsWatch’s editor-in-chief, Erik Anderson, has a great interview with songwriter Brett ‘Leland’ McLaughlin on the instantly iconic The Other Two songs you should check out). Let us count the ways:

Outstanding Actress in a Comedy Series – Heléne York (Brooke Dubek)

Brooke Dubek starts off the season of The Other Two, as a borderline homeless, who’s in an on-again, off-again relationship (played with lunkheaded sweetness by Josh Segarra), when she’s not sleeping with a truly awful flight attendant (Beck Bennett) at a motel by the airport. And that, dear readers, is the saddest sentence I’ve ever written! No job, no prospects, no ambition, but plenty of regret in a world where her professional dancing career stopped short at the age of thirteen. She’s eager to scheme and try different ways to cash-in on her brother’s internet fame, but not super eager to do much of any work. It comes as a surprise to everyone that it’s she – and not the more level-headed Cary – who eventually decides to use this lightning strike of fame as an opportunity to start a career for herself as Chase’s assistant. In the span of just a few episodes she goes from trying desperately to hustle a party (“In this climate!?!?”) to taking the reins on Chase’s first VMA performance. Sure, that ended in the very public discovery that Chase can’t actually, you know, sing, but she really is trying, and that’s what counts!  

In Heléne York’s supremely capable hands, Brooke’s journey is a thing of comedy gold. She manages to make Brooke’s ambition shocking to both her and the audience, while navigating the landmines (and eventual heartbreak) of her romance and mourning of her father for real emotional pay-off. This role, in short, announces York as a comedy powerhouse. If anyone is greenlighting a prequel Golden Girls series, you could cast her in any of the roles. A Sophia who is also a Blanche? I don’t know a better compliment.

Outstanding Actor in a Comedy Series – Drew Tarver (Cary Dubek)

One of the immediate delights of the first season of The Other Two is the seeming role-reversal which takes place between Brooke and Drew, upon Chase’s Gen Z skyrocket to whatever we’re currently calling fame (one of the built-in jokes of the series is that the target audience for it would have no idea who the real-life equivalent to Chase Dreams is). While Brooke’s first instinct is to ride this fame wave for all it’s worth, she quickly leverages it into a genuine career opportunity, seeing there is an expiration date on Chase’s type of stardom. Cary launched more fully into the spotlight by his brother’s song “Cary’s Gay (And That’s OK)”, almost immediately gets swallowed up in the make-believe world of internet fame.

While this gives Cary the self-esteem boost he needs to break-off his toxic relationship with his straight-adjacent roommate, he quickly gets sucked up and spit out (no pun intended) by the siren call of Instagays, Watch What Happens Live bartending gigs and Ryan Murphy casting sessions. In a universal call for help within the gay community, Cary gets frosted tips and a spray tan: Girl is struggling. This reaches a crescendo point when it wrecks his nascent relationship with Jeremy, a cute, normal Middle School principal (played with cute, normal precision by Daniel K. Isaac). Tarver plays it with the subtlety needed to make moments as complex as his break-up with Jeremy land; You feel bad for Cary, sure, but buddy, what are you doing? Jeremy run! (Sidenote: Jeremy’s reaction to the monster that Cary has become, living in Justin Theroux’s house, absorbed into Chase’s new, weird world, is one of the best audience surrogate moments of the year.)

When Cary realizes he’s turned into a living meme, the show recreates the final scene of Call Me By Your Name, and Tarver completely nails the inherent comedy in staring into a fire crying in a flock-of-seagulls haircut. He also nails the actual deep sadness of being 100% at fault of your relationship ending. It’s amazing. But above all else, Drew Tarver earned his Emmy nomination by making this face when his new Insta-gay friends suggested they take a funny group picture. I truly LOL’ed:

Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series – Molly Shannon (Pat Dubek)

Pat Dubek is a great character. Happy-go-lucky on the outside, but raging on the inside, there’s no problem she can’t fix with a hug and no emotion she can’t bury under another layer of embroidered denim jacket. Her married name may be slightly Slavic, but this is some high-level Irish-Catholic repression she’s dealing with.

What I love about Pat is there’s a darkness to her. She’s hiding the secret of her husband’s death from Chase (he dies drunk on the roof, penis frozen off, as we all will one day) and her drive for fame is palpable. When Chase, clearly not having any fun, nor the taste or talent for this new life, needs a break, she instantly advocates for her son. Up until the moment when Wanda Sykes informs her that Chase has the chance to perform at the VMAs. And somehow, even in that moment, Pat never really becomes a terrible stage mom. Yet, you also never really buy her “I’m just a mom from the Midwest!” schtick either. It’s a testament to Shannon’s seemingly endless reservoir of talent that Pat becomes something so much more. Like, you know, a real person. Or God forbid, a mom.

Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series – Wanda Sykes

Wanda Sykes’s Shuli Kucerac as a no-nonsense executive at Chase’s record firm is like a comedy wish come true if you only had the bravery to dream so big.  She goes through more emotions in “Chase Gets the Gays” over Chase gaining, losing and regaining the all-important gay audience than most characters have over the course of their entire series run. She’s a national goddamn treasure.

Outstanding Original Music and Lyrics – “My Brother’s Gay (And That’s Ok!”)

Brett McLaughlin’s sweet and silly ode, sung by Chase that thrusts Cary into the big gay spotlight, manages to be everything at once: a great bop, a spot-on teen dream single and one of the greatest ally songs ever written.

Outstanding Directing in a Comedy Series – “Chase Drops His First Album,” Directed by Chris Kelly

The season’s standout penultimate episode is “Chase Drops His First Album”, written by Schneider and Kelly, with Kelly pulling double-duty as director. It’s a bottle episode set entirely on a plane full of adoring Chase fans waiting for Chase’s album to drop on a livestream. As the plane, immobile, gets hotter and hotter, the real cause of death for Mr. Dubek keeps getting closer and closer to revealing itself. When it inevitably does, Shannon knocks it completely out of the park. But there’s so much more: Chase’s Doofus (or not-so-doofus, as we later find out) manager Streeter’s (the great Ken Marino) paranoia about being left out by the Dubeks reaches dizzying heights, the subtle divide between Cary and Brooke on how they feel about their father widens (who maybe wasn’t super supportive of Cary’s homosexuality), and the searing condemnation on the ridiculata of female pilots all get fair share. It’s a sublime episode of television thanks to Kelly’s tight, sure-footed direction (in many cases, literally, as several scenes take place in the airplane bathrooms as the family is having a literal meltdown), which wrings every ounce of comedy and pathos from a script that serves a season’s worth of development among our major players and performers acting at the peak of their powers.

Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series – “Chase Gets the Gays,” Written by Sarah Schneider and Chris Kelly

The episode submitted for Emmy contention, written by co-creators Schneider and Kelly is the fourth of the season, with Cary becoming a gay icon overnight thanks to his brother’s song, the aforementioned, “My Brother’s Gay (And That’s Ok!)”, and Brooke spending her first day as Chase’s assistant tracking down a dying fan. This episode is doing it all: Celebrity satire (“P!nk doesn’t do bad optics, she does near-constant aerial gymnastics.”), incredible one-liners (“That’s not how we talk out loud in the hospital.”), and physical comedy (Wanda Sykes knocking a champagne flute out of Hélene York’s hand is… chef’s kiss). There’s also real character development for Cary, as his “break-up” with his roommate is the kind of speech many of us have practiced in the mirror, but so few have actually delivered.

However, in the end, the reason for submitting this episode is the creation of Pitzi Pyle, an agent/cartoon character come to life, who meets with Cary to help him capitalize on his new found fame. The Pitzi scenes are written so fiercely and so confidently, that they are almost otherworldly.  And they are performed to absolute perfection by Kate Berlant, in what I would call the comedy performance of the year. Pitzi is life. Pitzi is death. Pitzi is everything.

Somehow, Kate Berlant isn’t on the ballot for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series, so I leave you with this. She is an icon. Vote for The Other Two.

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