You are currently viewing Going to Eleven…and then Dialing it All Back: “The Other Two” series review

Going to Eleven…and then Dialing it All Back: “The Other Two” series review

Cary (Drew Tarver), the actor whose streaming TV-series breakout has put him on the radar for an Oscar campaign, unravels as he stalks his agent over the prestige project’s status. Brooke (Heléne Yorke), the manager of her relatively famous younger brother Chase (Case Walker) and mother Pat (Molly Shannon), has gone on a season-long quest to prove to the world she can be “good,” by doing various not-so-good things—and almost gets there before it all blows up in her face. “I’m an embarrassment to my family,” she says at one point. Brutal.

In the design of the season, this all makes sense. The Other Two is often brutal, and that’s what makes it great. The show has relentlessly, cleverly skewered the ambitions of the Hollywood-adjacent for three strong seasons, and this year played with the idea of Cary and Brooke finally approaching what they so desperately wanted. The series, which originally aired on Comedy Central before Max resurrected it for season two, changed shape as the two leads went from pathetic strivers to pathetic success stories, left to face who you are after you get the only thing you care about.

The problem—one magnified by the fresh revelation that Thursday’s finale is actually the series finale, and was written accordingly—is that the episode, titled “Brooke & Cary & Curtis & Lance,” lets Brooke and Cary off the hook too easily. It delivers a bizarrely earnest retreat from the scathing commentary that made much of the season so painfully, cynically effective.

Immediately after clicking play, something feels off. The runtime reveals itself at just under 45 minutes, a sign of streaming bloat that the show—run by Saturday Night Live veterans Chris Kelly and Sarah Schneider—had hitherto avoided. The opening scene is a tone-deaf flashback, in which Cary and Brooke cheerfully hang out with his friend Curtis (Brandon Scott Jones) and her boyfriend Lance (Josh Segerra), both of whom they’ve essentially lost in the present to their own ambitions. The messaging implies these were simpler times—a cheap shot of nostalgia.

The bulk of “Brooke & Cary & Curtis & Lance”—you can now gather the title’s significance—is divided into wrap-ups of the two siblings’ stories, beginning with Cary’s. His delusions around the amount of time he’s spent waiting for news on his Oscar-bait movie lead him to show up at his agent’s house in the Hamptons. She tells him it has been a day—not years—since they last spoke, and scolds him for criticizing her life away at the beach. She’s at her brother’s house, you see; her mother is sick, you see. Cary sobs in her bathroom after she lets him in to stay for the night, appalled by his own behavior. It’s a powerful moment of reckoning. But then things get slippery. The next day, Cary shows up at a house party Curtis is throwing nearby and apologizes profusely for his awful behavior over the past season (to say Cary has treated Curtis and friends terribly is an understatement). “It’s fully killing me,” Cary says of his ambitions. Curtis tearfully thanks him before saying he’s not ready to let Cary back into his social life yet. They share a few jokes that imply all will eventually be well between them.

Cary does the right thing over and over here. Before pleading forgiveness with Curtis, he tells his mother not to fund his Oscar movie, as he’d demanded of her just an episode prior. He gives up on the film altogether, in fact, and later hangs out with another group of gay men who happily take him in at their beach cookout. It’s all at striking odds from the character we’ve known for three seasons. There may have been a bit of rushing at play, knowing Kelly and Schneider were steering The Other Two to its end, but the abrupt shift betrays viewers’ investment in a character arc of selfishness and status obsession that’d always stayed humane and relatable in Tarver’s nuanced portrayal.

Brooke’s segment fares better, but grapples with similar issues. A few episodes earlier, in perhaps the season’s truest moment, she’d realized that leaving show business behind for a life of “doing good” was not reflective of her ambitions or personality. She accepted this, returning to her family’s side as their cunning manager and employing more questionable tactics in the process. The finale finds her on the verge of winning a Peabody Award for producing an entirely vacuous mental-health TV special—toplined by her famous brother—until the special gets called out online for its exploitative nature. It’s a fitting closing note for her storyline. But a nasty montage of journalists from The Atlantic and BuzzFeed determined to bring Brooke et al. down undercuts her culpability, and in turn the whole point. Brooke ultimately takes the fall for her family, a true good deed that brings Lance back into her life and a new starry client list into her orbit. Like Cary, she made the hard choice, and it paid off.

What’s missing in all of this is the fun. We can root for characters to grow, of course, and to be better than how we met them. Even if The Other Two spent 29 of its 30 episodes emphatically telling its audience this was not a show about growth—and to be clear, that’s what it had said—there’s a world in which kicking into a warmer new gear could feel earned. But this finale, with its sanded-off edges and neatly aligned epiphanies, is simply not what The Other Two had been before. I’ve seen the episode twice, and both times I was struck by its function as, seemingly intentionally, the least funny of the show’s entire run. For a sitcom that often felt like TV’s funniest, that’s a weird and dispiriting way to go out. There are still great jokes scattered around—when Cary learns Harry Styles wants to play his love interest in the Oscar movie, his agent explains, “He wants another stab at playing gay, he really thinks he can get it right this time!”—but without the foundation typically provided for the punchlines, they lack bite. They hint at the sharper, bolder, darker show that The Other Two was beforehand. May we still remember it that way.