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How 'The Other Two' became a breakout comedy hit of 2021

In its second season, the HBO Max comedy was the show no one could stop talking about.

Sometimes when a show premieres, that inaugural season goes viral — becoming a hit right out of the gate. Take "Mare of Easttown" or "Hacks" for instance, two very different series, but each receiving their fair share of accolades early on. For others (think "Schitt's Creek") it can be a slow burn, and takes a little bit of time for the public to catch on and fall in love.

This is exactly what happened with "The Other Two."

The show's first season aired on Comedy Central in 2019, and its second season on HBO Max was almost finished when references flooded my social feeds. So I started from the beginning, instantly falling in love. I wasn't the only one.

"It definitely feels — in a really lovely way — like it's getting back to me more," co-creator Sarah Schneider told TODAY via Zoom on the show finding more popularity during its second season. "I have friends from high school and friends from previous stages of my life reaching out, which didn't really happen with the first season. There's been a difference this time around."

Following an overnight tween pop star fashioned after Justin Bieber, the show centers on ChaseDreams' two much older siblings — Brooke and Cary Dubek — who both just don't have their s--- together. Their mom is played by the iconic Molly Shannon, who is portraying a sort of Kate Gosselin-type, only much more lovable and weird.

 Molly Shannon and Case Walker.
Molly Shannon and Case Walker.HBO MAX

“We wanted there to be these big jokes, big characters, big moves and live in this pop culture world but then we wanted to care about the characters. So for that reason, we think of this as a family show,” co-creator Chris Kelly told TODAY. “We think of their relationships to each other and specifically Brooke and Cary’s friendship is what grounds the entire show. That was our intention.”

Brooke — played by Heléne Yorke — starts off as a failing real estate agent who has to sleep in the listed apartments she is supposed to be showing. Then there's her brother Cary — played by Drew Tarver — who begins as an out-of-work actor who also happens to be gay. But as the series continues, both siblings start to monopolize — willingly and reluctantly — off their younger brother's success and his burgeoning career. Brooke becomes his manager, and Cary begins to take acting gigs.

"That's the fun thing about the season, right? They start to have some success, but don't see it as successes because they keep moving the goalposts for themselves," Yorke told TODAY. "You have this goal in mind, you get there but then there's always this other place to make it to. We all basically suffer from that in a lot of ways, to continually think of your life in this way where once you get something, you make a new shooting star for yourself. That is a universal theme we all can relate to."

Heléne Yorke as Brooke Dubek.
Heléne Yorke as Brooke Dubek.HBO MAX

“It’s also fun to surprise yourself at what you're good at, and I think that’s what happens to Brooke in season two, realizing how capable she is,” Yorke added. “I think you know we all have this impression that everybody is so good at everything they do but you get to that place and you’re like, ‘Wait ... I could do this. If that person can do it, so can I.” 

Yorke's character, Brooke, accepts this much earlier than Tarver's character, Drew, who is much more resistant to the idea of profiting off his brother's overnight viral fame. Maybe this is because he takes himself seriously as an actor or because he's still accepting himself for who he is.

"When you want to be an actor or do comedy or get attention, you throw yourself at it and then sometimes when you get it, you’re like, 'Oh, wait, hold on. People know me. This is stressful,'" Tarver told TODAY. "When people actually start knowing the family and recognizing Cary on the street, I think he’s trying to dig his heels in a little bit and slow it down because it feels out of control. But Brooke is like, 'Hey, you have to let this stuff in. You have to ride this wave,' and I think it’s tougher for Cary to accept that."

Cary starts to be accepted and celebrated for who he is — the older gay brother of ChaseDreams — but maybe he's not actually OK with that to begin with, hence why he feels more comfortable acting as someone else. But here, the public is actually loving him for him, but does he actually love him for him?

The hilarious Wanda Sykes also stars.
The hilarious Wanda Sykes also stars.HBO MAX

"Yes. He definitely is dealing with a little bit of self-hate throughout both seasons," Tarver said when asked about this. "He's definitely falling for people who are unavailable ... hooking up with his 'straight' roommate. Then when people accept him for who he is, he doesn't have a ton of love for himself, so it makes him uncomfortable. He's publicly trying to clunkily accept himself as he moves forward, in front of strangers."

Part of the writing here that is so groundbreaking is the queerness of Cary that seems especially realized and not like something we see much of on TV.

“There are a lot of gay characters on TV, so sometimes you would approach it by saying, 'What is something we haven’t seen in other gay characters on TV?'" Kelly, who is gay, said. "In the writers' room we would talk about the real experiences we’ve had that are funny or f---ed up or feel relatable but not like the first thing you’ve seen on one thousand other shows. So that was fun to go into and to tell more stories that maybe you've seen before but with like a gay angle. Like the butthole episode."

Drew Tarver as Cary Dubek.
Drew Tarver as Cary Dubek.HBO MAX

Kelly is referring to an episode when Cary takes an extremely personal nude selfie and texts it to someone, not realizing the photo is live and his face is visible in a frame of it. The photo goes viral, partially because he's already slightly famous himself. From their hilarity and chaos ensues. (The episode may be one of the funniest — and gayest — television episodes ever.)

"The more people are aware of him, getting humiliated stings a little harder," Tarver said. "But I like how the show deals with elements of fame. Can you be un-famous? Can you put the toothpaste back in the tube if you don’t have yourself figured out enough?"

Brooke seems to be much more OK with being perceived exactly as who she is, and this inspires a fearlessness in her that ultimately sets her up for more success earlier on in the series. This may be because of her chutzpah; writer Matt Rogers used the term "strong but wrong" to describe Brooke. "She goes after everything with full gusto, but usually f---s it up." 

"She enters situations confidently even if she's faking it," Kelly said. "She's scrappy, she'll lie, she'll sneak her way in, she'll go behind a red carpet. She's going to get what she wants by any means necessary, which is sort of what's maybe not great about her at all times. She definitely does things that aren't 'right,' but these things are what make her a good manager. She's just a fun character to write for. You can say what you wish you would but then you would never."

Tarver and Yorke in the "butthole episode."
Tarver and Yorke in the "butthole episode."HBO MAX

"She has a way of articulating frustrations that's very refreshing," Yorke said. "She's not just holding it in. For comedy's sake, she is saying things out loud that maybe you would just think."

And in many ways, Yorke can relate to the "imposter syndrome" her character at times experiences. "When you think of fame you think everything’s so fancy when you’re really just scouring craft services and figuring out what’s for lunch," she said. "It’s not as glamorous as it’s all cracked up to be. (The writers) strike that in a really funny way."

Part of that experience may be informed by the creators, who met while writing at “Saturday Night Live” a decade ago. They left together in 2017 after several successful seasons penning some of the best material to have come out of the iconic sketch comedy show in some time. But when they left 30 Rockefeller each night, no one was waiting for their autograph.

"I think it's just a lot about, like, whatever place you get to in your life, you always think it's gonna feel different than it does," Kelly said. "You look to people who no longer have to wait tables and are like 'God, when I don't have to wait tables anymore and I can make my full life in the entertainment industry, then I'll be a person like those people are.'"

"And then you get to those places and you look around and it doesn't feel like you thought it would. It's not as simple as being in a movie — actually, your life can still suck. It's more complicated than that. It's just interesting to get to certain benchmarks in your life that you would have always imagined as the mountaintop, and then being like, 'Oh, huh, I still don't have money. I'm still insecure.'"

Chris Kelly and Sarah Schneider.
Chris Kelly and Sarah Schneider.Greg Endries / HBO MAX

But this may be changing for the duo in real life.

When Schneider was shopping in a “random store” in upstate New York this past October, a scene from the show began loudly playing on her phone after someone tagged her in a post on Instagram.

A woman shopping next to her immediately recognized that sound bite was from “The Other Two,” and made sure to express her love for the series.

“I told her right away I was a creator,” Schneider explained. “I was just too excited. That never happened to me before.”