How The Other Two Makes Us Question the Meaning of “Success”

Fashion

The Other Two, the hit HBO Max comedy series that concluded its long awaited second season on September 23, was recently renewed for its third, but co-creator Sarah Schneider admits she’s still riddled with self-doubt, despite the show’s passionate following. When asked if she feels the same sort of imposter syndrome as Brooke Dubek (Heléne Yorke), one of the titular “other two,” she’s perfectly blunt: “I’m a writer, does that answer your question? We live in a society where at any moment, you can go online and see how much better anyone else is doing than you.”

Created, written, and executive produced by Schneider and her former Saturday Night Live co-head writer Chris Kelly, The Other Two debuted in 2019 on Comedy Central, instantly becoming a critical success with a vivacious fanbase that embraced the show’s wildly specific cultural references, pointed satire of the entertainment industry, and winning combination of sincerity and chaos.

The series, now on HBO Max, centers around two certified millennials—they “looked it up, it’s 1982 and after”—struggling to become more than the familial cheering squad for their significantly more famous 13-year-old brother, Chase (Case Walker), and mother, Pat (Molly Shannon). Although the first season places Brooke and her brother, Cary (Drew Tarver), on the periphery of Chase after he scores Bieber status with the overnight viral bop “Marry U at Recess,” the second season positions the “other two” as champions of their mother’s rise to the queen of daytime talk shows. Yet they both yearn to create names for themselves in the entertainment world—Cary as an actor and Brooke as a music manager—without turning into the same sort of industry blowhards they swore they’d never become.

To better understand Brooke and Cary’s transition from fame-adjacent to sought-after professionals, I sat down with Schneider and Tarver to talk The Other Two‘s definition of success and morality—as well as what we can expect in season 3.

the other two

Greg Endries /HBO

Do you think Brooke and Cary get something out of being the underdogs? Do they revel in that failure a bit?

Tarver: I think they don’t realize that they’re addicted to the anxiety. Maybe they do need that struggle. A lot of the comedy comes from that struggle. It’s a question I’ve answered in therapy.

Schneider: Because they’ve been living in this reality for so long, it’s a part of how they identify themselves. They identify themselves as the underdogs; they identify themselves as these losers, even though Brooke would never say that out loud. So when Cary and Brooke start hearing from outside forces that they’re doing a little better than they think, it surprises them because, for so long, the “other two” has been their identity. It’s jarring to hear for the first time that someone sees you in a way you don’t see yourself.

Do you think either of them can be successful without external validation?

Schneider: Our show and their characters are so wrapped up in pop culture and the news cycle and social media; so much of what [Brooke and Cary] value in themselves is based on external forces. That’s sort of what our show is trying to comment on. Our characters and a lot of us now compare our success in terms of what other people are doing. Because everyone I’m seeing or everyone I’m following is doing so much better, they’re doing it faster, they’re doing it when they’re younger. So I do think so much of what [these characters] think is success is in the context of this larger world that they’re so ingrained in, which is a bummer.

How do you think romantic relationships figure into their ideas of success?

Tarver: I think, for Cary, because he came out later in life and he’s trying to zoom toward success as fast as he can, he’s like, If I have a boyfriend, I’m a success. I’ve figured out all my demons and I’m right on track with everyone else. And he’s figuring out that there’s a little bit more he needs to explore. He doesn’t know himself that well, and there’s still these demons inside of him that he needs to conquer before he can really be in a healthy relationship.

Schneider: I think, for Brooke, she’s learning that, as she gains more success in her career, relationships are falling by the wayside. Her struggle in season 2 is the fallout from professional success; her personal relationships don’t have a place in her life anymore when she’s working all the time. So that’s a brand new struggle for her that she’s having to face and a lot of us have faced when working in this industry.

the other two

Greg Endries /HBO

I’m curious what the conversations were like surrounding Cary and Brooke joining Christsong, a church that’s more of a Christianity-adjacent, celebrity-driven social club than an actual church.

Schneider: We obviously want Brooke and Cary to be likable at the end of the day, but we do like sending them down dark paths in the search of fulfillment, as long as those dark paths are coming from a place that’s grounded and are coming from a moral center.

The only reason they try to stay in this church is because Cary so desperately needs to have some step forward in his career. He’s so behind for the entire time we’ve known him, and Brooke is desperate to stay because she has no time for herself and no friends. So what they see and can gain from these things are relatable needs from deep within their bones, so even though they dance with the devil a little and toe the line of morality, they do end up pulling back right before they jump off the cliff entirely.

But we also like pitting them against Chase, who learns that this church is problematic and literally takes two seconds to absolutely disown and denounce the entire faith. We like that they have these flaws and these needs that Chase maybe doesn’t because he’s doing so well in so many aspects of this life.

Tarver: That’s such a funny thing where it takes them this whole episode to wise up and it takes Chase a second to grab a hot mic.

What, then, was the process like for developing Brooke and Cary’s moral compasses?

Schneider: Anything that these characters do, we want to feel a kernel of truth in it and like we could see ourselves doing it or entertaining the idea of it if we had no inhibitions and there was going to be no fallout or social ramifications.

Tarver: It’s almost like that thing in a horror movie where you’re like, I’d never have gone in that room, but it’s the comedy version of that. But it’s so cool how Chris and Sarah do such a great job of slowly revving these characters up where you would buy that they’d go to that or do that because they’re so desperate in that moment.

What do you actually see as Brooke’s primary motivation? Is it purely validation?

Schneider: In the first season, when we meet her, she’s sort of floundering, but by the end of the first season, she’s asked to be her brother’s manager and finds that she’s good at it. She’s a hustler, she knows the world, she knows what’s cool. So in this season, when Chase retires and goes to college, she’s eager to hold on to that because she finally did find a place for herself in the world. And so she’s frantic to not only keep that job and find clients, but to prove herself as real, as legitimate.

I have to know why Brooke’s so obsessed with getting Alessia Cara as a client.

Schneider: We really just love her and, on a much smaller note, we really liked [how her name sounded] over and over again. It just sounded so lofty and ridiculous. When we blocked the scene where she finally meets her, we had Brooke sitting on the ground looking up at her to represent her feelings of inferiority and then, as they’re talking, they get on the same plane and are sitting face to face. We liked showing that she has now reached the level that she’s been aspiring to and pretending to be for the whole season.

Finally, do you have any sense of where season 3 will take us?

Schneider: All we really know is that we don’t want to pick up the show in real time and have our characters live through the pandemic. We left our characters after all their grievances have been aired and everything is out on the table. Everyone’s wants are known. So it’ll be interesting to see what happens from here. I keep saying, “It’ll be interesting to see what happens!” for a show where I have to decide what happens. [Laughs]

This interview was conducted over two separate conversations and has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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