Typically, TV shows trying to replicate viral fame is more cringe-inducing than truly funny. The internet’s rapidly shifting whims make guessing the next big thing near impossible, and trying to make already hyperbolic situations even more exaggerated for comedic effect tend to result in flat parodies that only highlight how tricky and unpredictable viral fame truly is.
This challenge, luckily, is one that “The Other Two” recognizes and actively fights to overcome. Co-created by former “Saturday Night Live” head writers Chris Kelly and Sarah Schneider, the comedy is smart about its focus and targets. So while its premise of a 13 year-old boy gaining Justin Bieber style fame overnight might sound a little dated on the face of it, Comedy Central’s new show keeps itself timely by not relying on clichés to sell the absurdity of the situation. Instead, it relies on the wit of its writers to prove why this show, out of all shows, can handle it.
Plus, as the title promises, it isn’t even about tween Chase (Case Walker), aka “Chase Dreamz.” It’s about his jaded older siblings, aka “the other two” (a dismissive designation that their well-meaning mother, played by the one and only Molly Shannon, would insist isn’t true — but yeah, it definitely is). Cary (Drew Tarver) is a frustrated actor who’s more willing to sell out to get ahead than he’s willing to admit. Brooke (Heléne Yorke) gave up on her dancing dreams years ago and is now floundering in the aftermath of a (long overdue) breakup. Both are struggling to achieve anything close to their dreams, and have to work hard to get through their confusion and jealousy that their little brother stumbled into such huge success seemingly by accident.
From there, “The Other Two” balances two modes that only occasionally crowd each other out. The first and most obvious is the showbiz satire angle, which has admittedly been covered by TV ad nauseam. Even with Ken Marino and Wanda Sykes tapping in as Chase’s manager and publicist respectively, the often horrifying aspects of his skyrocketing career don’t offer a whole lot of new material that “Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping,” The Lonely Island’s celebrity sendup mockumentary, didn’t already cover pitch perfectly in 2016.
And so most of the show’s best jokes in this area tend to live not in Chase’s world, but Cary’s decidedly less glamorous one, as he navigates the often humiliating trials and tribulations of being a struggling gay actor. (Which, yes, is different than being a struggling straight actor, and “The Other Two” demonstrates that it knows exactly how and why with so many sharp jokes you’ll be laughing hard before you realize they’ve drawn blood.) By default, Tarver ends up playing the voice of reason more often than not, but that makes the moments when he gets to unleash Cary’s latent resentment all the better.
The other thing that keeps “The Other Two” afloat is that for all its acidity — and there is plenty, especially from Yorke’s narcissistic Brooke — it usually manages to reel itself back before becoming too bitter to take. It doesn’t lose sight, for instance, of the fact that most every adult in the room is taking advantage of both Chase’s colossal fame and earnest need to please for their own selfish ends. Even better, the show keeps Brooke and Cary grounded by making them just about the only ones who consistently remember that Chase is still just a kid, which brings out their protective streaks and reminds even them that there’s more to life than chasing dreams.
Comedy, 30 mins. Premieres Jan. 24 at 10:30 p.m. on Comedy Central.
Cast: Drew Tarver, Heléne Yorke, Molly Shannon, Case Walker, and Ken Marino.
Crew: Executive producers: Chris Kelly, Sarah Schneider, Lorne Michaels.