It may happen at age 14 or 16 or 18, but it happens to just about every adolescent: One day you realize that you’re older than the latest teen idol to become the touchstone of a new microgeneration, and you wonder how you could have settled for your dumb little life while someone else—someone smarter, shrewder, certainly more attractive—was out there achieving greatness, or at the very least a little bit of fame.
Once it emerges for the first time, that feeling of too-lateness never goes away. And for many millennials, especially those of us nearly two decades removed from our teen years, it’s become a generational condition, as the emergence of Gen Z—roughly speaking, the demographic born in 1995 or later—intimates our inevitable cultural irrelevance. Even more threateningly, Gen Z seems to genuinely possess a quality that youths of the past, like the schlubs of Gen X and the whinier millennials, have struggled to achieve: These kids are poised as fuck. From YouTube stars to the Parkland survivors, the self-possession of Gen Z might be its most admirable, and unnerving, trademark.
That mix of anxiety about and brow-raising awe at today’s teenagers drives Comedy Central’s The Other Two, 2019’s first great new series. Starring Drew Tarver and Heléne Yorke as 30-ish siblings reeling from their 13-year-old brother’s runaway success as a Bieber-esque YouTube heartthrob—the news calls him “the next big white kid”—The Other Two feels like it’s grabbing the baton from Broad City, which is currently in its final year. In the gonzo female-friendship comedy’s January season premiere, most of which took place on a Snapchat-like stream chockablock with goofy captions and animated filters, Broad City star-creators Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson, now in their early 30s, concluded that social media is a distraction from “real life.”
Tarver’s Cary, a failing actor, and Yorke’s Brooke, a former teen dancer, are just as aimless (and codependent) as Abbi and Ilana were in the early seasons, but the siblings experience none of the freedom and playfulness that the Broad City besties do. Instead, the flailing duo just keep hoping that their luck will turn one day, until the overnight celebrity of their baby brother Chase (played by Case Walker, who the internet tells me is something called a TikTok star) underscores how little they’ve accomplished as adults.
Created by former Saturday Night Live co-head writers Chris Kelly and and Sarah Schneider, The Other Two is a seamless blend of showbiz satire, cross-generational observation, and family dramedy.* Molly Shannon plays the siblings’ mother Pat, whose abrupt move from Ohio to New York, as well as her cheerful neglect of Chase for her own extremely mild gain, is eventually revealed to be the consequence of her recent widowhood. (Shannon also starred in Kelly’s feature writing-directing debut, Other People.) The shiv-sharp pop culture jokes are insider-y enough to make The Other Two feel like Difficult People with a soul, but the show’s true brilliance lies in its melding of industry parody and Gen Z satire. The jokes are also precise enough that you often get the feeling that the writers are striving to be the funniest they can be without getting absolutely aggro. The show’s got enough one-liners to be a joke machine, but but Kelly and Schneider let his humanity guide him as much as his sense of humor.
Suffused with a millennial suspicion toward the youths’ uncanny knack for self-presentation (and ease with self-commodification), The Other Two is an astonishing snapshot of intergenerational tension. Chase, who sings under the name ChaseDreams and goes viral via the song “Marry U at Recess,” becomes the client, but crucially also the guinea pig, of his new manager Streeter (Ken Marino), a man who often seems to be flop sweat personified. Though the show’s greatest weakness in its first season is not giving Chase much of an inner life (perhaps because Walker is outmatched by the rest of the dazzling cast), The Other Two is particularly skillful at critiquing social-media stardom as the untamed Wild West of the entertainment business and the creeping professionalization of childhood. (When Cary and Brooke wonder aloud when Chase will return to Ohio to finish middle school, they’re told he “already graduated on Streeter’s phone.”) We keep waiting for the adult siblings to intervene, but unsurprisingly, they find it all too easy to profit off their younger brother’s fame even while wanting to protect him from its excesses.
The Other Two is extraordinarily smart in pretty much every way, but it’s especially clever when sending up internet culture. One of the best jokes about YouTube is a glamorous, baby-voiced woman Brooke meets at a film premiere turning out to be an 11-year-old girl who happens to be particularly skilled at makeup. When Chase makes a rare misstep, Brooke sighs, “The Burger King [Twitter] account is ripping him apart.” A plan to rapidly drum up Instagram followers hits a dead end when the shelter runs out of “dogs that look dead.” But such jabs at youth culture gains human dimension in light of Cary’s season-long recognition that he’s still struggling with internalized homophobia, especially while working in an industry that’s outwardly LGBTQ-embracing but won’t book him for a commercial playing Guy Who Smells a Fart unless that character can pass as straight. When a stranger tells him, “I didn’t know you were gay,” he reflexively thanks them before realizing the subtle poisonousness of his response. The moment illustrates how far he still has to go to become the person he wants to be. His time isn’t running out anytime soon, but you can tell from his profound, face-crumpling disappointment that he always thought he’d be much further along by now.
Correction, March 14, 2019: This article originally misstated that Chris Kelly created The Other Two. Kelly created the series with Sarah Schneider.