“The Other Two” returned for a third season last week, on HBO Max. I love this brash sendup of fame, which gives us the entertainment industry with all its absurdities amped up just enough to be funny instead of sad. It’s got “30 Rock” in its DNA, along with “Difficult People” and “The Larry Sanders Show.” But it very much has its own distinctive take on the world of swollen egos, cockeyed publicity efforts, and the extremities of fandom.
Everyone on the show wants fame, or has fame but is still unhappy, or has too much fame and, like Molly Shannon’s Oprah-like Pat Dubek, can’t go out in public without prosthetics on. The focus is on Pat’s kids, a Justin Bieber knockoff named Chase and the other two, Cary and Brooke. Cary (Drew Tarver) is desperate to become an important actor, and the season opens with him waiting for the premiere of his first movie, “The Night Nurse.” Brooke (Helene Yorke) has been trying to climb the ladder in celebrity management. But her model fiancé, Lance (Josh Segarra), has become a nurse, and she’s wondering if she should also jump into the world of doing good — which is a laughable idea, if you’ve seen the show and know the relentlessly superficial Brooke.
The many storylines work well, but the best joy of “The Other Two,” which is from former “Saturday Night Live” writers Chris Kelly and Sarah Schneider, continues to be the small but everpresent bits of satire — Brooke’s road trip, for instance, to get the first-ever photo of Chase’s underarm hair safely to Rolling Stone. He is just turning 18, which means the industry no longer needs to pretend it isn’t sexualizing him. Meanwhile, Cary is dating a method actor who won’t have sex with him because the character he’s playing is a virgin.
The show is filled with smart one-liners, perfectly twisted situations, sly physical comedy, clever real-world allusions, and amusing celebrity cameos. But it’s filled with mild pathos, too, not least of all regarding poor Pat (Molly Shannon), who is suffocating from her own popularity. There’s some depth lurking amid all the goofing. If Cary had integrity early in the show, he is now throwing it away for the sound of applause, and Brooke’s constant misery is almost poignant, even while it’s funny. For all these characters, fame is a double-edged sword, and so is not having it.