I’m one of those people who gave up on SUCCESSION early. After making it through the entire first season – the last episode of which I do recognize as one of the most stunning pieces of writing and directing ever seen on television – I got two episodes into season two before declaring (as if anyone cared), “I’m out!” The spectacle of watching mind-bogglingly wealthy, fundamentally damaged people make world-altering decisions, treat each other with all the consideration that lions treat zebras, and wallow in the paradox of extreme self-loathing paired with sky-high ego became an endurance test rather than entertainment. According to my husband, who stuck with the series up to its much-discussed recent finale, the loathsome Roy family never experienced any personal catharsis that changed their characters for the better or encountered any moral conundrum where they ended up on the right side of humanity. I don’t feel like I missed much.
My insurmountable issue with the Roys is that they were always awful. There was nowhere for the series to go except to spark a transformation in their worldviews, which apparently never happened. Fans liked to refer to this show as “Shakespearean,” but, realistic or not, I never viewed doubling down on being a selfish asshole as a character arc. Even Macbeth started out as a good guy.
Obviously, I’m in the minority. There were plenty of viewers who got a vicarious charge from watching the Roys’ destruction with smug satisfaction. But if, like me, you enjoy being challenged on such moral superiority, I would suggest catching up with newly christened streamer Max’s under-the-radar series THE OTHER TWO, which has been busily depicting another famous family’s implosion, most vividly demonstrated by the slow internal rot of the simultaneous best and worst gay character currently on the air: insecure middle child and aspiring movie star Cary Dubek.
For the uninitiated: Over the course of three seasons, Cary (Drew Tarver) struggles to make his own mark in a family that includes Bieber-esque pop star little brother Chase (Case Walker); big sister Brooke (Helene York), an on-the-rise artist manager; and talk-show host/network empresario mom Pat (Molly Shannon). THE OTHER TWO is a treasure trove of pitch-black, lived-in entertainment industry satire, with Chase chafing at his treatment as a dim-bulb commodity by everyone around him; Brooke clawing her way to the top of a professional dung heap in a business she can’t escape thanks to a chronic case of FOMO; Pat experiencing less and less freedom as an individual with every achievement, her benevolent smile frozen in place; and the unforgiving agendas of all the sycophants, puppet masters, borderline mental patients, and increasingly fed-up “normal” people in their orbit. Particularly for those of us striving for careers in entertainment, THE OTHER TWO is so inside-baseball, so viciously specific, the well-earned laughs always stick in my throat. And the transformation of Cary Dubek from lovable loser into grasping, fake-as-fuck professional Hollywood homo hits so hard because the potential for that transformation lies in every one of us. It happens every day.
Transformation is my favorite subject to explore in film, TV and theatre. I mean, duh, right? Any story worth watching tracks some kind of change in its characters from beginning to end, but I’m not talking about a character just learning a life lesson that ups their wisdom quotient while their basic personality stays the same. I’m talking about radical change so seamless and realistically progressive that it sneaks up on you, until you realize that the person you were watching in the same body at the beginning of the movie is a completely different person at the end. I’m talking Cate Blanchett in ELIZABETH. I’m talking Geena Davis in THELMA & LOUISE. I’m talking Al Pacino in THE GODFATHER. Or, if you’re looking for a really long game, Jennifer Aniston taking Rachel Green over the course of ten years from spoiled, materialistic, helpless princess to capable, independent career woman and mother. Rachel experienced many stops and starts along the way, but she kept stepping into situations that forced her to mature, until our introductory vision of her as a rain-soaked runaway bride was just a quaint image in the rearview.
Not all radical transformations end quite so well. In my pick for the definitive L.A. movie, SHAMPOO, Warren Beatty’s doggedly un-serious, philandering (straight) hairdresser, George, gets his ass handed to him over the course of 24 hours by various lovers, employers, benefactors and the mercenary city itself, leaving him a crumpled mass on a hilltop somewhere in Bel Air. The problem is that, after the fadeout, I see George futilely attempting to re-enter his carefree lifestyle, which can only result in disaster with the newfound, humbling awareness banging around in his brain. What’s so compelling and cringe-inducing about watching Cary Dubek’s downward slide is that, like George at the beginning of SHAMPOO, Cary isn’t at the point yet where he thinks he’s doing anything wrong.
So many of us LGBTQ+-identifying artists began our creative pursuits with high ideals, only to get those ideals beaten out of us by an industry – and (there’s no getting around it) a “community” – in which image trumps substance every time. How many gay male actors, musicians, or filmmakers over the past few decades (I won’t be so rude as to call them out by name, but I’m sure you can come up with a few right off the top of your head) arrived on the scene with a unique perspective, talent, or experience, only to demonstrate that what they really want to do is look hot in a bathing suit on Instagram? How many LGBTQ+ celebrities made a name for themselves with something pointed to say, only to have that voice commercially co-opted by blathering corporations in the name of making a buck? How many have turned activism – no matter the cause du jour – into an opportunity for self-promotion, empty affirmation or some sanded-down version of “speaking your truth”? We’ve all seen it, we’ve all snarked about it, and most of us – in some form or other – have done it. Through Cary – and Tarver’s perfectly calibrated performance – THE OTHER TWO zeroes in on this hypocrisy and slices it apart with a scalpel.
Cary didn’t start out this way. In fact, he began the series as the moral center of an increasingly compromised clan. In season one, Cary was just one more unknown actor pounding the pavement, even giving up on the idea of joining a gaggle of dingbat “Instagays” when they proved too superficial to stomach. But after achieving minor success via a role in a straight-to-streaming indie called NIGHT NURSE, Cary was suddenly shoved into the spotlight as the openly gay brother of one of the biggest teen idols in the world. Now, he’s got a more prominent platform than as humiliated host of THE GAY MINUTE (which hilariously reports on Laura Dern’s every move). Now, he’s the voice of “unapologetically gay” Disney character Globby. Now, he’s got microphones in his face, invitations to premieres, producers and agents taking his calls. Faster than you can say “And just like that…,” all personal integrity flies right out the window.
The first two seasons of THE OTHER TWO were refreshingly relatable to me as a gay man on the fringes of showbiz, trying to forge a career in an industry that seemed indifferent, if not downright belittling, to me and my work. I experienced plenty of Cary Dubek-style degradations. There was the time a short film of mine was accepted into a big, gay film fest, requiring us to engage in a mandatory Twitter forum, which ended up with the filmmakers promoting their movies only to each other; the time I walked the step-and-repeat of said festival in my would-be fashionable sport jacket, the low-level press looking right past me while they asked rote questions like “What Inspired your film?” and cutting me off mid-sentence before moving on; the gay producer who said he couldn’t give me any pointers on getting my indie feature financed because he didn’t “have experience with anything less than multi-million-dollar budgets,”; the desperately enthusiastic posts I created on social media for my own projects as if they were an AVATAR sequel; the time I won a screenwriting competition and got a general meeting with one of the judges, a producer who proceeded to tell me everything I needed to change about my script – I can go on and on and on.
What THE OTHER TWO forces me to ask myself is: how would I react if something I wrote or directed was a big success? Would I abandon all my conviction about how vanilla most LGBTQ+ entertainment is these days and go on to create my own flavorless ice cream cone? Would I trade the provocative, tough material I know I’m good at to write mass audience-friendly drivel and make piles of cash? Would I nod my head at reductive representation as demanded by corporate entities just to get my foot in their studio doors? Would I start treating my friends as if they were merely supporting characters in my life story? Would I wear some ridiculous outfit on a red carpet or make some click-bait-ready statement while there just to keep attention on me?
In the process of sending Cary out on this journey – one where he continually falls on his face, inserts his foot In his mouth, or publicly posts an errant photo of his butthole, like you do – the writers of THE OTHER TWO also give us two polar-opposite mirrors for Cary: supremely self-involved leader of aforementioned Instagays Cameron (Jimmy Fowlie), and sweet-natured BFF/fellow aspiring actor Curtis (Brandon Scott Jones).
Cameron, for his part, is the kind of guy who can’t answer the question “Who are you?” without sending the listener into “wait, what?” fits, echoing influencers in the Fyre Fest docs who gushed that they were expressing “positivity” by putting their aspirational lifestyles all over Instagram. He breaks off an engagement when his and his betrothed’s reality show doesn’t get picked up. He cluelessly points out the new guy he’s dating with “His name’s Aaron Schock – he’s right over there!” at a circuit party. He goes camping with his friends just for photos to post. He starts a company to “do good” – and manages to raise millions of dollars – without defining what good the company actually does. Cameron’s a cartoon of contemporary gay self-obsession, sure, but what makes him such a potent piece of satire is that Fowlie plays him as an essentially nice guy blissfully unaware of just how far his head is up his own ass. You can’t help liking Cameron, no matter how many exasperating qualities he exhibits: he’s a guy for whom #Blessed is not yet an ironic punchline. If you’ve ever encountered metropolitan gays, you’ve met Cameron, and if you’re like me, you’ve wondered, “What’s he like when he’s home by himself?”
The flip side of Cameron is Curtis, who, unlike Cary, becomes more endearing as the series wears on. For the first two seasons, Curtis functioned as every Gay Best Friend you’ve ever seen in any female-led romantic comedy: no life outside of serving as a sounding board for the protagonist, quick with quasi-witty quips of varying quality, and always ready with practical fashion assistance. As a character, Curtis made little impression and felt like the structural device that he was. Cut to season three, and whether it was due to actor Jones’ raised profile with a series-regular role on CBS’ GHOSTS and a prominent featured part in the movie RENFIELD, or just the fact that he’s a damn fine actor, producers at THE OTHER TWO realized what they had and started giving Jones more colors to play with. Curtis is clearly weary of Cary’s increasing self-centeredness; even when Cary condescendingly asks Curtis about the Paramount+ series in which he was cast, we – not to mention Curtis – can already see Cary trying to figure out how to turn the conversation back to himself. Jones performs a terrific balancing act between remaining supportive of his friend while making it clear to the audience that he is not okay with this. (When was the last time you saw a Gay Best Friend play such rich subtext?)
Curtis’s other friends, however, exhibit no such willingness to bite their tongues. Thoroughly unimpressed with Cary, this authentically diverse crew roll their eyes every time Cary shows up and only grudgingly go along with Curtis’s attempts to include Cary in their socializing. (The game of Celebrity where Cary had no idea who James Baldwin was and described Harvey Milk by exclaiming “James Franco was in a movie about him!” proved the last straw.) I myself have suffered through many a dinner, brunch, party or industry event listening to friends-of-friends wax rhapsodic about abjectly stupid subjects in relation to themselves; my favorite line I’ve ever heard from one of them is “Unsolicited hot takes are my love language!” (I shit you not.) By the time Cary, after embarrassing himself in front of both GLAAD and the Westboro Baptist Church with yet another moment of self-serving “controversy” (I actually covered my eyes watching this scene), blows off Curtis to verbally circle-jerk with reporters about his own cultural significance, the POV shifts, and we are now seeing Cary fully through Curtis’s eyes. Like all the other meta-commentary in this surreal third season, the Gay Best Friend has jumped from supporting chump to audience surrogate. Cary has become so insufferable, in fact, that I wonder if the show will be able to pull him back. He’s become everything he claims to dislike. How many of us have done the same, especially in the current culture where we get pressure from all sides to “brand” our very selfhood as proof that we even exist?
In a previous episode, Brooke’s equally long-suffering boyfriend, Lance (Josh Segarra), laid into Brooke for her refusal to get honest with herself, and by extension, him. Their harrowing fight scene distilled everything that’s remarkable about THE OTHER TWO this season: a wild juxtaposition of over-the-top comedy and grounded psychological reality that shouldn’t work but does, written, acted and directed by people who have achieved success in the industry (at least more success than me), yet find the industry in which they’ve achieved that success dehumanizing and debasing. With the slightest tweak, you’d think we were hanging out with the Roys. Many of SUCCESSION’s creators have said that their show makes more sense if you view it as a comedy. To me, especially in this third season, THE OTHER TWO is a very funny tragedy about a man who loses everything that made him an actual human being as he becomes more visible to the world at-large. I can’t wait to see the fireworks when Curtis finally lays into Cary, and given that this series refuses to shield its characters from a single wound-up punch, you know that scene is on the way. *
Most gay men would never admit that they were shallow, insensitive, self-involved jerks, even if all evidence pointed at such; it’s always the loud, obnoxious queens at the other end of the bar, right? By having the balls to turn its lone sympathetic character into its least likable, THE OTHER TWO demands we flip that perspective and start looking at our own behavior the way Curtis looks at Cary’s. Are you a Cary, a Curtis, or – God help you – a Cameron?
My husband recently all but ordered me out of the room when my sanctimonious bitching about the manufactured drama-queen conflicts on Drag Race All-Stars impinged on his enjoyment of the show. As I sulked in the bedroom, I couldn’t help but wonder – in true Carrie Bradshaw fashion – was I the problem? Was I that guy? Was I turning into Billy Eichner’s character from BROS, a holier-than-thou, judgmental pain in the ass? I shivered at the thought, and immediately vowed to halt that particular transformation dead in its tracks, which, I suppose, is a transformation in itself. The scalpel cuts both ways.
*Two days after I posted this, Curtis did indeed lay into Cary on an episode literally titled "Cary Gets His Ass Handed To Him," and it was fabulous.