“My brother’s brave / My brother’s wise / My brother doesn’t like girls / He likes guys.” So begins the hit single “My Brother's Gay” performed by fictional tween heartthrob Chase Dreams (played by TikTok star Case Walker), whose skyrocketing fame bewilders his two older siblings — newly single, self-involved Brooke and the song’s inspiration, struggling actor Cary — in Comedy Central’s new sitcom The Other Two. The song, a fitting send-up of “love is love” rhetoric, and Cary’s conflicted reaction to it, captures what the show, created by former SNL head writers Chris Kelly and Sarah Schneider, does so well. Initially wary of the video’s effect on his career (and his relationship with his grandma), Cary eventually comes around to accepting that its success makes him a gay icon. Or, at the very least, a camp joke: the kind of thing gays love but make fun of (“like Britney,” he’s told). A biting satire about the state of fame and celebrity in 2019, The Other Two is also arguably one of the most astute television portrayals of what it’s like to be a gay man living in a big city.
At first glance Cary Dubek looks like many other gay male characters who have graced the small screen this past decade. Like Difficult People’s Billy Epstein (Billy Eichner) and Girls’ Elijah Krantz (Andrew Rannells), Cary is a white actor living in New York who is still waiting for his big break. When we first meet him in the show’s pilot, he’s auditioning for “Man at Party Who Smells Fart,” a far cry from his high school heydays when he played Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof. But while Billy and Elijah prided themselves on their quick-witted sass, arguably a defense mechanism to survive the ruthlessness of the city and of their chosen careers, Cary is decidedly demure.
He’s the kind of fumbling, slightly insecure guy who gets his sister to shave his lower back hair before appearing shirtless on TV, and who pines for his super-hot straight roommate, and bumbles away any opportunity for deep connection with other gay men around him. He’s never quite confident enough in his looks, his demeanor, or his talent, and it’s this behavior that makes him such an unlikely poster boy for Chase’s gay anthem and such a refreshing gay character.
In the video for “My Brother’s Gay,” Chase gives us a glimpse into his brother’s childhood and teenage years. As he croons about how being gay is okay (“and if you think that’s gross / then I think you’re wrong”), he’s surrounded by photographs of Cary at various ages, a visual metaphor of the “It Gets Better” refrain. The song both trivializes Cary’s sexuality and hopes to enrage its anti-gay haters in an intentional way. (Chase’s team, led by a fantastic Wanda Sykes as his label’s publicist, is overjoyed when Tomi Lahren calls the song “an affront to family values”). But rather than merely skewer the song’s palatable “Love Is Love Is Love” message, The Other Two works to complicate its reception. Though the AV Club writes that the song “is no Moonlight,” it also leads to a tender moment between Cary and a young man on the streets of New York City who confesses he came out to his mom after being emboldened by the cloying music video.
By making Cary a working actor, a rather niche slice of life, The Other Two also manages to comment not just on a very specific type of gay man, but also on the way Hollywood (mis)understands LGBTQ representation. Take high-powered talent agent Pitzi Pyle (played with crazed zeal by Kate Berlant). When she brings in Cary for a meeting at her pink-emblazoned office, she all but attacks him with the f-word as soon he shows up: “I am gagging for you, faggot!” In Berlant’s hands, Pitzi is a delightfully deranged version of that white girl at a bar who wants to have a gay best friend as an accessory. That she’s willing to play up and play to Cary’s sexuality shows how far Hollywood may have come, but it also reveals how such progress can be couched in hilariously limited ideas of what gay men can look like. It’s the inverse of what we’d seen a few episodes earlier, when a casting agent asked Cary to butch up his delivery in order to book the fart-smelling gig, and a mere hint of what we see later in the season when Cary pantomimes gay sex onstage: “Listen, class,” his acting teacher says, “to win awards, you must do gay sex scenes. But how do we know you’re gay if there’s no shame on your face?”
In The Other Two’s world, Chase’s call for tolerance and inclusion (however PR-targeted it may have been) exists alongside a slew of anti-gay microaggressions that chip away at Cary’s own sense of self-worth. It’s why he later tells Brooke that he thinks he’s kind of fucked up for having accepted a guy’s throwaway comment that he doesn’t look gay as a compliment. It’s an admission that despite — or perhaps even because of — his privilege, he’s left a number of unhealthy assumptions about what it means to be a gay man in 2019 unchecked. He shows the limits of internalizing the “we’re normal, just like you” mentality that’s so rampant within contemporary gay rights rhetoric. Such platitudes can be crippling when he doesn’t actually engage or participate in the larger gay community around him.
Cary’s failed romantic life is perhaps the best example of how The Other Two is playing with familiar gay tropes to unearth all-too-hilarious truths about them. Stunted, perhaps, from having only come out in his senior year of college, Cary is still dealing with a lot of internal struggles about his sexuality. For starters, he’s infatuated with his oft-naked and ridiculously hot “straight” roommate Matt (played by the furry, chiseled Andy Ridings). Matt requires such quotation marks because despite spending his free time watching Survivor reruns and boasting about cleaning his junk ahead of dates with women, he takes any chance he can get to kiss, grope, and at one point, even blow Cary.
Taking what’s ostensibly a much-fantasized gay porn premise, The Other Two spends a few episodes breaking apart what it means to covet a seemingly straight dude. Much of Cary’s own self-worth ends up being tied to this unquenchable desire he has for Matt. The cluelessness that drives much of the humor between their interactions — like Cary walking in on Matt jerking off, and Matt innocently asking him to “stay and hang,” letting him and us wonder what exactly he means, or smirking as he tells Cary, “Weird, I’m so hard right now!” — eventually forces the roommates to openly discuss what is going on between them. Namely: nothing, other than cockteasing moments that leave Cary feeling like shit. The crutch that is that kind of crush, unattainable but not quite unimaginable, blunts any actual attempt at healthy intimacy with anyone else. Yet as Cary shows, there’s something very intoxicating about getting a chance to indulge in such an unhealthy relationship, especially when it feels like it’s the only one at his disposal (and not coincidentally, one that requires very little effort).
Tapping into that sort of under-discussed yet all-too-prevalent aspect of the gay community is one of the joys of watching The Other Two. The show operates within a kind of gay shorthand that’s often only found in exclusively gay-centered shows (think Looking, Queer as Folk). Take a scene from the latest episode where Cary takes Jeremy, a dashing soft-spoken high school teacher (Daniel K. Isaac), to a pizza joint. The two are chatting when they realize neither is touching their slice. “I wasn’t eating in case we…” Jeremy mumbles, “and I was the… You know?” Cary admits he was doing the same. And just like that the dialogue becomes explicitly about bottoming, tackling the kind of taboo topic (a clean butthole) that’s rarely broached on the small screen, if at all. Like the show as a whole, this short scene is candid, funny, and rings true for many gay men watching.
Common topics like body image are beautifully complicated on the show, thanks in part to The Other Two’s writing team, which includes fellow funny gay men like Jordan Firstman, Cole Escola, and Joel Kim Booster. When Cary is invited to go on Watch What Happens Live as the shirtless bartender, he freaks out and heads to the gym, only to be assured by his sister’s ex-boyfriend Lance (Josh Segarra), that he is “thin and tight.” But the body issues only come back when the now–tanned and coiffed Cary meets a gaggle of Instagays. Aptly described by Brooke as being those guys “that, like, run around with no shirt on, posting song lyrics that have nothing to do with the pic he’s put up,” Instagays are a particular brand of social media influencers who have become easy straw men when it comes to debates about toxic trends within the gay male community.
Trashed for being vain and shallow, and chastised for promoting an airbrushed, platitude-filled, unattainable image of gay life, Instagays and everything they stand for would’ve been a low-hanging target for The Other Two to hit. And, to be fair, the Escola-penned episode is full of quotable one-liners that paint these beautiful guys with six-packs as existing in an entirely different world than Cary (or you and me, for that matter). When they’re not posing in star-spangled wrestling singlets in front of burned-down schools (possible caption: “You make me wanna la la”) these Fab Four are dealing with just as many insecurities as Cary is. Drake worries about his weird shoulder hair and Dallas thinks he’s not as hot as the others. The self-esteem issues that cripple Cary and lead him to getting blonde streaks and a tan are equally present in the (albeit filtered) world of the Instagays. They’re harder to take seriously, sure, but they’re there.
Despite milking their ridiculous photo-posting habits (“We won’t post again until 1 a.m. East Coast time so we can get the West Coast likes as people are scrolling themselves to sleep”) and photo ideas (somehow red Speedos in a church equals a Christmas photo op), the episode portrays them not as bitchy and vapid but as earnest unicorns without, for better and for worse, a care in the world. It’s Cary who’s the monster; he hangs out with them only to up his follower count in hopes of landing a bit part in Ryan Murphy’s upcoming American Crime Story: Hot Coffee miniseries. The show doesn’t entirely let the Instagays off the hook (sample dialogue: “We’re just gonna put on glasses and get in the pool like a bunch of idiots!”), but it examines how they’re not worth vilifying. They’re merely a symptom of issues like body image and narcissism that are not new nor native to our current social media–driven world.
“My brother’s gay and that’s okay.” The laughable sincerity at the heart of Chase’s song about Cary encapsulates why The Other Two strikes a chord with gay audiences. Less interested in coming down against these well-intentioned ally anthems (or Instagays, or cockteasing straight bros) than in unpacking them, the Comedy Central show captures a decidedly novel gay sensibility. It is not so cynical as to announce that a younger generation needn’t hear that they can exhale, Love, Simon–style. But it is also not above poking fun at these signifiers. Take for example, the end of the show’s eighth episode, which expertly lampoons the final scene of Call Me by Your Name, framing Cary’s abortive romance as a self-indulgent cry over a nonrelationship that never went past talk of who’d eat the pizza. The show blends the sincere with the sardonic, making room for the multitudes gays contain. And it’s all the more palatable for its frank approach to sex, insecurities, and the many ways we gay men are sometimes hampered by our own unrealistic notions of what gayness should look like in 2019. ●
Manuel Betancourt is a New York City–based queer writer and a lapsed academic. He's a regular contributor to Remezcla, the film columnist at Electric Literature, and a monthly columnist at Catapult magazine (“Movie-Made Gay”). He's one of the coauthors of the graphic novel The Cardboard Kingdom, a New York Times summer 2018 pick.