On the surface, Comedy Central’s newest original series “The Other Two” – a show about the flailing older siblings of a pre-teen pop sensation – wouldn’t seem to have that much in common with “Saturday Night Live.” But its creators, Chris Kelly and Sarah Schneider, began coming up with the idea for the show during their second-to-last year as head writers of the iconic sketch comedy show, and in talking to them about it, the connections become quite clear.
“I think as you start to leave ‘SNL,’ you have to figure out what you’re gonna do next. ‘We should try to come up with some TV show,'” Kelly said. Kelly had been branching out already, making his film directorial debut with the Sundance favorite “Other People,” but to him returning to TV made sense: “I didn’t really think about it that way other than it seemed fun to try to write a TV show and to try to see if we could have a TV show. That felt like a very tough mountain to climb, but we wanted to see if we could do it.”
Kelly and Schneider wrote for “Saturday Night Live” for six years, which was a factor in what inspired them to pursue bigger series. “I think when you’re writing in the sketch format, you kind of do have this itch to write a longer, more narrative story, which is why Chris wrote ‘Other People’ while he was at ‘SNL,'” Schneider said. “You just kinda want to exercise a different part of your brain and try something that’s a little more long form.”
She continued, “We were both in the same headspace of wanting to just try something where we could really dive into some characters and spend time with them over the course of many, many hours, versus six to seven minutes.”
Kelly and Schneider aren’t related — but the writing partners still decided to make sure that their first scripted series would be personal to them, by making it about a brother and sister, and also about the things that interested them most. “That sibling dynamic between Cary and Brooke is kind of similar to ours,” Kelly said. Also, while they wanted to tell grounded stories, “at ‘SNL’ we really liked writing pop culture stuff, and we wrote a lot of music videos.”
Thus, they conceived of “The Other Two,” the Hollywood-adjacent new series that debuts after “Broad City.” “It allowed us to tell very simple, grounded, human stories but with a sort of dumb umbrella of more ridiculous characters and ridiculous music videos,” Kelly said. “That was kinda the jumping-off point.”
While Kelly and Schneider left “SNL” in May 2017, they’re still close with Lorne Michaels, who’s an executive producer on the series and quite involved. Said Kelly, “He was a writer, so he created ‘SNL’ to be driven by writers — so we always felt empowered by him to write whatever we were drawn to and we felt empowered by him to follow a more narrative story. In that sense, he’s engaged in a larger, fundamental idea and then along the way, he read our scripts, he watched our pilot, he gave us notes.”
Kelly credited Michaels especially with his input into the casting process, because as Schneider noted, the producer has a 40-plus-year track record with finding new talent. “He has the best casting record,” she said. “He just knows how to cast. He would see things or have comments or thoughts that we couldn’t quite see because we were so deeply into the idea of the characters and what they could or should be. It was very helpful to have that outside opinion.”
The cast features a ton of faces familiar from the Upright Citizens Brigade comedy community, as well as relative unknowns that Kelly and Schneider credited casting directors Henry Russell Bergstein and Allison Estrin with finding.
The ensemble includes Drew Tarver and Heléne Yorke as the older siblings Cary and Brooke, Case Walker as their pop sensation tween brother Chase Dreams, Ken Marino, and Wanda Sykes. However, it’s Molly Shannon as increasingly fame-hungry stage mom Pat, who is a major stand-out. “The Other Two” was a reunion for Shannon and Kelly, who wrote and directed the semi-autobiographical film “Other People” in 2016. He cast Shannon in the Sundance favorite, but didn’t specifically write the role of Pat for her because “we didn’t want to presume that she would do it, or that she was available, because she’s on a million other things.”
However, once Shannon signed on, “that really also changed the way that we wrote the rest of the season, because we were like, if we have Molly Shannon, this has gotta be a good part. We gotta do some things. We gotta let her fly, baby,” he said.
“So much of casting, going into it, is the same way that we would hire writers on SNL where you’re gonna see them a lot. Do you like them? Do you like working with them? Is this gonna be fun?” Schneider said. “And just knowing that Chris had worked with her and had such a great experience was such a great sell for her because we just knew it was gonna be fun to have her around. She was gonna be amazing.”
In discussing the series in an era when the half-hour format has evolved dramatically to span a range of genres, from pure comedy to pure drama, Kelly and Schneider mentioned shows like TBS’s “Search Party” and the late lamented “Party Down” as inspirations. But while those shows might verge on the serious side, the creators don’t think “The Other Two” will ever get too dramatic, despite the depth of character and emotion on screen.
“This is not bad, but there are a lot of dramedies that are 80 percent drama, 20 percent comedy. which is great and I love them and watch them,” Kelly said. “But I think our voice and our tone is kind of almost the opposite — like 80 percent comedy, 20 percent drama.”
As he continued, “We want this to be a hard comedy with jokes, funny first, but then we also don’t really relate to just pure silly comedy. We want it to still feel grounded. We still want the jokes to be rooted in the characters’ real anxieties, real worries, real struggles so that inherently, there’s drama there. I feel like it makes it feel a little more fulfilling, to have the comedy feel like it’s coming from a human place as opposed to the characters just being joke machines.”
“The Other Two” premieres Thursday, Jan. 24 at 10:30 p.m. ET on Comedy Central.