Somewhat implausibly, TV sitcoms have been historic leaders in pop culture when it comes to gay acceptance.
Sure, characters, jokes, and plot lines that are relics of a certain time might lack a certain wokeness or level of taste when viewed through the prism of today, but it’s still astonishing to look back at TV’s long history of “Very Special Episodes” with teaching moments about the gay community: from All in the Family and Gimme a Break! to Golden Girls and Designing Women to Roseanne, Glee, and, of course, Seinfeld’s proclamation of “not that there’s anything wrong with that.”
And just because the LGBTQ community is more “accepted”—whatever that may mean—or at the very least has more representation on television, doesn’t mean that Very Special Episodes aren’t still produced, important, or, in the case of The Other Two’s triumphant outing that aired Thursday night, a crowning achievement in the genre.
The Comedy Central series, already a contender for best new comedy of the year and just renewed for a second season, centers on Drew Tarver’s Cary and Heléne Yorke’s Brooke, elder millennial siblings grappling with their younger brother’s surging fame after he becomes a tween viral YouTube star.
On “Chase Gets the Gays,” their brother, Chase Dreams (Case Walker), continues to grow his cultural reach when he, at the behest of his management team, releases a calculated pro-gay anthem called “My Brother’s Gay,” essentially outing Cary to the public and shining a spotlight on his sexuality that he may not be ready to stand in.
(Sample verse: “My brother’s brave. My brother’s wise. My brother doesn’t like girls, he likes guys. He kisses men. That turns him on, and if you think that’s gross then I think you’re wrong.”)
The episode is one of the original ideas series creators Chris Kelly and Sarah Schneider went into their pitch meeting with.
“One of the things we wanted to do with Chase Dreams becoming famous is that we didn’t just want Brooke and Cary to be jealous of him. We wanted it to really make them deal with shit in their lives,” Kelly, who co-wrote the episode with Schneider, tells us. Even though Cary is out of the closet, he’s uncomfortable in his own skin. Chase releasing a song fully about Cary’s sexuality forces him to deal with that part of his identity.
Walking down the street, people start to recognize him: “Hey! Gay!” Cary frets over whether family members he isn’t out to will see Chase’s video. But when a major talent agent calls to discuss Cary’s career because of his newfound notoriety, the struggling actor is now caught between not wanting the attention and embracing his status as a fledgling gay icon.
With most gay TV characters, especially in comedies, typically falling squarely in two camps—struggling to come out of the closet or flamboyantly out, proud, and secure—it’s a new shade in between to explore, one that more closely experiences even the most seemingly settled of gay men.
“I remember struggling to come out of the closet,” Kelly says. “My parents were conservative, and it took a while and it was a very stressful moment. Then there’s that thought that, ‘I did it! I’m out and I’m proud and I’m better and I’m perfect now.’ But at least for me, there was still residual anxiety. I wasn’t 100 percent comfortable in my own skin right away.”
“Can we get on the Out 100 yet?”
Running parallel to Cary’s character study is a broader cultural commentary on the ways in which gay acceptance has been commodified, being an ally is used as a self-satisfied form of capital, and gays’ reputation as tastemakers can be deployed as a certain kind of pop-culture terrorism, making or breaking stars and projects.
The curtain is pulled back, exposing the war room of publicists and marketing strategists who concocted “My Brother’s Gay” not as a pure expression of LGBTQ support, but as a career ploy. “Everyone loves the video!” Chase’s publicist, played by Wanda Sykes, protests when Cary asks her to take it down. “Its message is so strategic—important. I said important.”
Chase Dreams is young enough that his intentions might be sweet and pure, but the machinations behind the scenes are far more cynical. When an assistant alerts Sykes’s character that the video has hit millions of streams, she asks, “Can we get on the Out 100 yet?” No, that’s still just for gay people, she’s told. “That’s so unfair.”
When Cary expresses concern that the video, while maybe good for Chase’s career, could be potentially embarrassing for him, everyone goes around the conference table to reassure him, each bragging that they, too, have a gay brother.
“We just like that idea that everybody has a gay brother,” Kelly laughs. He brings up a throwaway joke in the pilot in which Brooke, after making an off-color gay joke, tells a one-night stand that she’s allowed to because she has a gay brother. “No duh, everybody does,” he tells her. Kelly laughs again. “You either have a gay brother or you are the gay brother.”
The episode also jokes about how quickly the news cycle moves and the tide of public opinion changes, especially when it comes to wokeness within the LGBTQ community. The conference room cheers when Ellen tweets the video out, but it’s a fire drill when they learn the gays are turning on it, calling it “so five years ago.” Sykes shudders. “That’s the worst thing you can be.” But then Tomi Lahren criticizes it as an affront to family values, and, in reaction to conservative backlash, the gays come back on board. Finally, it’s camp.
It’s hard to make a good “so five years ago” joke about the gay community without being totally clichéd and falling into antiquated stereotypes. But the episode manages to both employ those kinds of clichés and still puncture them.
“We put that joke in there because we were genuinely worried that the idea of a pro-gay anthem was so five years ago,” Kelly says. “Like the Macklemore song and stuff, they’re a little old. We thought that maybe the idea of Chase releasing this anthem might be old, but that it was so funny we wanted to do it anyway and just call it out.”
It also fits perfectly with Team Chase’s cynical marketing plan. “His team would make something that’s a little old. “We’ve seen this work in the last few years. Let’s whip up one of these.’ I also love that they call it ‘one of these.’”
Which brings us to something that is certainly not so five years ago, but very 2019: a good faggot joke.
“Oh my God!” Kelly bursts out. “We haven’t even talked about that!”
“I’m gagging for you, faggot!”
Midway through the episode, Cary goes to meet with the agent, played by Kate Berlant, who reached out after “My Brother’s Gay” hits it big, and is startled by her presumptuous frankness. “I’m gagging for you, faggot!” she squeals, trying to impress him and assuming he’d be OK with it.
It’s a dangerous minefield, but it’s one that Kelly and Schneider navigate nimbly—and to sadly relatable effect.
“That was sort of a satire on a type of person,” Kelly says. “Those people who commodify sexuality like, ‘Oh my God, you’re gay, you’re going to be my best friend. I already know everything about you and you’re going to love me because I know everything there is to know about gay people.’ We liked the idea of that pariah, that person going, ‘Yaas, faggot!’ Like Jesus Christ, you are a full stranger to me. You don’t get to just come at me and say that word.”
“We have a lot of gay writers in the writers room and that just felt so true.”
For all the relatability in the episode, at least speaking personally, there’s one element to the episode—and the series thus far—that baffles us for how many people on social media have raved about how deeply it rings true: Cary’s roommate is straight, but keeps kissing him, masturbating in front of him, and, in this episode, even starts to give him a blowjob while on the way to a date with a girl.
“I feel the same way as you,” Kelly says. “I’ve been surprised at how many people have related to that.”
The best he can estimate is that it has less to do with the physical acts—unless he and I were living in all the wrong shared apartments when we were younger—and more to do with the hopelessness of being in love with a straight roommate. (Which, in hindsight, duh.)
Diagnosing it for himself, he remembers that when he was first out of the closet, all of his crushes were on straight men, a self-protection mechanism born out of the fact that he was too nervous and uncomfortable in his sexuality to actually make a move on, date, or have sex with someone.
“I think with some remove that was me being homophobic or me falling in love with people who were unattainable so I wouldn’t actually be able to date them,” he says. “I thought I could just say ‘I’m gay’ and that counted. I don’t know if I knew that or thought about that at the moment. But 10 years later, that’s maybe what it was.”
Cary’s behavior and feelings for his roommate seem to fall in line with that. Being gay is complicated, which TV series seem to finally be getting hip to. As Chase Dreams himself sings, “That’s OK.”