The Comedy Central sitcom, “The Other Two,” about the two older and somewhat maladjusted siblings of an internet-made-famous teen singing heartthrob, just conclude its debut season where it was critical and commercials success. It has since been renewed by the cable channel.
But… maybe it shouldn’t have? Maybe once was enough?
Though only eight 30-minutes episodes constituted its entire “season,” “The Other Two’s” finale (which aired March 28th) tied up so many loose ends with the series that they seemed to have, perhaps, tied themselves into a knot. First, Brooke, the sister half of the titular couple, got dumped by her dumb but sweet boyfriend. Then, Cary, the brotherly half, and a struggling actor, fired his agent and lost out yet again on his latest chance for a “big break.”
Then, to add insult to injury, the “Other Two’s” little brother, the teen singing superstar (who goes by the stage name Chase Dreams) gave a tone-deaf, career-ending performance on the VMA’s that was so bad even Paula Abdul would have turned away. If the career of Chase Dreams is over, so too, one assumes, is the plight of “The Other Two.” And though a few new story threads were launched in the final episode (is Mom getting a daytime talk show to go with her new boyfriend?!), the last episode still felt like the series had not only backed itself somewhat into a story-telling corner but finished much of what it had to say.
This is a part of a somewhat newer phenomenon in the TV landscape. You could call it “The ’Twin Peaks’ Syndrome.” It’s the story of a series which debuts strong but whose success and seasonal renewals quickly reveals the short-sightedness of its premise and of its creators.
David Lynch’s “Peaks” seems to be the perfect example of this, though other series do come to mind (ABC’s “Lost,” anyone?). After its initial eight episodes, “Peaks’” central premise of “Who killed Laura Palmer?” couldn’t be sustained with enough interest and tension to truly justify a follow up season of 30 (yes, 30!) episodes especially once Palmer’s killer was fully, finally revealed.
Maybe “Twin Peaks” should have been treated as something too good to last? Or—counterintuitive as it may sound--too good to renew?
Increasingly, this is an issue that is befalling any number of cable and (especially) digital platform (Netflix, Amazon, etc.) series. On-demand viewing and the rise of binge-watching has changed the business model of much of TV entertainment. Used to be, a series pilot got picked up by a network and (usually) 13episodes were produced for broadcast. These episodes were then aired, one episode per week, and both critics and audiences were left to cotton to the program or not. Should the series then glean some critical favor and/or good Nielsen numbers, they’d be picked up for nine more episodes (the “back 9”) to complete its first season of 22 episodes. Depending on how well the “back 9” then did, determined if the program came back for a second season.
This still happens of course on so-called “broadcast” TV; it is the gauntlet that has been successfully run by such new fall network shows as “The Neighborhood” and “Single Parents,” among others. (And less successfully by NBC’s “I Feel Bad.”)
But, as we all know, “broadcast”/network TV is only a part of the story now. That was then, this is now. And, as mentioned, cable TV and viewing habits have altered this business model. Today, many shows are bought by distributors (cable channels, streaming services, etc.) as a whole package—with, usually, eight episodes constituting their full “season”—and some (on sites like Netflix) make every episode immediately available, all at once, the better for weekend bingeing.
But this type of distribution—unlike the traditional broadcast method--grants a series no opportunity to be a work-in-progress or to modulate its story, characters or its tone as it goes along.
Additionally, whether these series are well received by critics or audiences is often not know until every episode has been produced and, in some cases, until after every installment has been made available for viewing. Hence, they are often produced in a vacuum and, since no one knows the future of them, they are often produced with a specific beginning, middle and end. To the creatives behind a series like this, it makes a certain sense: We have to put a period here, a finality, because we might not be coming back. But, problematically, a period, a finality or a “specific end” doesn’t work that well for highly-successful or possibly-to-be-renewed series.
Which might be the problem that the aforementioned “Other Two” just encountered. It might also be what has affected subsequent seasons of “Stranger Things” and, now, season two of SyFy’s “Happy.” Like “Twin Peaks,” the central mysteries that beget the debut seasons of each of these seasons were solved at the end of their original seasons. Hence: Where do we go from here? And how do we keep it from feeling like a letdown?
Actually, if anything, the FX channel might have figured out the best formula for addressing this particular situation. Not only have they found success with truly limited run series like “Feud” and their treatment of the Gianni Versace assassination but via their “American Horror Story” franchise. With “AHS,” the networks has found a formula of sustaining an ongoing series while constantly being able to reinvent itself. By often reutilizing many of the same talented actors and maintaining a strong, mood-specific thorough line, these various “Story” incarnations—that have ranged, so far, from a witches’s coven to a spooky carnival to Trump’s America—have kept the series successful and creative and, in the process, made it almost harken back to TV’s early days of anthology programming.
Of course, even today, among the plethora of streaming and viewing options, it remains a daunting, Herculean, against-the-odds endeavor to get a TV series produced and aired anyplace, anywhere. To then ask, or demand, that the show producers and writers creating these programs not only think of inventive, enjoyable premises to start with and about the first eight episodes to tell that story but to--perhaps—also think of the next eight or 20 or even more episodes to follow is a tall order indeed. But do it they must, if they want to retain their audiences beyond the initial burst of eight quickly streamed and, perhaps, quickly forgotten TV installments.