Two brothers have a hit TV comedy-variety show – and a less successful relationship. 2,271 words. Part Two. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.
Dear Fan Club Members: They say these things don’t happen overnight. But they kinda do. The fun began at three in the afternoon in Hanger One right on the Fox Lot when 21-year-old heartthrob Marky Nash sat on the edge of the newly reconstructed stage thumbing tweets to the base on his iPhone to tell us that Season Two is coming. After a breakneck rehearsal sched, he was psyched to get back to where he belonged: the spotlight. Behind Marky sat his blond baby bro, 19-year-old Sean Nash with his feet up looking all sanguine ‘n’ shit. That’s when the Producer and the Other Producer — whose names we can never remember! — huddled with the Bros. One Producer was older, tall, skinny, full of jagged grey competence in white sneakers. The Other Producer was husky in a Dodger’s cap and Cal State t-shirt, looking like a disgruntled dirtbiker.
It was lecture time as the stage crew slid gels into the footlights and wheeled the giant behemoth TV cams into place.
“This,” the Producer said, “is our moment.”
“And you boys have what it takes to answer the bell,” the Other Producer added.
“You are already stars,” the Producer said. “Don’t believe us? Google yourselves.”
“But Season Two is a major test,” the Other Producer said.
“For everybody,” his partner added. “Not just you guys.”
“And I don’t have to tell you we have competition,” the Other Producer said. At this, the two men paused, arms akimbo, Old Jew and Junior Jew, staring down the Nash Bros for dramatic effect.
“Meno?” Sean asked, sitting up.
The Producer said, “Meno Dalmucci’s variety dogshit debuts day after tomorrow in prime time opposite you guys.”
“Surprise! It’s Meno time,” the Other Producer said, flaying his hands open.
“The young and the fruity,” the Producer added.
“The young and the talentless,” the Other Producer said.
“What’s it called?” asked Marky.
“His show is called ‘suck my ass,’” the Producer said.
“It’s called ‘Help, I’m a metrosexual midget,’” the Other Producer added.
The Bros laughed.
“That’s why you do your ten on Kimmel tomorrow,” the Producer said.
“Preemptive strike,” the Other Producer said, taking off his baseball cap and shaking it out. “Twenty-two hours before that tween munchkin debuts on cable.“
“It’s critical,” the Producer said. “The battleground is here. Now.”
“We can’t give the fans what we gave them last time.”
“It worked—but we need to bring our A-game. Your A-game.”
Marky knew it was baloney. The show was the show: Opening skit, credits, hip-hop dancers, Sean-a-logue, commercial break, phat jam, guest act, comedy sketch, slow jam, guest goof, comedy sketch numero dos, last tune, finale, outro. What was there to improve? The Nash Bros sang, they danced, they played instruments, they wisecracked. Traditionally, comedy fell to Sean, the tunes were more Marky. But it was a mix. They did goofy stunts, took happy falls into pools full of mustard, donned dum-dum costumes for the ultra-corn like Marky and Sean in drag as Daughters Of The Revolution.
“Look,” the Producer continued, “what’s working is working.”
“Sean’s the crazy one, Marky’s the solid one,” the Other Producer said.
“Mark, you’re the straight man,” the Producer said. “But you know that.”
“Straight, but with a sense of humor,” the Other Producer said. “Nothing can ruffle your feathers.”
“I say amp up Sean’s wildness,” the Producer said. “We need more.”
Marky stopped texting and slipped his iPhone into his purple Lakers hoodie pocket. “More what? What’s that mean, exactly?”
The Producer made a yanking gesture. “Pull Sean forward, give him a little room to really go bananas.”
“And?” Marky asked.
There was silence. The Other Producer was allergic to silence. “And let Sean bounce off you. You be his sidekick.”
“Look,” the Producer said, tapping the edge of the stage with his forefinger like he was counting something. “Nielsen is projecting respectable metrics for tween viewers.”
“Respectable’s great if you want to go back to your jobs at In ’n’ Out Burger,” the Other Producer snarked. Neither brother had ever worked at In ’n’ Out or any other food franchise, but the point was taken.
Sean looked to Marky. Marky shook his head just a touch, but like a fast strum across the loose strings of an out-of-tune guitar, his neck tendons bristled in a downward twang. “Okay,” he said. “So you want me to like, step back?”
“Lighten up, bro.” Sean said. “It’s still the Sean and Marky Nash Hour— for now.”
Marky guffawed in cool-guy assent — what choice did he have?
But the Other Producer winced. “Don’t even joke, Sean. Because now is really the time for unity.”
The Producer nodded. “I tell my people these two kids have chemistry like Donny and Marie. You gotta be blood for that.” The Nash Bros obviously had never heard of Donny and Marie.
Then, as if on cue, Producer and Other Producer went tag-team on the Bros, trading off eye contact. “Bottom line? We need to block Meno.”
“We need to beat Meno with the best tween show in television history.”
“We need to shoot Meno in the head, skull-fuck him, and bury his broken 12-year-old bones in the ground.”
The Bros laughed. Marky said, “You dudes are nuts.”
“We have to be, Mark, it’s your careers on the line.” The Producer shot Marky that concerned Boss-to-Oldest-Bro look. “Everybody in this room believes in you two. Period. But it’s my job to tell the truth. And as I stand here today, we can do better. Sean’s goof-out is getting us the numbers. So that’s got to take a front seat right now.”
“Eleven o‘clock call tomorrow,” the Other Producer added.
Marky looked around. Grips, lighting, stagecrew, makeup, camera men were all watching and pretending not to watch this little piece of on-the-set action. He sensed a weird compassion in the air, like they all knew how young Marky and Sean were and how all this pressure was on them.
Marky shrugged. “Sounds like a plan,” he said.
Sean shot Marky a weirded-out look.
Marky raised an eyebrow. “See you at Mom’s.”
Marky drove his tricked out Benz with the tinted windows down the 101 from Burbank to Hawthorne and parked on the street. Out of habit, he still left the driveway space for their long-gone dad. Suburban lawn stretched like a river. Marky hit the walkway and used his own key. Home sweet home.
Inside, Mom was scissoring Nash Bros newspaper clippings on the ancient couch. Alongside her sat the squat smoking Gloria, their 27-year-old West Coast fan club prez with a pony-tailed pompadour. Marky thought that women should not have rockabilly haircuts. Ever.
“Here he is,” Gloria said, smashing her cigarette into an auburn glass oval. “The grown-up half.”
“Oh my boys will never grow up,” Mom said, weaving the scissors around a newsprint corner. Mom’s eyes were soft as she smiled up at him, but Mark could never tell if she was being flirty or tired or straining against something. She blamed her anti-anxiety pills for never getting up before noon. But Marky felt that she protected a secret space around her. And he alone saw it.
She hadn’t lost her looks. She still had something womanly about her, even in a print dress and aqua rubber flip-flops. But she never talked about the movies she’d made or her life before the boys. Plus, she hid her Golden Popcorn Award in the garage. He found it there one time, stuffed haphazardly in a suitcase along with some old letters and printed out emails and a fake ruby ring and a matchbox from the Vagabond Inn.
Now, her part was the cheerleader focused on her boys’ career. She had been pushing them since practically when they came out of the womb. That was the family joke. But to their Dad? Outside of bragging rights, the Old Man never gave a shit. He hadn’t even lived with them for 10 years already. Once, on Father’s Day, during the newscaster bit, Sean gave an impromptu, “I love you, Dad!” Of course all the tween girls went cuckoo at this doe-eyed display of family fealty. Mark could see that kiss-ass Sean didn’t even know that he was Dad’s biggest victim. Like the Old Man was even watching their dub-ass show.
Marky was about to tell his mother that she and Gloria didn’t have to cut the clippings because the Nash Bros had a paid service for that. But then Sean came out of the bathroom still zipping up.
“I explained to Mom about the producers’ little lecture,” Sean said. “You all right with all that?”
“All right with what?” Marky said, flopping into the Old Man’s armshair. Marky tuned out masterfully by inspecting plastic fruit on the table. And yet his brother was like the Energizer bunny. He went on, and on, and on, and on.
“…It’s kind of like a ping-pong energy. Where you’re all sturdy and I’m all, like—” Sean did an octopus wiggle.
“It’s fine. It’s good,” Marky responded finally. “It’s like a Martin-Lewis thing.”
“You mean Martin Lawrence,” Sean said.
“No idiot,” Marky said. “I mean Martin and Lewis.”
“Who’s that?” Sean said.
The women laughed and Sean laughed with them.
“They were comics before you were born, honey,” Mom said, not lifting her eyes from the scissors. I keep saying you need to learn showbiz history. But only Marky listens to me.”
Marky tossed a plastic green apple between his hands and stared at his brother, who continued his monologue. “You see, without Mark there to like, buffer, me, it would just fall flat. During the pirate sketch, I’m all trying to get my sea legs, and…”
Sean kept going on. Yes, he was a dumbass. But it wasn’t like a surprise to Marky or anyone else. The bros’ dynamic had been fixed long before they became TV stars. Before they’d even started getting headshots and going out on auditions. But worse than the frustration of having to tolerate his brother (which was ancient history and a life-curse anyway) was Marky’s shame for having walked into this arrangement professionally without the slightest suspicion that it would make things worse not better.
The annoyingness really locked down when the cameras started rolling. Marky knew the way things were, but he just kept playing along — like it was the most fun anybody could ever hope for.
And even worse than the shame was that Marky pitied the babyfaced childish dork who was always a busting out foofball like a total wuss. Mom loved it, Gloria loved it, girls loved it, okay. But Marky pitied him. Because he saw what Sean couldn’t: when he acted like that, he was a total puppet of the show.
And that made Marky a puppet, too.
“…and that,” Sean temporarily concluded, “is what I think the producers are after — a mutual support kind of energy.”
Gloria, sniffing family tension, interrupted. “Mrs. Nash, look at this old photo. Mark is husky.”
“Oh my,” Mom said. “How’d they get ahold of that one?”
Marky leaned over to check out the pic. The newspaper had reprinted some ancient snaps in black and white, the boys with Mom standing in front of a giant indoor hammock at Barnsdall Park Museum. Even then, at nine years old, Mark was more male-looking. Things were expected of Marky. Big things. Even then, he shouldered a burdensome pride that wimps and clowns did not know. He couldn’t play the fool, not even then.
And Sean? At seven, he was already mugging like a dufus.
In the real world, Sean the fool would be the sidekick but in showbiz everything was backwards: masculine was feminine and underdog was superhero. Besides, face the facts: it was Mark who had gone head to head with the Old Man. They had thrown down once. Mark was not yet 14. True, the Old Man pinned him down but Mark basically let the Old Man pin him down, right by the washing machine in the hall. The Old Man, all lockjawed, had said, “You wanna tangle ass, ya mama’s boy?” He’d raised a fist and Mark looked aside. Then the Old Man said, “Don’t you go getting cocky on me, Mister, I’ll knock you out,” and let him go with a push. Then Marky ran away for two days.
“Let’s have some dinner,” Mom said.
Sean threw his hands up and said, “Hallelujah!” Gloria’s eyes lit up. She simply could not believe she had the privilege of their company. Even Marky sort of laughed. Sean was a card, getting all psyched over the blandest shit. Marky himself was no loser dud. He was triple threat — he could act, could sing good, could even dance. He could play guitar way better than Sean. But he lacked the natural gift for jolliness. He knew this team-player comedy hour bullshit was pushing him somewhere lame. In the skits, he came off lumbering. He was a bring-down.
In daisy-print cooking gloves, Mom busted out the tinted orange rectangular casserole. She invited Gloria to stay which, of course, she did. “Well,” Mom said, spooning mac ‘n’ cheese, “It sounds like a temporary thing. You know how it is. You accent this, then you accent that. Anyway, the Producers have good instincts.” Fork in hand, Marky bowed his head. Her verdict was in.
Meanwhile, motor-mouth Sean started describing the new set in detail by rearranging the salt and pepper shakers. ”…and they got these kind of spinning silver poles, with strips that run from the…”
Tune out time again for Marky Nash. No. Sorry. I will NOT be subject to another Sean-o-logue!