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TV Sibling Rivalries That Make Your Sob Story Look Tame

By Annie Murphy

Television is such a powerful medium because of its ability to offer us a snapshot of our lives. From a ten-minute Internet TV show to an hour-long network drama and everything in between, we experience the highs and lows that enrich our existence relatively quickly, without any real emotional repercussions.

Not so much with siblings. This is the one relationship that stays with us longest – we’ll grow up alongside our siblings more so than our parents, our spouses, even our own children. For better or worse (and anyone who tells you about their perfect family dynamic is lying), we’re stuck with our brothers and sisters for a lifetime.

Perhaps these opposing timetables are precisely why sibling rivalries make for some of the most dramatic television. Almost all of us can relate to the onscreen drama, and we’re comfortable sticking around to see how bad the train wreck will get, because we all hope they’ll hug it out before the credits roll.

KoldCast TV’s new teen drama, pretty/tough, set in Malibu, California, attacks the relationship between sisters Charlie and Krista Brown. Created by renowned television and fiction writer Liz Tigelaar (Dawson’s Creek, Brothers & Sisters), the show explores their deep-seeded sibling rivalry that began early, when two-year-old Krista chose a Peanuts character to name her little sister after. Charlie does have a point when lambasting her parents, “who lets a two-year old pick a name?”

Further complicating Charlie and Krista’s relationship is their need to find common ground as teammates on the high school soccer team. For two sisters on opposite ends of their school’s social hierarchy, things don’t look so bright.


You are watching Episode 1 of pretty/tough

Charlie Brown gets recruited to play for the Beachwood Academy Girls soccer team by the new soccer coach Martie, but when she tells her popular, all-star sister Krista, it sets off a bitter rivalry between the two girls.


It is the differences that keep siblings at odds, but their shared desire to be the better child usually spurs the full-fledged rivalry. Lets peek under the hood of the dynamics between our favorite siblings at each other’s throats on TV today.



Pretty Little Liars (Spencer and Melissa Hastings)

This teen drama boasts a similar sibling dynamic to Charlie and Krista Brown from pretty/tough. Even amongst a group of beautiful girls searching for their friend’s killer, Spencer’s older sister, Melissa, is her biggest rival. Being raised in a wealthy home with demanding parents cause the two to duke it out over grades and affection – and not just their parent’s affection. Spencer has had a knack for hooking up with Melissa’s boyfriends on multiple occasions. There are tender moments of understanding here and there, but for the most part, these two can’t stand each other.



Shameless (The Gallaghers)

This rowdy, destitute, group of kids knows how to throw a killer party, and also a few right hooks when necessary. The Gallagher clan is made up of six unique siblings ranging from ages 1 to 21. They take care of each other through thick and thin, but mostly thin thanks to their alcoholic dad who’s out getting wasted every day, taking advantage of his social security benefits. The kids work together to keep the household running and maintain some sense of a “normal” family life. That’s not nearly as cute as it sounds; their dynamic more an inner city Lord of the Flies than The Brady Bunch. Living in such close quarters without any parental supervision brings out the worst in these siblings, such as when Debbie, a middle child, steals a toddler from a birthday party, forcing her older sister Fiona to deal with the legal repercussions. Fiona’s solution? Date a local cop.



Parenthood (Adam, Sarah, Crosby and Julia Braverman)

Although these four brothers and sisters are all grown up with families in tow, they haven’t quite outgrown their childhood qualms. Adam, the eldest and most responsible, has a habit of reminding Crosby and Sarah of their shortcomings when it comes to their maturity level and parenting skills. Sarah used to be the popular, older sister Julia always envied, but now that Julia’s a hotshot lawyer, Sarah feels inadequate with her career as a bartender. Parenthood is one of those shows whose realistic dramatic turns make you feel better about your own dysfunctional relationships.



Last Man Standing (Kristin, Mandy, and Eve Baxter)

Tim Allen’s come a long way from his Home Improvement days as a father of three boys. He now plays Mike Baxter, a red-blooded, red state, sporting goods store owner and father of three teenage daughters in ABC’s new sitcom. The Baxter girls are all flawed in perfectly unique ways, which provides the fodder for most episodes. The show typically features one of Mike’s daughters screwing up, and the others exploiting it to gain daddy’s love.

Kristin, the oldest, got knocked up in high school. Mandy the middle child can’t stay out of detention, and the youngest, Eve, was banking on her rep as the golden child until last week’s episode. When she gets suspended for calling a classmate gay, Mike puts his foot right up his mouth in front of all three daughters, “Not the good daughter! – I mean, the one I like… same as all of you.” Mandy goes so far as to rank her sisters in order of dad’s favorites. Pointing to herself she takes number one, “…teen preggers is two, and bigot gets the bronze.” Pretty clear cut.



Modern Family (Alex and Haley Dunphy)

These two rarely see eye to eye on anything. Alex is the brainy, younger sister who finds it hilarious to torture Haley, older and popular, until she explodes in a fit of teenage angst. That their family is so large only fuels the fire as it’s hard to get noticed among the now famous eccentric cast of characters of the Emmy award-winning show. The thing is, Alex and Haley are secretly jealous of each other’s opposite attributes, but would never admit it. Even though Alex ridicules Haley for being a ditz, she wishes she could garner at least half as much male attention. On the flip side, Haley isn’t the brightest bulb in the box and struggles to come up with witty comebacks when Alex cuts her down. This is a pair that will probably get closer after their hormonal teen years come to an end.



Ben and Kate (Ben and Kate Fox)

A goofy brother moves in with his sister, a neurotic single mother on the brink of a nervous breakdown. What could go wrong? Aside from their opposite personality clashes, they’re also intent on fixing each other’s flaws. Kate comes down on Ben’s delusional, carefree outlook on life even though her own is a hot mess. On the other hand, Ben tries to rub off some of that whimsical inner dreamer onto his uptight sister. His questionable tactics – like creating fake emergency situations – may send Kate over the edge, but she is eager to spread her wings and experience some of the wild life she left behind, making her own bad decisions at his expense. For example, deciding, at 26, to celebrate the 21st birthday party she never had. Desperate, but good comedy.



Arrested Development (Michael, Gob, Buster and Lindsay)

After being cancelled in 2006, this quirky cult sitcom is being revived for an experimental fourth season on Netflix this year, and with good reason. The Bluth family’s bizarre brand of sibling rivalry is downright hilarious. After their father’s arrest, Michael decides to take over the large family business and ends up biting off more than he can chew. He reinserts himself into his dysfunctional family, and now has to babysit his spoiled and eccentric adult siblings. Gob dubs himself a magician/entrepreneur while Lindsay can’t put down the booze or her mirror long enough to hold a job. Buster literally can’t function without their cruel mommy by his side, leaving Michael alone to wrangle his circus of a family together. Strangely, they manage to click in the worst of times, usually because he’s just so damn patient.



Click to watch Episode 2 of pretty/tough



Ariel Nishli contributed to this story.

Annie Murphy has been obsessed with writing since she learned English at age seven. Originally from Burma, Annie’s unique background gives her a fresh perspective and voice. She has an addictive personality, mainly with TV shows, Flaming Hot Lime Cheetos and gangsta rap.

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Must Reads 9/2/2014