Sunday, May 15, 2011

Oh, Brother!

I didn't think I'd do another 'list' post so soon after my Mother's Day one but it's Awesome Big Brother's birthday today, so this seemed like a good time to dedicate a post to him (he's also getting Amazon vouchers, I'm not that cheap). I've been think a lot about my favourite sibling pairings in the last year and a half - my new Horror/Adventure series definitely hinges on the relationship between my main character, Emily, and her awesome big brother Jack - and I've made no secret of the fact that the way Em looks up to Jack isn't entirely uninspired by actual events.

Awesome Big Brother's pretty much directly responsible most of my quirkier tastes and nerdy pop-culture obsessions. He's the who one pulled 9-year-old me away from The Famous Five so we could watch Predator, and loaned me his Terry Pratchett books when I couldn't get into The Babysitter's Club. He also helped me redirect my pre-teen crushes away from the predictable pretty-boys pin-ups and towards funny,sarcastic guys with geek appeal (like the one I wound up marrying). So it's fair to say I owe him a lot.
                                                                               Groovy                                                                        Not Groovy
But the thing is I don't say it, not usually. Because that's not how guys work. They don't gush or bare their souls or have late-night wine fuelled secret swapping sessions. To put it in writing terms, guys don't Tell - but they do Show. Whether it's going out of their way to find or build a shared interest, just happening to call when you're feeling down, or sending on funny links and videos "just because", when it comes to brothers it's the little things they do that tell you the big things they don't usually say. Which is sweet in real-life but, depending on what they're not telling,  it can be kind of challenge to capture on the page. Especially when fictional Awesome Big Brother's actions are seen through the eyes of Adoring Little Sister.

How do you show, for example, "I'm worried you'll be frightened if you know how scared I am" or "Crap, crap crap, what the hell do I do now?" when all your main character sees is "Relax, it's cool. I've got this"? Well, you don't. But you can show the things she does notice - a little extra stress, a smile that seems just a bit too forced, a sudden case of unrelenting overprotectivitis. Just enough for the reader to realise there's something up even your main character's a little too awestruck/self-involved/in denial to see it for herself. And if your main character's holding back to save face in front of big bro, even better. Show them enough of her duality and your reader will figure out fast enough everyone's saying anything but what they mean (this doesn't just apply to brothers, by the way. It's good for almost any case of desperately-trying-to-hold-it-together syndrome). There's plenty of great sibling relationships in pop culture, but the five pairs I've listed below mean something to me in terms my characters - even if none of them come close to quite matching up to my Awesome Big Brother. Enjoy!

(5) Fred & George Weasley - The Harry Potter Books/Movies (James & Oliver Phelps)
Only in the Wizarding World could two OWL-level teenagers drop out of school and establish themselves as successful entrepreneurs before the start of next academic year. But then Fred and George Weasley aren't your average drop-outs. The wise-cracking, trouble-making duo already had a smash-hit mail-order joke business under their belts by the time they quit Hogwarts in a blaze of home-made fireworks and havoc-causing spells (as a political protest against hellish new headmistress Dolores Umbridge). Their joke shop Weasley's Wizard Wheezes was just the next stop on their way to world domination, or at least global mischief management.
"Of course they can tell us apart, I'm the good looking one!"
But despite solemnly swearing to be up to no good, this kind-hearted double-trouble act have never been ones to shy away from a fight against the Dark Forces - just don't expect them to stop swapping jokes as they step up for hazardous battles and life-threatening Potter-protection schemes. They've even laughed off physical mutilation because, well, at least now their Mom can tell them apart. The Weasley's might be a huge close-knit family, but even through that Fred and George share a special bond. They walk, talk and think in sync, finish each other's sentences and watch each other's backs. You get the impression they don't really need anyone else as long as they've got each other - and that as long as they do, the rest of the world had better watch out!

(4) Dexter & Debra Morgan - Jeff Lindsay's Dexter books, HBO's DEXTER (Michael C. Hall & Jennifer Carpenter)
Sociopathic blood-splatter expert/serial-killer of serial killers Dexter (AKA The Bay Habour Butcher) might play the amiable family man but, at least in Season One, he was pretty sure of his complete lack of human emotions. So when he told the viewer if he could have feelings for anyone, he'd have them for insecure, foul-mouthed foster-sister Debra (who just happens to be a cop), you knew it was something special. Over the years, they've suffered through bereavements, some serious co-worker drama and Very Bad Break-ups and they've dealt with it (nearly) all  together - with the help of some beers, steaks and an occasionally mind-bogglingly creative list of expletives from Deb.  
"Jeez Dex, who died?"
"Can't remember, it's been a busy week."
What's interesting about the Morgans is that, despite the fact Dex is hiding the world's pretty much the world's most GIANT secret Deb (not only is he the mass-murdering vigilante she's been tracking for the last few years but their Dad, Harry, trained him into the role to help clean up the streets!) their relationship doesn't play out that differently to a lot of other brothers and sisters. Deb emotes, Dex holds back, they hang out, drink and crack some jokes. If anything they seem closer than most - and I'd love to be able to show you anything like that but I can't because it's impossible to find a video of Deb behaving normally that wouldn't come off like morse code if it was censored. So here's her behaving abnormally, as Dexter has a nightmare about the one thing he's really scared of - his little sister finding out the truth about her 'monsterous' big brother.   
(3) Simon & River Tam - Firefly, Serenity (Sean Maher & Summer Glau)
Okay, let's overlook the fact that apparently the same parents who give their son a nice sensible name like Simon decided RIVER was a perfectly non-weird name for a girl, and cut straight to the cute - uptight incredi-smart Doctor Simon would do anything, and I do mean anything, for his troubled little sister. After risking his life break her out of the goverment facility where she was being experimented on, Simon had to store River in stasis and con his way onto a ship full of space-bandits in an effort to outrun the evil Alliance. 
Don't cry River. Just 'cos you're kinda nuts and the government's after you and the cutest guy
on the ship is your brother. .. okay, maybe you can cry a bit.
Since then, he's lied, stolen and killed to protect her - he even punched badass ship's captain Mal in the face for risking her life in a heist. And he forced himself to sacrifice true love with the ship's comely engineer Kaylee because, well, who's got time for romance when you have a mentally unstable, occasionally violent sister to look after. In her coherent moments, River's sweet, innocent and smart - aware of the trouble she's causing for Simon and miserable that she can't control herself. Naturally, by the end of  the Firefly/Serenity story there's some pretty awesome pay-off for the Tams' suffering, but that's not really the point. Simon's never cared about pay-off, all he really cares about is taking care of  River and, it turns out, all she wants to be able take care of him right back.
(2) Fievel & Tanya Mousekewitz - An Amercian Tail (Philip Glasser & Amy Green)
Of course everyone's favourite tear-jerking rodent tots make the cut! An American Tail might be a cute little adventure story about one mouse's search for his family (or it could be Stephen Speilberg's attempt to explore a difficult time in American History through the eyes of an innocent young imigrant) but it's also one of the sweetest brother/sister love-stories ever. What I love is about Fievel and Tanya is that they don't have a perfect relationship. They argue, they irritate each other, they fight like - well, I was gonna say cat and dog but... mouse and slightly bigger mouse? And yet there isn't anything they wouldn't do for each other. Not having their sibling there to fight with is unbearable for both of them! 
"Okay, fine! I missed you. Now can we get off the freaking pigeon?"
Fievel's the lucky one. He knows his family are out there somewhere, he just has to track them down and his  innocence and optimism give him the strength to keep searching other New York strays tell him to give up. But Tanya's older and, after seeing her parents grieve, a little less innocent. She's not running on optimism, just pure, stubborn love. Fievel can't be dead. That would break her heart, so he has to be alive and she's going to keep believing that until someone can prove otherwise. Little brother Fievel might get more screen time, but the story is a definite two-hander. The pair even get their own adorable, heart-wrenching love song. It's the voice-crack at 0:21 that really gets me, but I also just adore the fact that a song that can be so cheesy a 'romance' between adults can still make me tear up when it's about a brother and sister who miss each other.
(1) Sam & Dean Winchester - Supernatural (Jared Padalecki & Jensen Ackles)
If monster-hunting, apocalypse-averting, fast-quipping brothers Sam and Dean were any closer they'd be in danger of becoming the Weasley twins. Their tendency to finish each other's sentences, mirror each-other's movements and fight like they're the US synchronized monster-slaying team makes them a pretty fearsome double act. And their tendency to show their brotherly devotion by welling up, risking their lives or calling each other 'bitch' and 'jerk' when what they mean is - y'know, the 'L' word (no, not 'lesbians')- makes them a firm favourite with the fan-fiction generation. But maybe that's what you get when you've spent pretty much five of the last six years on a stuck in the the Impala together on what's essentially one never-ending cross-country road-trip. These two would go to hell and back for each other - heck, they literally have!  
"This is our freak-frightening smolder."
But while not-so-little brother Sam's had his fair share of problems really hideous problem, somehow Awesome Big Brother(tm) Dean always seems to wind up with the really fuzzy end of the lollipop. Not that I'm saying demon-blood addiction, satanic possession and the sudden embarrassing realisation you've left your soul in your other pants for the last year are exactly a walk in the park, but at least Sam's always got someone there to help. Whereas when Dean's dealing with - say - a blood-addled little brother, an emotionless robo-bro or an Evil Alterna-Sam who won't stop punching him in the face, well, he's pretty much going it alone. Not that he'd think of quitting him. As long as Sam's there, Dean's by his side. He wouldn't trade his little brother for all the home-bake apple-pie and fresh-raked leaves in the world. 
With the exception of surrogate Dad Bobby Singer and the occasional morally dubious angel/demon sidekick (I'm looking at you, Cass and Ruby) Sam and Dean are really the only people in each other's lives, and that's okay with them. Just, you know, no chick-flick moments, dude.
Honourable Mentions
(1) Luke Skywalker & Leia Organa (Mark Hamill & Carrie Fisher) -  Star Wars: A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi   Badass twins who took on their Dad to bring help down the Empire. They probably would've made the main list if it wasn't for that kiss in A New Hope - and Leia's 'I've always known' in Jedi. Always, Leia? ALWAYS?  Bad space-princess!
(2) Antigone & Polynices - Antigone   Okay, he's dead by the time the play opens, but that just makes his little sister's devotion more affecting. Polynices might've killed their brother and led an army against the city (to be fair, he had his reasons) but Antigone still puts her life on the line make sure he get the burial nobody else will give him.
(3) Troy Barnes & Abed Nadir (Donald Glover & Danny Pudi) -  Community   Another close contender for the main list except, well, they're not actually brothers, are they? At first glance, the dumb, handsome jock and quirky, Data-esque nerd shouldn't even be friends but their shared love of bad movies, video games, rapping in bad Spanish and hosting fake chat-shows makes them kindred spirits, and the closest thing to a brother either guy could ever need.
(4) Bart & Lisa Simpson (Nancy Cartwright & Yeardley Smith) - The Simpsons  Whether they're giving eachother dead-arms in the back of a car, investigating a possible homicide at the Flanders's or trying to outsmart Side Show Bob again, Bart and Lisa are another great example of that unconditional-love/occasional hate dynamic. They just didn't have as a cute song as Fievel and Tanya.

Dishonourable Mentions
(1) Hawk & Voltan (John Terry & Jack Palance) - Hawk the Slayer    Hawk's the handsome young hero out to avenge their father's death, Voltan's the ugly, patricidal supervillian he must destroy - but I can't help feeling their Pops kinda had it coming. I mean, come on! VOLTAN? HAWK? With names like that,  Mr & Mrs The Slayer clearly had a game plan, and I'm pretty sure this was it. 
(2) Dexter Morgan & Brian Moser (Michael C. Hall & Christian Camargo) - Jeff Lindsay's Darkly Dreaming Dexter, HBO's Dexter    Poor Brian, all he really wanted was his brother back. Oh, and to kill people. Lots and Lots of people. You'd think Dex would be down with that, but there's still Harry's darned 'code' to worry about. And Deb, of course. He should probably worry about her.... 
(3) Lindsay & Michael Bluth (Portia De Rossi & Jason Bateman) - Arrested Development 
They were never exactly close, and all the Bluths are messed up, but you'd think as twins they'd have some connection, right? Any shot these two had at a 'normal' relation went out the window in the very last episode, but maybe that's just as well. I mean, if the family were well-balanced there'd be no point in a reunion movie!

So, those are my picks - what about yours? Did I miss anyone? Did I get it wrong? Who's your favourite/least favourite sibling pairings from pop-culture, literature, TV or film?


  1. I love it - but I think Luke and Leia deserve higher places than silly mouse people.I am, however, biased to the extreme. *Hides star wars lunch box* Interesting tidbit - did you know the actor playing Dexter eloped with the actress playing Deb ? True story - now you have weird incestious vibes when you watch it, don't you ?

  2. David, I know. I WAS torn. In the end I just had to go with the ones that meant the most to me. Besides, they DID kiss, that's a little gross. Yeah - I knew about Michael C. Hall & Jennifer Carpenter. I thought it was cute, but now they've broken up I'm worried for Deb's future on the show :(.

  3. Luke and Leia totally deserve to be on the Hall of Fame list, not just the honourable mentions list! I know they kissed, but it was quick, and just to make Hans jealous!