Wednesday, May 26, 2010
There's something endearingly familiar about oft-recycled story lines. If you've seen one separated-at-birth-identical-twins-reunited-by-random-circumstances story, you've seen them all. Suffice it to say if you're vaguely aware of The Parent Trap, you're more than well-versed in the gimmick behind Sister, Sister. It may not be the most original plot foundation, but the audience is usually so mesmerized by the appearance of two identical individuals that we overlook the hackneyed premise.
As in most identical twin-themed entertainment, Tia and Tamera are cast as polar opposites a la Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield. It seems writers are generally unaware that twins can have anything at all in common. If one is studious, the other has to be social. If one is a deep thinker, the other must be a bit superficial. It's simply the balance of the universe; audiences simply can not comprehend any twin trope outside the basic identical opposites scenario. There's a reason very few shows feature fraternal twins or identical twins with similar interests: they just don't provide enough zany situationally comedic material.
Sister, Sister premiered in 1994 on ABC, lasting a single season on the major network despite its relative popularity. Following its swift cancellation, it was picked up by frequent television show rehabilitator and scrap feeder The WB. The show remained popular in syndication long after its final cancellation in 1999, airing on The Disney Channel, UPN, and most inexplicably, the Gospel Music Channel. Thankfully, the GMC saw fit to edit subjectively suggestive and/or mildly offensive from their broadcast, omitting phrases like "Shut up." Praise the lord.
The pilot episode introduced us to Tia Landry and Tamera Campbell, two unassuming 14-year old girls living in socioeconomically disparate parts of the Detroit, Michigan area. The twins were both adopted at birth by a convenient-to-plot single parent, Tia with sassy mother Lisa and Tamera with uptight stickler father Ray. Tamera and Tia have a classic double-take chance encounter while shopping at a mall department store, and things quickly escalate into full-on Brady-style blending. It may seem remarkably premature for one adult stranger to consent to moving in with another into single house as one happy family without conducting a full-scale investigation of the other, but hey, it's TV. Just go with it.
Premise too confusing? Memory failing? Don't worry, here's the very detailed theme song complete with helpfully literal visual aids:
Following this set-up, much to-be-expected blended-family tension comedy ensues. Suburban-raised Tamera is boy-crazy and spontaneous, while inner city-bred Tia is bookish and intellectual. Unsurprisingly, their respective adoptive parents are not only very different from one another but also have traits more closely matching the other's child. Tia's mom Lisa is a wisecracking brassy seamstress with limited professional success, whereas Tamera's father Ray is an established entrepreneur with a thriving limousine company. I don't know about you, but I smell some zany misunderstandings a'brewin' in this household. Yes, a'brewin'. That's the technical accompanying terminology for zany misunderstandings in situation comedies.
It's worth noting that the Mowry twins had some pretty enviable 90s fashion. Check out the following clip from the premiere episode and try telling me your heart doesn't flutter faintly with desire at the sight of their distinctly 90s getups. Flannel pajamas? Crochet sleeves? Floral vest? Crewneck maroon sweatshirt with mock turtleneck underneath? It's enough to make me want to dig through my 90s childhood closet and pull on that very same denim Blossom-style hat. For the record, I also had it in velvet. Don't be jealous.
In typical twin fashion, many of the show's story arcs involved switcharoo schemes. Tamera begs Tia to take a test in her place. Tamera implores Tia to go on her date to save face on her devastating pimple. Tia and Tamera try to play both sisters and hold down four jobs between the two of them. Sister, Sister pulls out every sitcom standard in the book, from cheesy dream sequences to the requisite Hawaiian vacation. From time to time the show dips into Very Special territory, such as when Lisa suspects the girls are smoking cigarettes to a near-brush in with a potential online predator. Even with the occasional after-school special themes, the show maintained its sense of humor and resisted the temptation to go all Lifetime Movie on its viewers.
Sister, Sister also had a revolving door of minor characters, the most consistent being their irritating neighbor, Roger. Nerdy Roger had an unrelenting crush on both girls throughout the majority of the show's seasons, though he mysteriously disappears without mention after the fifth season. He appears only a handful of times in the sixth season, presumably because we got bored of his antics. Marque Houston, the actor who plays Roger, was a member of R&B singing group Immature (aka IMx), so from time to time he would grace us with a song:
Brittany Murphy and Bianca Lawson also have small recurring roles, as the girls' close friend and school nemesis respectively. Jeffersons' alum Sherman Helmsley shows up as "Soupy," Ray's flaky father. Of the recurring minor characters, I feel it necessary to give special recognition to Fred Willard as the bumbling high school vice principal. Really, Fred Willard is undistupably hilarious in every role. That guy's a comedic genius.
Over its six-year run, Sister, Sister also boasted an impressive and varied roster of guest stars. Kobe Bryant, Mya, Blackstreet, the Olsen Twins, and Kenan and Kel? Someone in casting was working hard. It's hard to imagine celebrities like RuPaul and Milton Berle being billed on the same project, but Sister, Sister made it happen.
Like most teen sitcoms, things got a bit shaky after the girls went off to college. A major prerequisite of a television teen comedy is its teenage stars, so as the Mowrys aged out of that demographic, the show gradually lost steam. There's an age threshold for when it's still cute to watch identical twins go on each other's dates; few viewers want to see grown women engaging in the same schemes they did as 14-year old girls. Regardless, Sister, Sister held it together for the most part without outwearing its welcome. Now, that it's out of syndication, however, there's a little Sister, Sister shaped void in our TV viewing lives. To paraphrase the eternally wise words of the show's theme, I never knew how much I'd miss ya.