“Brothers and Sisters”: The Walkers
The brothers and sisters of “Brothers & Sisters” are unique in sheer plenitude. Besides the five core Walker siblings — Sarah, Kitty, Kevin, Tommy, and Justin — “Brother and Sisters” also features the close bond between matriarch Norah and her brother Sal. And then there’s the convoluted ordeals of nobody — turned illegitimate half-sister — turned nobody — turned sister-in-law — turned nobody Rebeca Harper and Ryan “the less said, the better” Lafferty. But while “Brothers and Sisters” is most definitely a melodrama, what sets it apart is its ability to capture the way that alliances in big families shift seamlessly, as the Walkers want the best for each other, but fundamentally disagree about what that means. Whether it’s Sarah and Kevin teaming up against Tommy’s shady business dealings, Kitty and Sarah getting vocal about Kevin’s love life, or the entire family scheming to keep Nora out of the loop, the Walker siblings have no chill but a lot of love. Plus, any sunny Sunday drama with the chutzpah to broach incest, as was the case when Justin developed feelings for his as-far-as-he-knew sister Rebecca, earns a spot in some pantheon.
“Dexter”: Dexter and Debra Morgan
What’s interesting about the close friendship between Dexter, the serial killer/blood splatter analyst, and Debra, the detective/worst detective ever, is that their relationship was best when little sis didn’t know what her big brother was up to in his off hours. Once she found out her bro was offing bad guys to fill a compulsive need, their relationship significantly changed — shocker, right? — and “Dexter” went completely off the rails.
Still, the adoptive siblings worked through plenty of trying issues together before Season 6, including actually working together (with Dexter kind of helping the Miami P.D., but mostly using Debra to find more targets for his lethal hobby) and building a new family with Dexter, Rita and her kids. For much of the series, Debra represented the only real human connection Dexter had (a scary thought once you get to know her), but a necessary burden she seemed happy to bear — until she learned too much.
“Firefly”: Simon and River Tam
How many brothers do you know who would take off work to help out their sister? Okay, but how many would quit their job? How many would break her out of jail? Who would do all of that, and then spend his life smuggling his sister through the solar system to keep her from being experimented on by an evil intergalactic government?
To be fair, most siblings don’t have to deal with such issues, but it’s exactly those struggles that made Simon and River so close. Simon, once a world-class surgeon, adjusted to life on the run as River tried to rediscover herself and understand powers that could often spin out of control. Most of “Firefly” (and the movie sequel “Serenity”) was spent watching these two learn how to function with others — be it Simon trying to let go of control or River trying to not beat the crap out of her fellow crew members — but they never had to worry about functioning together. These two were rock solid.
“It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”: Dennis and Dee Reynolds
Along with their father Frank, Dennis and Dee Reynolds make up two parts of TV’s most dysfunctional family. The relationship between these two siblings is one of outward disdain, as the two are constantly manipulating and verbally abusing each other. But despite all that, the two have made a team on more than one occasion, usually in the latest scheme to get rich with no effort. In one particularly memorable episode, the two go on welfare, and in another they try to use their bantering skills as bartenders as hosts of a podcast. The constant back-and-forth between these two psychopathic siblings is an important dynamic to the “It’s Always Sunny” dynamic.
“Parks and Recreation”: Jean-Ralphio and Mona Lisa Saperstein
Jean-Ralphio and Mona Lisa are the essential brother-sister pair to the extreme. Meaning, they are basically the same person in girl or boy form because they grew up together and had the same influences on their lives. This makes them both the same kind of annoying, but in different ways, like Jean Ralphio with his douchebag exterior and Mona Lisa with her whiny voice. They really know how to push each other’s buttons and really make fun of each other the most, because they know each other the best — which means they really know how to work as a team to get what they want, because they’ve been partners all their lives.
“Rick and Morty”: Morty and Summer Smith
Having a drunken, mad scientist grandpa around to cause general chaos and mayhem puts Morty and Summer Smith in more than a few situations where they must follow that hallowed, never-to-be-broken brother-sister law, “Don’t tell Mom and Dad.” Morty and Summer butt heads, tease each other relentlessly, and yes, tattle on each other every once in awhile, but when it comes to the big stuff, like an interdimensional monster-infested house party, sibling solidarity is a constant between these two. It’s also refreshing to see Summer join Rick and Morty on more of their adventures, and have us focus less on any potential sibling rivalry. A brother and sister haven’t really saved the day on TV since the Wonder Twins left the Justice League, and Morty and Summer do it while putting each other down, bringing each other back up, and working together to keep Mom and Dad out of the loop, just like any real life brother and sister would do.
“The Simpsons”: Bart and Lisa Simpson
In its several decades on the air, “The Simpsons” has been known for its ability to balance crass humor with honest emotion, and Bart and Lisa’s brother-sister bond is perfect evidence of this. Bart is a foul-mouthed troublemaker and Lisa is a sensitive genius, but despite their differences, Bart and Lisa being raised by a couple of weirdos has brought bring together. While Bart and Lisa fight and bicker (it would almost be creepy if brothers and sisters didn’t), at the end of the day they’re always on the same team. In a family as dysfunctional as the Simpsons, and in a town as crazy as Springfield, Bart and Lisa sometimes rely on each other as one of the few constants in their lives. “Home Sweet Homediddly-Dum-Doodily,” from the show’s seventh season, is a great example of Bart and Lisa not just as siblings, but as each other’s lifelines.
“The X-Files”: Fox and Samantha Mulder
Samantha Mulder was technically not a major character in the classic Fox sci-fi franchise, but two feature films and nine seasons of television (soon to be 10) would not exist without her presence on the show. Kidnapped at the age of eight by a government conspiracy and/or aliens, we never really get to know too much about her, but searching for the truth about her abduction is what drove Fox Mulder to become an FBI agent and open the X-Files division. For seven years, Mulder’s determination to find Samantha was one of the show’s major focuses — making the show, at its purest, a story about the power of a brother’s love.
Ryan M. Anielski, Wil Barlow, Liz Shannon Miller, Sonya Saepoff and Ben Travers contributed to this list.