Twins in Media: Phoebe and Ursula Buffay

Screenshot of Phoebe and Ursula Buffay played by Lisa Kudrow from the television series ‘Friends’. Copyright goes to Warner Bros. Television and NBC.

Hi! It’s Annie!

Welcome back to twins in media week! Hopefully this will help distract from everything happening today, because for this I chose the classic and wholesome television show ‘Friends’! This beloved show has become one of the favorites for television watchers all over the world and you would be hard-pressed to find anyone who hasn’t at least heard of ‘Friends’. I grew up watching odd episodes of friends, I only watched it all the way through for the first time a couple years ago, and Phoebe has been my favorite character since I first started watching it (though I do love Chandler’s sarcasm). I don’t know what that says about me. I guess the odd episodes I watched as a kid did not include Ursula though, because I wasn’t really aware of her existence until I sat down and watched the series all the way through. As soon as the idea was introduced I had a bad feeling it would be handled poorly. But was I right? Let’s find out!

The Good:

  • Different lives. Phoebe and Ursula live different lives to the point that they don’t see or talk to each other. They have completely separated themselves from each other and have different, friends, jobs, and live in different parts of the city. Often times Ursula will even pretend like Phoebe isn’t her sister. So, that isn’t great, but at least it means that their separate lives are a focus! They also have different relationships with the people in their lives that they do have in common. Ursula has no interest in meeting her birth mother unlike Phoebe and, at one point, dates Phoebe’s best friend, Joey.
  • Different personalities. These two are definitely different. Phoebe is a bright and cheery person who doesn’t always think the most logically. Ursula is completely detached and jaded while also seeming like the more sane of the two (not by much), even if she is kind of mean. There is a reason they don’t get along.

The Evil:

  • Evil twin. Here’s another good example of this trope! The evil twin trope is basically the opposite personalities trope turned up to eleven. One twin is essentially the good guy, the sweet one, the one that the rest of the characters like and are familiar with. Then suddenly someone comes in who looks exactly like that character and acts in a rude way, making the other characters question what got into the first character. Then it is dramatically revealed that the entire time it wasn’t the first character, but the evil twin of them instead. This trope has been used so many times in media and I’m really sick of seeing it. Yes, there is a possibility that you might get along with my sister and not me or get along with me and not my sister. But that doesn’t mean that one of us is rude or evil. And we definitely don’t want to get asked in real life which one of us is the evil twin half as much as we do. People think it’s somehow a charming question and I really fail to see how. Anyways, please stop this stereotype that makes people think we are opposites of each other or that one of us must be worse than the other. My sister and I can still be different from each other without one of us having to be nice and the other having to be mean.
  • Sibling hatred. This comes up a lot in media with all kinds of siblings, but it feels really concentrated with twins. Like somehow in order to show the audience that these are two different characters we must establish that they don’t like each other. This is really sad to see! It’s already disappointing to see so many siblings in media portrayed as unsupportive or that they just didn’t get along growing up. I know television shows believe that it’s more dramatic for siblings to help each other when they haven’t gotten along, but in this case I would prefer to see something more heartwarming over something dramatic. But this is taken to an entirely new level when you are using this as some sort of character development for your characters without giving them actual character development. I would like to see more twins who are best friends but don’t act or live exactly the same, please.
  • Same actress. This one is really obvious. I just want people to start casting actual twins, or at least just two different actors as twins, in films and television. There are nuances with twins that you don’t get when one person is playing them both. My sister and I don’t look exactly the same and no twins actually do. We don’t have the same mannerisms either, we don’t even walk the same way. Though I do doubt Ursula, or really anyone, runs quite like Phoebe does. Just stop with the one person playing two roles. And if you didn’t think this is still happening, think again. I’m looking at you Mark Ruffalo. Playing twins should not be something that is still praised as taking on a difficult acting challenge. I don’t care if you’re playing two roles at this point. Because you’re the same person, there is no way to play those roles correctly. Cast two different actors and give us the representation we actually want to see instead of championing this as an impressive feat of acting. It’s not. It’s just messed up. And yes, this does affect my sister and I because portraying twins this way makes audiences feel like twins might as well be the same entity. My sister and I actually had someone who didn’t really know us tell us that we might as well be the same person. I’m really done with this. Can you tell?
  • Weird. This is what Ursula is used for. Either comedic relief or for the writers to point out that having a twin is weird. It’s not weird. We’re regular siblings, not comedic relief.

So are Phoebe and Ursula good examples of twins in media?

No, not really. They’re actually pretty bad. But I will give them that Ursula isn’t in most of the show, so this aspect isn’t really focused on. Though I will say again that them not being focused on isn’t necessarily a good thing. I want shows and movies to focus on twins, I just want them to actually take into account real twins when they try to portray twins. People think that twins are treated regularly so they don’t have to do research when portraying them. You should be doing research when attempting to portray any person who lives a life differently from you. I love Phoebe so much, but at this rate they just should have cut out the sister if they were going to portray her like this. But at least I can still enjoy ‘Friends’ without Ursula being present for too much of it! Now if you haven’t and you still can, GO VOTE!

See you across the pond!

Sincerely, Annie

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