Twins in Media: Liv and Maddie vs Zack and Cody

Screenshot of Cole Sprouse and Dylan Sprouse from ‘The Suite Life on Deck’. Copyright goes to It’s a Laugh Productions and Disney Channel.

Hey! Hallie here!

We’re back with Twins in Media! This week I’m looking at the most popular Disney Channel twins, and some of the most popular twins from American television in general. ‘The Suite Life of Zack and Cody’ was one of my favorite shows as a kid. I loved watching it and absolutely didn’t mind the way it represented twins. ‘Liv and Maddie’ was the show my younger cousin watched that made her interested in what it was like for my sister and I to be twins. Both have had some sort of impact on me, but neither are perfect. Let’s put these two sets of twins head-to-head to see which one comes out on top.

Tropes:

Zack and Cody: These two suffer mainly from the Opposites twin trope. Cole is the brain and Zack is the ladies man. Cole attempts to abide by the rules while Zack creates trouble. One of the appeals of the show is how different the two are. But such drastic differences aren’t something you usually see in real twins. Twins are just like regular siblings. We have major differences, but we are in no way total opposites. In fact, many twins have various similarities because of their upbringing in the same household. And, once again, just like any human, twins can have common traits and different traits simply because they are different people. Zack and Cody also suffer from the Mischievous trope we see in a lot of twin characters. I don’t know how twins got the reputation for constantly playing pranks, but most don’t really do that. We don’t even switch places. We would rather others recognize us for who we are than mistake us for each other. That happens enough without us trying at it. Additionally, Zack and Cody have a few small moments where twin telepathy is referenced. There’s even a plot where the two share the same dream, which is implied to have happened because they are twins. Once again, the magical connections twins are rumored to have do not exist. You’d be surprised how many people are convinced of them, or have horrifically tried to prove that one is there.

Liv and Maddie: Once again, this show used the Opposites trope to advertise their main twin characters. Liv is a glamorous actress who is often too selfish to notice what’s happening around her. Maddie is a basketball player who is more introverted and geeky. This trope is even more obvious in the marketing for this show than it is for ‘The Suite Life of Zack and Cody’. It went as far as to have each twin stand on each side of the poster, Maddie in her blue basketball uniform and glasses while Liv wore a sparkly pink dress and heels. It’s heavy-handed, but it’s also the main offence against twins this show makes.

Winner: Liv and Maddie take this one. While the Opposites trope is a bit more obvious for them, the show also wisely stayed away from any twin telepathy plots and didn’t have much in the way of simultaneous speaking. In fact, the major differences between Liv and Maddie seemed to be the reason why the show avoided these tropes. Which isn’t necessarily a good thing, but it spared these two from suffering from the amount of tropes Zack and Cody did.

Differences and Similarities:

Zack and Cody: I’ve pretty much already highlighted this above. These two are opposites. They find themselves in similar situations because they spend a lot of time together, but they don’t have much in common. The best I can say about them is that they were played by two different actors who happen to be twins. That difference is an appreciated one. As a twin, I can pretty easily tell most twins apart. When one actor is playing twins it takes more convincing for me to get into a story. To see twins playing twins allows me to better enjoy a story and appreciate the actual differences between the real twins.

Liv and Maddie: They have even more obvious differences though the show does attempt to show similarities in order to demonstrate why the two are so close. The similarities aren’t as large or as often explored, though. Plus, they are played by the same actress. Twins always, always, have physical differences, even if it’s difficult for others to see them. Seeing one person portray two twins is never realistic.

Winner: Zack and Cody take this one. Though the story does less to demonstrate the similarities they share or why they are so close, their differences are at least a little less obvious that Liv and Maddie’s. They are also played by real twins which gives them differences Liv and Maddie can never achieve.

Relationship:

Zack and Cody: Zack and Cody’s relationship is the main draw of the entire show. It’s just a bit questionable sometimes. Zack bullies Cody a lot for being nerdy. Meanwhile Cody often doesn’t appreciate Zack for being reckless. While they always make up after arguments, a lot of their relationship is built off of a sibling rivalry. They compete over most things in the effort to prove their way of life or way of thinking better than their brother’s. It isn’t the healthiest relationship, or the most accurate considering that the sibling rivalry is entirely based on their opposite traits.

Liv and Maddie: These two are very close, much like Zack and Cody, but sibling rivalries are much less of an issue in this show. There’s a quote that gets brought up in this show quite often. “Sisters by chance. Friends by choice.” It isn’t the most poetic quote, it is from a Disney Channel show after all, but it sums up their relationship well. They’re friends despite being opposites, and most of their problems arise from a sometimes misguided desire to help one another overcome personal difficulties. On occasion they get in each other’s way, but they remain close despite it. You never question how much they enjoy spending time together.

Winner: Liv and Maddie win this one. Not only is their sibling relationship healthier, but it also touches on a very annoying assumption most people make about twins. It’s the assumption that because we’re twins, we have to get along. Most people, in fact, talk about how nice it would be to have a twin to like all of the same things they like. But that isn’t a realistic view. Twins, just like regulars siblings, have similarities and differences. We don’t like all of the same things and we don’t always agree. But we have found that we enjoy being friends with one another, and that has nothing to do with any extreme similarities we have because we are twins.

Plot:

Zack and Cody: Zack and Cody have plots both apart and together. They are treated differently by all characters, have different romantic relationships, and often have different scenes that develop their characters individually. This is even more true when it comes to ‘Suite Life on Deck’, where their storylines branched off far more than they did with the first series. Still, a lot of the episodes are based on the mischievous hijinks both twins get up to. It’s nice to see that these two have different relationships with their friends and family and are acknowledged as individuals by all characters, but the show prefers to focus on the stories where the two are constantly together. The focus on the plots that they share prevents them from having as much individual character development as they could have. Twins are bound to share plot lines, but Zack and Cody have far too many shared plot lines for two entire television series.

Liv and Maddie: These two spend a lot of time apart, actually. Because they are interested in two different professions, and have very different hobbies, the show doesn’t feel the need to always show them together. Liv has various plot lines where she is dealing with acting drama that Maddie isn’t a part of. Meanwhile, Maddie’s experience with basketball and her school crush are often separated from Liv. Their storylines often intertwine in the end, that is the point of the show after all, but the show gives just as much time to Liv and Maddie growing as individuals as it does to their relationship as twins. Although Liv and Maddie have more obvious opposite traits, the show uses these opposite interests as a way to show their individuality within the plot as opposed to demonstrating how “fun” their opposite personalities are when they butt heads with one another. They argue, and their opposite personalities do occasionally lead to sibling rivalry plots. But that is by no means the main focus of the show.

Winner: Liv and Maddie. They simply get more time to be themselves as individuals, and that is important in any piece of media where twins are the focus. Establishing their sibling relationship is good, but it’s important to make each character different and complex. ‘Liv and Maddie’ does take the differences too far, but I can’t deny how well it does at establishing these two as complex human beings.

Final Result:

Liv and Maddie win. I actually didn’t expect this result. In my initial posts about both of these sets of twins, I gave Zack and Cody higher praise than Liv and Maddie. Liv and Maddie, after all, suffer from two very bad and very common tactics used for portraying twins. They are complete opposites who are played by the same actress. Zack and Cody’s opposite traits are made less obvious to the audience and they are played by actual twins. But looking into the content of the episodes in each series, Liv and Maddie are much more carefully handled. Zack and Cody get a lot of plot lines where they are mischievous just to be mischievous. And while Cody is much less enthusiastic about causing trouble, the plot depends on him to give in anyways. Meanwhile, Liv and Maddie are given plots that detail the difficulties each of them face daily. The things they do together are given just as much importance as what they do apart. In the end, that format creates much less tropes and gives a much better look into how twins really are.

Don’t do anything fun until I get back!

Hallie

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