One of the funniest aspects of hanging out with kids is how much they relate to other kids just for being kids. Jerry Seinfeld has a bit about how easy it is to make friends when you’re little – “You like orange soda? I like orange soda! We’re best friends!”. And of course, even though it drove me crazy when my mom would say, “There’s a girl your age over there, go talk to her,” I have to admit that I met some of my lifelong friends that way. So naturally whenever I’d watch a TV show or movie growing up, I related most to the character that was closest in age to me – even if that character played an epically tiny role (ever hear anyone refer to Sleepless in Seattle as a “Gaby Hoffman vehicle”?).
To that end, the girls I obsessed over on my favorite TV shows were almost never the girls the shows were actually about. The little sister, that’s who I cared about. Her hair, her clothes, her elementary school problems; even if she was given a meager one or two lines per episode, even if she existed solely to serve as a source of irritation for the cooler main-character older sister, I was riveted. A few of my favorites:
Stephanie Tanner (Full House)
My love for Steph has already been immortalized, but really, how can I say too much about this sassy little minx? Much like Stephanie, I had a sister five years older than me, and I related deeply to the moments when DJ would boss her around or make fun of her (although integrity requires me to point out that DJ was a model older sister, way more inclusive and nicer to her siblings than anyone ever was to me). And while DJ occupied many of the dramatic plot lines (boyfriend troubles, Kimmy troubles, an eating disorder that lasted literally half of one episode), Stephanie was no sack of potatoes. She fell in with a bad crowd, kissed boys and accidentally drove Joey’s car through the wall of their house. Plus her sweatshirt-and-scrunchie combinations seriously could not be beat.
Danielle Chase (My So-Called Life)
Oh, Danielle. She was designed to be the annoying younger sister counterpart to our beautiful, soulful, tortured star, Angela, but to me, Danielle was the main attraction. I was a little young for My So-Called Life when it was actually on television, but I’d watch with my older sister and focused solely on the scenes that featured Danielle. Danielle was pesky and talkative, a typical 10-year-old who liked gymnastics and had a crush on nerdy Brian Krakow (by the way, looking back now, Brian Krakow had a sort of male runway model thing going on, don’t you think?). What I related to so much about Danielle was that she was always being kicked out of the room when adult conversations were occurring (which was ALL THE TIME) and she was always ignored when all she wanted was attention. There was actually one episode narrated by Danielle, “The Weekend,” told from Danielle’s POV, and surprise surprise, that was my favorite. Of course, now I have a completely different perspective and clearly relate to Angela and the other “grown-up” characters, but back in 1994, wow, hearing Danielle talk about how excited she was to hang out with her sister and her sister’s cool friends… I was so jealous. There was literally nothing that would have made me happier at the time.
Claudia Salinger (Party of Five)
Sure, Claudia was part of the titular Five, but so was baby Owen, and everyone knows he didn’t matter for s**t. Most of my friends who watched Party of Five looked up to Julia Salinger and Jennifer Love Hewitt. To them, Claudia was a squeaky little mouse there to drag everybody else down. But I would not be exaggerating to state that Claudia Salinger was my reason for living from the years of approximately 1994-2000. A violin prodigy, independent and marred by tragedy, to me she was the coolest little sister in the world. I passionately studied what she wore each episode and then did my best to copy the outfit in its entirety for school the next day (I’m looking at you, faded-overalls-over-a-white-ribbed-turtleneck). I still part my hair on the side, something I tried at age 11 because that’s what Claudia did. As I’ve proudly admitted already, I ripped a page out of a magazine detailing Lacey Chabert’s makeup regimen and STILL USE THE PRODUCTS TODAY. I once wrote her a fan letter and when the autographed picture she returned was signed “Love Always”, you better believe that’s how I signed every letter I wrote for the next five years. Of course, there was more to my interest than just mild insanity. While her siblings were almost adults, Claudia was only a little kid when her parents died, and there was something particularly poignant about watching her struggle to grow up without them.
Lucy Camden (7th Heaven)
I first fell for Lucy Camden when she was desperate to get her period and was trying all sorts of acrobatic yoga poses to kick it into action. That’s the kind of puberty-obsessed middle schooler I was too, and I was so glad to see my own weirdness mirrored back at me. Of course, when I did some research and found out that the actress playing Lucy (Beverley Mitchell) was actually OLDER than Jessica Biel (who played her older sister, Mary), I was horrified. My faith definitely took a hit. But I stuck with Lucy as my favorite character anyway, because unlike rebellious, effortlessly-cool Mary, Lucy had the more interesting (t0 me) struggle of trying to be a good kid and grow up at the same time. She was also very emotional and had boyfriends (including the inimitable Jimmy Moon). I was very emotional and wished for boyfriends. She was my perfect, semi-aspirational match.
Nicki Kapowski (Saved by the Bell)
By far the oddest of my obsessions, Kelly Kapowski’s little sister Nicki only appears in a single episode of the show. But that’s all it took for her to pester her way into my little-sister heart. Featured heavily in the episode entitled, “1-900-CRUSHED”, Nicki has a to-die-for, well, crush on Zack, who’s causing trouble all over school with his latest get-rich-quick scheme involving a teen advice phone line. When Zack mixes up which Kapowski sister he’s on the line with, he ends up giving Nicki the idea that she’s the one he wants to be with. Spoiler alert: hilarity ensues. I was into Nicki because it must have been hard to have such a gorgeous, popular, syrupy-sweet older sister like Kelly. Transforming herself from tomboy to feminine beauty, Nicki was surprisingly bold and crafty for a 13 year old girl. Plus when Zack finally tells her the truth about the mix-up, she’s not heartbroken, she’s pissed, and she tells him off, which is pretty awesome.
Of course when I watch these shows now, I no longer feel my heart literally ache along with Claudia’s or Stephanie’s. The older sisters have all the interesting plot lines, and I’d obviously rather see someone decide whether or not to have sex for the first time than, say, practice violin. What’s really starting to bug me, though, is that I’ve begun to relate to a whole new category of characters: the parents. Yes, them! The people making the rules and looking forward to quiet weekends at home! The people we, as little sisters, dreaded and despised! But I guess that’s the beauty of shows about families; you can grow up along with them. Just promise to put me out of my misery the day I claim Grandma Camden as the gal I’d most like to be.