You may remember conjoined twins Abby (left) and Brittany Hensel from the documentary Joined for Life when they were 16, or Oprah or their Life magazine cover when they were 6. Now they have an eight-episode TLC series, Abby & Brittany, which premiered Tuesday.
I’d call this show “mundanely fascinating.” I’m not sure if we’ll get into heavier subject material later on, but much of the action in the first two episodes involved shopping for groceries and shopping for clothes. Believe it or not, that seemed like enough for now. Through voiceovers, we learn that the point of the series is to present “our normal, regular life.” I learned more from watching them navigate simple moves — eating chicken wings, riding a bike, hugging (which side???) — and hearing from their fun-loving, delightfully Minnesotan group of college girlfriends than I might have learned during an entire season of a typical reality show. It’s about basic humanity, and I didn’t find it exploitative in the slightest. And it made me think a LOT.
So often, the twins’ roommates would voice my own opinion. Early on, one of them, Katy, admitted, “When I think about this with me and my sister, I’m like, ‘This would never work.’” Same here. And it wouldn’t work, not unless a conjoined existence was the only one we’d ever known. “How would you do the Heimlich if you were choking?” another pal asked. No worries. “Trial and error!” Abby and Brittany sang out, together. They say the majority of their words at the same time, just on instinct. As a viewer, I kept getting nervous for them, knowing how annoyed I’d get if someone else kept trying to step on my words. But this is how it’s been 24-7 for 22 years now. They seem okay with it.
Nothing seems to actually bother them — not yet, anyway. I’m interested to see how they’d approach a conflict greater than “Does this shirt fit weird?” in future episodes, and I wonder if scenes from their elementary schoolteaching will get into that. It’s amazing and inspiring to see the girls navigate regular college life — wasn’t it nice to be reminded of a time when one’s entire day could consist of hanging with friends and baking Puppy Chow? take me back there! — but I’d like to see how more strangers react to them, and how they deal with that.
Then there’s the big question: What about the future? How does dating work? Do they both want to marry? Have kids? I hate the idea of forcing Abby and Brittany to talk about that on TV at 22 — heck, I still don’t know the answers and I’m a bit older — but I know it’s what a lot of viewers will be wondering. Will their young students react inappropriately to their condition? Will those students’ parents? Not everyone is as understanding and kind as the players in the familiar bubble they’ve created for themselves.
Wow, I feel like I could write for hours on these two people who share a body. I kept catching myself feeling guilty for focusing on their legs and considering them to be one person, even though that’s logically what they look like: two legs, two arms, wider core….two heads. Two people. Not one.
I think what was most fascinating to me was their friends’ explanations of their different personalities. Abby tends to take control, while Brittany goes with the flow. They are literally Type A(bby) and Type B(rittany). And this is common with twins, who tend to operate as a unit in so many ways and for such a large chunk of their lives that naturally one will reveal herself as the dominant. Twins are so freaking fascinating like that. We need another show just called Twinning.
Well, no. We do not need any more shows. That’s absurd.
Of course, there can be both A and B tendencies within every individual. As a strong Type B who wishes the A would rear its taskmaster-y head more often, I found myself marveling at the idea of having both sides of my personality alive and chattering away with each other at the top of my body. I’d get so much s— done, and I’d maintain a breezy, laid-back attitude throughout! Abby and Brittany really do seem like some of the happiest people I’ve ever seen. And yet! The way I described that, actually, might come off as offensive, like I’m reducing them to one person, and reducing each of their brains to specific types. Of course that wasn’t my intention.
It’s a bit of a struggle not to feel guilty and weird while you watch this show. That’s probably a good thing. Even if the plot never thickens — maybe the viewing experience will be instructive enough.
Did you like Abby & Brittany? Will you tune in again?