"We're just like everyone else!" proclaim 22-year-old conjoined twins Abby and Brittany Hensel during the intro to their TLC show, Abby & Brittany, which premiered in back-to-back 30-minute episodes last night.
The statement couldn't be more true, and it also couldn't be more false — and that contradiction is fuel for this gentle, wholesome reality show. In its latest act of genre subversion, TLC (the best current supplier of unscripted junk, bar none) portrays extraordinary lives in ordinary situations, as opposed to reality TV's usual ordinary lives in extraordinary situations (this latter effect is what drives Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, even, to a certain extent). The result is this enthralling mundanity that also can be seen in the network's currently airing Big Tiny, which chronicles the lives of primordial dwarf siblings Bri and Brad Jordan. Have you seen Big Tiny? It is simultaneously the most boring and riveting thing on television. Last week, there was a full episode devoted to the Jordans walking and climbing around their kitchen. I watched every second and wanted more.
By design, not much happens on Abby & Brittany, either. "This is the story of our normal, regular life... well, our normal, conjoined life," they also say in the intro. That's their story and they're sticking to it. The premiere found them dining at a restaurant ("Typically, we like to out and get appetizers or just something to eat," they said, failing to note if they both like soup), shopping in a grocery store, hanging out in their kitchen and dancing at their calm birthday party (it was a symmetrically momentous occasion — conjoined twins on their 22nd birthday). There was no real arc, no climax, just splashes of two-headed-one-bodied normalcy. We're being let into their world, but held at arm's length and left pondering who's controlling the arm.
That said, we can glean a few things about the shared lives of the Hensel twins, peering at them from the microscope of television. Here are some:
They talk like Salt-N-Pepa. A few of their friends and roommates (they attend Bethel University and live with seven other girls) discuss their habit of finishing each other's sentences, but that's simplifying the way they communicate. They have a tendency not to finish, per se, but interrupt each other, waiting for the moment to swoop in and take over the statement being made (see the video at the top of this post for proof). When one is talking, the other will often punctuate by saying certain words in unison (often this word is "Um"). It reminds me of the way Salt-N-Pepa intertwine their words, especially in "Expression."
They gesticulate together. Despite Abby controlling their right side and Brittany controlling the left, there is an evident harmony in their bodily expressions. They don't share a brain, but they could fool you with their fluidity (see in the above video, when Abby licks a spoon and they both say, "Mmmmm!" in unison).
Their language further complicates their two-in-one situation. Several distinctions between Abby and Brittany were made throughout last night's episodes, which in its own way is more normalcy (the one thing people love to talk about regarding any set of twins is how different they are). Abby is more outgoing; Brittany is bossy and, in her sister's words, "super sassy." However, check out this clip of them reflecting on being the only ones who played a video dance game at their birthday party. "Nobody did it," starts Abby. And then together: "...except me! I made a fool of myself." Indeed. She made a fool of herself, together. With her conjoined twin. Later, we saw them going for a job interview (they're hoping to be teachers) and one said, "They're wondering when I can come back for another interview." They're probably wondering when the other one can, as well, to be honest.
Shopping sometimes requires a tie-breaker. Their bickering buckles under the weight of their situation — see how quickly both land on, "No," together in this clip of them shopping. That is coping. They also consult outside sources when they can't come to an agreement. It seems like being a conjoined twin gives you a lot of tools for getting along, since you don't have the luxury of running off to the bathroom by yourself to cry, and no one wants to be shamed with the directive of, "Stop hitting yourself! Stop hitting yourself!"
They have a sense of humor about their condition. When asked by a friend how to perform the Heimlich maneuver should one of them choke (they have separate stomachs, btw), they exclaimed giddily, "Trial and error!" It would probably be less funny if they were actually choking, but maybe not. These girls have an uncanny optimism.
They can ride a tandem bike. More proof of their sense of humor since for Abby and Brittany, technically any bike is a tandem bike. What visual gags might be in store for the rest of the season? A see-saw? Two straws, one milkshake? A round of double dutch? Arm-wrestling? The possibilities are endless.
It is unlikely that any of those possibilities will involve true intimacy. Right, what everyone wants to know about is likely to remain unspoken and unknown. Bethel is a Christian school, and the wholesomeness of Abby & Brittany seems to be no coincidence. There's no mention of a boyfriend (slash boyfriends) and the only orgy that went down at their birthday party was the orgy of toppings at their ice cream fixins station. All of the great questions Caity asked about the twins yesterday will probably go unanswered, but holding out hope for a shred of intimate knowledge is part of the fun of experiencing the placid reality of Abby & Brittany.