4 Dumb Little Brothers That Are Secretly Brilliant
Nothing is certain in life except death, taxes, and the relentless terror of TV younger brothers. As a trope, the on-screen little brother is a cloying source of eye rolls and elaborate pranks. He’s the first to catch a sibling sneaking a call to their crush, the one who documents all his sister’s acne, a fiend dedicated to messing up his parents’ day. The younger brother is always one step behind, trailing with a tape recorder and the desire to tattle, armed with an embarrassing story he’ll yell at anyone his siblings want to impress.
It’s natural to assume these younger brothers are as dumb as the nicknames they hurl at their family members. But underneath the obnoxious veneer, the younger brother is bored, left out and often misunderstood. Instead of pushing themselves in school, or funneling their inventiveness into art, they channel their moxie into being abrasive. In fact, many of these brothers are secretly quite brilliant.
Mike From Sixteen C andles
In the definitive Brat Pack movie Sixteen Candles, the little brother Mike (Justin Henry) is nothing short of a menace to Sam (Molly Ringwald) and anyone who accidentally steps into his one man show from hell. He gloats when the family forgets Sam’s birthday, shames her for crying, and makes fun of his oldest sister Ginny (Blanche Baker) for having a period the week of her wedding. Mike’s whole personality is a newly minted middle finger. It’s a given that when he enters the shot, a sarcastic comment will hit the nearest target as hard as puberty hits every John Hughes character.
While this is par for the course of an annoying younger TV brother, what makes Mike’s comments so cutting are the details he includes. When you pay attention to Mike’s jokes, it’s clear he tracks the insecurities of each family member to best wield it against them. Mike isn’t surprised when his parents fail Sam by forgetting her birthday, because he’s been closely watching them fumble through parenthood and using their blind spots to his advantage. He makes this abundantly clear when his mom tries to pull him into comforting Sam.
When he manages to insult Sam by telling their mom “she only eats carrots to increase her breast size,” it’s because he (creepily) tracks Sam’s motives and obsessions to hurt her. In one of his first moments on-screen, Mike baffles his dad by commenting about Blanche getting her period and how it will affect her honeymoon, all before his Dad has even pieced together the reason Blanche is distressed. Mike is able to gather intel fast and do the math on what’s bothering people, only instead of using it for empathy and connection he uses it as a weapon.Louis From Even Stevens
Louis Stevens (Shia LaBeouf) is the ultimate clown of a younger brother. Everything from his closet full of Hawaiian shirts to his penchant for get-rich-quick-schemes feels like a live-action cartoon. While his non-stop scheming affects everyone around him, the bulk of it sullies the life of his perfectionist older sister Ren (Christy Carlson Romano). Unlike many TV younger brothers, Louis isn’t annoying for the sole sake of getting a reaction, he’s annoying because his imagination and obsessions know no bounds.
In the episode “Sibling Rivalry” Louis ruins Ren’s plans by taping floss all over the bathroom so he can “flossercize” and accidentally breaks her phone when he uses it in the shower. When their older brother Donny (Nick Spano) signs them up for a talk show to work out their issues, Louis immediately goes into detective mode to uncover embarrassing facts about Ren. However, when Louis’ in-depth detective work turns up the fact that Ren’s boyfriend Bobby (Brandon Davis) is cheating, his heart goes soft and he decides to tell her off-air.
Louis is destructive in an often hapless way, but it stems out of his bizarre charm and ability to recruit people into his half-baked plans. In “Stevens Manor” Louis turns the house into a bed and breakfast while the parents are away, and employs his neighbor Beans (Steven Anthony Lawrence) as a masseuse. Unsurprisingly, it ends very badly.
The episode “My Best Friend’s Girlfriend” shows Louis convincing his best friend Twitty to surprise his girlfriend with a date to a dumpster full of foam. Louis is sure the special activity, dubbed “Foam Hunk Dumpster Diving” will scare away Twitty’s girlfriend so he can have more time with Twitty, and sure enough, it works. His detective skills are pulled out in “Secrets and Spies” when he suspects Ren has a secret life, and goes full spy mode (he Houdinis himself into a mailbox) until he discovers she moonlights as a karaoke star.
The list of Louis Stevens shenanigans is endless, and the destruction and awkwardness he causes Ren and his entire family are too massive to map. But Louis’ ability to dream up business concepts and games, embody alter egos, and get to the bottom of an obsession shows massive creativity. If Louis Stevens wanted to start a pyramid scheme that doubles as a cult (Herbalife with more foam pits), he’d have no problem recruiting members.Harry From Freaky Friday
When the 2003 body-swap classic Freaky Friday isn’t giving us teen pop-punk drama, Lindsay Lohan’s chunky streaks, and deeply confusing magic (fortune cookies cause the body swap?!), it’s a movie centered on a mother-daughter relationship. As we all know, behind every mother-daughter relationships, there is a younger brother waiting in the wings to enact terror
Harry Coleman (Ryan Malgarini) is no exception to this rule. From the start, it’s clear he’s hell-bent on pissing off Anna (Lindsay Lohan). He wakes her up with an air horn, jumps on her bed, and eventually invites friends into her room to try on her bras and read her diary.
Harry constantly provokes Anna, and before the body swap, his mom Tess (Jamie Lee Curtis) often defends him. While Harry has all the predictable traits of an annoying on-screen brother, his true motives are later revealed during a parent-teacher conference. In the meeting, Harry’s English teacher gives Anna (in Tess’ body) a paper he wrote about how much he loves his sister.
The paper, titled “Why My Big Sister’s The Greatest” reads: “I think my sister is the best sister in the world. Anna plays the guitar and sings in a band. She is as good as any rock star you see on TV. If she made a CD she would sell about ten million copies. She doesn't like me very much and she teases me a lot but if I ever get in trouble she would help me out.”
Harry is adamant that he doesn’t want Anna to know about the paper, because they have too much fun fighting. While it’s safe to say that annoying a sibling to get their attention might isn’t rare, the fact that Harry can articulate this dynamic at seven years old is impressive. He’s aware there’s potential for rejection in telling Anna how much he looks up to her, so he contents himself with the role of annoying younger brother, provoking fights in lieu of quality time. Hopefully, when he reaches the famed double digits, he channels this self-awareness into clear communication instead of emotional terrorism.
Matt From Lizzie McGuire
Lizzie McGuire's (Hilary Duff) spiky-haired brother Matt (Jake Thomas) has all the classically obnoxious traits of a younger TV brother. He’s known as a class clown, has a penchant for pranks, and loves humiliating Lizzie whenever possible. He’s largely disillusioned with school, which leads him to fall into nihilism and restless scheming to intellectually stimulate himself. Unsurprisingly, a lot of this scheming energy ends up making Lizzie’s junior high years even more excruciating.
With Matt, the annoying factor is less name-calling in the home, and more connected to social maneuvering at large. In the episode, “Working Girl,” Matt forms a crush on Lizzie’s best friend Miranda (Lalaine Vergara-Paras) and proceeds to stalk her at the coffee shop, make balloons with her face on it, and attempt to estrange her from Lizzie. While it ultimately doesn’t work, it’s one of the many wrenches he throws in Lizzie’s personal life that makes everyone deeply uncomfortable. Luckily, this episode ends in a lesson about boundaries. Similarly, in “Lizzie’s Nightmares,” Matt starts the day by drizzling honey on her phone, which results in their mom forcing him to take the bus. When he catches the wrong bus, Matt ends up going to Lizzie’s school instead of his own, and in very Ferris Bueller’s Day Off fashion, his laissez-faire attitude makes him immediately popular for the day. This of course annihilates Lizzie emotionally.
On the surface, it’s easy to assume Matt is purely an antagonist hell-bent on ruining his sister’s social life. But when you look closer, it’s clear he sees the absurdity of the school social hierarchies. From the start of the show, he has disdain for Kate (Ashlie Brillault) and the other popular kids who constantly trigger Lizzie’s insecurities. A constant victim of the bully Heywood Biggs (Paul Robert Langdon), Matt copes by owning his individuality and calling out the flaws of kids with more clout. In “Movin On Up,” Matt tries out to be a cheerleader, much to his father Sam’s (Robert Carradine) chagrin. It’s clear that Matt is passionate and completely unfazed by how cheerleading breaks the code of masculinity. His insistence on challenging gender norms opens up a conversation with Sam about toxic masculinity, and they unpack their family’s pattern of fathers forcing their sons into a mold.
As a younger sibling, Matt is the spark to light a million migraines. But as a kid carving his way in the world, he has an aptitude for seeing through the cruelty and nonsense of social rankings. Hopefully, he uses this clarity to scheme against the mega-rich flesh-suits that bully the entire world. Otherwise, his shadow side could easily fall into the incel pipeline. Matt’s terrifying crush on Miranda could be a Dateline special:
In conclusion, it should be restated: All of these younger brothers deserve the punishments they receive from their older siblings. Every single one of them has life-ruining capabilities, and wields those recklessly. And yet, they also have clear brilliance lurking in the shenanigans, and if they play their cards right, these brothers could grow up to be annoying and talented men.
Top image: Disney Channel