Every once in a while, there’s a magical show that just gets you, that you can feel in your bones ─ a TV soul mate, if you will. Or, for the purposes of this analogy, a high school sweetheart: You meet in drama club and their smile reels you in and soon enough you’re dating ─ sharing straws when you order a milkshake, holding hands in the hallways, the whole shebang. But then it’s time to pick colleges, and you and your partner decide to study theatre abroad and share the adventure together and grow old with your two kids and five collective Oscars. Your giant acceptance package arrives in the mail and you’re ecstatic about starting the next chapter of your lives together … until you see the tiny envelope in your partner’s hands, the pink slip of dreams. You say your goodbyes and move on while they fizzle out at the local community college, and every once in a while when you’re back in your hometown you catch up over coffee and rehash the good old days. Nothing’s changed ─ they still live with their parents, they volunteer at the local theatre, and they’ve still got that damn smile that hooked you in the first place ─ though you’re older and more mature, and you can’t help thinking, what if things went differently?
For a lot of people I know, that TV high school sweetheart was Firefly. Respectable sci-fi show starring Nathan Fillion, who now has Castle and a horde of dedicated fans, and written by Joss Whedon, who now has The Avengers and a horde of dedicated fans.
For me, that TV sweetheart was the Mary-Kate and Ashley show, Two of a Kind.
Two of a Kind was the bridge between their claim-to-fame Full House, and the equally short-lived but slightly more visible show So Little Time (more specifically, it was sandwiched between the classic films Billboard Dad and Passport to Paris.) It is about a widower named Kevin Burke (what the heck is up with the widower thing, by the way? First Danny Tanner, then the Billboard Dad, and finally Kevin. As far as I know, their real-life mother is alive and well…. Do they have a complex? Should they see a therapist? Is their agent sadistically wishing their mother died so that he or she could adopt the richest and most successful pre-teens to ever exist? Is this considered typecasting? I have many questions.), who is the now-single parent to two twelve-year-old twins named ─ you guessed it ─ Mary-Kate and Ashley.
Kevin (Chris Sieber) is a professor at a local college in Chicago, and he’s looking for a babysitter for the girls, who would otherwise be stuck once again with elderly Mrs. Baker from across the way. During his first class of the semester, he encounters a colorful student named Carrie (Sally Wheeler), who had dropped out of college during her sophomore year to travel the world and “get some life experience” and has returned at the ripe age of 26 to get her degree. Her free-spirited attitude and Kevin’s rigidity clash immediately (and wonderfully) over a 7:30 a.m. lab, and they part ways less than amicably. Later on, back at the Burke’s home, a redheaded, free-spirited someone unknowingly answers Kevin’s ad for a babysitter, and meets Mary-Kate and Ashley, who soon fall in love with her spontaneity and fun-loving attitude. Kevin looks for any way to wiggle his way out of hiring her. He hires her. Hilarity ensues.
Without giving too much away, let me share the sweet spots of the show that speak to me on a deeply personal level:
- Kevin checks all the right boxes of my dorky professor kink. Blazer, jeans, nice luscious hair, wry sense of humor, and a penchant for physical comedy? Yes. Please.
- Mary-Kate and Ashley are at the perfect age. They’re past the bratty entitlement that Michelle Tanner began to adopt toward the end of Full House, and they haven’t quite hit the teen angst/pregnancy scare phase of life. They have boy troubles, but they’re innocent enough to be amusing, and their differed personalities are comically complementary.
- You know those female characters that you encountered at a young age and thought, “I want to be like her when I grow up”? (I tend to refer to them as the “Lorelai Gilmores.”) Carrie is one of those characters.
- Each episode isn’t an after school special with a speech at the end (not to name any names … but one may rhyme with Hull Fouse), but has enough heartstring-tugging moments scattered throughout the series to make them really stand out. See: the Christmas episode.
- Tiny itty-bitty Orlando Brown (Eddie from That’s So Raven) and tiny itty-bitty Martin Spanjers (Rory from 8 Simple Rules) play Mary-Kate’s tiny itty-bitty friends, Max and Brian.
- HIDDEN ADULT JOKES. You know those jokes in kids shows that you don’t get until you rewatch years later? This show’s chock FULL of ‘em.
- Kevin/Carrie is a thing that exists.
They’ve got it all. The love/hate dynamic, the age difference, the professor/student thing (without it being squicky, because she’s 26, remember? It’s Never Been Kissed all over again! Except with less lying … and dog food). It’s a slow burn, or feels that way with 22 episodes and lots of hints dropped strategically along the way. They’ve got a fake-engagement, a heart-to-heart in a bathroom, lots of yelling and eye-rolling, lots of we’re-the-only-adults-here bonding, lots of laughter. And one season-turned-series finale that completely ruined me.
Here be spoilers for the series finale of Two of A Kind:
So the school year ends, and Kevin jokingly celebrates the fact that Carrie is no longer in his class (which, sub-textually, means that he’s excited they can finally date without consequences. Right? Right.). Carrie tries to goad Kevin into giving her her grade early, revealing that she is going backpacking through Brazil alone for the summer and will therefore be in the middle of the jungle when grades get mailed out. Kevin, being the resident rule-stickler, refuses. Mary-Kate and Ashley come to the conclusion that Carrie and Kevin need some alone time before Carrie leaves for her trip, so they plan a dinner date for the four of them, then fake being “too busy” to get out of going … which doesn’t fool Kevin, who pulls the truth out of them. At first, he thinks the idea of him and Carrie on a date is ludicrous, but once he sees Carrie all dolled up, he subsequently “grounds” Mary-Kate and Ashley in front of Carrie as an excuse for them to stay home.
Long story short(-ish), the dinner-date is less than spectacular: they wind up getting into an argument about Carrie going alone on this trip, Kevin worrying about her safety and making condescending digs at her impulsive tendencies and carelessness, and Carrie taking offense. Carrie leaves for the airport the next morning, and after a thought-provoking conversation with his brother, Kevin goes after her (do you see where I’m going with this?).
Back in the days when someone could say their goodbyes at the gate, Kevin finds Carrie as she’s getting ready to board her flight. They both apologize. Carrie tells him that she found out a classmate is also going to Brazil and she’s going to accompany him for the first few weeks, so Kevin doesn’t have to worry anymore. Kevin tells her that he came all the way to the airport to tell her … that she got an A in his course (chicken). She’s ecstatic. She gets on the plane.
She gets off the plane.
She and Kevin PASSIONATELY KISS.
She gives him a heartfelt thank you, and tells a dumbfounded Kevin, “See you in September.”
She gets back on the plane.
And then the series ends.
(That’s a slight exaggeration. There is a tag at the end of the episode. But in terms of actual plot, that’s the end of the series.)
I have one word for you: WHY.
How can they do this to me!? How do they expect me to go on with my life not knowing what happened when Carrie returned home in September? Am I supposed to just get over it? Do you know how much chemistry they had? And now it’s just … gone! Abandoned like a sad little puppy in a box on the side of the road! That puppy could have gotten adopted and made some family so happy, but you know what happened instead? The puppy died. Network television executives kill puppies. Pass it on.
The series isn’t even available on DVD or Netflix. It is now reduced down to some 240p episodes on YouTube, accompanied by a pile of wrappers from the feelings that I ate. My dignity and sanity are buried somewhere beneath that pile.
I personally think that writers of canceled TV shows that ended on cliffhangers should write up a short resolution (and no, the Two of a Kind book series does not count), so the show’s fans won’t be reduced to aimlessly wandering the Internet for fanfiction to fill the void in their heart, writing “K&C 4 ever!” in the comments section of a YouTube clip 13 years after the show’s cancellation.
(If I’ve inspired you to watch Two of a Kind, the entire series can be found here. The burner episode, “Kevin Burke’s Day Off”, is included in its chronologically accurate position in the series instead of post-finale, to make the ending far more gut-wrenching. Enjoy!)