As the old saying goes: "Blood is thicker than water." Though, as we all should know, this is not always true. As another saying goes: "Friends are the family you choose." This is especially true of some of our favorite movies and television series, particularly in cases where a character's parents are deceased, abusive or otherwise absent, or when the story takes place in an especially dangerous setting. In these scenarios, characters will build a new family for themselves, hopefully one as loving and supportive as any blood family could be.
Let's take a look at some of the best surrogate families in movies and television:
1. Big Bird And The Residents Of Sesame Street
It takes a village to raise a child, and apparently, it takes a street to raise a giant bird. While cared for in his infancy by Granny Bird, Big Bird left the nest at just 6 years old, settling on Sesame Street soon after. Big Bird still had a lot to learn and, luckily, his new neighbors have always been willing to teach him. Unlike most of the other Muppet characters, Big Bird does not have any parental figures in his life, leaving the human adults of Sesame Street to assume an unofficial joint guardianship over him. This is seen when an ill Big Bird is taken to hospital in a video special, and a receptionist asks Maria whether she is Big Bird's mother.
"Not exactly.. kind of.. Yes." — Maria
The bond between Big Bird and his makeshift family is displayed at full strength in the film Follow That Bird, where Miss Finch, a hard-beaked social worker, removes Big Bird from Sesame Street to place him with a bird family, the Dodos. Unhappy with his new "family," Big Bird runs away, facing a three-week walk to get home. The majority of Sesame Street's regular cast then embark on a road trip to meet Big Bird and bring him home before Miss Finch catches up with him.
As Miss Finch attempts to reclaim Big Bird at the end of the film, Maria launches into a passionate speech on his behalf, begging that he be allowed to stay on Sesame Street with those who love him. Miss Finch eventually agrees, and Big Bird has remained a permanent fixture on Sesame Street ever since. His unconventional family unit provides young children with the important lesson that families are built on love, not blood.
2. The Crew Of Serenity (Firefly)
The cult classic sci-fi series Firefly follows the outlaw crew of Serenity, a Firefly-class cargo ship. The crew, led by antihero Captain Mal Reynolds seem remarkably mismatched at first, but the bonds they share with each other are part of what makes the series so great. The crew are a group of outsiders that don't fit anywhere except with each other, and though it is never stated outright, Mal obviously views his crew as family.
This is most evident in "Safe," the fifth episode of the series. First, Mal takes a great risk by hailing a ship belonging to the universe's evil government, the Alliance, in order to save the injured Shepherd Book.
Later in the episode, he mounts a daring rescue for the crew's newest members, Dr. Simon Tam and his sister, River, after they had been captured by townspeople who believed the possibly genetically engineered River was a witch. Simon is puzzled as to why Mal bothered rescuing them, as their relationship had been somewhat frosty until that point. This leads to the following exchange:
Simon: "Captain, Why did you come back for us?"
Mal: "You're on my Crew."
Simon: "Yeah, but you don't even like me. Why'd you come back?"
Mal: "You're on my Crew. Why are we still talking about this?"
The growing familial bond between Serenity's crew continues into the comics that follow the events of Firefly and its sequel film, Serenity, with the group banding together to care for Co-Captain Zoe's newborn daughter, Emma, after a difficult birth.
3. The MAGIC Interns (Grey's Anatomy)
The first six seasons of long-running medical drama Grey's Anatomy mostly follow the exploits of the MAGIC Interns: Meredith, Alex, George, Izzie and Christina. None of them had ever met before starting work as surgical interns at Seattle Grace Hospital. Thrown into a high-pressure work environment under the stern tutelage of Dr. Miranda Bailey, the interns slowly bond, particularly Meredith and Christina, who become each other's "person," with whom they share everything.
Episodes in the early seasons often have the interns dealing with issues in their family lives, helped by the new family they have built with each other. Even Alex, who often puts off the others with his selfish and antisocial behavior, can count on them when it matters. The reason for this is best explained during a conversation between Izzie and Meredith, after Alex had recently cheated on Izzie:
Meredith "We know he cheated on you. That's why we let you turn the house into Santa's Freaking Village. We're not big on holidays. We're trying to be supportive, because you're having a hard time. But right now, Alex is having a harder time."
Izzie: "Why should anybody care what kind of time Alex is having!?"
Meredith: "Because he's Dirty Uncle Sal!"
Iizzie: [looks confused]
Meredith: "Dirty Uncle Sal. The one who embarrasses everyone at holidays and family reunions and who can't be left alone with the teenage girls, but you have to invite him anyway. Look... I have a mother who doesn't recognize me and as far as family goes, you guys are it. So I know you're pissed at Alex, but maybe... maybe you could try and help him anyway. Like, in the spirit of this holiday you keep shoving down everybody's throats."
Soon after, Izzie sets aside her own hurt feelings in order to help Alex study for an upcoming test.
While both Izzie and George have departed the series by the end of Season 6 (George dying in a tragic accident, and Izzie losing her job in a cull during a merger with another hospital), the family dynamic between the remaining three holds strong, while also expanding to form a sort of extended family with other hospital staff. This continues in the series to this very day.
4. The X-Men
Multiple incarnations of the X-Men franchise exist across comics, movies and television. All are ever so slightly different, with their own character combinations and takes on the story, but one major plot point always remains the same: Mutants are outcasts in society, often rejected by their biological families and friends. If these young mutants are lucky, they will come under the tutelage of Professor Charles Xavier, at his school for Gifted Youngsters. There, they will learn to control their new powers, and if they choose, one day join Xavier's X-Men, a team intended to build relations between humans and mutants, providing help when needed.
Professor Xavier has always been a father figure to the X-Men, particularly to Cyclops and Jean Grey. Later, former loner Wolverine develops father-daughter relationships with some younger members of the team (Jubilee in the '90s animated series, and Rogue in the first few live-action films). In each other, the X-Men find the family that most of them have lost, always working together to find their place in the world.
5. Winnie The Pooh And Friends
Born from the real-life bedtime stories of a little boy, the characters of Winnie The Pooh can teach a lot of real life lessons about what it means to be a family. Particularly, that family are not always the people who look like you, but the people who love you. This is a particularly prevalent lesson in The Tigger Movie, a film often described as representing an adoptee's search for family.
In the film, Tigger, tired of being "the onliest one," gets the idea to look for other Tiggers, snowballing into the idea of possibly finding a whole new Tigger family. His friends, feeling bad for Tigger after his search appears to bare little fruit, write a letter from his "family" to make him feel better.
After a series of mishaps, Pooh and the gang end up lost in a snowstorm while searching for Tigger, and soon find themselves caught in an avalanche. To keep his friends safe, Tigger symbolically places them in the branches of what he believes to be the Tigger Family Tree. After the rescue, Tigger is heartbroken to realize that he has lost his letter. It is then that he discovers who really wrote it:
Owl: [reciting the letter] "Dear Tigger, just a note to say:..."
Winnie the Pooh: "...eat well..."
Piglet:" ...stay safe and sound..."
Eeyore: "...keep smiling..."
Roo: "We're always there for you."
Everyone: "Your family."
Tigger learns that he had a family all along in his friends, whom he decides are the best family he could have hoped for.
6. The Scooby Gang (Buffy The Vampire Slayer)
Buffy The Vampire Slayer, now celebrating its twentieth anniversary, was always more than your average supernatural-themed show. The relationships between the characters, and their own personal demons, were just as important to the series as the flesh and blood monsters. Aside from Buffy, who shared a strong relationship with her single mother, most early members of the Scooby Gang had less-than-ideal home lives.
Willow's parents are said to be away from home for months at a time, and when they are around, show little interest in their daughter's activities. Xander's parents are forever arguing, and it seems he was likely a victim of similar verbal abuse. No wonder that they gravitate towards the calm presence of Giles, who becomes a father figure to all his young charges, particularly Buffy, who loses contact with her own father after the second season.
The group bond even more strongly in their college years as they move toward independence. Buffy officially declares the Scoobies family in a fifth season episode, in which they band together to stop the family of Willow's girlfriend, Tara (who is strongly implied to have suffered abuse at their hands) from taking her away from Sunnydale. While the bonds between them are severely tested at times, they ultimately always hold strong, continuing through the remainder of the series, and the comics that follow.
7. Rick's Group (The Walking Dead)
In the post-apocalyptic world of The Walking Dead, one may think that having too many close connections with others would be a weakness, but for series lead Rick Grimes, that has easily proven not to be true. While Rick's goal was initially just to protect his son, Carl, he now protects the group that has traveled with him to the relative safety of Alexandria. They, in turn, care for him, respect him, and will protect him when they can. The group come to consider themselves a family, much stronger together than they are apart.
This is particularly obvious in the recently aired Season 7. After the brutal murders of Glenn and Abraham at the hands of Negan, Rick's group is divided for a time, scattered among the different communities. During this period, things do not go particularly well for anyone. Only when the group is reunited do things finally begin to improve, winning their first victory over Negan in the season finale. They managed a lot of this thanks to Sasha. Like other characters have done before, Sasha made the ultimate sacrifice: giving her life for the group, because they are her family.