Do you ever wonder how those TV characters who lead a double life manage? Isn’t living just one life hard enough for most of us? People in real life really do live double lives. The term “secret life” is a bit misleading since any double life by definition means that each one is secret from some people. Unless you are living a double life as a hermit far away from people and having nothing but completely anonymous contact, you can’t really call it a secret life. But a double life, well, we’ve all heard stories about bigamists and students by day/hooker by night and Walter White-esque standup guys who are criminals in their other live. Not to mention spies and superheroes. When it comes to living a double life on TV, most of the time it looks a lot easier than it probably is.
The Double Life of Henry Phyfe
Perhaps not the most memorable show about a character living a double life in TV history, but the premise could not be made much clearer. This 1966 ABC sitcom starred Oscar-winner Red Buttons in the title role. But, of course, Henry Phyfe was just part of the story. This mild-mannered accountant (is there any other kind?) found himself recruited by a secret government intelligence agency known as CIS. Why Henry Phyfe? Because it just so happened that Henry Phyfe looked exactly like a recently killed foreign superspy known as U-31. The main problem with the idea of recruiting Henry was that though Phyfe looked like U-31, he was the complete opposite in terms of personality. The show was structured aroud the fact that Henry Phyfe had to live a perfectly normal life as an account while keeping secret from everyone that he was now a spy.
High school prom queen by day and, well, a total emotional wreck by night. The viewer is first introduced to Laura Palmer in “Twin Peaks” when her plastic-wrapped corpse is discovered on the bank of a lake. From that inauspicious beginning we are led into the breathtakingly dark double life that Laura Palmer led. The shocking revelations never stop coming and never cease to amaze. If you have managed to avoid finding out who really killed Laura Palmer, when you finally do find out, you will be stunned.
Birds of Prey
We all know superheroes lead a double life and we all know the really big stories that take advantage of this. One of the lesser known superhero TV shows that delves into the complications of leading a double life was “Birds of Prey.” In the wake of a Gotham City abandoned by the Dark Knight, two women with distinct ties to Batman joins forces with a third to do battle against the Joker’s former lover. What is a little different about the double lives at the center of this story is that one of the women, Barbara Gordon, had to say goodbye to her secret identity as Batgirl after she was shot and paralyzed by the Joker. Despite her disability, however, she takes on a new secret identity as Oracle and proceeds to start living a new double life: high school teacher by day and high tech crimefighter by night.
Who knew that “Hannah Montana” was actually a precognitive documentary? On this Disney Channel show Miley Cyrus played a nice wholesome middle-class girl who lived a double life as celebrity singer. Then, as luck would have it, it turned out that in real life, Miley Cyrus had been merely playing playing a nice wholesome young actress all along! Too bad that Miley’s dad isn’t more like Hannah Montana’s dad. Hey, wait a minute!
Here was a show that was built around a crimefighter leading a double life that was refreshingly free of tights, capes, caves, mild-mannered reporters and weird names. Vinnie Terranova to the outside was a jailbird who just couldn’t manage to go straight. He was always getting mixed up with gangsters, insane and incestuous arms-dealing siblings, white supremacists and, worst of all, the music industry. What a surprising robust and ever-growing number of people knew was that this particular view of Vinnie Terranova was all an act. He was really a deep cover agent for the Organized Crime Bureau of the FBI.