It's tough being a kid in Fiction Land. Bad enough when you're an only child, but if you're among a pack of siblings, this particular trope is nearly guaranteed to raise its head at some point in order to make life even more difficult.
Parental Favoritism is just what it sounds like — one child is given preference over their siblings. In order to qualify, this has to be consistent. One child being asked to do the other's chores because their sibling is sick is probably not favoritism, although that probably won't stop the kid lumbered with the extra work from grumbling. One child having to do all the chores on a daily basis, while their brother/sister sits and plays video games, however, is.
It may show itself in a variety of ways. If there is an argument or fight, the parent(s) will always take the side of one particular sibling, and the other(s) will be the ones being scolded/punished. The parents may brag about one child in particular and be admonishing or dismissive of the others for their faults and regardless of the achievements of the brothers and sisters. A regular line that may be entailed with this is a variant of, "Honestly, (insert name), why can't ya be more like (insert favourite's name)?" There may always be one particular kid who gets out of doing their chores, even if the other kids get pulled up for forgetting to tidy their room.
Sometimes, there may be more than one "favorite," or the mother and father will have different "favorites," making life even more of a headache for their siblings.
There are a few different versions of the trope, and a few different "explanations" as to why one child is preferred over the other. These divisions can be by:
The oldest child is favoured because they are the firstborn/family heir. Tends to apply more to sons than daughters, since old inheritance laws favour boys over girls. This is found more often in fantasy or historical literature, where these laws have a real impact on how the family is run. Sometimes, the oldest child may have a huge set of standards thrown on them, but other times, an overachiever will set other standards for the younger ones.
The youngest child is favoured because they are the "baby" of the family, and the parents will protect them from being "bullied" by their older siblings even when they are big enough to defend themselves/started the trouble in the first place. This is popular in more modern literature, especially with teen novels and children's TV.
Middle children can often get a rough deal; very rarely are they the family favourite, unless they do something really outstanding to explain it. Middle Child Syndrome, as it's known, is a real life phenomenon that some psychologists are studying today.
Occasionally, the parent(s) will favor a child who shares their own place in the birth order over the other children, due to their own childhood experiences with their siblings. For example, a parent who was bullied by their older siblings as a child being more likely to take the side of the younger child, regardless of the older sibling's guilt or innocence.
Preference by gender often relies on the boys:girls ratio within the family. If there are several of one sex and only one of the other, the sibling with a different gender from the others will probably be "the favorite." This can backfire though — they may instead be the "ugly duckling" of the family if the parents prefer one gender over the other, a preference that often hinges on the culture the story is set in (i.e, the solitary sister who's expected to clean up after, and cook for, her brothers).
If there is one son and several daughters, the son will probably acquire the title of "heir to the family." His parents may believe him to be "more important" than his sisters, and they might be expected to obey him/take care of him.
If there is one daughter and several sons, she will probably be the "baby" of the family regardless of birth order (possible exception if she is the oldest sibling, in which case she'll be de facto babysitter). Strangely, brothers are seldom shown as resenting their sister — in fact, they'll "defend her honor" more ferociously than their parents will. Any potential boyfriends are in for a hard time.
Sometimes, one child is funnier, more gregarious, or more talented than the others, making them "the favorite" almost automatically. In some cases, this sibling will be sweetness and light to everyone else, but the Devil in Plain Sight to their brothers and sisters. Although, in other cases, the other child could have a negative personality so the fault could partly fall on them. Alternatively, somebody (one of the parent) may die. In this case, one child will be favoured because of their resemblance to a particular person. Particularly narcissistic parents however, tend to favour the child that most looks/acts like him/herself (although that can happen in a more benign way, with a parent simply having more in common with a child who's also athletic, musical, artistic, etc.)
Biological vs. Adoption
It hardly needs mentioning that dozens of fairy tales (notably "Cinderella") involve stepchildren mistreated by their parents in favor of their biological children. This is pretty much a Discredited Trope today; more commonly, you have an adopted child who suffers some perceived slight from his stepparent and must be reassured that he is loved just as much as the parent's natural children.
Any of these criteria can backfire. For example, one child might be the favorite because they look and act just like their saintly, deceased mother. Another might be just the opposite — The Un Favourite — because of their resemblance to the mother that walked out on the father — or even because they remind the father of the saintly mother. If the saintly mother died in childbirth, then that child's usually got a hell of a lot of resentment to get over, no matter what the physical similarities.
Occasionally, parents have a child that naturally requires more care and attention than the others, because they're very young, disabled or psychologically damaged. This will still seem unfair to the other kids who get less of their parents' time, but it's necessity rather than favoritism...usually. This is a favourite plot for children's books and television, where the lead character is jealous of a new baby sister or brother only to be reassured that "we love you just as much." On the other hand, if the favorite is Too Good for This Sinful Earth, the parents may never learn to appreciate their living children.
Sometimes, the parents are reasonably handing out the privileges and responsibilities with age. When the older child looks only at the responsibilities and the younger at the privileges, both can come to the view that they are the Unfavorite. Or they may responsibly differentiate, but the musically untalented child may resent the lessons as favoritism, and the talented one, the other's free time as favoritism; or the child who must do all the chores resents the sickly child's confinement to his bedroom and inability to play. Cue Sibling Rivalry.
Of course, it is common that the parents are not aware of their favoritism and may be appalled at themselves upon realizing it. Very few parents would actually pursue favoritism with the knowledge of the other children's hurt feelings.
In fact, the obligatory "talk with the parents" is normally part of a Parental Favoritism plot...but that does not guarantee it will solve anything. If the writer is trying to Hand Wave the glaring bias of the parents, there will be a scene where mum and dad will give a long speech on how they value all their kids equally, and will tell the un-favorite child that making them live in the basement and forcing them to bow whenever their little brother enters a room is really a mark of their esteem. The words "you're the responsible one" will probably be mentioned in some form. A more realistic version is where the big talk is honest, and the parent doesn't bother trying to justify their actions, but do realise they were wrong and attempt to make amends. This is regularly done to "humanise" the hitherto parents — but it's probably too late. By the time of the talk, most of the audience will already be set against the parents, and it'll take a hell of a lot of good writing to redeem them. But if the parents have clearly realized their foolishness and have shown to be really sorry, then this MAY take a lot of weight off them.
Parental Favoritism can have a huge impact on characters even when they become adults. The Favorite will probably be spoiled and throw a tantrum if (s)he doesn't get his or her own way; kids at the bottom of the pecking order will usually be bitter and cynical about relationships and family life, or have serious self-esteem issues.
This is all too often Truth in Television.
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Implied in an ad for Invisalign Teen. Twin teenagers both need braces; however, their mother gets Invisalign for one daughter and regular braces for the other. The Unfavorite spends the commerical complaining about all the limitations of her headgear, while the favored daughter gloats and rubs her face in how she doesn't have to deal with all those issues. Thanks, Mom.
A DVR ad has it to where a mother and father openly admit in front of their son that their daughter is their favorite child without a hint of remorse. They then casually suggest they just give him the last video slot simply because "that's the best he is going to get".
Another commercial for Guinness uses the same premise; two parents tell their adult son he's their least favorite child, to the point that he's not only under his siblings, but also the dog and their fine china. But they buy him a case of Guinness to make up for it.
One pizza chain had an ad where the children asked their father about his preference for dinner, and he protested that trying to choose would be like trying to decide which of them was his favorite child. They persist, wanting to know what he wants for dinner, and he finally relents and declares, "Bobby."
Why Ken partially resented his older brother in Digimon Adventure 02. Not only was he the younger sibling, and thus overlooked for the firstborn, Osamu was also a child prodigy and a media darling. This ensured that Ken never got the kind of attention he desperately wanted from his parents. It didn't help matters much when Osamu died in an accident, and his parents were too caught up in their grief to notice Ken even after that. After he's manipulated into more or less selling his soul in the Digital World, he gains the prodigy aspect his brother had, and his parents apparently begin to love him... but only as a shadow of what they once had with Osamu. It took him vanishing into the Digital World with the intent to stay there permanently, then returning in the midst of a complete mental breakdown, for them to finally begin loving him as Ken.
Ootori Kyouya is victim of a subtle version in Ouran High School Host Club. As the youngest of three sons in a rich family, he is expected by his father to perform at respectable standards, but never to do anything to one-up his brothers, who will inherit the Ootori business empire.
His sister also seems to get this treatment to some extent. She's admonished for returning home when she is happily married and has no real business to be there. This has the Ootori family fulfill two of the criteria. She, however, seems to ignore it and act cheery nonetheless, going out with Tamaki on occasion to explore the world of commoner cuisine.
A similiar fate befalls Azuma Yunoki in La Corda d'Oro, who is forced to give up playing piano by his grandmother because he's better at it than his two older brothers; as he says, "My place is always below my brothers." Most probably a result of Japanese cultural values, and seems wildly unfair to Western readers. Azuma develops a bit of a psychological problem as a result (which probably means it's supposed to seem unfair to the original audience, as well).
Taken to extremes in Saiyuki. Gojyo is a 'child of taboo,' raised by his stepmother and half-brother. She eventually attempted to kill him, but her biological son killed her first.
In Naruto we see in the flashbacks that Fugaku Uchiha preferred his older, genius son Itachi to the younger Sasuke, saying several times to Sasuke that he wanted Sasuke to become a shinobi like Itachi.
The situation eventually turns around completely after Itachi is suspected of murdering Shisui which he did (except that he really didn't; Shisui really did commit suicide, albeit it, with Itachi's help). After Sasuke masters the fireball technique, Fugaku tells him not to follow Itachi's footsteps.
Turned around even earlier when Sasuke's mother told him that in public, Itachi was the shining star, and Fugaku, in his capacity as head of the clan, was naturally concerned about him, due to his importance to the clan. In private, the only thing Fugaku talked about was Sasuke. Or so she says.
It's revealed in Chapter 590 that despite all this, they loved both their children. When Itachi came to kill them the night of the massacre, Mikoto assured him that his parents still loved him and that they fully understood his decision, while Fugaku asked Itachi to take care of Sasuke, and that regardless of their differences in beliefs and the paths they both took, he was still proud of him.
Likewise, Hiashi Hyuuga preferred his younger daughter Hanabi, as he believed Hinata lacked any real talent, especially when compared to her genius cousin Neji (the son of Hiashi's twin brother). After Neji loses his fight against Naruto, Hiashi's attitude starts to change and he softens up to both Hinata and Neji.
Something that plagues Johan very intently. Which one of them was the unwanted one?
In the 2003 anime version, this is the reason for Envy's hatred of the Elric brothers; he is the homunculus created by their father in an attempt to revive his firstborn son, and he was cast aside when he came back as a "monster".
In the manga, a side story reveals that this existed between the Elric brothers themselves when they were quite small, as Edward was very jealous of his mother's love for the baby Alphonse. A neatly-delivered lesson from father Hohenheim changed his mind, however, and by the time of the main story they are absolutely devoted to one another.
InuYasha: The chip on Sesshoumaru's shoulder stems from the belief that he was The Unfavourite to Inuyasha, to the extent where he actually believes his father was grooming Inuyasha to kill him. The situation between the brothers is eventually resolved when it becomes clear that their father understood the vulnerabilities of being half-human and just how powerful Sesshoumaru would one day become. His real desire was for Sesshoumaru to become a source of support and guidance for Inuyasha.
Part of the backstory of Big Bad King of Gallia in Familiar Of Zero; his elder brother was the favorite for being better at everything. Then, in the old King's last moments, he named the younger his successor, due the old king's insanity. Ecstatic, even knowing the true reason he was chosen, he went to rub it in his older brother's face. Unfortunately, the elder was honestly happy for his younger brother's success. This drove Joseph mad, and he ended up killing his older brother. So begins the tale of the mad king.
In +Anima, the Royal Family of Sailand is a perfect example of Favoritism. In fact, it's most likely why Husky was named Crown Prince out of birth order.
Neon Genesis Evangelion gives us an odd case. Gendo shows no love or affection to Shinji, but is almost uncharacteristically fond of Rei, who he treats as an adoptive daughter. The reason he's fond of Rei however is because she resembles his dead wife, and in the end, both the children are little more than pawns to him toward resurrecting her. Before his death however, Gendo admits that he secretly held great love for Shinji in his heart, but was simply too afraid to face it.
Played with in Axis Powers Hetalia. At first it looks like Grandpa Rome likes only his youngest grandson Veneziano and completely neglects older grandson Romano due to Veneziano having more talent than his brother, but it later turns out that he does visit Romano from the afterlife too. In fact, a Himaruya sketch shows Romano crying Tears of Joy... and then hiding because he doesn't want his Grandpa to see him cry.
Sangatsu No Lion provides a rather interesting case. Rei's adoptive father, Kouda, leads a very shogi-centered life that extends even to his home. As such, his children's skill in shogi more-or-less determines the kind of attention he gives them. Unfortunately for Rei, he ends up as the most skilled, creating strained relationships between him and the biological children of the household, who became something of TheUnfavorites.
In Girls und Panzer, Shiho Nishizumi favors Maho, her elder daughter and heir, over Miho, her younger daughter and the main character. A good example of this is when, in Little Army, she arrives after Miho and Maho's training battle and offhandedly says "So Miho's here as well," before congratulating Maho on her tournament victory. Shiho disapproves of Miho so much that after hearing of her going to the semifinals against Pravda, she considers disowning her. However, once Miho defeats Maho in the finals, Shiho sighs, then smiles and starts clapping, which could indicate that her attitude is shifting.
In Yu-Gi-Oh! Duel Monsters, Gozaburo favored his biological son Noah than his adoptive son Seto, at first. But Noah, whose body is dead and his mind is copied in a virtual world, was later ignored by his father, and Gozaburo furthered Seto who had more natural talent than Noah ever had. And of course, Noah's childish personality made it impossible to become a heir of Gozaburo. Well, after being betrayed by Seto, he doesn't give a crap for all of his sons.
By the way, the other adoptive son Mokuba was always ignored by Gozaburo.
Dick Grayson/Nightwing has been noted to be Batman's favoured son, being the first Robin and the easiest to get along with. He understands Bruce's teachings the most, came into his own as a hero, and while as skilled as Bruce, can still make friends and keep them, something Bruce can't do.
Darkseid treats all his children terribly but out of all of them, he respects and likes Orion the most, even if Orion is on the good guy's side and actively opposes him.
Marvel's Thor is clearly his father's Odin's favorite. This goes to an insane level when, in Fear Itself, he is willing to destroy the entire Earth for Thor's sake. He never went that far for Loki or even Baldur, the latter of whom didn't even know he was one of Odin's sons until fairly recently. Let's not even get into Loki's problems from all of this...
Tokyo Mew Mew No Hope Left has this trope in spades at the beginning. The protagonist's parents are described as preening her older sister and sending her to a fancy school, while forgetting that our heroine exists.
A common setting in Naruto, when Naruto has a sibling and his parents are Spared By Adaptation. They focus all of their attention on the sibling and completely ignore him or try to stunt his growth.
Played with in Empath: The Luckiest Smurf. The other Smurfs think Papa Smurf treats Empath as the favorite son. It helps that Empath is Papa Smurf's only biological son. Empath, however, feels that he is more the Unfavorite, as Papa Smurf did nothing to get him out of living a life away from his fellow Smurfs in Psychelia.
In a Harry Potter fanfic where Sirius Black has two children, a boy and a girl to be more precise, their mother favors the girl over the boy because he looks like Sirius and she thinks Sirius is guilty.
Film - Animated
Played for laughs in Disney's Robin Hood by the childish Prince John.
Prince John: Mother always liked Richard best...
Which might possibly have been Truth in Television; it's been suggested by many historians that Richard was the favorite child of their mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine, while John was the favorite of their father, Henry II.
Nuka from The Lion King is neglected in favor of the youngest, Kovu, whom Scar chose as his heir.
And if the tie-in book for the first movie is true, Scar was originally named "Taka" by his parents, which translates roughly into "Garbage".
In Cinderella, Lady Tremaine favours her biological daughters far more than Cinderella, to the point of treating Cinderella like a lowly servant.
Film - Live Action
Zach from the Quebecois film C.R.A.Z.Y is the fourth son of five and manages to be a case of both Parental Favoritism AND The Unfavorite - his religious mother believes he has the power of healing and defends him from his father's scorn. Meanwhile his dad, having suspected him of being gay from an early age, lavishes most of his praise on the three older brothers, who are respectively a genius, a jock and a macho lady's man. Meanwhile the youngest just seems to get ignored.
In Dead Poets Society, Todd receives a birthday present from his parents - a replica of what they sent him the previous year. It comes out that his brother's birthdays are a big deal, but his own are clearly an afterthought. One of his friends helps him throw the present off a balcony and jokingly tells him to cheer up: he'll get another one next year.
In Ferris Buellers Day Off, Ferris's sister complains that her brother can get away with anything, and their parents will believe him. Since her brother is Ferris Bueller, she's probably right. On the other hand, Ferris wanted a car, which she got.
Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story: The fact that Dewey Cox's father is fond of reminding Dewey that "the wrong kid died" when discussing Dewey's deceased older brother is a pretty good indication of where Dewey stands on the pecking order.
The TV movie Sweet Dreams (1996) has this trope in a flashback scene near the end between Laura Renault (played by Amy Yasbeck) and Allison Sulivan (played by Tiffany Amber-Thiessen).
The TV movie In the Deep Woods (1992) has this trope near the end of the movie between Joanna Warren (played by Rosanna Arquette) and Tommy Warren (played by Christopher Rydell).
Welcome To The Dollhouse: the mother obviously favors the cute youngest daughter Missy over the plain middle daughter Dawn, to the point where Mom and Missy cuddle on the couch while watching television and Dawn has to sit on the floor.
In Ever After, Rodmilla de Ghent favours her eldest daughter Marguerite, who is beautiful and behaves the same way as her mother, compared to her stepdaughter Danielle and her younger daughter Jacqueline, who has a much sweeter, kinder personality.
Ramsey Hogan in Desert Heat clearly favors one child over the other two.
Matt: "Why are you ridin' me and Jesse so much and never Petey?"
Ramsey: "I love Petey 'cause I loved his mother. She died giving him birth. He's our love child."
Matt: "What about me and Jess?"
Ramsey: "You two are the unfortunate results of some recreational fucking back when fucking was fun."
Matt: "... geez."
Ramsey: "Get over it."
This is the Red Queen's Freudian Excuse in Alice in Wonderland, as she claims (with some accuracy) that her parents and the rest of the kingdom favoured her little sister the White Queen more than her.
Played painfully straight in The Feast Of All Saints, where Cecile overtly favors her son Marcel and barely tolerates her daughter Marie, largely because she is jealous of Marie's beauty. This culminates with Cecile attacking Marie when the latter comes home after being gang raped. Near the end of the movie, Cecile even says she wishes Marie was dead and asks Marcel to pass along the message.
While he isn't Howard Stark's biological son or even related to him, Steve Rogers meant a great deal to the man who would father Tony Stark in The Avengers. This is part of the reason why Tony clashes with Steve throughout the movie as he sees Steve as the "brother [Tony] could never live up to." To make things worse, Steve doesn't know about this dynamic.
In Hobo With a Shotgun, the villain Drake clearly favors his son Slick over his other son Ivan. When Slick dies, Ivan tries to assume his place in his father's eyes, without much success. Ultimately Drake tells him that he'll never measure up and shoots him.
Gordie is most definitely The Unfavorite in Stand by Me, and believes his father would rather he have died than his charming, athletic older brother. Probably the only thing keeping Gordie from feeling worse than he does is the fact that he and his brother had a great relationship, and his brother used to praise and encourage him in his writing.
The Bennet sisters, in Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. Tearaway Lydia is Mrs. Bennet's favorite daughter; sensible and witty Elizabeth is Mr. Bennet's. Oldest sister Jane is loved by everyone thanks to her sweet nature, but bookish Mary and second-to-youngest Kitty get the short end of the stick. (Kitty doesn't even get a character trait; she's just 'second-to-youngest'. That's favoritism for you.)
Mrs. Dashwood does that in Sense and Sensibility. She is kind and affectionate to her three daughters, but she has a particularly close relationship with Marianne, who strikingly resembles her and is constantly referred to as being her darling child, doted upon or something of the sort. Meanwhile, she generally finds Elinor incomprehensible and fails to take her feelings into account, possibly because she often doesn't realise they exist. When the sisters have similar love problems, Mrs Dashwood leaves Elinor to shift for herself while giving Marianne her unlimited support. While some of this could be explained by Elinor's and Marianne's respective attitudes, Mrs Dashwood continues to be inconsiderate to Elinor even when it is revealed that her love interest is engaged to another woman. Completely inverts the Middle Child Syndrome. To her credit, near the end she gets a clue and fears that "she had been unjust, inattentive, nay, almost unkind to her Elinor."
For bonus points, Elinor and Marianne have a younger sister, Margaret. Margaret exists. That is all.
Sid Sawyer in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. All the adults adore Tom's little brother and wish Tom were more like him... when in reality he's a manipulative, mean-spirited brat, but only Tom, Huck and Becky ever notice.
Fudge, in Judy Blume's series of young adult novels beginning with Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, was the family favorite, getting away with murder while big brother Peter got repeatedly whacked over the head with An Aesop about loving his brother. The fact that Peter Can't Get Away with Nuthin' doesn't help.
In fact, this is one of those odd instances where it's not clear whether Fudge is the parents' favorite, or the author's. Peter's parents seem as if they're supposed to be the wise, sensible, benevolent type, and they do make up for some of Fudge's excesses, but the fact that Fudge never gets called on his bad behaviour suggests that either he was given serious preference by his parents... or Blume didn't want to let such things as "discipline" get in the way of Fudge's antics.
In the latest book in the series, Double Fudge, Fudge's latest "phase" is that he's obsessed with money. His parents are actually somewhat worried about this, and Anne, the mother, is positively mortified when Fudge's excessive greed results in him getting evaluated by the counselor and she's told that maybe she should try to stress that "the best things in life are free," etc. The problem is never solved, per se, in order to allow for hijinks and because Warren and Anne really have no idea what to do about it, but it does seem to lessen. Slightly. Fudge books are only published once every ten years, so we might have a bit of wait to find out what happens next, if anything.
His parents do get fed up with Fudge and punish him when warranted. In Tales Of A Fourth Grade Nothing Fudge is throwing a tantrum and not eating his cornflakes and his dad makes him stand in the bathtub while he dumps the bowl of cereal on his head, and in Superfudge he was occasionally scolded (and spanked once) by his mother over his misdeeds and at the end was punished by his parents for riding his bike to town without telling anyone.
Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing itself also had Fudge get punished for his actions, as he ruins a poster that Peter, Jimmy, and Sheila had been working on for weeks. His mother spanks him. Though that's scarcely enough to make up for the incident in the park, where she blames Peter for allowing Fudge to jump off the jungle gym even though Sheila was supposed to be in charge. (The mother does later tell Peter that she's sorry she yelled at him and knew it wasn't right, but she was upset.)
The worst example of this occurs when Fudge is hospitalized for eating Peter's turtle. Everyone is concerned about Fudge, but not one person comforts Peter over the fact that, y'know, his pet has been murdered, and the fact that the whole thing is Fudge's own stupid fault is never brought up. Granted, Peter is given a dog at the end of the book and told he's been a pretty good sport about everything, but even so.
Played with in Judy Blume's The Pain And The Great One, a kids book told in two parts. The first, an older sister describes how her little brother "The Pain" gets away with murder and is clearly the parents' favorite, in the second the brother describes the sister "The Great One" in pretty much the same way, also concluding that she must be the favorite.
Murphy in Jim Butcher's The Dresden Files. In Blood Rites, she asks that Harry time an assault on a vampire lair so that she can skip her family reunion. The timing is off, however; she attends part of the reunion, and learns that her younger sister - who their mother explicitly says is allowed more freedom as the youngest than Murphy had as a youngster - is marrying Murphy's ex-husband. The sister got involved with the ex when he failed to arrest her for underage drinking when she was spending an unsupervised vacation in New Orleans. Their mother is A-OK with this, and criticizes Murphy for her reaction.
Of course, only part of this is because Murphy's sister is the favorite sister. The other part is that Mrs. Murphy absolutely loved her son-in-law. She's thrilled that she's getting him back in the family again.
Mercilessly deconstructed in Leaving Poppy by Kate Cann. The heroine, Amber, has a younger sister that is so favored by her mother it reaches ridiculous levels. At the start of the story, the heroine is due to go on holiday to celebrate her exam success. But Poppy — who her mother describes as "fragile" — suddenly becomes "ill," crying all the time and throwing tantrums. Their mother guilt-trips Amber into staying...and Poppy "miraculously" gets better. In later chapters, it is revealed that Poppy is not sick — she's psychotic, partly as a result of being spoiled, but it's also suggested that she was "born bad." Even as a child, she slashed another kid with scissors — and planned the whole thing meticulously.
In C. J. Cherryh's Regenesis, part of the backstory of Giraud and Denys Nye is that their mother wanted to raise a genius, and pressured Giraud, the eldest, to perform as a child; although he was bright, he wasn't up to that level, and was The Unfavorite. Denys, on the other hand, was a genius and was coddled. Denys grew up introverted and antisocial, depending utterly on Giraud to handle interaction with other people.
Paula Danziger is another teen writer who was fond of this, although in Can You Sue Your Parents For Malpractice? she turns the trope on its head — big sister Melissa is the family favourite until she defies her draconian father by moving in with her boyfriend. Rather than choosing a "new" favourite, her father takes his annoyance out on his two younger daughters.
A major part of the plot of Jacob Have I Loved: Sarah Louise's younger twin, Caroline, received all the attention as a baby because she was always weak and ill. She grew up beautiful, popular, talented at singing and the piano, sweet, and perfect, while Sarah Louise became a hard-working tomboy who "never gave her parents a moment's worry." Sarah Louise's mission in the novel is to find a life outside her sister's shadow.
In Diana Wynne Jones's Archer's Goon, the youngest of the seven magical siblings is the most powerful and favored of the group. His elder brothers and sisters are bound magically to protect him.
In Stephen King's novel The Eyes of The Dragon, Peter is the King's favorite son. This leads younger brother Thomas to build a deep jealousy and hate of his older brother that the Big Bad Flagg takes advantage of.
To a large extent, this is actually inverted. The King certainly adores Peter, and thinks him a better heir, but feels most like the younger son. (In fact, many of the eavesdropped statements that led to Thomas's resentment ended with a "like something I would have produced at his age" that Thomas missed.)
Tywin Lannister loves his oldest son Jaime, who's tall, handsome, a ferocious knight and generally regarded as the ideal son. (For awhile) His second son, Tyrion, is a malformed dwarf whose birth killed Tywin's beloved wife. Tyrion's not the popular son.
Warrior-like Randyll Tarly (said to be the finest soldier in the realm) bypasses his heir, the cowardly, compassionate, bookish and weight-challenged Samwell, for his younger son Dickon (and by "bypasses" we mean "chains him up for three days, threatens to kill him, then has him forfeit his birthright and be exiled to the Night's Watch rather than let him become a *gasp* academic"). He explicitly tells him he'll enjoy hunting him down like an animal if he doesn't join the Watch, while skinning a dead deer. He rips its heart out in front of him for emphasis.
Queen Cersei lavishes shamelessly preferential treatment on her sociopathic eldest Joffrey while publicly berating the sweet, gentle Tommen as a weakling.
There is a very mild version with Catelyn. While she dearly and deeply loves all of her children, she has mentioned that Bran is her favorite. There is also a mild version between Arya and Sansa specifically, as Catelyn often finds herself wishing that Arya could be more like her ladylike sister. (While Catelyn loves all of her own children, however, she really does hate the bastard Jon and the foster child Theon that invade her way of life).
Theon gets the short end of the stick again when, feeling unwelcome in Winterfell, he tries to go back home to Pyke. After Balon's oldest boys were killed and the youngest taken hostage in punishment for a failed rebellion, he was left with his daughter Asha. Not surprisingly, Balon doesn't welcome the son who was raised by his enemies, but he absolutely dotes on Asha.
Katie Nolan of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn knows when she gives birth to her son Neeley that she'll love him more than her daughter Francie, but promises she won't show it (she fails). She rationalizes much of her favoritism by saying that Neeley needs more encouragement, while Francie is strong like her and will get what she wants somehow. For example, when she can only afford to send one of the kids to high school, she says it should be Neeley because he won't go unless she makes him, but Francie will get an education because she wants it.
In Terry Pratchett's The Wee Free Men, Tiffany Aching, the next-to-youngest child in a family of girls, is somewhat overlooked because the youngest child is the only boy.
In Lynda Robinson's Lord Meren mysteries, it is revealed in Murder at the Feast of Rejoicing that Meren, the eldest son, was put under great pressure to excel by his AbusiveFather, while his younger brother Ra was indulged and spoiled.
J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter: Harry endured some pretty extreme abuse at the hands of his aunt Petunia and uncle Vernon, while his cousin Dudley was extremely pampered, owed at least in part to a long-held jealousy Petunia held of his mother.
Ron certainly felt like this was the case, although readers generally see no evidence of it: among his many insecurities, he frets about being the sixth boy in a family that always wanted a girl.
It's probably safe to say that Harry Potter is made of this trope: Regulus was the favorite over older brother Sirius (mostly because the former was just as much a bigot as his parents); Dumbledore's sister Ariana required constant supervision, leaving Albus rather aloof; Marvolo Gaunt favored Morfin greatly over Merope; Petunia certainly felt that her parents liked Lily better after discovering she was a witch.
Crookedstar from Warrior Cats was this to Rainflower, to the dismay of him, his brother Oakheart, and their father Shellheart all because he broke his jaw, thus "ruining his good looks." But he eventually tells her that she would never make him ashamed of who he was.
Breezepelt feels like this at first, bcause his dad never pays attention to him (but not knowing he had more than one kit). So he starts working with the Dark Forest not only to destroy the Clans, but also to get revenge on Crowfeather.
The Westing Game: Grace Wexler doesn't even bother to hide how much she prefers her older, angelic daughter Angela over younger daughter Turtle. While angry at Turtle, she confides to her husband that she has always harbored a suspicion that the hospital had gotten the babies mixed up when Turtle was born and Grace explicitly states (while both girls are present) that she intends to leave everything she owns to Angela. The older girl is generally regarded as the perfect daughter much to Angela's resentment, due to her mother micromanaging her life.
In J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, Boromir (the elder son) is heavily preferred to Faramir by their father, Denethor. It's especially emphasized in The Movies, where Denethor is shown as blatantly unfair; in the book, Gandalf at least believes that it is partly that Denethor is still grief-stricken over the death.
In the book, it's also heavily implied that a lot of his favoritism comes from Boromir's loyalty — Boromir always puts Gondor's interests first, as Denethor does, while Faramir seems more interested in Gandalf's plan to take care of Middle Earth as a whole (even if that means causing some serious trouble for Godor). Case in point: both brothers are faced with an opportunity to take the Ring by force and use it to defend Gondor. Boromir goes for it; Faramir just gives the hobbits some supplies and lets them go.
It should be noted though, that Boromir loves his younger brother, protects him, and is thoroughly sick of the way their father treats him.
In The Silmarillion, Fëanor and Fingolfin, who are half-brothers, fight for the love of their father Finwë, who shows no signs of favouritism. Then the eldest son, Fëanor, publicly threatens to kill Fingolfin, setting the point of his sword to his brother's chest. He is exiled... and his father Finwë goes with him. Poor Fingolfin. (Though arguably this might have been necessary to keep the slightly unhinged Fëanor from going batshit crazy... which he did anyway, mind, but only later.) Even so, Finwë declares that as long as his son is exiled, "I hold myself unkinged" and refuses to see or talk to his people, even during the holiest festivals.
The Diamond Girls involves a mother who is desperate for her fifth child to be a boy, after having four daughters. She obsesses over it to the point of planning her new life around her son — demeaning the value of her daughters (probably unintentionally) as she does so. This is one of the few cases where Parental Favoritism has started before the kid is born. It doesn't work out so well for the fifth Diamond child when "he" turns out to be a she, however...
Girls In Love has one character, Nadine, with a younger sister who is the favourite of their superficial and snobbish mother. Natasha is a Devil in Plain Sight, but she looks cute, and later starts a career as a child model, so of course she's "Mummy's favourite."
Goes both ways in the Conqueror books. Temuge is the youngest of five brothers, and his mother dotes on him as a result. This leads to him becoming a rather soft and chubby child who never learns to use a bow or sword effectively, making him the least favourite in his father's eyes.
In My Sister's Keeper, youngest daughter Anna was conceived specifically to be a donor for cancer-struck big sister, Kate. While she is pregnant with Anna, her mother, Sara, admits that she hasn't really considered her new daughter's personality, only the genetics that ensure she will make a good donor. Even when Anna is born, Sara's main concern is that the doctors don't damage the umbilical cord (which can be used to save Kate) - she pays very little attention to the newborn baby. Anna's dad is more concerned with her, but even he neglects his oldest child, Jesse. Late in the book, he admits that he hasn't really paid much attention to Jesse's development, and can't fill in the gap between being told that Jesse wasn't a suitable donor for Kate, and being confronted with a seriously troubled 18-year-old. Jesse and Anna are only seen in terms of what they can do for Kate - who, to her credit, notices this and doesn't like it one bit.
In Handle with Care, Willow suffers from severe brittle bone disease, which understandably necessitates a lot of care and caution. However, her mother, Charlotte, takes it to an extreme, ignoring older daughter Amelia and systematically destroying the girl's life as she campaigns to improve Willow's. When Amelia develops bulimia and starts self-harming, Charlotte genuinely can't see why Amelia has such problems. Unlike Willow, who is cared for by her family, Amelia is promptly shuffled off to a clinic in Boston when her problems are revealed, to be someone else's problem for a while. What makes this particularly sad is that before Willow's birth, Charlotte admits that she would hesitate to take a bullet for her husband, because Amelia would need her, but she's protect Amelia no matter what. By the end of the book, it's doubtful that Charlotte would give the same answer.
In Outbound Flight, Jedi Lorana Jinzler is confronted, to her shock, by the brother she never knew, who told her angrily that their parents, who she also never knew, loved her for being a Jedi, loved her more than their other children, held her up as a shining example of what they should be. She's confused and disturbed and both of them come away from that confrontation worse off; at the end of the book, Lorana tells someone to find her brother and tell him that she was thinking of him, and hoping that he could find a way to let go of his anger - at her, at their parents, at himself.
Fifty years later, in Survivors Quest, that person Lorana talked to finally stops neglecting the promise and arranges for Dean Jinzler to go to the ruins of Outbound Flight, where his sister died. Time has muddled up his anger, and although he still believes that she was unduly favored, he wants to put things to rest and say his goodbyes. During the events of the novel he realizes, in a Crowning Moment of Heartwarming, that he'd been lying to himself for years. Their parents had loved the absent Lorana, but they had loved the children they had just as much. All those years when Dean had been pushing himself to excel in his father's fields, they had been proud. He just hadn't seen it.
"I'm an electronics technician. Like my father before me."
Manny Heffley, the baby of the Heffley family from Diary of a Wimpy Kid. (Manny is three years old, Greg is around eleven to thirteen, while Rodrick is implied to be in between fifteen to seventeen.) Manny is allowed to do all sorts of stuff like bring toys to church, call his brothers names, throw fits to get his way, and crawl out of bed at night and stay up. Greg states that when he was Manny's age, he had none of that. The Parental Favoritism also spreads to the extended family. (Manny is given far more presents for Christmas and more stuff that he wants, Greg is given stuff like books of Algebra or deodorant.) The only in-focus grandmother is particularly bad, as she claims to like all of her grandchildren equally but her fridge is practically wallpapered in pictures of Manny. Also, Manny hardly ever receives punishment for his actions, even when he steals supplies and leaves his family for dead during a blizzard.
The only onscreen grandfather meanwhile actually subverts this. It's also why he is Gregory's favourite grandparent, for obvious reasons...
"Gregory's my favorite!"
In the Maximum Ride series, Jeb clearly favors his foster children (the Flock) over his six-year-old biological son Ari, to the point at which he leaves Ari in an underground lab filled with unethical scientists who unsurprisingly have no problem experimenting on the poor kid. Because of this, Ari understandably resents the Flock for this (especially Max) and tries constantly to gain his father's favor. Then the parental favoritism becomes literal when it turns out that Max and Ari are half siblings.
Of course, it's a bit blurry as to whether he genuinely loved them or was just another in a long line of people trying to use the Flock to their advantage. The fact that he doesn't shut up about how they have to save the world might be an indicator.
A very important part of L. M. Montgomery's Jane of Lantern Hill: Grandmother only loves one of her children, Robin, Jane's mother. She's also insanely jealous, so this love doesn't extend to Jane.
In Jane Eyre, Jane is treated only like another mouth to feed for her spiteful aunt (whose husband treated Jane more kindly before he died) and her cousins, especially John, take delight in bullying her, even in front of their mother who does nothing to stop them.
In The Legend of Rah and the Muggles, Rah is the favorite of virtually the entire Muggle community, because he's a good boy who doesn't ever deviate from the norm and builds them a mill. This is taken to ridiculous levels in one chapter, when he wins a croquet game and everyone acts like he won the Olympics, complete with giving him an old and valuable medal. Rah also seems to be the author's favorite as well, given that she made his entry in the character glossary easily the most detailed, while most everyone else (including Zyn) got two or three sentences tops.
Laurence in the Temeraire books. He's the unnecessary third son of a minor aristocratic family, and his father, who'd never paid him any attention, expected him to go into the priesthood, but instead he ran away and joined the Navy. And just when he thought he might have been in a position to make his way back into his father's good graces with his accumulated military honors, he experiences the local equivalent of Falling into the Cockpit and finds himself recruited to the socially unacceptable Aerial Corps instead, and his father almost disowns him. Their relationship only gets worse from there.
In the Chinese Cinderella story Bound by Donna Jo Napoli, at first the stepmother cared for neither main character Xing Xing or her biological daughter, as during her time, sons were more favoured. However, as Xing Xing's father grew closer to Xing Xing after the death of his wife, the stepmother grew closer to her own daughter, while simultaneously despising and envying her stepdaughter.
Present across the Julio-Claudian family in I, Claudius.
Livia justified her actions by pointing out how disastrous Augustus's Parental Favoritism was: by favouring Marcellus over Agrippa, and Lucius, Gaius and later Germanicus against Tiberius, he risked civil war in Rome after his death.
Claudius later used this to protect his own son, Britannicus, from his adopted son Nero, hoping to divert Agrippinilla's attention from him. He fails.
In Gone with the Wind, Scarlett is Gerald O'Hara's favored child. He has come to realize that he will never have any sons, and speaks to Scarlett in a sort of man-to-man way that Scarlett enjoys very much. Scarlett carries this out much further with her own children; her youngest daughter, Bonnie is her favored child.
A major theme in East of Eden, due to the running Cain and Abel parallel. It happens first with Cyrus Trask, his unfavorite eldest son Charles, and the favorite, Adam. Thanks to Generation Xerox, things go pretty much the same way with Adam's twin sons, Cal and Aaron.
In Gene Stratton Porter's The Song of the Cardinal, the cardinal got this. His father stuffed him with food in the nest, and his mother, more equitable, gave him only half of what she gathered.
The king came to see him and at once acknowledged subjugation. He was the father of many promising cardinals, yet he never had seen one like this. He set the Limberlost echoes rolling with his jubilant rejoicing. He unceasingly hunted for the ripest berries and seed. He stuffed that baby from morning until night, and never came with food that he did not find him standing a-top the others calling for more. The queen was just as proud of him and quite as foolish in her idolatry, but she kept tally and gave the remainder every other worm in turn. They were unusually fine babies, but what chance has merely a fine baby in a family that possesses a prodigy? The Cardinal was as large as any two of the other nestlings, and so red the very down on him seemed tinged with crimson; his skin and even his feet were red.
"I am not! But it wasn't a 'fool thing' when Mary and Nancy Ellen, and the older girls wanted to go. You even let Mary go to college two years." "Mary had exceptional ability," said Mrs. Bates. "I wonder how she convinced you of it. None of the rest of us can discover it," said Kate.
In Stuart Hill's The Icemark Chronicles, the youngest son Sharley has a crippled leg, so his parents overprotect him and love him more than their other offspring. His sister Medea grows more and more hatred towards him throughout the second book, until she eventually tries to kill him.
Here he was, the reason and root of her inability to embrace the cause of the Icemark, her family, humanity, the mortal world…everything! She wasn't responsible for her actions. Sharley was.
In the Sweet Valley High series, Ned and Alice Wakefield consistently blast Jessica for her bad behavior—promiscuity, bad grades, etc. Similar behavior from Elizabeth is glossed over or rationalized. One scene illustrates this perfectly—when Jessica tries to fix her brother Steven up with one of her friends, she's screamed at by everyone. But when Elizabeth steps in to defend Jessica and explain that it was her idea, suddenly it's a great idea and everyone's falling all over themselves to praise her for it. Not until Jessica RAN AWAY (TWICE, in two separate books) did it finally dawn on her family how troubled she was.
The Thorn Birds: Fiona favors her oldest son Frank. This is because Frank is the son of the man she really loves, who seduced and abandoned her. Meanwhile, she has several other children with Paddy, the man kind enough to marry her when no one else would because of her illegitimate child, but to a large extent she ignores them. Only daughter Meggie actually thinks she's dying when she starts her period because her mother never bothered to tell her anything about it. Twenty-something years later, Meggie repeats this mistake with her own children, favoring her son Dane (her illegitimate child with the priest she has loved since childhood) over her daughter Justine (her child by her neglectful husband Luke).
To a lesser extent, it seems that Meggie is Paddy's favored child, possibly because she's the only daughter in a large family of sons.
Jane Rizzoli of the Rizzoli & Isles series is blatantly ignored in favor of her brothers, especially brother Frankie. One book tries to Hand Wave this with the explanation that her mother always knew that Jane was the strong one while her brother needed help, but a later novel has her finally admit her mistake.
All over Flowers in the Attic. Cathy was her father's favorite. Chris is his mother's favorite. Corrine was her father's favorite before he disowned her for marrying his much younger half-brother.
In the later books in the series, there's a massive sense of this between Cathy's three children, as she sometimes appears much fonder of eldest child Jory and adopted daughter Cindy than of her troubled middle child Bart. She does love Bart, however, and the sense of favoritism has a lot to do with his view of things, not necessarily how they actually are.
Brothers Frasier and Niles were each convinced that the other was their parents' favourite, which resulted in the intense and petty sibling rivalry that they each suffer from in adulthood. It's often made clear, however, that their parents didn't play favourites (and in fact their father Martin in many ways considered both of them his least favourite, as they were so completely different from and diametrically opposed to him) and that all this was just their own insecurities acting.
The female 'baby' of the family is also subverted in Daphne's relationship with her mother — despite Daphne's endless, thankless sacrifices over the years, her mother is nothing less than hyper-critical and demanding of her, whilst doting upon her boorish, obnoxious, feckless and ungrateful older brother.
In the Doyle family, it seems that Roz was favored by her father, while Roz's mother favored her other daughter, Denise.
Played with in the case of the Winchesters. Throughout Season One, Sam thinks that John hates him (when he left for college, he told him to never come back) while Dean is the one who obsessively follows his Dad's orders and can't seem to comprehend not following an order. But it's slowly revealed that Sam is the one who John cares the most about (although this could just be through the eyes of Dean) while Dean is the one who had to grow up too fast and was treated, well, more like a soldier than a son. Although John did try to make it up by doing a deal to save Dean's life, Dean's Daddy Issues (the fact that he still thinks he wasn't good enough for him and that he still thinks he's the one who should have died) continue to this very day. And the Yellow-Eyed Demon knows this. He even taunts Dean by saying that John arguing with Sam was 'more concern than he's ever shown you.'
Also exists among the angels, as Gabriel points out that they all know that 'He loved you best. More than Michael, more than me', discrediting Lucifer's claim that he hates humans because God loved them more. Gabriel reveals that Lucifer hates humans because he thought that God preferred them over him.
Much drama is wrung out of this question in Heroes: Just who is Angela Petrelli's favorite son? Arthur says it's Peter, much to Sylar's disappointment.
Gibbs of NCIS is the Team Dad of the main cast, and makes no secret that Lab Rat Abby is his favorite out of his team of Bunny-Ears Lawyer investigators. The other team members seem to accept this with good grace, partly because they also dote on her and partly because it's recognized that she's something of a substitution for Gibbs' real daughter, Kelly, who was murdered as a child and would have been around the same age as Abby.
Rather cruelly played for humor on Friends. Ross and Monica's mother dotes on Ross endlessly, while giving Monica nothing but hell. Their father also seems to favor Ross, although he doesn't display the cruelty toward Monica that his wife does. (They somewhat quasi-explained it in one episode. Their parents had previously thought that their mother was barren, so Ross was their "miracle child." By the time Monica was born, the "miracle" was gone.) As Monica put it (to her brother, Ross): "If I could choose my parents, I'd take yours."
Eventually Ross calls their dad out on their favourtism and he is honestly repentent, giving Monica his porsche to 'start to make amends'. His behaviour improves a lot, although Judy is just as cruel.
It also seems Monica gets over her her mother's favourtism as the series continues, as Judy's favourtism makes her look pathetic given how Ross turns out. At the end of the series Ross has been divorced three times, fathered two illegitimate children, and lost a job due to anger issues. Meanwhile, Monica is an Executive Chef at an upscale restaurant, has been Happily Married for several years, and is the mother of adopted baby twins. Yeah, good job choosing your 'star child' there Judy.
It's possible that Ross does fall a bit in his parents' eyes following these events (and the revelation he smoked pot in college). Not that it brought Monica up much, but Jack and Judy did appreciate Chandler for "seeing (Ross) through the drug problem" and "taking on Monica too". So now it's possible that Chandler is their favorite "son" now, even if it's only through marriage.
Concerning Chandler's own parents, he's an only child but said his parents favoured his imaginary friend. Ouch. He and Monica probably fell in love because they understood what the other went through.
Rachel said Judy Geller described her as the daughter she never had after she got pregnant with Ross's baby. Again, as wth Ross, this favourtism lies beyond all mortal and logical understanding, as at this point Monica had her life totally together, was happily married and secure, while Rachel was a single mother, pregnant out of wedlock and career-wise, no more successful than Monica. Most mothers would be desperate to trade daughters the other way. You wonder is Judy Geller has a screw or two loose.
In another episode later in the series, we see Rachel's spoiled little sister Jill, who was cut off from her father's money and was told to come and learn how to be responsible from "the one daughter he's proud of" (for being an independent Career Woman instead of the shallow spoiled princess she was early in the series.)
An episode of Law & Order: Criminal Intent called "Saving Face" featured a young doctor who could never escape her brother's shadow, despite the fact that he had died many years ago ("He was the lucky one!"). It was blatant to the point where they were more worried about his portrait being damaged than her being hauled off to jail. She even did the math and discovered she was conceived almost immediately after his death, making her nothing more than a replacement for him.
Det. Goren is aware that he's The Unfavorite in spite of the fact that his brother is (was?) a homeless drug addict.
In That '70s Show, Red favors Laurie over Eric, as he's oblivious to the fact that she's the town slut. OTOH, Kitty's love for Eric goes pretty much into My Beloved Smother territory.
At one point, after Eric has missed an opportunity to get Laurie in trouble with Red for making out with her professor, this exchange happens:
Eric: Oh, Mom! I had her right in my sights. I mean, she was right there in the cross-hairs.
Kitty: Well, Eric, you know that I love you and your sister equally. But the next time you get an opportunity like that, for God's sake pull the trigger!
Red also favors Hyde, his pseudo-adopted son, over Eric.
Everybody Loves Raymond. Even the show title suggests so. Robert always gets the short end of the stick from their parents.
Some episodes of Wife Swap have a family in which one or both of the parents have obvious favorite children. Normally the wife of the other family points this out to the father and adds rules pampering The Unfavorite during the rules change. Generally the family learns their lesson in the end and is shown treating their children more equally in the "where are they now?" ending.
In Battlestar Galactica (Reimagined), Ellen Tigh, one of the creators of the humanoid Cylons, apparently considered artistic Daniel as her favorite. As Model Number Seven, Daniel is essentially the second youngest of eight. The eldest is... somewhat resentful of this relationship.
The West Wing presents something of the parent's point of view; President Bartlet clearly has a much more difficult relationship with his middle daughter Ellie as opposed to his eldest Elizabeth and particularly his youngest daughter Zoe, but when accused of this trope, Bartlet angrily denies that he loves any of his children less than the others.
Miley's grandmother in Hannah Montana feels that her brother Jackson gets the short end of the stick being the normal brother of a world-famous pop star, and so she tries to make up for it by openly admitting that he's her favorite. For instance, she blows off Miley's visit with the Queen of England to see Jackson's volleyball game. Miley hates this until she learns of her grandmother's reasoning and agrees with her. In the same episode, we're shown that Jackson thinks Miley's the world's favorite (including their father's), as she gets all the attention, being an international pop star.
Robbie Ray also tends to prefer Miley over Jackson, forcing Jackson to learn harsh lessons while he just tells Miley what she did wrong.
The Smothers Brothers, Tom and Dick, have made this a part of their act for decades. Specifically, how younger brother Dick was always adored, whereas older brother Tom got the short end of the stick. In fact, Tom's Catch Phrase was "Mom always liked you best!" One of their bits talks about how, when Dick got a pet dog and a bicycle, Tom got a pet chicken and a wagon with only one wheel.
Sometimes, this occurs in ER. When two brothers come into a hospital after an accident, the father chewed the adopted one out, accusing him of doing stupid things that would hurt his son. However, we find out that he is just as strict with his biological son, which was why said son preferred his stepbrother over his father. Even when the stepbrother went into critical condition, the father was more concerned with his real son. Ray angrily called him out on it.
On Caroline In The City, Caroline's parents clearly unconsciously favor her brother, who really is highly accomplished and successful and of whom Caroline has always been a little resentful and jealous. During a visit home, Caroline's employee, friend, and eventual lover Richard comforts her by comparing her brother to an alien, and saying that if it wasn't so cold, he'd be 'out looking for his pod'. Later, he gently teases Caroline by saying she has to get elected President, 'so her brother can become the Pope'.
From what is seen in Firefly, Simon seems to be the favorite of the family. While River never comes across as the Un Favorite, we still see that the Tam parents pump vast amounts of energy and money into Simon's social standing and career, but are shown to make no such efforts towards River (despite her being even more gifted than him) and seem more bothered by Simon's attempt to contact his sister than the fact that River has pretty much vanished after being sent to an institute.
The Tams are worried about their son's apparent loss of mental balance. After all, River is safe in a government school, nothing could possibly be wrong....
On The X-Files, Scully is her father's favorite. They share a love of the book Moby-Dick; he calls her "Starbuck", and she calls him "Ahab". Following that tradition, she eventually ends up naming her dog "Queequeg".
Mulder's situation is a bit trickier. While both his parents hold some resentment over his sister's abduction, the favoritism of his parents is a little blurrier. At one point, it seems that his mother was given a choice of which child she would rather give up, and Samantha was that child. Though she later states that she couldn't choose, and Mulder's father chose instead.
Wizards of Waverly Place: The Russos favorite varies over the series. Jerry's favorite is Alex (due to being Daddy's Girl) for general purposes. Theresa's favorite is generally Justin. Jerry favor's Justin for things involving Magic. But above all they realize Harper is most likely to take care of them in their old age, and to bring home athletic trophies. The only one to never get a moment of favoritism is Max.
Pam Puckett on iCarly. It's obvious to everyone that of the twins, she prefers Melanie over Sam. She even outright asks Sam once why she can't be more like Melanie.
Mostly averted in Wonderfalls, where they do treat all three of their children well. Nevertheless there was this:
Diana: Sharon go talk to your father, you're his favorite.
Aaron: I thought I was his favorite.
Diana: We don't have favorites.
In Roseanne, it's pretty clear that Jackie and Roseanne's parents have each chosen a favorite. Jackie's close relationship with their father leads her to excuse a lot of the abuse they suffered and look to excuse his affair. Bev is ridiculously hard on Jackie and dotes on Roseanne. One episode, where their mother's favoritism is glaring, Roseanne worries that she and Dan may act this way to their own girls. She spends the rest of the episode trying to bond with Darlene who is a Daddy's girl, while forcing Dan to do things with Becky (including an excruciating day at the mall). After things mostly backfire, Dan and Roseanne agree to go back to doting on their respective favorite and decide to toss a coin on who gets to ruin DJ's life when he's old enough.
One episode revealed that Jackie is actually Bev's favorite, but in a different way. Bev decided when the girls were young that Jackie had a spark and she would be destined to do great things, while Roseanne was plainer and probably going to wind up being a housewife and mother. Bev only dotes on Roseanne because she took "the right path" and nags Jackie endlessly because she feels she screwed up her life by not becoming a doctor. Both sisters, particularly Roseanne, are understandably upset by this, and Roseanne again reconsiders how she treats Becky and Darlene.
Roseanne also has an interesting case of inverting this, with Roseanne and Jackie each having a favorite parent. Early on, the girls seem to be equally irritated by both of them, but later on, they've each picked sides. Roseanne favored their mother slightly, seeing their father as abusive, neglectful, and a cheater. Jackie, on the other hand, one time criticized Roseanne for being so hard on their father and making him unwelcome in her home, believing that he was a troubled man doing the best he could, while at the same time, absolutely despising her shrill, judgmental, controlling mother, telling her husband not to refer to her as "Mom," only "Bev" or "Sea Hag," and more than one time genuinely seeming excited about the prospect of her death (when she walked into an asbestos-filled basement, Jackie said "Breathe deep, old woman," and genuinely hoped that dropping the news she was unmarried and pregnant might kill her.)
Deb from Dexter feels this way about her father toward her brother. The truth is that Harry just wanted to protect his children and loved them both. Dexter was just a little more high-maintenance.
"Lilly always said her parents adored Duncan and tolerated her. If she couldn't please them, she'd go out of her way to piss them off."
Aaron Echolls, who dotes on his daughter and beats his son. Made even worse by the fact that Trina refuses to believe Logan's claims of abuse and accuses him of lying in order to make their father look bad. This also inverts the standard "adopted vs. biological" relationship, as Aaron adopted Trina with his first wife, while Logan is his biological son.
Dick Casablancas Sr. is pretty blatant about favoring his eldest - which ends badly.
The Borgias: Although Rodrigo Borgia is plainly very fond of all his children, his daughterLucrezia is obviously his favourite, to the point where it becomes a little creepy. And of his three sons he indulges Juan the most by far and remains completely oblivious to his glaring faults, to the clear resentment of The Dutiful Son Cesare. Meanwhile little Gioffre gets rather overlooked, but doesn't seem to mind too much. Being overlooked is a blessing in the Borgia family.
Smallville: Lionel Luthor only cares about his male line. Granted, he doesn't seem to care much about them either, but Earth-2 Lionel certainly cares more about his Earth-1 counterpart's son Lex than his daughter Tess, since he declares that her only purpose as a Luthor is to die so that Lionel can take her heart and use it to bring Lex back to life.
The Thorn Birds: As noted in the Literature folder, mother Fiona dotes on her oldest son Frank and completely ignores her other children. Her daughter Meggie angrily vows she will never do that to her own children... but twenty-odd years later she does, favoring her son Dane over her daughter Justine.
Deconstructed in "Last Whiff of Summer", the two-part fourth-season premiere of The Middle. Early in the episode, the kids debate among themselves which of them are their parents' favorites, then ask them, and their answers and non-answers (Frankie denies that parents can favor any child above another) set up the episode's plot threads. The parents also find themselves asking the same question, and Brick later reveals he's been keeping score.
Subverted in Malcolm in the Middle. Hal and Lois start favoring Malcolm after he is revealed to be highly gifted, but it's out of the ordinary because a) they only express their favoritism by bluntly telling Malcolm he's the one person in the family who has a chance of succeeding in life, they never let him off the hook or treat him better than his brothers, b) they are harder on Malcolm as a result, and c) all Malcolm's brothers are also in on the plan to favor Malcolm above the rest of the family to help him fulfill his potential. After that, the laborious work he had to do in order to attend Harvard is as much paying his family back for their support of him as pursuing his own dreams.
This is all spelled out in the series finale when Malcolm graduates from high school. His mom turns down a six-figure salary job he was being offered instead of college and the family explains (jeez, they thought he knew this already) that he's going to work his ass off to get through Harvard and claw his way up becoming President one day (not just President, the best President) and do some amazing good in the world for people like their family who have to struggle to get by everyday.
Played with in Home Improvement. Tim Taylor is a good and loving father to all his sons. But it's oft mentioned that he favors Brad over Randy and Mark because he and Brad have more common interests. This leads to Tim spending more time with Brad and allowing him special treatment, like standing in for Al on Tool Time. Somewhat subverted in that Tim is aware that he favors Brad and feels genuinely bad about it. Enter Wilson...
Susan Calman: It's absolutely untrue to say you love all your children equally. I have no children, but I am a child of someone, and if you have children you do love one of them more than the others. Now if you're a child thinking "It's not me", you're right. Because you know if you're the favourite. It's usually the youngest, the cutest, the one that's on Radio 4. Hi, Mum and Dad!
Sandi Toksvig: No, that's not true. I have three children and I say to all of them "You're my favourite, don't tell the others."
The story of Joseph and his brothers. Jacob favored Joseph because of his resemblance to his deceased mother, Rebekah, who was Jacob's favourite wife. (He'd had two wives, as well as both of their maids, and all four women had given him children.) The multi-coloured coat (actually a translation error — it reads "long-sleeved" in most modern translations) was proof of Jacob's favor. All things considered, it's probably not surprising that his brothers wanted to teach Joseph a lesson, especially when he bragged about dreams in which his brothers were made to bow down before him. Benjamin, Jacob's other son by that wife, was second-favorite, but his position as the youngest meant all the other brothers protected him. This makes the trope at least Older Than Feudalism.
Of course, Jacob himself had been his mother's favourite, and his rivalry with with his twin brother Esau (his father Isaac's favourite) was fueled by this, and led to him fleeing his homeland...
Then there's Isaac, who was born to Abraham and Sarah very late, and after Sarah (in despair at a total lack of children) had told Abraham to have a child by her maid Hagar. Once Isaac was born, Sarah told Abraham to banish Hagar and her son Ishmael.
In the world of the Fighting Fantasy gamebooks published by Puffin in the 1980s through to the 1990s, the wealthy ruler of the city of Fang blatantly favors his elder son Sukumvit over his younger son Carnuss, making Carnuss develop a searing hatred for his brother. When Sukumvit becomes ruler of Fang on his father's death, he constructs the deadly Deathtrap Dungeon as a private hobby, challenging adventurers to try and survive going through it for a 10,000 gold piece prize. An embittered Carnuss sees a chance at getting revenge on his hated brother, and begins kidnapping people to test them until he can find someone tough enough to send as his champion to penetrate the dungeon and humiliate his brother.
Warhammer 40,000 backstory has Horus being the first son found by the Emperor, who was later made Warmaster above his nineteen brothers and generally treated as the Emperor's eldest son. Ironically, he went on to betray the Emperor and lead the unfavorites in what would become the bloodiest war in human history.
In King Lear, Lear favors Cordelia over his other daughters, until she refuses to praise him as lavishly as her sisters. Of course, given Goneril and Regan's behavior, he probably had good reason to like Cordelia best.
In Wicked, Elphaba's father or at least, the father who raised her clearly prefers her sister Nessarose. It's heavily implied to be due to the fact that she was born green, and that that is the only reason. This indirectly led to the death of Elphaba and Nessarose's mother after their father made her drink poppy milk (or some liquid like that) to keep from having another green child. This led to Nessa's legs being crippled and their mother dying in childbirth.
The book suggests he might just blame Elphaba for that just a bit. And the fact that she can't bathe in water is a real pain in the twees too. Oh! And the sharp teeth. The deck's just kind of stacked against Elphaba here.
In the book, there's another reason. Nessa shares his religious zeal, moreso than Elphaba or their brother, Shell. That may be a chicken and egg situation, though.
Geoffrey: It's not the power I feel deprived of... it's the mention I miss. There's no affection for me here: You wouldn't think I'd want that, would you?
The DS version of Dragon Quest V has this with the Briscolettis. Elder daughter Debora is a self-absorbedRich Bitch, while her sister Nera is Spoiled Sweet and adored by everyone. While Debora is still able to get all the material goods she wants from her parents, Rodrigo clearly favors Nera, and appears to have simply given up on trying to rein her sister in. Should the player choose to marry Debora, the father reacts with surprise, but throws his full support behind the wedding, and afterward confesses that you've made him very happy as he'd given up hope of Debora getting married a long time ago.
This is a game mechanic in FEAR 3's cooperative campaign. Whichever brother has the highest score at the end of the campaign is deemed Alma's favorite, and will kill/consume the other.
An interesting case occurs in Kana: Little Sister. At the beginning of the story, Taka (the main character) is resentful towards Kana because their parents tend to favor her (due to her terminal illness). This position is reversed towards the end of the game (which takes place almost a decade later). When Taka offers to donate one of his kidneys to Kana, his parents are opposed to it, because they don't want Taka (their true son) to take risks for Kana's sake (because Kana is adopted)
In the Mario series, Bowser's family has this. Ever since Bowser Jr. first appeared, he's appeared in any other Mario game that has Bowser in it except for the Mario and Luigi series. The the original seven Koopalings, on the other hand have only appeared twice, one of those times in Superstar Saga, where they weren't even being commanded by Bowser but by Cackletta, though she had possessed Bowser, it still changed his appearance to the point where they would have recognized it wasn't him. The other time they appear in New Super Mario Bros. Wii, Bowser Jr. that's commanding them, despite the fact that he's the youngest. And of course, Bowser Jr. is the only one who was named after his father.
A huge plot point in Fire Emblem 7. King Desmond favors his daughter Guinevere and hates his son Zephiel because Guinevere is the child of his beloved old girlfriend while Zephiel is born from an unhappy marriage to Queen Helene. To make things worse, Zephiel is The Aceand insists on pleasing his father out of love, while Guinevere loves her brother but is condemned to be in Zephiel's shadow since, well, she's a girl. This becomes so bad that Desmond hires the Black Fang to murder Zephiel right before his coming of age ceremony so Guinevere can become heir apparent instead. Eliwood, Hector, Lyn and their groups must stop this Evil Plan, or it's a Game Over.
In Awesome Video Games, Dad obviously prefers Chet over Ace. Whether this has any lasting effects is yet to be seen.
In The Order of the Stick, Eugene Greenhilt favored his daughter Julia over his son Roy, because Julia became a wizard like him, while Roy became a fighter. ("I can tell because you almost never use the phrase, "crushing depression" when talking about her.")
An unusual case in Misfile, Ash Upton manages to be on both sides of the Parental Favoritism divide thanks to Rumisiel's little filing mishap. As a boy, she had no contact with her mother and her relationship with her father was distant at best (his plans for Ash's summer vacation apparently involved re-roofing the house). As a girl she has a close relationship with both parents who are much more involved in her life. For some reasonshe feels this sucks.
Also a subversion, as the change was due completely to Ash's actions. In Ash's past (s)he wrote a letter to his/her mom. As a boy, masculine pride made him throw it away. As a girl, the letter was sent.
A humorous variant is found in Something Positive. Fred MacIntire has two (living) biological children, Davan and Dahlia, and an adopted daughter, Monette. His fourth "child" is Davan's friend PeeJee, who lives with them; one strip has him admitting that she's his favorite. It's Played for Laughs, of course, as it's made remarkably clear through all the Deadpan Snarker dialogue that Fred's actually a damn good father.
In the Nuzlocke Comics, Norman shows favoritism to "Good-Ruby", a Vigoroth that he dresses in a hat similar to Ruby's, over Ruby.
In Batman and Sons, Batman obviously favors Terry over Dick, Jason, or Tim. Most likely due to him being Batman's only biological son (and thus, another Batman).
This might not be biological favouritism so much as Terry (being a baby) not having the ability to backtalk yet like the older boys. The kids can be very blunt about how messed up Batman is (much to his annoyance) but Terry's the only one who can't say it yet.
Major part of Zuko's and Azula's backstory in Avatar: The Last Airbender . Azula was daddy's little girl, while Zuko (the eldest son and heir) was hated by his father just for being alive.
In The Search we're finally getting more insight into the Royal Family's Dynamic.
Also, Azula, due to her upbringing by Ozai (whose favoritism toward Azula means he hates Zuko), mistakenly believed that her mother favored Zuko and that she didn't love her. As a result she became evil and ultimately insane. Or was it, the fact that she was evil and insane was why her mother didn't give her extra care and attention?
Aang didn't technically have parents (given that Airbending Air Nomad children were sent off to live with the monks) but it was fairly obvious that he was Monk Gyatso's favorite.
The rough counterpart to the Fire Nation royals, Hakoda's family, doesn't seem to have this problem. Hakoda doesn't show any favouritism for his son or daughter. And while Ozai and favoured child Azula came to share certain traits, Hakoda and Sokka are similar without this affecting Katara negatively.
The trend continues in The Legend of Korra with Noatok being favored by his father over Tarrlok. Subverted in that Noatok hates his father for this just as much or more than Tarrlok does.
In Season 2, it is revealed that Aang himself sort of favored Tenzin over his two other children, Kya and Bumi. Mostly due to Tenzin being the only air bender among them and thus, the only one to able to carry on the burden of an almost wiped out culture. This favoritism even extended to the Air Acolytes, who seem to almost worship Tenzin and his Air bending children while having no idea that Kya and Bumi even existed.
In Hey Arnold!, favoritism seems strong in the Pataki family; Olga is praised for her accomplishments and is given more attention than Helga, which causes a one-sided strain between the two. However, Olga actually wishes she could be treated like Helga, without all the fussing and attention.
Olga: You must think I'm lucky, all the attention I get from them. I have to perform for them all the time like some kind of wind-up doll. I get really sick of it. You're lucky they don't even notice you.
Any time Pickles' parents get any screen time in Metalocalypse, it's made abundantly clear that Seth, Pickles' older brother, is the favorite child. To put it into perspective: Seth is an ex-con who lives with his wife (of questionable virtue) in an attic above their garage in Wisconsin. Pickles is the drummer for the most successful band in the world.
Dr. Doofenshmirtz on Phineas and Ferb grew up resenting his "goody-two shoes brother, the favorite of my mother" Roger. Even worse, his father preferred the dog, naming it "Only Son", and the only reason his mother liked his brother more was because said brother was better at kickball.
In Rugrats, Angelica once convinced Phil and Lil that every family had one favorite, and that their sibling was it, making both of them The Unfavourite.
In the Hercules TV series, Phil and Hercules go visit Phil's mother, where she openly calls Phil's brother her favourite, going on about how he's a successful salesman, which Phil resents. However, when the brother comes to visit, he bemoans to Phil that their mother goes on about Phil's accomplishments to him. The mother admits that she did this to make sure neither would grow a big head.
In the DCAU, Darkseid shows rather blatant partental favoritism towards his eldest son Orion... Who is also his Arch-Enemy and wants him dead. Not only is his other son, Kalibak, incompetent (despite being a devoted servant to Darkseid), but Orion absolutely hates having Darkseid's approval.
Kick Buttowski plays this for comedy. Kick, Brad, and Harold all know Brianna is number one in the house, so they all compete for number 2.
in Codename: Kids Next Door — Operation: Z.E.R.O., it was stated by Grandfather himself that he favored Monty Uno over Benedict, who became Father and came to idolize Grandfather. But Monty stood against Grandfather, basically causing his parental favoritism to blow up in his face.
On King of the Hill, Hank's father Cotton has another son in his old age and names the infant "Good Hank." Yeah.
In The Simpsons episode "Eight Misbehavin'", while Manjula introduces their eight newborn octuplets to Apu, she introduces the last child:
Manjula: (to Apu) And mama's clear favorite, Gheet.
Despite claiming that Gheet is her favorite, she needed to check Gheet's shirt tag to confirm his identity when she went to go back for him at Moe's Tavern in "Moe Letter Blues".
Apu is seen holding Anoop more frequently than the rest of the octuplets.
One episode of American Dad! had Stan trying to insist that Francine's (adoptive) parents did not love her as much as they loved their biological daughter, Gwen. Francine starts to believe it when Stan finds her parents will leaving all their stuff to Gwen. But later the father reveals that they only left everything to Gwen because she's apparently a moron and needed all the help she could get, while they knew Francine was already well-taken care of because she married a good man.
On Robot And Monster Robot and Gart's mother prefers the latter because he's successful at life and not an embarrassment to the family name.
On Ninjago, before he leaves the underworld Lord Garmadon points out that his brother Sensei Wu was their father's favorite.
Moral Orel: Bloberta's mother clearly prefers her older sister and younger brother over her, as they're much better singers than she is and are able to perform in a choir. Although not the best father, Clay prefers Orel over Shapey, as he suspects the latter might not actually be his son. He's right.
The memoirs Chinese Cinderella and Falling Leaves by Adeline Yen Mah tell the story of how she was victimized at the bottom of the pile in her family. She and her other siblings are treated far worse than her step-siblings, her especially for being the youngest and the one to whom their mother died giving birth. The family does some extremely cruel things to her, from giving her pet duckling to an untrained dog to maul, to sending her to a boarding school in a war-torn city which has been evacuated, in the hope that she will die there.
Laws throughout history have often geared parents from making the first born son the "favorite." Inheritance went to him first, and often the oldest boy had the second position of power in the house. Having only a daughter was (and some places, still is) a horrible dishonor because nobody can carry on you family name.
Time Magazine did a feature on this trope, claiming that it affects pretty much every family with more than one child.
Judging by the histories mentioned in The Chronicles Of The Three Kingdoms, this is almost certainly what did in the Yuan family, since Yuan Shao's volatile mix of indecisiveness and favoritism led to some seriously questionable choices, namely in declaring both his oldest son and his youngest son as heirs rather than following the traditional right of the firstborn. The end result after his death was massive familial infighting between the oldest and youngest sons and their supporters, The Unfavorite middle child running away from it all to try and bide his time to gain power, and ultimately the entire feuding family being killed due to Cao Cao in one way or another.