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"It's always better to
lie than to have a complicated discussion!
In a Fawlty Towers Plot, one of the characters tells an initial lie, then other lies must be told in order to sustain the original lie, until the entire construct of falsehoods becomes too ridiculous and convoluted to hold together, and comes crashing down upon its creators in the most destructive and humiliating way imaginable.
A standard sitcom plot since the days of I Love Lucy
and The Honeymooners
, it was perfected in 1975 and 1979 by John Cleese and Connie Booth for the Fawlty Towers
television series. In its typical form it is a specialized form of farce
, although it can also be Played for Drama
The Fawlty Towers Plot Lie is usually exacerbated when a suspicious significant other chooses to Pull the Thread
. May lead to the need to Maintain The Lie
. Compare Snowball Lie
where the lie drags others into the scheme, willingly or not.
If this kind of plot is executed badly, or is misapplied in a dramatic context, it can become a glaring example of Poor Communication Kills
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Anime and Manga
- The entire plot of the anime Utakata is based on a Fawlty Towers Plot. However, instead of going for comedy, the life of lies that the main character is forced to lead causes her to hate herself more and more as the series goes on.
- Love Hina, episode 25: To avoid having to take up the leadership of her martial arts style before she thinks she's ready, Motoko forces Keitaro to masquerade as her boyfriend. In her school, falling in love renders her ineligible to take up the leadership, as it had her elder sister, who gave it up to marry. It backfires when her examiner, her elder sister, uncovers the plot, and forces Motoko to either win a duel against her, or actually marry Keitaro!
- Motoko does not learn her lesson, for late in the manga when she fails her university admission tests she does it again... to the same sister... with similar results.
- Not to mention the basic plot of Love Hina is based on this trope - namely, that Keitaro is a Toudai student, when in reality he's a dropout trying desperately to make it there to meet the girl he made a childhood promise to to get in there with that he hasn't seen in over 15 years. This lie is unraveled before the second manga volume, but it's still basically what gets the story going.
- One should keep in mind though that it was the girls, particularly Kitsune, that pushed this on him before he had a chance to explain himself when he first arrived. All he did was mention "Tokyo U" and they generally assumed he was a student from there.
- Welcome to the N.H.K.'s protagonist does this, frequently. Despite that fact that clearly nobody believes him, he tries to go with it anyway.
- In the Junjou Romantica manga, Takahiro convinces Misaki to obey him by telling him he's a tanuki who will have to leave if Misaki makes him too sad. As Misaki becomes more and more skeptical, Takahiro creates bigger and bolder lies, until...
Takahiro: What do I do, Usagi?! Even after I told him I was a bear-morphing Martian bestowed with the military order to save humanity, and for that had to leave behind his precious family and friends, when a distortion in the time-space continuum led to a time rip back to the age of civil war where aliens were hiding, and in order to defeat them, had to take up alliance with a panda-morphing Saturnian...!! Now...now, he won't believe me again! Why?!!
- In one episode of Pokémon, Ash's friend Angie is left by her parents to care for a Lickitung at their daycare centre, but she over-trains it and it evolves into a huge Lickilicky. Worried the owner will be upset, she hides it in the woods. It escapes, starting rumors throughout the town of a monster running loose and attracting media attention (as well as Team Rocket posing as reporters). She and the heroes must then recover the pokemon without anyone finding out. In the end, the lie is exposed, but Lickilicky's trainer is overjoyed that it evolved.
- The Birdcage starts off with a small lie about a woman's soon-to-be in-laws to get the ball rolling. A pair of gay nightclub owners now have to hide their identities from an ultra-convservative US senator who's looking to make sure her in-laws are a "wholesome" family after a controversy involving the senator's colleague dying in bed with a prostitute. You had better believe Hilarity Ensues.
- This is the basis of Good Bye, Lenin!, where a woman in East Berlin misses the fall of the Wall while in a temporary coma, and her family try to keep the news from her for fear the shock would kill her. They go as far as making fake news segments and digging through garbage for communist goods. It ends with an aversion, as she finds out but doesn't say anything, letting them continue the charade.
- Another German film, Wahrheit oder Pflicht (as in "truth or dare"), has a girl who fails school but pretends to still attend. Things go downhill from there.
- The French film Bienvenue chez les Ch'tis involves a man being forced to work Oop North (aka. le Nord, which is litterally french for "the North", official name of a northern region of France and whose inhabitants are locally called "the Ch'tis") while his wife and kid live in the south of France. Le Nord is considered as a rather unloving place, but when he gets up there he finds that all of the stories are false and rather enjoys the place. When he visits home at the weekend, he enjoys the sympathy he gets from his wife and doesn't tell her that it's rather nice and exaggerates all the stories for more sympathy. Of course, she eventually decides that she needs to visit his work and he needs to drag his insulted friends into pretending to live up to the stories he told.
- The plot of Fargo is a Deconstruction of the Fawlty Towers Plot, playing it almost as much for drama as for very dark laughs.
- Just Go With It is about a plastic surgeon's assistant pretending to be his soon-to-be-ex-wife in order to avoid coming clean about his womanizing, which spirals out of control, eventually involving her children, his cousin, her old college rival, and a semi-impromptu Hawaiian vacation.
- Sex Drive is basically made of this trope, with more than half the characters spending more than half the movie lying, and frantically stacking lies on top of lies.
- Easy A is also based heavily on this trope, with the entire film revolving around Olive attempting to keep her lies concealed, which eventually builds to ridiculous consequences.
- Meet the Parents rests on Greg trying so hard to impress his girlfriend's family that he ends up telling little lies that lead to more complicated problems when those lies have to be better explained and Greg just ends up digging himself a deeper hole. One particular instance had him claiming to have grown up on a farm and leads to him telling a story of how he once milked a cat.
- In Situation Hopeless...But Not Serious a lonely German shopkeeper tried to prevent the two American soldiers he was keeping captive in his bomb shelter from discovering that WWII had ended.
- Hail the Conquering Hero is about how Woodrow, ashamed at the fact he was discharged from the Marines for hay fever, moved far away from his hometown, wrote letters to his mother that lied and said he was discharged for getting wounded in combat, and a letter to his girlfriend saying it was over between them, so she would move on with someone else and be happy. However, Woodrow meets a group of Marines in a bar one night after he buys them drinks and sandwiches, and when they hear his story, they convince him to go home, and once there, to his horror, he's treated like a real hero. Not only that, but the Marines lie for him to make him seem even more of a hero than *he* claimed to be, and his ex-girlfriend is still in love with him.
- This is basically Cersei Lannister's hazy idea of being The Chessmaster, in practice.
- Nimrod Pennyroyal in The Hungry City Chronicles.
- Miles Vorkosigan of the Vorkosigan Saga becomes Admiral Naismith through just such a chain of lies, inventing a mission in order to find a role for a Barayaran deserter, pretending to be a mercenary leader when he gets caught smuggling arms, building the pretence when he gets caught in a war... and then it all goes horribly un-funny when he realises that the end of his lies is that he's acquired a private army, which is the worst form of treason for a Barayaran Lord. Drama ensues.
- This is far from the only example, mind you. The stories often show Miles getting more and more perturbed as he wades deeper and deeper into the mire of lies he's making, even to the extent of nearly having a nervous breakdown in the story above. He generally relies on "forward momentum" (more lies) to get out of trouble.
- When Miles' clone brother tries the same trick, it ends up getting Miles killed and permanently disabled (in that order).
- Used in the Jennings books far too often to list examples.
- Subverted/averted in a few of the historical mystery Brother Cadfael series by Ellis Peters, in a few ways. One, the truth always comes out to at least Cadfael, and often to his friend the sheriff and his Abbott. Two, at times women need a place to hide/escape and the head of the convent is willing to mislead people by telling parts of the truth. Justified in that marriage by rape—or even the scandal of attempted rape—would cause harm to many.
- One of the main plots in Aunt Dimity and the Family Tree. Tearoom owner Sally Pyne was so caught up in the fantasy of her foreign vacation that she told a few tall tales about her manor house to an attentive suitor. She's aghast when the man writes announcing his intention to visit, and a scheme is hatched to allow her to play the role of Lady Bountiful in Willis Sr.'s house during his visit while concealing her presence there from the other villagers (particularly a trio of single women who've set their caps for eligible widower Willis Sr.). Naturally, things don't go as planned...
Live Action TV
- Older Than Steam: A common plot of William Shakespeare, particularly his comedies (although not exclusively: Romeo and Juliet would probably qualify).
- Ben Jonson, a contemporary of Shakespeare, drew up a magnificent Fawlty Towers Plot in Volpone, about a man who pretends to be dying so he can swindle people, who think that giving him gifts will make them his heirs.
- Jonson's slightly less famous "The Alchemist" is even better: three con artists have half a dozen customers all expecting different magic/alchemy jobs to be done for them, each of them by a different persona of all three grifters; the customers start dropping by the house at the same time, creating collisions between multiple Fawlty Towers Plots with people being stuffed into closets—and then when somebody else hears them yelling, they're told it's the moaning of the spirits.
- Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest plays with this as the two male protagonist characters both lie about their name, calling themselves Ernest. The two female protagonists both think they are dating the same man named Ernest, and react initially badly when the truth is revealed. The play subverts the trope in that the lie told by Jack is not actually a lie, his given name was Ernest, but having been lost as a baby by his nanny, he did not know it.
- Of course, the revelations themselves also take place one after the other, flipping the plot around as much as the initial lies. On realising that he was an orphan, Jack's fiance's guardian would refuse to allow them to marry...if not for the fact that she has just now realised that Jack was the child lost from her sister years ago, making her much happier about Jack marrying his fiance...despite them being legally cousins now.
- Although the farces by Georges Feydeau led this kind of convoluted plot to the top of its refinement, the french Ur Example is to be found in Pierre Corneille's 1643 comedy Le Menteur ('The Liar').
- In CLANNAD, Sunohara is trying to convince Tomoyo to hurry up and tries saying that if they don't go faster, their parents will get worried. Tomoya points out that Sunohara's parents live in Hokkaido, so he backtracks and says he means Misae. Which might have worked if he hadn't tried covering that up by saying he reminds her of her son (Misae is 23) then having it pointed out that she's single. Sunohara claims the son is illegitimate and has to come up with a name for the son that isn't Misao. This marked the birth of Sagara Missile. Sunohara is a terrible liar.
- Professor Layton Vs Ace Attorney: The entire plot happened because the Storyteller made up a story about witches being real to help Espella get over the events of the fire.
- A lot of Terror Island's humor relies on a total inversion of this: the characters give these sorts of convoluted explanations when they are either completely unnecessary or the explanations incriminate them more than the original lie would: this is a good example.
- Subverted in a Questionable Content strip: to avoid his ex, Sven claims Faye is his girlfriend. Faye promptly quashes the attempt.
- Hitmen For Destiny has this in spades, mostly from Fusk, Vorte, and Jymre. There are examples where the web of lies doesn't "come crashing down" but is [awkwardly] stabilised. In particular, the end of the Passion, Lies, and Fungus arc.
- In El Goonish Shive Justin is finding himself in one of these after trying to explain his connection to Cheerleadra. Mr Verres has since told him that the best answer to all such questions is simply "I don't know", not a convoluted explanation that you need to keep spinning. Despite this advice, when it turns out his co-worker suspects Cheerleadra is really Elliot, his immediate reaction is to devise a Zany Scheme involving Grace shapeshifted into Elliot while Elliot is Cheerleadra. He gets talked out of it, though.
- On an early Family Guy episode, Peter doesn't want to tell Lois that he's lost his job, which leads to a Fawlty Towers Plot.
- The episode "Bus the Two of Us" on Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends has this, with Bloo stealing the Fosters bus for a joyride and getting Wilt and Coco to come up with lie after lie to make sure no one else realizes this.
- An Ed, Edd n Eddy episode had one of these, where the Eds accidentally break Kevin's window and Eddy blames it on a group of mysterious creatures called "Mucky Boys". Naturally, everyone else decides to investigate, leading to the Eds going to increasing lengths to fabricate evidence the Mucky Boys' existence. In a slight variation, Edd is Genre Savvy enough to know that this can only end badly and tries to no avail to convince Eddy to confess the truth.
- Kim Possible wanted to go to the party in order to spend some time with the boy she liked, so in order to go to that party she lied to Ron about spending time with her parents, and she lied to her parents about spending time with Ron. Inconveniently, the Phlebotinum of the episode was activated by stress...such as her telling a lie. The episode ended with a Lamp Shade of Broken Aesops as a supervillain, personal assassin and an assassin for hire all act disgusted at the thought of somebody lying to their friends and family - while being arrested for theft, assault, etc.
- The Flintstones. At one point, Fred lied to Wilma so he could go out to a poker game and won a decent amount of money, which he claimed to have found. Then things sort of snowballed. (In the end, he manages to get out of the deep stuff with yet another lie - but loses the money anyway)
- The Simpsons had a lot of fun with this in the short segment in "22 Short Films about Springfield" where Principal Skinner accidentally burns the dinner he hoped to impress Superintendent Chalmers with and tries to pass off fast food hamburgers as his own cooking. ("I thought we were having steamed clams." "Oh, no, I said steamed hams. That's what I call hamburgers.") It ends with him trying to pass off a kitchen fire as the Aurora Borealis.
- Subverted in the sense that it actually works. Chalmers walks away believing everything Skinner said.
- Lampshaded in the episode "The Two Mrs. Nahasapeemapetilons", when Homer and Apu try to make Apu's mother believe he's already married, in an attempt to get out of an arranged marriage.
Apu: Is it me or do your plans always have some horrid web of lies?
Homer: It's you.
- South Park take it Up to Eleven in Pinewood Derby, where Stan and his father lie about cheating at a Pinewood Derby, and it ends up with Space Cops blocking earth from the rest of the universe.
- Another South Park example is in Butters' Very Own Episode, where Butters' mother "kills" Butters and his family comes up with a lie to cover up the "murder" and his father's infidelity. It leads to a Calling the old man and woman out scene for Butters:
Butters: Now gosh darn it, you! You listen here! Now I am sick of these harmless lies and l-little white lies. You know, you can call a shovel an ice-cream machine, but it's still a shovel, Mom and Dad. Ah, and you can call a lie whatever you want, but it's still a no-good stinkin' lie! And when you start coverin' up one lie with another lie, now that's when you get into real trouble! Boy I've, I've just about had it up to here with you two!
- In the Fanboy and Chum Chum episode "Sigmund the Sorcerer", Kyle lied to Sigmund about being a skilled, successful wizard, not having foreseen that Sigmund would invite himself into his house for dinner. In desperate attempts to impress him, he tells several more lies in the process, including claiming that Fanboy and Chum Chum are his "elf servants", not human friends. Sigmund later suggested buying them, for the price of Kyle returning to the Milkweed academy for wizards (which he has been expelled from) and Kyle agreed - at least until he learned that Sigmund intended on blowing them up. After that, he admitted to not being as high-achieving as he painted himself at first.
- EVERY EPISODE OF Maya And Miguel.
- My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, "Green Isn't Your Color": Fluttershy becomes a fashion model, and Rarity tries to be supportive, despite secretly being insanely envious of Fluttershy's success. Meanwhile, Fluttershy is secretly growing tired of being in the spotlight, but keeps up with it because Rarity's being so supportive and she doesn't want to disappoint her. They both confide their true feelings in Twilight Sparkle, who drives herself crazy keeping the two sets of secrets a secret.
- Subverted in "Sweet and Elite." Rarity has to keep lying to people in order to get into high-society, and eventually, attend two parties at once. Her lies become increasingly blatant and nonsensical, such as "I have to go do the thing with the stuff." However, in the end she gets away with most of the lies, and doesn't suffer any repercussions apart from stress.
- There's also "Party of One" where everyone but Pinkie are very, very obviously lying to her in order to cover for something, until Pinkie gets suspicious. The excuses were studying (Twilight made a giant pile of books she claimed to be behind on right in front of Pinkie when there weren't any books out of place beforehand), picking apples (Applejack was hauling in a very large harvest of apples already, but she's a terrible liar), and washing one's hair (upon Pinkie observing that Rarity's hair looked fine, she dunks her head in a full trash can). And then the best one of all was that Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy had to house-sit for a friend, who happens to be a bear with a nice cave, so nice in fact it feels like a house because he's fixed the place up so well, who's vacationing on the beach because he likes to "play seashells and collect volleyball" (not a typo, that's what they actually said). Pinkie actually believes the one about the bear, but is very suspicious of the other excuses.
- The Regular Show episode "Grilled Cheese Deluxe": Mordecai and Rigby hold a contest to see who the better liar is. It starts with them convincing people that they're astronauts to cut in line. By the end, they nearly cause an antimatter machine to malfunction and explode.
- The Looney Tunes Show episode "Semper Lie". To get out of going to a peach festival with Porky, Bugs tells him that he's helping Lola move. When Lola finds out, Bugs switches to helping his sister move, then when Porky and Lola insist on helping him, he takes the furniture out of Daffy's room and puts it in a fake address, which in turn leads Daffy to believe that he has been kicked out. The lying escalates until Bugs impersonates his sister and gets on a plane to Albania, where he is mistaken for a spy and imprisoned. A year later, he is rescued by the Marines... including Daffy, who joined the Corps after failing to find a place to live.
- Charlie Brooker has a story about how he once tried to get out of trouble for not paying attention when his girlfriend was talking by claiming that he couldn't hear her because he was completely deaf in one ear. Of course, he then had to keep up the absurd pretense for years, occasionally forgetting what ear exactly he was supposed to be deaf in.
- The Six-Day War of 1967 comes out like this to someone who understands the events. You see, despite what both sides' Propaganda Machine has told you, Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser had no interest in fighting Israel, at least not in the short run, as it was a lose-lose for him and his pan-Arab vision: win, conquering Israel, and he would lose the main pan-Arab rallying point and thus all his leverage against the real enemy, the conservative Arab monarchies (like Saudi Arabia and Jordan) who opposed him and his vision; lose, and lose credibility as leader of the Arabs (and thus lose leverage against the conservative Arab monarchies). However, Nasser had to pretend like he wanted war in order to maintain that selfsame credibility. From there, the war—already understood to be a farce conducted by gibbering idiots—looks like an episode of Fawlty Towers. To wit:
- The USSR informs Egypt that Israel is massing troops to attack Syria. Israel is in fact doing nothing of the kind, but Egypt doesn't bother to fact check and immediately informs the Syrians and announces a big mobilization and public march on the Sinai, hoping to scare the Israelis into backing down.
- Since Israel was not in fact massing troops, this move instead scares the Israelis into mobilizing. At about this time, Egypt learns that the USSR had at best been mistaken and at worst been lying.
- Finding himself in an embarrassing bind, Nasser tries to avoid war with another tactic: he publicly demands that the United Nations peacekeeping force separating Egypt from Israel "redeploy" (whatever that means). This fails: The UN Secretary-General, to save his own ass (we wish we could explain why!) gives Nasser an ultimatum: either the peacekeeping forces withdraw entirely, or they don't move; clearly he's calculating that Nasser's known aversion to actually starting a war would give him an out and allow tensions to dissipate.
- Alas, the Sec-Gen miscalculated. The papers across the Arab world—not fully under Nasser's control—have been trumpeting Arab military superiority over the weeks since the first moves, and now the Arab public is liable to see any backing down as a sign of Nasser's weakness. Since he can't be seen to be weak, Nasser opts to expel the UN peacekeepers. Now nothing stands between Egypt, Israel, and war—and a few weeks later (thanks to all manner of dilly-dallying on both sides), Israel does indeed attack, devastatingly.
- North Korea was once caught digging a tunnel under the DMZ. They then went and claimed it was not theirs and that it must have been set up by the South Koreans and Americans. The South Koreans and Americans then countered by showing pictures of a large, military-issue North Korean flag and digging tools the Koreans left down there. Then the North Koreans claimed that they did in fact dig the tunnel, but it was a coal mine. A coal mine under the most heavily guarded and politically sensitive border in the world, where coal has never been found and the geology does not support it. They backed up this next claim by showing investigators the "coal", which were clearly rocks coated with black paint. It's worth noting that North Korea is one of the largest producers and users of coal in the world, so they aren't exactly amateurs at finding the stuff and could have presented real coal they "found" in the "mine".