Invisible Subtle Difference
"The man has only one look, for Christ's sake! Blue Steel? Ferrari? Le Tigra? They're the same face! Doesn't anybody notice this? I feel like I'm taking crazy pills!"
The cast is trying to choose among several items that are, they insist, subtly different in some way. One character is fed up with their dithering, because as far as he or she can tell, they're all the same. Sometimes inverted, with one character insisting on a difference that nobody else perceives. Either way, and whether or not a difference actually exists, usually the audience can't see the difference.
Most commonly seen with subtle color differences, but can be anything, even identical-seeming people
Generally Played for Laughs
. Often appears with Limited Wardrobe
, Evil Twin
, Planet of Steves
, Those Two Guys
, and/or Only Sane Man
. Compare and contrast Shell Game
, Spot the Imposter
, Needle in a Stack of Needles
, and I Am Spartacus
. This may be used to indicate Hyper Awareness
, or as one of the components of a Sherlock Scan
open/close all folders
Anime And Manga
- In K-On!, Sawako-sensei is able to tell that Ui is impersonating Yui because her breasts are slightly bigger.
- In Pokémon, each town has an Officer Jenny and a Nurse Joy, who all look identical—but Brock can tell them apart. Similarly, all mons of the same variety look identical to the audience, but Pokemon trainers can distinguish their five magnamites, or whatever.
- In Pokémon Black and White, a young woman with four Patrats is aware that she can distinguish them and the player can't—so she challenges the player to a Shell Game with them.
- Ouran High School Host Club has Identical Twins Hikaru & Kaoru Hitachiin. The only one who can note the subtle differences is Haruhi Fujioka, the protagonist.
- A well-worn gag: wife asks husband to decide between two (or more) different colors (usually, but not always, of paint for the house); husband can't tell the difference.
- In an early MAD parody of Archie, Archie reacts angrily to a claim that Betty and Veronica are alike, claiming that they are very different. In the next panel, the two girls are drawn identically except for hair color. Their hair styles, poses, even the zits on their faces are the same.
- The Smurfs make distinctions between two "smurf" words that all sound identical to humans. It doesn't show in most works because they're alone, but this is usually seen when Johan and Peewit are present.
- In the Don Rosa story An Eye For Detail, Donald Duck is able to tell apart his identical triplet nephews (Huey, Dewey, and Louie). Uncle Scrooge tries to find a way to profit from this talent of Donald's. Hilarity Ensues, naturally.
- Juno uses the paint gag described under Comedy.
- Watchmen: Ozymandias claims he can see subtle distinctions in Dr. Manhattan's face, showing his emotion, which to the average person are invisible. As he says this there's a shot of Dr. Manhattan's face, in which we see no emotion (but presumably Ozymandias can).
- Zoolander provides the page quote: after an entire movie's worth of people gushing about Derek Zoolander's variety of "looks," one of the villains can't take it any more.
Live Action TV
- Babylon 5: Nobody can tell the ten Zathras brothers apart, or hear the difference in their names, but the Zathrases themselves.
- Frasier: Frasier offers Roz advice on what color to repaint her house. He looks at three tile samples and proclaims them subtly different shades of off-white. Then she flips them over and advises him to look at the colored side.
- Happy Days: Ralph and Potsie are living downstairs from a pair of twins, Daisy and Masie. Ralph thinks they look exactly the same, but Potsie says Masie has whiter teeth.
- Home Improvement: Tim and Jill are picking out bathroom tiles. Jill insists they're different colors, Tim sees them all as white. Al, however, agrees with Jill.
- Parks and Recreation: Tom Haverford and Jean-Ralphio are picking out black memorial ribbons. Jerry thinks they're all the same, but Tom and Jean insist they are a variety of shades, such as "Lost Soul" and Midnight Panther".
- The Red Dwarf episode "Me2" has a scene where Rimmer is having a corridor repainted from "military grey" to "ocean grey". Lister can't tell the difference, and neither can the audience.
- There was a Saturday Night Live sketch about two Americans, Mike and Beverly, meeting a bizarre foreign couple (as in, an odd mishmash of Japanese and Scandinavian stereotypes), named Nooni and Nooni. Any time Mike said either name, Nooni or Nooni would immediately point out that he'd gotten them mixed up. Even though the only difference between the two names was which syllable was emphasized (and Nooni himself wasn't consistent on which name received which emphasis).
- xkcd discusses it.
- The super-intelligent gerbils are completely unable to tell each other apart. Helen, the Mad Scientist who created them, easily plucks the original out of the herd.
- Dave can easily distinguish between Professor Madblood's fifteen thousand robotic duplicates, casually referring to them by number. This actually freaks out the robots, since they're supposed to be completely identical.
- Identical twins look very similar, but their families can almost always tell who is who.
- Identical twins often adopt distinct hairstyles or wardrobes, to prevent people from confusing them.
- There are twin studies that indicate identical twins also develop divergent personalities (which would tend to be reflected in their choices of hair and clothing styles). Twins who grow up separately tend to develop personality traits that are much more alike than both non-twin and non-identical twin siblings who grow up separately (suggesting that there are strong genetic predispositions for many personality traits), while those who grow up together tend to develop much less similar personality traits than both non-twin and non-identical twin siblings (suggesting that the human drive to be unique generally overrides any genetic predispositions). If true, the common tendency for parents to dress and treat identical twins identically would likely reinforce the personality divergence.
- Several forms of color-blindness are sex-linked. Ergo, on average, women can in fact distinguish more colors than men.
- The antithesis of color-blindness, tetrachromatism (an ability to perceive finer degrees of color), is similarly more common in women.
- It has also been determined that exposure to colors can allow people to see subtler shades. So, a person that doesn't get much exposure to them will see red and pink as the same. This is also the reason why different ethnicities will say people of other ethnicities look alike; they aren't used to seeing the differences that make them stand out and don't look for them.
- Some audiophiles insist that they can hear a difference between music reproduction techniques which, scientifically speaking, should produce exactly the same sound. This has been known to cause flame wars.