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Anime & Manga
- Best Student Council had an episode with the same title as the trope name, wherein Cyndi Manabe has been writng letters to her mother, telling lies so that she won't be worried about Cyndi's welfare. This would be fine, except the lies are ridiculously extravagant.
- In the Love Hina manga, Motoko tried to do this to avoid disappointing or standing up to her older sister twice. After her attempt to feign marriage to Keitaro propmted Tsuruko to break her sword and briefly throw her out of the Kenjitsu school/order you would think she would learn...
- Done hilariously in One Piece when Usopp decieves an army of ridiculously naïve dwarves into thinking he's Usoland, descendant of the hero Norland. The strawhats (strawLANDERS) haven't been let in on the lie or asked to maintain it, but they immediately deduce what's going on, and then proceeds to ignore it, because they've got more important things going on and just don't really care.
- Happens in Pokémon when James visits the home of his grandparents. Jessie, Meowth and the twerps allow his grandparents to believe he is a successful businessman, not a criminal and a runaway.
- Episode 27 of Sgt. Frog has the Keroro Platoon and the Hinata family preparing to Maintain the Lie to Keroro's father that the frogs have succeeded in their invasion of Earth... but they never get the chance, as he leaves right after he gets there.
Films — Animated
- Kronk's New Groove: Kronk must show his father that he has a wife, two kids, and a house on a hill, so he gets his friend Pacha to "loan" him his family.
Films — Live-Action
- The Bollywood film 'Munna Bhai M.B.B.S.' revolves around this plot. Munna Bai is a gangster lord with a heart of gold in Bombay. He has told his family however that he is a doctor, and has even created a fake hospital. But, his parents find out, and thus he decides to actually go to medical school. Various hijinks happen, and some serious, heartfelt touching moments as well. Surprisingly well done.
- The Frank Capra movie Lady for a Day and its remake Pocketful of Miracles uses this trope: a mother sends her young daughter to a convent in Spain and regularly writes her letters in which she pretends to be a part of New York high society, when she's actually a beggar. Years later, the daughter decides to come back to New York City and meet her mother with her husband-to-be, a count who in all certainty will cancel the wedding if he learns the truth. Cue shenanigans.
- The Jackie Chan movie Ji ji (Miracles in english) is based on Capra's Pocketful and obviously uses the trope too. Change New York City for 1930 Hong Kong; cue shenanigans and kung fu.
- This is the plot of Waking Ned Devine. The title character is a man in a small Irish village who wins the lottery, and promptly dies from shock. One of the protagonists has a dream that convinces him that Ned would have wanted the other villagers to enjoy his winnings, and so he and his buddy convince (almost) the entire village to pretend that Ned is still alive and attempt to con the claim inspector. Hilarity, naturally, ensues.
- In Harold Lloyd's best known film Safety Last!, Harold has to climb a building as a publicity stunt because his friend (the real human fly) is being chased by a cop. Harold pretends he's the daredevil to start the climb, intending to switch at a window on the next floor. His friend is never able to ditch the cop, so Harold ends up climbing the entire building.
- Not to mention that the reason he wound up in this situation in the first place was because he told his girlfriend that he was an executive with the department store, and was afraid that she'd find out he was a lowly sales clerk.
- In Goodbye Lenin, Alex is told that if his ill, formerly comatose mother, recieves a severe shock (like oh, the revelation that East Germany is no more) she could go into cardiac arrest. In order to prevent this, Alex drags all their friends and family into an elaborate ruse to convince her that the GDR is still standing and even gets his budding film-maker colleague to create fake TV news reports. (This perhaps being a metaphor for this trope in Real Life as regards regime propaganda).
- In the French 1969 movie Hibernatus, a man is found frozen in Greenland near the remains of a ship that wrecked in 1905. The man is revived and turns out to be the grandfather of the wife of a wealthy industrialist. At the behest of his wife (who threatens to disinherit him) he kidnaps the "Hibernatus" and brings him to his mansion. They are caught, but are forced to let the "grandfather" live with his granddaughter under one condition. In order to avoid giving him a heart attack, the government re-creates the early 20th century in the industrialist's neighborhood in order to convince the frozen man that no time has passed. Then he finds a TV.
- The movie handwaves the problems of being frozen alive by claiming he was accidentally flash-frozen in glycerin that was being transported on the ship when it wrecked.
- Adam Sandler's movie Just Go With It is about a successful plastic surgeon who tricks women into bed by pretending to be an abused husband. Then he meets a women (who is 10 years his junior) with whom he actually wants to start a relationship. The problem is, she finds his fake wedding ring. Now he has to pretend to be in the middle of a divorce with his cheating wife and has to convince his assistant and her kids to play their parts. The lies quickly spiral out of control.
- Christmas in Connecticut features Barbara Stanwyck as a magazine columnist who writes regular features about her completely fictional life as a Martha Stewart-style wife, mother, and homemaker. When her publisher invites himself and a war veteran over for Christmas, Stanwyck's character has to borrow someone else's farm and a different someone else's baby and fake a domestic paradise.
- Memory, Sorrow and Thorn has a dramatic version. Prester John rose to fame and became king of Erkynland after slaying the great red dragon, Shurakai, which had claimed the life of the two previous kings. It is only after his death of old age and the ensuing disasters that it is revealed that the previous king, Ealhstan Fiskerne, slew it, dying in the process. John took his sword Minneyar, renaming it Bright-Nail, and claimed credit for the deed. John's Blood Knight tendencies, his persecution of the Sithi (whom he suspected of knowing the secret), and even his treatment of his sons (favoring the martial Elias against the introspective Josua), all derive from his attempts to maintain this lie throughout his life and result in the conflict against the Storm King being far worse than it could have been. It also sets up The Hero Simon's reveal as King Eahlstan's heir.
Live Action TV
- Pretty Little Liars lives on this trope. From parents putting on the appearance of a happy marriage to the variety of wild stories the girls use and the insane ways they have to keep things going.
- Emily managed to keep hidden from her mother for years the fact she had dropped out of college. She even went so far as to claim a storm kept her mom from attending graduation and sent a photo of herself in a rented cap and gown.
- An episode of The Addams Family was based on Lurch's aged mother coming to visit him, and his having never told her he was a butler; most of the story involved his posing as the master of the house, with Gomez acting as butler, Morticia as maid, and Grandmamma as cook.
- A rare dramatic example occurred in the last season of Angel, in which our heroes had to Maintain the Lie to Mr. and Mrs. Burkle that their daughter is still alive, when in reality she'd been killed and her body taken over by an ancient demon-god. Among the many complaints that viewers had about Season 5, this is often cited as the most execrable thing the writers/characters ever did.
- A truly dark example on Law & Order: Criminal Intent. Gerry Rankin was pressed by his family to excel as a economist but never graduated as he couldn't handle the pressure. However, he not only tells his parents he graduated but works at the United Nations. For twenty years, Rankin spins an expert web of lies while using the power of attorney over his father and father-in-law's money to help finance various scams and Ponzi schemes to keep his family well off. His lies soon catch up with him as he tries to kill the "girlfriend" who was getting too close to him. The detectives soon realize that when Rankin's father-in-law wanted to take money out of the account, Rankin killed him, making it look like an accident so he could use the life insurance and his wife's inheritance to help his finances out. As the detectives close in, Rankin soon sees only one way to get out of his debts: Kill his own children.
- This was the whole premise for Three's Company. Jack tells the landlord he's gay so he can live with two girls, and has to keep up the act every time he visits.
- There are several times where this happens in the course of the show. One episode had Jack's uncle visiting. His uncle had always wanted Jack to become a doctor and when he was very sick, Jack told him he was a doctor, as he believed his uncle was dying and this would allow him to be happy in his last days - only he got better. With help from Terri, Jack tries to pretend he really is one.
- Another episode had Jack claim he was married. Over the course of the episode, Jack uses Terri, Janet and a CPR dummy (long story) as his "other half".
- New Girl will have one of the gang reveal they lied about something major in their life and gone to frankly insane lengths to cover it up.
- Knowing his mom won't like the idea of him becoming a cop, Winston tells her that he works as a radio host. Winston then goes so far as spend two hours a day recording a radio show in his room, complete with "listener calls" and then arranges to have the broadcast sent to his mom's radio on the station frequency so she can hear it.
- The Monkees did an episode where Davy's grandfather from England paid a visit. Davy had told him how rich and successful he was, so the rest of the guys pretended to be his servants (Micky was his chauffeur, Mike was his cook and Peter was his houseboy).
- The short-lived NBC sitcom Happy Family opens with two parents (John Larroquette and Christine Baranski) ready to enjoy their wayward son's graduation from community college. He has to break it to them that he dropped out over a year earlier. It's clear he was ready to keep up the act but is forced to tell the truth upon realizing the graduation gown he rented is the wrong color from the real class.
- In one episode of Small Wonder, Brandon talks Joan into impersonating Bonnie so he can impress a business visitor from Japan.
- Throughout the series, the family often pretended Vicki (the robot) was a little girl they adopted. When the case worker who handled the adoption showed up on the day they had given as Vicki's birthday, they had to scramble to put together a birthday party for her.
- A common plotline on The Love Boat:
- One episode has Isaac's teacher as a guest and Isaac talks the gang into making her think he's a high ranking member of the crew rather than just a bartender.
- Another episode has the crew complaining over seeing Isaac's aunt in a horrible play. When she joins on a trip, Isaac gets them to talk about how great she was so as not to hurt her feelings. It takes his aunt declaring she's quitting her job to find fame in Hollywood for Isaac to break the truth to her.
- A college student had been living off money sent from an aunt in Greece who he assumed was a rich woman with a shipping line. When he finally visits, he finds she's a hard-working fisherwoman but continues to spin the "I come from money" line to his friends to avoid the truth.
- Several episodes would have the plot of two pen pals meeting in person with one wrestling with revealing the truth behind their bragging.
- A variation appeared in an episode of WKRP in Cincinnati, where the staff all conspire to give a visiting auditor a horribly inaccurate impression of the station. The later syndicated revival also did a "straight" version of this trope where they all tried to help the station secretary pretend to be the manager and put through an important business deal.
- In Black Books, Manny claims to his parents that he runs the titular bookshop, although this lie quite swiftly collapses.
- In the episode "The Entertainer", Manny turns out to be a excellent pianist. Bernard and Fran convince him to crawl inside the piano and operate the hammers so that they can pretend to be able to play in order to impress different people. He's even able to convincingly simulate a duet between the two. That last task takes too much out of him and he crawls out of the piano to lie down. The lie falls apart when Bernard and Fran decide to ramp it up a notch, thinking Manny is still there.
- On How I Met Your Mother, when his mom gets really sick and expresses regret that she never got to see Barney settle down, he actually hired actors to play his wife and son (started with just a wife, but the actress likes to go "off script" and announced her "pregnancy") so his mother would think he was a happily married family man. He actually kept this up for seven years. When his mom finally found out the truth, she was relieved. Turns out she'd never been able to stand her fake daughter-in-law and grandson (with his annoying attempts at catch phrases) all these years.
- Barney's gay brother has the opposite problem. He used to be just as big a Casanova as Barney but he fell in love and got married. Since Barney hates the concept of marriage, he did not tell Barney about it. When he visits New York, he pretends to still be single and trying to pick up men in a night club.
- Ted's parents pretend to be happily married while they have actually been separated and dating other people for months.
- It is also hinted at that Ted's grandmother died and they decided not to tell him. Which his dad immediately deflects with a discussion about baseball, which was the one thing that he would regularly discuss with Ted as a way avoiding a real conversation.
- This happened regularly on Seinfeld since the Jerry, Kramer and Elaine put a lot of emphasis on how others perceive them and will lie to make themselves look better.
- George lied to Susan's parents about having a house in the Hamptons. It's subverted in that they knew he was lying from the beginning and only went along to see how far he would take it. And, of course, because they don't like him and enjoyed watching him squirm.
- When George's unemployment benefits are about to be cut off he asks for an extension and pretends that he is about to land a job as a salesman. The company does not exists and he gives his case worker Jerry's phone number instead. To maintain the ruse Jerry now has to answer his phone as "Vandalay Industries"
- A sports equipment salesman claims to have been a tennis pro but is actually terrible at tennis. In order to maintain the ruse Jerry has to throw a tennis match against the guy. Not only does this make Jerry look like a horrible tennis player but the salesman keeps insulting him.
- George picks Jerry up from the airport and they see a limo driver with a sign saying "O'Brien". Jerry remembers someone named O'Brien complaining about his flight being cancelled in the airport he just came from, so they pretend to be O'Brien and his friend "Dylan Murphy" to get a free ride in a limo. Turns out that O'Brien, whom George is impersonating, is a notorious neo-Nazi and the driver is supposed to take them directly to a big rally where he is the main speaker. The fact that Jerry is Jewish and George is half-Jewish makes it even more uncomfortable and dangerous for them to maintain the ruse.
- On an episode of The Big Bang Theory Leonard lies to Penny about coming to see her perform in a production of RENT. Sheldon is disturbed by the logical holes in the lie and begins plugging them by elaborating on the original lie to the extreme degree of hiring an actor to play the relative they were supposed to be helping.
- Penny tells her father that she and Leonard are dating again and manages to convince Leonard to go along with the lie. They spend most of the time trying to fool Sheldon since they can't bring him in on the scheme due to his tendency of over thinking and ruining any plan of this nature.
- Occurs several times on F Troop, usually when the peace-loving (and money-making) Hekawi Indians have to pretend to be fierce savages to impress a visitor to Fort Courage.
- Another episode had the town drunk's daughter visiting, and he had told her he was in charge of Fort Courage, leading them to make it look like he was, including getting Capt. Parmeter drunk to get him out of the way.
- Cheers episode "Diane's Nightmare". Andy-Andy Schroeder wants Sam to pretend that he owns the bar and Sam is his employee so Andy can impress his girlfriend.
- In an episode of The Brittas Empire, Colin tells his daughter he is the manager of the leisure centre. When she comes to visit, the other staff attempt to maintain the deception and eventually a sympathetic Brittas even joins in.
- The Nanny features Fran pretending that she is the wife of millionaire Broadway producer Maxwell Sheffield, and not his nanny, in order to impress relatives to whom her mother has been bragging. In another episode, the butler Niles pretends that he is Maxwell Sheffield, that Fran is his wife, and that the actual Maxwell Sheffield is the butler in order to fool visitors from the butlers' guild.
- In the pilot episode of Psych, Shawn, who is really just hyper observant, tells the cops he's psychic to avoid being thought of as a suspect in all the crimes he solves for them. He's been pretending for six seasons now.
- On the The Good Wife Alicia and Peter Florick have been separated for most of the series due to Peter's infidelity. However, Peter has to maintain the public image of a man with a supportive wife who will stand by him through his various legal and political troubles. Alicia is willing to play along in order to protect their children from the scandal.
- In a season 1 episode of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Will pretends to be upper class in order to impress a girl whose father is notoriously picky about her boyfriends. Will impresses her father, but then the girl admits that she actually like street-smart boys.
- Bosom Buddies was about two men who dressed up as women to get a cheap apartment in a women's only building. The first season focused on Maintaining The Lie, including obligatory episodes with visits from a parent of each character. The second season more or less dispensed with it, by having the supporting cast learn the truth and going along with it, but the scenes in drag became few and far between.
- Happens in an episode of Star Trek: Voyager, of all places, where due to convoluted reasons, the crew has to pretend the Doctor is the Captain of Voyager during a standoff with a hostile race. Cue Robert Picardo unleashing his inner Large Ham.
- In later episodes, it's no longer a lie, as the Emergency Command Hologram subroutine is added to the Doctor's programming. After most of the crew is taken and mind-wiped to be factory workers, ECH not only repairs the ship but also manages to defeat two alien ships with a single photon torpedo by accessing his enormous tactical database and recalling an old Romulan Shoot the Bullet trick.
- Star Trek: Deep Space Nine had a dramatic example in which Li Nalas, the most legendary Bajoran resistance fighter, admits to Sisko that he's just an ordinary man who had the mantle of hero thrust upon him after he killed a Cardassian war criminal through sheer luck. Sisko convinces Li that the Bajorans need their hero, real or not, and convinces O'Brien of the same when he catches on. Li dies saving Sisko's life, thereby both performing an act worthy of his legend and, in his words, getting him "off the hook".
- Pretty much the go-to plot in Perfect Strangers once the fish-out-of-water plots wore thin. Cousin Larry makes crazy boast, cons or wheedles Balki to help him maintain the deception, hilarity ensues.
- On Liv and Maddie Liv invites the cast of her TV show over for Christmas, bragging on how Karen always prepares a lavish meal for the family. When a deli calls on a big order on Christmas Eve, Liv cancels it, sending Karen into a panic. It turns out all these years, Karen has been using the deli for her "home-cooked meals" and faking cooking and cleaning up. Liv gets her Abhorrent Admirer Artie to help cook it up and keep the truth quiet from the rest of the family.
- In Red Dwarf, Rimmer told his mother that he passed every exam he ever took, and had therefore reached the rank of "Rear Admiral Lieutenant General". As opposed to the man who cleaned the chicken soup machine. This lie needed maintained in the Series X episode "Trojan", when they recieve an S.O.S. from Rimmer's more successful brother Howard. It turned out Howard had been lying about his acomplishments as well, and is also a vending machine technician.
- Subverted in the Babylon 5 episode "The War Prayer". It has the usual setup: two Centauri lovebirds, including one of Vir Cotto's relatives, come aboard the station believing that Vir is the Centauri ambassador. Rather than maintain the lie, however, he quickly admits that he's only the attache to the Centauri ambassador. The rest of that plotline involves the problem the two lovebirds came to Vir for.
- In the Maid Marian and Her Merry Men episode "Keeping Mum", Marian's mother comes to visit, which means the gang's hideout needs to be turned into a dental surgery, because Marian told her mother she was a dental receptionist. In the end it turns out that Marion's mother is also a freedom fighter, and is a bit disappointed her daughter is living such a boring life.
- In the Desmond's episode "Porkpies", the gang rally round to convince perpetual student Matthew's sister and brother-in-law that he's graduated and is a successful businessman.
- On 2 Broke Girls, Caroline's grandmother wakes up from a coma unaware that the family has lost all its money. Caroline talks Max and the rest of the diner gang to pretend to be her servants to maintain the ruse until she can break the news gently so her grandmother won't have a heart attack. In a dark (but hilarious) subversion of the usual sitcom trope, when the grandmother finds out the truth (from a nosy neighbor), she really does drop dead.
- Played with on Ellen, when Ellen's co-worker, Joe, talks about how bad it is for Ellen to be lying to her mother.
Joe: By the way, if my mother ever drops by for a surprise visit, you and I are married with three kids.Ellen: Anything else?Joe: Yeah, I'm the mayor of Los Angeles.Ellen: What are you doing here?Joe: Campaigning.
- An interesting double version in Major Crimes. Medical Examiner Morales, who usually hangs out at the morgue, surprises the team by showing up at a crime scene. He's with his father, a retired detective from Uruguay who speaks little English and Morales confesses he's been telling his dad he has an authority position with the team. So they pretend that Morales running things is a regular bit during a murder investigation. At the end of the episode, Mr. Morales meets with Sharon and Provenza and (speaking perfect English) relates he figured the whole thing out fast. However, he's happy his son has friends who love him enough to do this. He asks them not to tell Morales he figured it out as he doesn't want to embarrass him but is proud of his son.
- Series/MASH did this twice. In a Season 1 episode, Hawkeye claims a Captain Tuttle made a large donation to a local orphanage, and everyone wants to meet him. Later in the series, a rumor that Marilyn Monroe is going to visit the camp snowballs.
- On Dynasty (2017), rich Fallon has been having an on/off affair with Michael, the family's limo driver. On Thanksgiving, she tracks down Michael to a soup kitchen where he's helping his parents serve dinner to homeless people. Fallon soon realizes Michael's family believes that he's a Vice-President at the Carrington's company. Michaels confesses to Fallon that his parents sacrificed so much to get him through college and he doesn't have the heart to tell them he's just a chauffeur. In a rare show of selflessness, Fallon talks of how great a worker for the company Michael is to keep his family proud.
- Ace Attorney: Ron DeLite is firmly possessed of the belief that his wife will leave him if she realizes he's not loaded, and his wife is firmly possessed of the belief that security guards make quite a lot of money. To maintain the illusion he steals from his company, gets fired, lies to her about being fired, and then resorts to grand and overdramatic theft just to keep her thinking she can go on shopping sprees.
- Wild ARMs XF has the main heroine as the doppleganger for the kingdom's princess. When she's mistaken for said princes after she disappears, the heroine takes the princess's place to give hope to the people. The series Arc Words reflect this. "Some lies are worth living."
- In What Birds Know, Elia's father left her mother long ago, and to deal with the shame, the latter turns to prostitution while keeping up the facade that he's simply working a long way away.
- Two separate episodes of Spongebob Squarepants used this plot, both involving Squidward and his annoyingly successful high school acquaintance Squilliam. Oddly enough for Squidward, it was actually successful one of those times.
- Inversion: When Patrick's parents ( not really) visited, Spongebob faked being an idiot to make Patrick seem smarter.
- An episode had Doug's family putting on a play to impress his sister's new boyfriend, as Judy thought they were too boring. Doug took offense to being written out of the family and cast as a butler, so he struck back by improvising his part as a secret agent trying to stop a bomb threat.
- Another one had Judy pretending to be Doug's sick cousin Melvin to cover a lie he told Patty. It was eventually reversed, though, when Judy took "method acting" to the next level and Doug became the one maintaining the lie.
- The Simpsons:
Apu: Is it just me, or do all your plans involve a horrible web of lies?Homer: It's you.
- There's an episode where Homer used Mr. Burns' mansion to impress a researcher who kept track of everyone in Springfield from childhood on.
- Not to mention the one where, to get out of an arranged marriage, Apu told his mother he was already married. When she arrived from India to meet the wife, Homer got the idea to have Marge and the kids pose as Apu's family.
- The villain of Rainbow Brite, whose mother disapproved of this whole gloom and evil business, had to convince her that he was perfectly well-adjusted. By stealing the protagonists' castle, among other things.
- Hey Arnold! once had Sid trying to pass off Arnold's room as his own to impress a wealthy exchange student.
- "Her Parents" of Adventure Time in which Jake pretends to be a rainicorn so his girlfriend's parents will accept him.
- Jimmy Neutron had Carl pretending to be the residential boy genius, not Jimmy, to impress his pen-pal, a Swedish model... Turns out she was lying as well.
- One episode of Kappa Mikey had Mikey doing this twice — first convincing his cast-mates to pretend to be the versions of themselves he'd told his parents they were, then hiring two strangers to pretend to be his parents when they cancelled at the last minute.
- In one Toonsylvania episode, Phil accidentally gives wolfsbane to Dr. Vic's visiting grandmother, whereupon she starts turning into a werewolf and back; he and Igor spend the episode trying to keep Vic from finding out. Afterwards, Vic remarks to them that his grandma wasn't her usual self — she's been a werewolf all her life, but for this whole weekend she never transformed.
- The Top Cat episode "A Visit from Mother", Benny the Ball has told his mother that he's the mayor, so when she visits, T.C. and the gang arrange a mayoral reception.
- The Steven Universe episode "Fusion Cuisine" has Connie's parents insisting on meeting Steven's family or else they won't let Connie keep seeing him anymore. Unfortunately, Connie lied to them by claiming that Steven has a typical nuclear family. Even more unfortunately, each of the Crystal Gems has traits that would make them unsuitable to play the role of Mom. Fortunately(?) Steven has a solution: have them all fuse together! Amazingly enough, the lie is maintained throughout the dinner even though the Gems' fused form Alexandrite is a multi-armed giantess with green hair. The truth is only revealed after Pearl's disgust with eating clashes with Amethyst's desire to keep eating, causing the fusion to fall apart.