"It's not what you think! I know it looks like we're cleaning dishes, but actually we're having sex."
A common trope in romantic comedies is the humorous misunderstanding, or the Not What It Looks Like.
A couple teetering between Will They or Won't They?
has gradually started to slide toward "they will". But wait! The girl sees the guy's old crush/ex-girlfriend/other person who's previously expressed a romantic interest in him (or vice versa) go into his apartment/a hotel room/etc., and stay for a suspicious length of time.
The girl is convinced that he and the other woman have gotten together, and goes through intense doubt about her own relationship with the guy. However, she'll hardly ever confront him
about it, instead preferring to stew in her own insecurity or make veiled bitchy comments to the guy, who's usually completely clueless as to what's going on because the other woman just wanted something completely banal, like someone to bitch to after her latest boyfriend dumped her. The scales even out, the status quo (i.e., UST
) is restored, and the fans tear their hair out and scream at the writers for some progress, dammit!
Often the other woman will catch on to what's happened after a while and tell the girl what really went on, clearing the way for a slide toward "they will" again. In most of these situations, the other woman is a relative
to the girl that nothing untoward was happening.
This can also apply to non-romantic situations, such as one person thinking another person has committed (or is planning to commit) some heinous act, or misinterpreting a harmless situation into something scandalous. Mistaken murderers involving accidents with sharp utensils and bottles of tomato sauce are surprisingly common.
The name of the trope comes from what is usually the first line the guy says afterward, often followed by, "I Can Explain
!" This line is also the first line uttered by an Accidental Pervert
Can provide the grounds for a Second-Act Breakup
or Third-Act Misunderstanding
. See Innocent Innuendo
for a more sexual-related variant of this trope, and Abuse Mistake
for a more violent variant.
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- The trope's image comes from the first of this series of Ameriquest ads.
- The punchline in this Trojans commercial double-inverts the trope.
- This This is SportsCenter ad.
- Explanation: Jorge Posada is a catcher for the New York Yankees. Catchers don't normally wear the traditional baseball caps due to them wearing full face masks. David "Big Papi" Ortiz is a designated hitter for the Boston Red Sox, the Yankees' arch rival. Ortiz is wearing a Yankees cap, just as Wally the Green Monster, the Red Sox mascot, is walking by.
- One advertisement series pushed this Up to Eleven with various scenes, including one where a man is trying to track down his daughter who stormed out mad because he wouldn't give her the money to buy a CD. He decides he was wrong and goes out after her, where he finds her walking along a street, stops her and says that he changed his mind, here's the money. Cut to scene where police car, behind him, sees a man in a car handing money to a young lady who stopped when he called out to her, and she's leaning through the window.
Anime & Manga
- Subverted in Y: The Last Man when Yorick walks in on Allison Mann and 355 having sex. 355 blurts out "This isn't what it looks like!" much to the annoyance of her lesbian lover who doesn't see what they have to be embarrassed about. Moments later they encounter Australian spy Rose who's trying to explain why she's just stabbed a woman to death, by using exactly the same line. This situation, as it turns out, is a bit more complicated.
- In one issue of Teen Titans, Robin (Tim Drake) returns to his room one night and sits on his bed, only to have a naked and extremely drunk Ravager (Rose Wilson) wrap her arms around him and try to seduce him. Robin's completely not interested but, knowing Ravager can be a bit hard to dissuade, pins her down on the bed and starts to handcuff her hands behind her. Then Kid Devil walks in.
Kid Devil: Hot damn!
Robin: This isn't what it looks like.
Ravager: Yes it is.
- Likely the intended result in X-23's famous lesbian scene. Jubilee grabs Laura while the both make 'special' facial expressions and pulls her towards herself.
- Ultimate Spider-Man:
- In Batman Bruce Wayne was talking to social services worker about Jason Todd, when Cassandra Cain showed up in a dressing gown. Given Wayne's reputation and uncooperativeness about Jason and Cassandra being underage, he went away with the apparent impression that Bruce Wayne is a pedophile who probably abused and murdered his ward. At this point, Cass WASN'T his ward, so it looked as though Bruce frequently preyed on children.
- Hilariously mocked by Seanbaby in his "Aquaman SUCKS!" parody comic◊, where Aquaman takes off his shirt and starts trying to molest Aqualad... only to be caught in the act by Seagull.
- One time, Superboy and Supergirl have an argument and brawl, only for Wonder Girl (Cassandra Sandsmark) to walk in and assume Superboy is cheating on her and that the two are engaging in foreplay. She attacks Supergirl and loses, but the misunderstanding is cleared up. Cassie didn't even stop to consider that Superboy is the son/clone of Superman, Supergirl's cousin.
- In The Amazing Spider-Man, Black Panther walks in on Peter Parker sitting with two beautiful Wakandan women wearing nothing but a bikini, who have their fingers in his hair.
Spider-Man: It's not what it looks like.
Black Panther: They're not braiding your hair?
Spider-Man: I guess it is what it looks like.
- Black Panther seems particularly prone to this trope. In an issue of Fantastic Four when he and Storm were subbing for Reed and Sue, Ben asked Ororo if her hair was weave. Taking offense, she invited him to lift her by her hair to show that it is indeed real. Cue T'Challa walking in on Ben holding his wife by the hair.
- Two examples from the German comic Lula und Yankee: Yankee just rubs some lotion on a guy's back (it's against back pain), but the artist deliberately drew it to look like gay sex (and the other guy is even moaning!) A similar scene happens later: Yankee's standing there and urging Lula to go on because people could see them, and her answer sounding as if she had something in her mouth — actually, it's just the cap of a magic marker, which she uses to draw their names on the Eiffel Tower.
- In Megalex, Ram wakes up to find a naked Adamâ sleeping on top of him. She wakes up and angrily tells him to turn around so she can get dressed, and not to get any ideas because "it's not what you think."
- Shinji And Warhammer 40 K: In chapter 24 Shinji and his father are alone in a room and Shinji punches himself to get his father in trouble. When Misato stormed into the place and saw Shinji bleeding Gendo tried to explain what this was not what it looked like... and then he shut up why he realized that NOBODY would believe him.
- In This Time As A Namikaze The Sandaime and Hyuuga Hiashi knock on Naruto's door. A sleepy Naruto sans jacket answers. Cue Hinata (also sleepy) walking in saying "Naruto-kun. Come back to bed. You over-exerted yourself last night." wearing nothing but his jacket. The explaination is that Naruto was masquerading as a missing-nin the previous night and got roughed up escaping from ANBU prison in a big storm only to get back to his apartment to see a soaking wet Hinata inside. He offers her his jacket to keep her warm and out of wet clothes then passes out in his bed where they end up cuddling. Hiashi has a fit.
- In the Kingdom Hearts fic Sex on the Beach, this is inverted and played straight both — inverted first, when Kairi mistakes Sora and Riku engaging in the eponymous activity for a Nobody attack. The "played straight" comes later when the three of them are congratulating each other on a Crowning Moment of Funny-ridden struggle to escape being discovered by their parents... and Kairi's father walks in the door just in time to observe what appears to be a threesome.
- Subverted in the Haruhi Suzumiya/TV Tropes crossover Kyon Big Damn Hero. Kyon is found in a compromising position just to be photographed and teased a little. He still says the line though.
- In the End has two if these; one with Lelouch's dead body and also when Nunnally finds out who Zero is and Suzaku tries to reassure her.
- Once More with Feeling: In a chapter, Misato caught Asuka leaving Shinjis' room at the morning. Asuka has to explain that is not what it looks like, she had been not acting untoward towards Shinji and had a good reason for she sleeping in his room. The reason being he had nightmares and she was trying to comfort him.
"It had taken some fast talking in the living room and not a little angry indignation to convince Misato that nothing untoward had happened between her and Shinji last night."
"And that she did have a good reason to be sleeping in Shinji's bedroom."
"In his bed."
"With him in said bed, at the same time."
"Not that in her opinion it was any of Misato's business what she and Shinji chose to do -or not do- together"
- The title of Stars Above's fifth chapter is this. Kagami says it when Tsukasa misinterprets seeing her lying in Homura's lap.
- In Shadow Snark, Shadow has Uma (who is female at the time) knocked out inside a sack It Makes Sense in Context.
- Both played straight and averted in the Daria fan fiction series Esteem Roller. Jane and Sandi walk in on a half-naked Daria giving a nude Stacy a massage, and both assert that the massage was purely medicinal (Stacy having pulled a muscle) and the nudity was pragmatic (the massage oil involved was rather pungent and dificult to get out of clothing). And immediately after their denials, they learned that they were both closeted lesbians who were attracted to each other, meaning the prior setup had been intentional on both parts.
- Inverted in Sophistication And Betrayal, where an encounter between the protagonist and Rarity was exactly what it looked like. Pinkie Pie however mistakes this for "a big hug", and accepts a Blatant Lies excuse of Rarity being excited over her recent business success.
- In Overlady, Louise walks in on her sister Cattleya in a compromising position with one of her maids.
Cattleya: It’s not what it looks like!”
Louise severely doubted that. She was almost certain it was exactly what it looked like. Her sister had her head between the wide-open legs of another girl, who had her skirt rolled up to her waist. The girl – a maid by the looks of it – was slack-jawed and vacant-eyed. And there were fluids smearing her sister’s jaw.
No, whatever Cattleya might say, it was exactly what it looked like.
Her sister had certainly sunk her fangs into the thigh of the other woman and had been drinking her blood.
- In Chapter 14 of Arads Stardust, Lana walks in on Matt cuddling Twilight Sparkle (he's comforting her, somewhat involuntarily — she hugged him first, he's under orders not to touch her without her permission — over her Chryssalid-related issues). Naturally, she can't resist teasing him about it.
- In the RWBY fic Massages, Jaune gives Yang a massage, but her screams of pleasure cause their friends to think they're having sex. After explaining the situation, the other girls make Jaune give them massages. Soon, their screams of pleasure convince everyone in Beacon that Jaune is sleeping with them all. Jaune is not happy about this, because all the boys get jealous and try to beat him up.
- In the Worm/Exalted crossover She Who Skitters In Shadows, Tattletale gives Skitter her phone number after meeting her in a restaurant. Of course, the real reason Tattletale gave her that note was so they could discuss the Abyssal Exaltation lodged in Skitter's soul, but Skitter can't tell them that. Cue the Wards joking about how Skitter's 'a player'.
- Before that, there's the scene of Skitter drinking Panacea's blood to heal herself, which everyone misinterprets.
- Inverted and mixed with Sarcastic Confession in Thousand Shinji. Misato walks in on Shinji and Asuka on top of each other with a broken chair nearby.
Shinji: "This is exactly what it looks like. Asuka and I were making out so hot and heavy, we broke a chair."
Misato: "Damnit. If you're going to fight, at least don't break the furniture."
- Lelouch inverts this in Lelouch of Britannia after his bodyguards walk in on Kallen trying to assassinate him. Since he thinks she's a Stalker with a Crush and they're lying on top of each other (her half-naked, him completely naked), he calmly assures his bodyguards that it's exactly what it looks like and tells them to make sure they're not interrupted.
- In A Voice Among The Strangers, Ebony says this when Twilight and Spike walk in on her tickling Jessica on the couch.
- In the Pokémon Send Your O Cs fanfic Pokémon: Take Two, Nurse Joy walks in on Ry on top of Alex on a bed. Ry was bringing a board game for them to play but tripped.
- In the Star Trek: The Original Series fanfic Insontis, the Security team finds a video of McCoy threatening Spock; it turns out to be the two of them playing superhero with kid!Kirk.
Films — Animation
- When Fiona pulls the arrow out of Shrek's butt in the first Shrek film, she ends up on top of him, just in time for Donkey to walk in and take things the wrong way. Cue Shrek jumping up and saying, "Nothing Happened!"
- Mirage tells Bob his family survived Syndrome's missiles in The Incredibles, and Bob is so grateful for the news that he gives Mirage a great big hug — and right at that moment, Helen, who fears Bob was having an affair, walks in to rescue him.
Films — Live-Action
- In the first Austin Powers movie, Austin Powers disables a bunch of "fembots" by doing a striptease. Immediately afterwards, his girlfriend walks in and sees him in his underwear with what appear to be scantily dressed beautiful women. He tells her it's Not What It Looks Like and starts babbling; she cuts him off, laughs, and says "I believe you."
- In Monster-in-Law, the title character sends the ex-girlfriend up to the room where her son is getting dressed in order to try to break up his engagement to a girl she thinks is not good enough for him. So his fiancée walks in on him, half dressed, with his ex-girlfriend practically pasted on him.
- In the third The Naked Gun movie, Frank secretly does some undercover work for the police, even though he's supposed to be retired. He ends up with scratches on his back from a dominatrix (long story), which his wife finds. She is furious, but only because this clearly means he has been doing police work again. Frank tries to convince her that he's having an affair instead.
- In Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Jessica (a toon) barges in to Eddie's office/apartment while he's getting dressed. A few minutes later, Eddie's love interest walks in on them, producing one of the more original gotcha lines ever: "Dabbling in watercolors, Eddie?"
- Averted in State and Main. At first Joe goes to some length to keep Ann from finding out that a nude Claire is in his room (against his will), thinking that the trope will play out. Then when she suddenly walks back in and catches Claire, Joe immediately explains what's going on, and Ann believes him.
Joe: Wait, you believe that? But it's insane!
Ann: So's our electoral system but we still vote.
- In Steve Martin's The Pink Panther, this trope occurs twice. The second time is a particularly funny scene where Detective Ponton walks into Clouseau's apartment and it appears that he is having sex with his secretary, Nicole. In reality, she was choking on an egg and he rushed to perform the Heimlich. What makes the scene particularly amusing is that the two of them don't think that Ponton took it the wrong way and have the following conversation, which piques Ponton's interest:
Nicole: You are so good! Where did you learn that?
Clouseau: You know... I practiced on mannequins...
- When Shondra gets caught in a compromising position with kidnapee B-Rad in Malibu's Most Wanted, her boyfriend makes it quite clear that: "I use that line all the time, and you know it's always what it looks like!!!" (Though in fact, it wasn't what it looked like. She was merely trying to extract a bullet from his foot, and her face ended up on his crotch. Easy enough to explain.)
- In Titanic, Jack saves Rose from falling off the back of the ship and they fall into a position where it looks like Jack was trying to rape Rose, as she's still terrified from almost dying.
- In Lucky Number Slevin, Slevin walks into his bedroom to find a strange man having sex with his girlfriend doggy style.
Girlfriend: This isn't what it looks like!
Slevin: Oh right, so, he tripped and then you fell?
- In Iron Man, this, along with the following "I can explain," is subverted when Tony Stark is discovered, in his battlesuit, apparently being molested by robots. His response? "Let's face it, this is not the worst thing you've caught me doing." The bullet holes, however, are a bit bad.
- In American Pie, Jim says exactly this during the famous pie scene.
- American Wedding
- Stifler and Jim are in the room with the cake that was made to celebrate Jim's engagement to Michelle. Jim catches Stifler rearranging the letters to read "Congratulation Jism!", and the two get in an argument that ends with both of them getting cake all over their pants. Jim starts to take off his pants to clean them, while Stifler gets knocked to the floor by a dog, who starts licking the cake off his crotch. Jim, with his pants around his ankles, gets behind the dog and tries to pull it off of Stifler. Jim and Michelle's families then walk into the room and catch what looks like Jim and Stifler raping a dog. Stifler even blurts out the line "It's not what it looks like!"
- This happens again with Stifler in the same movie. Jim's grandmother had been locked in the closet by some of his friends so that she wouldn't cause a fuss at the wedding (she objected to the fact that her Jewish grandson Jim was marrying Michelle, a gentile). Meanwhile, Cadence, Michelle's hot sister, had arranged with Stifler for the two to meet in that same closet to have sex. Cut to Stifler getting busted having sex with a granny.
- In Independence Day, Will Smith's wingman is down on one knee to demonstrate proper ass-kissing technique when Smith drops a box. The wingman dismisses Smith's assertion that it's nothing by remarking "This is a wedding ring." At which point another pilot walks by, holds up his hands in a "Don't mind me" pose, and quickly backtracks.
- In Working Girl, the main character walks in on her boyfriend stark naked and having sex with another woman (also stark naked). "This is not what it looks like! (beat) Okay, this is what it looks like. But I can explain! Well, not exactly explain... Come on, Tess! I'm sorry! I really am! I love you!"
- In DOA: Dead or Alive, Bass Armstrong walks in on his daughter Tina sleeping in the same bed with Christie, and mistakenly believes they are lovers. He constantly insists he is supportive of their relationship, despite Tina's protests that there is nothing going on. He later makes a similar assumption upon seeing Tina and Kasumi together.
- Played with in The Sweetest Thing. Christina Walters (Cameron Diaz) and Courtney Rockcliffe (Christina Applegate), in underwear, on a car. The latter (who's driving) drops her lipstick, the former decides to search for it. A biker sees the thing, thinks it's something else... and Courtney decides to play along and pretend it is what it looked like! Then the biker crashes.
- Bend It Like Beckham
- When Jess and her friend Jules are walking along overwhelmed with laughter, they have to hold onto each other to keep from falling. The parents of Jess's sister's boyfriend think they're making out. They also mistake Jules for a boy due to her short hair.
- In another scene, Jules' mother thinks her daughter and Jess are in a lesbian relationship when she hears them arguing in Jules' room (they were actually arguing about their coach Joe, who they have a crush on).
- Made even worse when they kiss during their excitement over being recruited for a college team.
- In Red Eye, the flight attendants are under the impression that the heroine Lisa and the antagonist Rippner were in the Mile-High Club when they both exit a lavatory together, unaware that Rippner was really choking Lisa for lying to him following one of her attempts to thwart his assassination plot.
Older Flight Attendant:
Excuse me, this isn't a motel
. [beat] Rippner:
- In Shanghai Knights, we get one of these when Roy O'Bannon (Owen Wilson) walks in on Chon Wang (Jackie Chan) adjusting a prostitute's back.
Roy: Chon, you decadent philistine!
- In Captain America: The First Avenger, Peggy Carter walked in on Steve kissing a blond secretary and assumed he had become a womanizer. What she didn't see before was Steve trying to turn down the secretary's aggressive advances and being pulled into the kiss.
- Initially turning her down, at least. By the time Peggy showed up, Cap didn't look to be resisting that much...
- In Fierce Creatures, its a Running Gag that John Cleese's character is constantly being caught with women (or animals!) in compromising positions with implausible explanations.
- In American Dreamer, after Alan brings a wet and drunk "Rebecca" to his room, his date sees them together and then storms off.
- In Hellfighters, Tish, who is about 20, is on the phone at an oil fire in Venezuela when she hears that her estranged parents are going to remarry after having divorced when she was 5. She hangs up the phone, and sits down, excited, and tells the oilworkers there, "My father is finally going to marry my mother, isn't that great?" One of the men, who has no idea that she means they're getting remarried, says, "That must be very nice." and everyone else there, realizing the guy has completely misunderstood what she meant, break up in laughter.
- Every encounter between the bike cop and the heroes of Wild Hogs is exactly that. It doesn't help that whenever he spots or overhears them, they tend to be discussing such matters as "being ridden so hard by Woody" or taking naked baths together, as seen here.
- In Bad Boys II, Mike and Marcus head into a side room at an electronics store to have a private talk about the fact that Mike had accidentally shot Marcus in the ass earlier in the film. Unfortunately, there is an active camcorder in the room, which transmits their talk to the entire store. Without context, everybody in the store thinks that Mike and Marcus are gay. As they step out of the room, they get accosted by a Madea-esque woman telling them that they "need Jesus".
- In Tango & Cash when Tango goes to hide out in his sister Katherine's house he sees her apparently having sex with Cash, (he sees her on top of the couch thrusting back and forth), she's actually giving him a massage to fix a slipped disc, it doesn't help with their dialogue, their moaning and grunting, and the fact that both are wearing very little clothing.
- We're the Millers:
- Played for Drama in Welcome to the Punch (2013). Cowboy Cop Max Lewinsky is forced to take London crook Jacob Sternwood to the hospital to see his son; Sternwood is holding a gun in his pocket. As they're leaving the hospital they encounter another detective helping wheel a sheet-covered body into the morgue. Lewsinsky starts to explain that his being with a wanted criminal isn't what it looks like, but unknown to him the body is that of his female partner and Lewsinsky has been framed for her murder, so the detective isn't interested in his explanation.
- One Night At McCool's: Late in the film, Jewel arranges a "date" with both Carl and Dehling at the same time without their knowledge. At Jewel's request Carl gets into a submissive S&M outfit, while Dehling goes to meet her in his police uniform. When Dehling later finds Carl in the house he restrains the apparent stranger on the kitchen table. At this point Carl's cousin Randy walks in and asks them what the heck is going on.
- A penguin is out driving in the desert when he hears a pop and his tire goes flat. He manages to pull into a gas station to have the mechanic check it out. As he's waiting, he notices the convenience store is selling some ice cream, and he decides he could do with some good cold ice cream. He goes in and buys his favorite flavor, vanilla, then goes out and sits on the curb to eat it. Being a penguin and lacking opposable thumbs, he has a lot of trouble scooping it out with his flippers, and being in the middle of the desert, the ice cream melts very quickly. Eventually, he's almost completely covered in white, sticky goop. The mechanic comes out at that point, looks at him, and informs him, "Well, looks like you blew a seal." The penguin cries indignantly "It's vanilla ice cream, dammit!"
- A most sombre cowboy enters a bar, orders several shots and starts gulping them down. The concerned barman inquires if something is wrong. The cowboy replies: "there are times, Bill, when words are useless. This morning I went to the barn to milk the cow, but that lousy creature kept kicking and toppling the bucket over. I got some rope and strapped her legs to the poles, but then it swinged its tail and toppled the bucket again, and I was out of rope, so I pulled the belt out of my pants and strapped its tail up. My pants fell down, and right then my wife came into the barn... there are times when words are useless."
- A chauffeur is driving his boss's teenage daughter when they get a flat tire. He tries to change it but he can't get the hubcap off. The young woman looks around and finds a screwdriver. She asks him "Do you want a screwdriver?" and he answers "Might as well. I can't get this damn hubcap off."
- A man went into a job interview and his eye winked through the whole process. The interviewer said "Look, you are well qualified, but I'm afraid that facial tic will throw off clients." The man replied - "Funny you mention that, because all I have to do is take aspirin and the winking goes away - watch" and the man began dumping out his pockets looking for aspirin. In most of his pockets, however, were condoms. Finally, once a pile of condom packages of every sort piled up on the desk the man found two aspirin, took them, and the wink totally stopped. "Well, that worked," the interviewer admitted, but why do you have all the condoms? We don't want our clients to think you're a womanizer!" "It's quite simple sir," the guy said, "have you ever walked into a drugstore, winking like crazy, and asked for aspirin?"
- Happens in one of the Confessions of Georgia Nicolson books where Georgia's love interest (Robbie) and enemy (Lindsay) come across her while she is kissing another boy at a party. She is so startled that she falls over backwards, causing her skirt to ride up - and is aware from their expressions that they've taken it the wrong way.
- In Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Harry, Ron, and Hermione exit the boys' dormitory with Harry wearing the Invisibility Cloak and run into Lavender, who Ron is dating. Lavender, only seeing Ron and Hermione leaving his dormitory together, jumps to conclusions about them being together, putting another nail in the coffin of that doomed relationship. This actually helps put Ron and Hermione's relationship back into "they will" territory, not him and Lavender.
- The Dresden Files
- Poor Harry Dresden. In Proven Guilty, he has the misfortune to have a friend's daughter stopping by the hotel room he was using as a workspace for a shower at exactly the time her overprotective mother comes in to find him. As he points out, if she'd come ten seconds early, he wouldn't have gotten clobbered. At least the family priest who was present understood.
- At the same time, it might not have been as innocent as Harry thought it was, as it's entirely possible that said friend's daughter (who has a crush on Harry) was trying to seduce him.
- Happened to him again in the short story "Day Off". This one was even worse, involving two werewolves mid-coitus, his topless, unconscious apprentice, his basement on fire, smoke and flashing lights, and... Harry giving mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to said topless apprentice. His thoroughly amused girlfriend responds with, "I cannot for the life of me imagine what it does appear to be," and insists to know how this happened. For those not familiar with the series, Harry's apprentice is the above-mentioned friend's daughter.
- Even after Molly's apprenticeship ends, their friendship still has a strong air of this. She's an attractive younger woman who's pledged Undying Loyalty to Harry, often works with him, and shares his apartment. All of that has an explanation, but on the outside it looks rather suspicious.
- And since Molly is heavily in love with Harry (though it's not reciprocated), this may be intentional on her side of things.
- It's gotten to the point where even Molly's father (Harry's friend) Michael suspects that their relationship isn't wholly platonic. As a testament to his faith in Harry, Michael isn't too upset by the possibility.
- In Drums Of Autumn, Claire has the misfortune to walk in on her husband Jamie and a male friend (previously incredibly surprised to see her) embracing. While said friend has a, ah, less than chaste look on his face. No, it's not what it looks like. (They kissed earlier thank you very much. And yes, John's gay. Jamie's just very understanding.)
- In Gone with the Wind, Ashley is hugging Scarlett to comfort her as she cries, when they are caught by his sister India (who despises Scarlett). Ironically, despite Scarlett's love for Ashley and the numerous times she has thrown herself at him, the one time that they are caught, their embrace is completely innocent.
- In The Wheel of Time, several scenes before Perrin and Faile get together she is trying to restrain him from going out and overexerting himself after not having sufficiently recovered from his wounds, and ends up having him pinned on the kitchen floor...right when Mistress al'Vere walks in.
- More "not what it sounds like" in this example: after Catti-Brie loots a Talking Weapon in the Legacy of the Drow Series, the blade takes over her mind and body temporarily to try to convince Drizzt that he should have the sword instead, since this is what the sword wants. This results in a partly hilarious/partly creepy scene where its psychic hold over Catti-Brie causes her to say to Drizzt the words that the sword wants to say to him: "Take me!" (Artist's rendering here.) Since the two of them are only friends at the time, Drizzt is pretty shocked. Fortunately, she follows that up with "Wield me!", making it clear to Drizzt that she isn't talking about sex and is possessed by the sword.
- Happens to many an Upper-Class Twit in the writings of P. G. Wodehouse.
- Inverted in Moving Pictures, when Victor hesitates to stay in Ginger's room for fear of sullying her reputation. Ginger dismisses his concern, saying that her landlady would never suspect he's there to watch over her in case she gets possessed by supernatural forces: "She'll just think we're having sex." Indeed, that's just what she does suspect. And heartily approves.
- Used in Making Money. Moist and Adora arrive back at the bank to find that Gladys is standing over the stove stirring a pot that's boiling over, and Mr. Fusspot is missing. Since Gladys has unrequited love for Moist, this comes off as a reference to the bunny boiling scene in Fatal Attraction (and not just to readers; Moist and Adora become quite Wrong Genre Savvy about it) but Mr. Fusspot is all right, he just got himself locked in another room of the bank and Gladys is just cooking what Adora actually ordered for dinner.
- The Longing of Shiina Ryo: now, just because Shin-tsu kicked you out when the teacher came over during the night doesn't mean that anything improper was happening! Honest!
- The pranks of Fat Marcus The Moneylender and his frat buddies in The Pale King.
- In the Young Wizards series by Diane Duane, Nita's mother is understandably concerned when her 13-year-old daughter claims to be doing "adult stuff" with her male best friend Kit. Nita means "adult stuff" like saving the world.
- In The Gatekeeper: The Gate Contracts, George Green has to explain to his boss what happened with Lynn in the Men's restroom:
Dr. Sign: Okay George, let's hear it.
George: Lynn and I went to the cafeteria to eat. I told her to wait a minute, I had to use the bathroom. I went in and used the urinal as someone else came into the bathroom. When I turned around I discovered that she was the someone else. She proceeded to make various cooing sounds and I attempted to tell her this was inappropriate. She unzipped my fly, removed my penis from my pants and got on her knees. I put my hands on her shoulders in an attempt to push her away. At that moment the [campus police] officer came into the bathroom." I smiled a little. "I'm sorry, Dr. Sign, I shouldn't be smiling about this. I know this is serious, but I got a mental picture in my head of what he saw and trying to explain to him it wasn't what he thought it was. I looked at what was happening. I said to the officer that I wasn't going to say a word to him, if I was him and I told him what I know, I wouldn't have believed it either.
- Not played for laughs in A Game of Thrones when Eddard Stark recalled seeing Jaime Lannister sitting the Iron Throne after killing the Mad King. It convinces him that it's a Lannister power play. It's not until book 3 that Jaime's side of the story is revealed.
- In Les Misérables, Marius Pontmercy starts staying away from home days at a time. The rest of his family assumes that he is having a romantic affair, when in fact he is visiting the grave of his father.
- Happens again with Marius when he is following the criminal Thenardier, in order to find out more about the latest crime planned. Some of his friends see him and assume that he is following a girl that he has a crush on, only to see that it's a man.
- One of the The Ultra Violets' biggest plot points is The Kiss That Changed Everything, when Opaline caught Cheri kissing Albert Feinstein—though the latter was actually the one who initiated it.
- iCarly has one of these in the episode "iEnrage Gibby". Gibby's girlfriend falls on Freddy, the rest of the episode is spent preparing for the fight.
- Boy Meets World
- Played straight and subverted in the same episode.
- First, Cory, already suspicious for no good reason, walks in on Topanga and Shawn in a compromising position. Shawn had slept on the couch in the student lounge due to Cory installing a deadbolt and Topanga came by to visit him in the morning.
- Later, Angela manages to talk Cory down and make him realize that there is definitely nothing going on between Shawn and Topanga. They snuggle up next to each other in bed and Cory comments on the trope and states how impossible it would be for anyone to find reason within this picture. Suddenly both Topanga and Shawn walk in, causing Cory to instinctively shout out the trope name. However, they nonchalantly shake it off and the episode ends with both jumping right in with Cory and Angela.
- In a more serious version of this trope, Cory and Topanga are working late on a school project and they happen to fall asleep in the same room. Because of the Double Standard, Cory is praised for his alleged prowess while Topanga is ruined. Finally Cory nerves himself to do the right thing and saves Topanga by stepping forward and admitting that it wasn't what it looks like. He was remarkably Easily Forgiven too.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
Buffy: It's not what you think.
Xander: Hope not. Because I think you're harboring a vicious killer.
Amy: It's not what you think it is — it's sage!
Buffy: That is what I think it is.
- In the episode "Salvage", this is the villainous Angelus' verbatim reaction to being caught holding Lilah's body right after she'd been stabbed in the neck by Cordelia. Everyone naturally assumes he's the one who killed her, and Angelus is so amused by this turn of events, and by the fact that the heroes would never believe him anyway, that he doesn't even try to hide his snickers as he delivers the line.
Angelus: [in a sarcastically overwrought voice] Wait, guys, it's not what it looks like!
- In "Sanctuary" Buffy rushes to Los Angeles after hearing rogue Slayer Faith is gunning for her former Love Interest, only to find a recently-showered, shirt-unbuttoned Angel giving Faith a Cooldown Hug. The fact that Faith recently slept with Buffy's current boyfriend does not help matters.
Angel: It's not what you think.
Buffy: You actually think that I can form a thought right now? Giles heard that — that she tried to kill you.
Angel: That's true.
Buffy: So you decided to punish her with a severe cuddling.
- Modern Family: Mitchell and Cameron get into a silly fight about a trophy that each has won. Mitchell eventually decides to make up by displaying all of Cam's other trophies on the mantlepiece. He gets the box of trophies from the garage - but a mouse pops out. Mitchell drops the trophies and starts stamping around to kill the mouse — but to Cam it looks like he's tramping on the trophies.
Mitchell: I was going to make this whole display!
Cam: I think you just did.
- An epic one of these with a dramatic twist where, in picking up a ring that had fallen down, it appeared Joey was proposing to Rachel.
- Then there was that episode where Joey and Ross "took a nap" together after watching Die Hard...
- And when Monica wrestles Rachel to the ground to force to use her eye drops, Rachel says: "You know, if Joey and Chandler walked in right now, we could make a fortune!"
- In Hogan's Heroes, Col. Hogan is meeting with Soviet agent Marya (the only character in the series who always outwitted Hogan) in an apartment. When they hear a door open, Marya exclaims "He is my brother!" (At that moment, she was straddling him with her lips firmly against his.) Fortunately, the person at the door was LeBeau (who believes everything Marya ever says).
- Joanne deliberately set up one of these in Seacht to upset Linda; as of this writing, she has not revealed what she and Pete were actually doing in her room.
- In Wizards of Waverly Place, there is an episode where Alex makes a wish with a genie that everyone would stop comparing her to Justin, but the genie makes everyone forget him. Hilarity and wrong presumptions ensue when Alex's best friend, Harper (who has a crush on Justin), leaves furiously, thinking that Alex and Justin have gotten together, because Justin moved to Alex's place.
- Scrubs does this a lot, although subverted quite often in that it turns out that it was what it looked like, but the involved characters try to come up with an excuse.
- Same quote, different context in Firefly's "Trash," prompting the hilarious subversion:
Mal: Unless it looks like we're stealing your priceless Lassiter, because that's exactly what we're doing. Don't ask me about the gun though; that's new.
Durran: I appreciate your honesty. Not, you know, a lot...
- A particularly horrific subversion of this trope occurred in American Gothic: Sutpen, a convicted killer now released from prison for good behavior, is taken in by Carter as fulfillment of a debt to Buck... after which he begins, quite unsubtly, to put the moves on Carter's daughter. (The popsicle-suckling scene is particularly over-the-top.) After catching Sutpen and his apparently willing daughter practically skinny-dipping together, then giggling and tickling each other under the sheets, Carter forbids them from having any more contact. The very next night, he hears giggling again, grabs his rifle, bursts into his daughter's room, and fires...only to discover it was his daughter and wife playing together, and he had just killed his wife. The fact this is apparently a repeat of history and the reason Sutpen was locked up in the first place, as it's strongly implied Sutpen accidentally killed the wrong man for sleeping with his wife, when it was Carter who had done the deed, only puts the icing on the cake.
- In Roswell, this happens in the early stages of the Max/Liz/Kyle triangle, when a suspicious Kyle has followed Max and Liz (Max is driving). Liz ducks down into the driver's side foot-pit to either retrieve something or hide from the person they came to follow, and Kyle draws the obvious conclusion.
- A B-plot in the episode "Who's Your Daddy?" involves House getting a physical therapist to help ease the pain in his leg. Twice in a single scene, characters walk in on him with his pants down groaning in pleasure while she... massages his damaged thigh. Both times he immediately yells, "Not what you think!" without even being prompted. It doesn't help that the angle is such that anyone walking in might interpret the scene as her giving him a blowjob.
- The writers really like this trope. It happened to Cameron in "Daddy's Boy" when she was examining a potential patient's groin infection/fungus/whatever it was. For the record the man's boss didn't buy it, asking the "doctor" to leave a card behind.
- Inverted by House himself in another episode. House is with his ex-girlfriend washing dishes when her husband walks in, to which he replies, "It's not what you think. I know it looks like we're washing dishes, but really, we're having sex."
- Inverted in a 3rd Rock from the Sun episode in which the rest of the family is outraged to discover that Tommy is secretly a gourmet chef after finding oregano and fresh rosemary in his sock drawer. Tommy desperately insists that it's marijuana.
- Will and Grace plays with it. Karen starts teaching Grace how to get her boyfriend to be more assertive by withholding sex. When Grace starts shooting down the idea, Karen starts talking her through it, which leads to a mailwoman coming in to see her telling Grace "I am not going to have sex with you" repeatedly. The mailwoman's response? "I'll have sex with you."
- Averted in the UFO episode "Close Up". Paul Foster walks in on his superior Commander Straker having what appears to be an intimate tête-à-tête with a mini-skirted Lieutenant Ellis. The ever-calm Straker advises him to never judge a situation by the end of a conversation.
- On The Drew Carey Show episode "Drew's Reunion" a girl that Oswald had dated and dumped left him tied up and naked, when Lewis went to un-tie him his own date Bo Derek walked in on him straddling his naked friend and she ran off. Later Lewis tells Kate that if she sees Bo tell her that him and Oswald were not having sex, it just looked like it.
- The tendency for BritComs to base plots around this kind of misunderstanding is parodied in The Young Ones cutaway sketch "Oh, Crikey!", in which a sitcom husband accidentally gets into a compromising position with his dog just as The Vicar walks in.
- Gussie Fink-Nottle is victimized by this several times in Jeeves and Wooster, and it always just happens to be his hopeful fiancée Madeline Basset who walks in on him.
- Bertie gets one of the violence variant in "Return to New York". Arthur Slingsby storms into Bertie's apartment while Bertie is practicing golf, slips on a golf ball and falls to the ground. His wife and Bertie's love interest walk in to find Bertie standing over the injured Slingsby with a golf club in his hand and jump to the obvious conclusion.
- Inverted in Blackadder II when Baldrick walks in on Blackadder and "Bob" about to kiss on the floor.
Baldrick: Don't worry, Bob. He used to try 'un kill me too.
- Played straight in a rather touching Sister Sister episode. As it turns out, Ray was paying respects to his dead wife. In addition to all the evidence stacking up against Ray, who wasn't even aware that Lisa (his current love interest) and their daughters were suspicious, Lisa meets the ghost of Ray's old wife, who admits to being "the other woman," without realizing that the woman is a ghost.
- This is actually one of the key running gags (out of many) in 'Allo 'Allo!. And a subversion since it is almost always what it looks like Rene making out with the waitresses and his wife always buys his explanation. The trope is played straight when Lt Gruber makes advances, though.
Edith: Rene! What are you doing with that servant girl in your arms!
Rene: You stu-pid woman! Can you not see I am [making an utterly implausible excuse!]
- In an episode of The Nanny, Fran gets a too-tight dress stuck over her head and Mr. Sheffield tries to help her remove it. Just as they manage to pull it off, they over balance and fall down onto her bed, just as Niles is walking past. Niles overheard them saying things like "Mister Sheffield, I'm so hot!" and "I can't do this standing up!", and afterwards asks "If you let me tell Miss Babcock about this, I'll work free for a year!"
- In Frasier, when Niles gets into bed with his couples therapist (believing it to be Maris) and demands to know what is going on, the therapist starts by saying, "It's not what it looks like" before exasperatedly saying, "What am I saying?"
- In an episode of NCIS, Gibbs walks into the morgue and sees Palmer giving CPR to a dummy, to which he asks, "New girlfriend?" The next scene is him walking into the lab and seeing Abby giving a model of DiNozzo mouth-to-mouth.
Abby: This isn't what it looks like.
Abby: Oh, then it's exactly what it looks like.
- At one point in Stargate SG-1, the rest of the team is searching for Cameron and Vala, who've gone missing. They break down a motel room door to discover Cameron half naked and handcuffed to a bed; he assures them that it's not what it looks like.
- Arrested Development has this exchange:
George Sr.: Hi... This is not what it looks like...
Lucille: It looks like you're tweaking her nipples through a chain-link fence.
George Sr.: Yep ... Yeah, that's it.
- Lois and Clark: An alien assassin breaks into Clark's apartment and attacks him. Clark defeats him, but he shapeshifts into an attractive woman just as Clark's neighbor walks in, causing her to think Clark has just cheated on Lois and abused/raped a girl. In the confusion, the assassin escapes.
- Smallville loves this one. In "Rush", Clark and Chloe are making out in the Talon when Lana walks in on them. Clark is affected by red kryptonite and Chloe an adrenaline-inducing parasite.
Clark: It's not what it looks like.
Chloe: Yeah it is, Lana. It's exactly what it looks like.
- In "Gone", Martha Kent finds Clark and Lois in the bathroom together, Lois wearing Clark's shirt.
Lois: I don't understand what the big deal is. We were just taking a shower—
Clark: Showers, we were taking separate showers.
- In the episode "Crossfire", Oliver decides to help Mia and let her train at his home. His ex-girlfriend Lois visits just as Mia walks out of the shower.
- In the episode "Fierce", Clark offers to let Lana stay in his house and hopefully salvage their relationship.
Clark: I have to warn you that my life has gotten a little more... [Kara walks into the room wearing a bikini] complicated.
Lana: [gasps and looks at Clark worriedly] That might be an understatement.
Clark: This is my cousin, Kara.
- In "Escape", Lois caught Clark in the shower with a naked Chloe.
- An episode of My Two Dads had the dads walk in on Nichole and Cory (the geeky one of her two not-boyfriends). Cory shouts out "It's not how it looks!" then adds: "Actually, how does it look?"
- Star Trek: The Original Series has an off-camera, real-life example. George Takei was apparently told at the last minute that Sulu would have his shirt off in the episode "The Naked Time". In his autobiography he recounts that he immediately started a hardcore push-up regimen in his trailer, and says he's not sure what people must have thought walking past his trailer with all the rocking and grunting, but it probably wasn't what it sounded like.
- ALF, of all series, does this once. In one episode ALF put on some weight and can't stand up on his own, so he asks Willy to help him. Willy gets behind him, tries to lift him up and both of them start moaning. Then Kate comes in.
- Happens multiple times in "The Wedding Party" episode of Fawlty Towers with Basil and Manuel.
- On Treme, Davis says this when Annie walks in on him sitting in a room with a shirtless Sophia passed out in front of him the morning after Mardi Gras. He saved a drunken Sophia from being raped, and took off her shirt because she vomited on it. Annie never doubts him for a moment, (it probably helped that Davis was fully clothed).
- In Community episode "Interpretive Dance", when Troy and Britta announce they have a secret to share with the group, Annie's reaction shows she believes them to be a couple. They really just want to invite everyone to a dance recital.
- In an episode of Big Time Rush Kendall is constantly put into this situation with Jordin Sparks, as everything he tries to do for his girlfriend Jo turns into what looks like a romantic scene with Jordin just as Jo walks into the scene.
- In The Outer Limits (1995) episode "Last Supper", Jade lifts her shirt to show Frank her birthmark. Unfortunately, her boyfriend and his wife walk in on them and take it the wrong way.
- Charmed had that episode where they fought an evil wizard. His minion, a golem, reveals to Paige that he has no belly button. She has to go down on her knees to see. In comes Piper.
Paige: It's not what you think! I was examining him!
Piper: I don't care what you call it, just cut it out!
- Doctor Who. "The Impossible Astronaut" opens with an outraged, sword-wielding Cavalier finding a naked Eleventh Doctor hiding under his wife's skirt. One can't blame the chap for having the Doctor thrown into the Tower of London.
- Subverted in The King of Queens: Doug discovers Deacon having a candlelit dinner with a woman other than his wife, and struggles to come up with an innocent reason for it. Finally Deacon tells him "It's what it looks like, okay?"
- Subverted in an episode of Blossom after being played straight multiple times.
"This is exactly what it looks like!"
- The Big Bang Theory: Uttered by Penny when everyone catches her and Raj coming out of Leonard's room. In that case though, it really was what it looked like. Sheldon was confused, though: "What does it look like?"
- While it happens several times in small doses in Kyle XY, probably the most obvious example is in "Hands on a Hybrid," when Kyle and Jessi reveal their "navallessness" to each other just as Amanda walks in.
- In a bit on The Daily Show, host Jon Stewart demonstrates "chat roulette". He makes random video-chat connections with four people, three of whom are naked, before seeing one of his own anchors sitting in bed making a jerking motion just out of sight. "Jon, it's not what it looks like! I'm playing Wii Butter Churn." He shows the Wii controller, then adds, "and masturbating."
- Inverted on 30 Rock:
Tracy: I wasn't watching cute little kitten videos, I was watching pornography! Who put these sleepy kitten videos on here?
- This Just For Laughs prank pulls this on the unfortunate fellows who stop to help out the snagged bride. They're just trying to free her dress from the thorns, honest!
- In the episode "Dude" of the BBC series Series/Clone, Ian has finally managed to remove the camera that the government planted in his eye and given the camera to a big friendly dog. The dog encounters Jasmine, on whom Ian has a hopeless crush, jumps on her and licks her face. The men watching the surveillance feed think that Ian is attacking Jasmine. Being villains, they are impressed with Ian's apparent behavior.
- Subverted in a first-season episode of Night Court in which court clerk Lana Wagner, flying high on cold remedy drugs, is making passionate romantic advances on Judge Harry Stone in his office. Harry's office door opens to reveal lawyers Dan Fielding and Liz Williams and bailiffs Bull Shannon and Selma Hacker, who take a moment to absorb the scene of an alarmed Harry and an enthusiastic Lana in a torrid embrace.
Dan: [sarcastically] No. Let me guess. This... isn't what it looks like.
Lana: [lustily] Yes it is!
- The Made In Canada episode "Trojan Horse" builds up to a brilliant example. Network executive Brian's daughter, Eliza, has obtained an internship at Pyramid Productions, and Brian tells Pyramid CEO Alan to keep his lecherous production heads Richard and Victor away from Eliza, or else. Alan sends them away for the day and apprentices Eliza to production adviser Veronica, while Richard and Victor put together a film pitch and Richard tricks Victor into waiving his upfront fee for a cut of the back end (which he expects to be zero). Eliza, however, is a lesbian and falls in love with Veronica; when Veronica rejects her over dinner, she gets blind drunk in despair. Richard and Victor bail Veronica out by carrying Eliza back to Brian's hotel suite. On the way, Richard and Victor discuss a second film pitch, and begin arguing again over whose fee will comprise the front end or back end, while in the suite, Brian is screening his new ice dancing documentary for a bored Alan...
Ice dancer: [on film]
What I love most about skating is the whoosh of the wind through my hair! [Alan almost nods off]
It really feels like I'm flying! Flying! [the door opens and Richard and Victor carry in the nearly unconscious Eliza] Victor:
No no no, this time I'm taking the back end, you take the front end! [Brian drops his martini glass in horror; he and Alan stare in disbelief at the embarrassed Richard and Victor] Richard: [to camera] This is not good...
- In "What Is And What Should Never Be" after being touched by a dijinn, Dean wakes up in an alternate timeline where the Winchesters never became Hunters. Their mother is still alive, likewise Sam is getting married to a still-alive Jessica, but Sam and Dean aren't very close and all the people they saved are now dead. Dean realises that he needs to change things, so he breaks into his mother's house to steal a silver knife to kill the dijinn. Sam catches him and Dean gives this trope, making it look as if he's going to tell Sam the truth. Instead Dean says he's stealing the silverware to pay off a gambling debt, which is more in tune with his character in the alternate timeline.
- In "Mommy Dearest", Castiel tries this line when the police find him, the Winchesters and Bobby at the scene of a massacre. It's a moot point, since the cops quickly turn out to be monsters themselves.
- On The Thin Blue Line, after Boyle sets Fowler straight (see Engineered Public Confession), the Mayoress comes in, looking for a plea bargin. The conversation, in which she demands that Raymond "give it [the plea bargain] to me" and his assurances that she'll be "more than satisfied" (with the loophole of Goody wearing an unofficial uniform during the bust) gets recorded over Patricia's morning workout.
- Subverted? Inverted? Umm, something, in The IT Crowd episode "Tramps Like Us". Douglas, the sexual harassing boss, is ordered by the court to wear electric pants that taser his balls when he gets aroused. They break so he takes them to Moss in IT, who has a concussion and amnesia, and had previously been sexually harassed by a drug induced libido crazed Douglas (which led to the electric sex pants).
Douglas: You there, computer man, fix my pants.
Moss: I beg your pardon.
Douglas: Pull down my trousers and do your job.
Moss: (kneeling in front a pantless Douglas) I don't know what it is. What am I supposed to do with it?
Douglas: I don't know, fiddle about with it. (sparks fly from his crotch)
(inter-faith tour group of clergymen walk in to Douglas's back turned with a kneeling Moss in front of his crotch)
Douglas: Yeah, oh, yeah... (looks over his shoulder while gyrating his hips) Fuck off!
Moss: (no longer concussed and amnesiac) I'm in my happy place. I'm in my happy place. I'm in my happy place.
- Castle; in "Tick Tick Tick...", Castle insisted on staying at Beckett's apartment (sleeping on her couch) to protect her from a killer obsessed with Castle's Nikki Heat novels. The next morning he made her pancakes, but another dead body was deposited outside her front door. Ryan and Esposito investigated and Castle was unable to convince them that his staying at Beckett's overnight was completely innocent.
Esposito: Pancakes is not just breakfast, it's an edible way of saying, 'Thank you SO much for last night.'
Ryan: Castle, come on, we're your friends- details.
Castle: Okay, come here. [the boys form a huddle] THERE ARE NO DETAILS!
Esposito: I can't even look at you right now.
Ryan: [writing on his notepad] Witness refuses to cooperate.
- In the Hawaii Five-0 episode "Hoa Pili"/"Close Friend", Ryan (Brendan Ford) caught his wife Allie (Tara Platt) sleeping with his best friend (whom he helped out in a rainy day by becoming his business partner) Liam (Yuri Lowenthal) in his boat Allie. It was Liam who put this trope into practice, while Allie didn't really seem troubled and only asked Ryan "what are you doing here?". To make matters worse, Liam was going to get killed, while Ryan made Allie watch it, but then a boat explodes and we enter the real story. Note that Tara and Yuri are a Real Life married couple.
- One episode of What's Happening!! has Dee's friend Robin wanted to run away from home, but asked Dee to talk to the guidance counselor about it. The counselor ends up thinking Dee was the one who wanted to run away, which results in her family being nicer to her as a result. Dee ends up taking advantage of the confusion to get them to buy her things, only to have her face the repercussions when the matter is straightened out.
- Mocked in the song "Such Horrible Things" by Creature Feature. The song catalogs a list of horrible things done by the narrator at various ages. The chorus?
But it's not quite what it seems
(Not quite what he seems)
Not quite what I seem
It's exactly what it seems
- The story behind The Everly Brothers song "Wake Up, Little Susie". The singer is trying to wake up his girlfriend and take her home from the drive-in, continually pointing out that nobody (especially not her parents) is going to be believe that the reason she's coming home six hours after her curfew is because the movie was so boring that they both fell asleep.
Well, what are we gonna tell your mama?
What are we gonna tell your pa?
What are we gonna tell our friends
When they say "Ooh la la"?
- Used in WWE, when Triple H was teaching Trish Stratus how to escape a hammerlock just as his wife Stephanie walked in... though if that particular escape technique has ever actually happened in wrestling, it's been a very, very, VERY rare example...
- Given a Call Back of sorts during RAW's 1000th episode, with Trish teaching Trips some moves from her yoga videos, just as the rest of D-Generation X walked in. Cue awkwardness.
- John Cena tried this when a grateful Eve Torres kissed him for saving her from Kane and Zack Ryder walked in and was enraged.
- Vince McMahon walked in on Vickie Guerrero, Hornswoggle, and Great Khali in an "interesting" position in 2012.
- A rather dramatic example in Devil May Cry 4. When the older brother of Nero's love interest, Credo, challenges Nero to a fight and reveals himself to be a part of a growing conspiracy, Nero naturally is forced to beat him into submission. Trouble arises when said love interest, Kyrie, stumbles on the scene to see her brother Credo on the ground thoroughly bruised and Nero standing over him seemingly about to finish him off with his demon arm (revealing him to be part demon, which is very bad as they are all part of a religious Order that hunts and kills demons). Nero instantly recognizes what it must look like to her, and before he could try to helplessly explain, yet another character shows up, blatantly lying to make Nero even look more like the villain. And then renders the whole point moot by threatening to kill her if Nero doesn't do what he says, turning into a bug-like demon, and flying away with her. It's unsure she could tell who the bad guy was at that point.
- Used in Yoshine's route in Brass Restoration. Subverted once you find out that Yoshine set the whole thing up in order to get a major romantic rival out of the way.
- If the Chosen One of Fallout 2 has sex with either Miria or Davin, when they are caught, they can insist that it isn't what it looks like — they are actually a doctor. Which is true. You need 50% (pretty good) doctor skill to pull this off, so you're pretty much a doctor. You're still sleeping with him/her, however.
- Dragon Age: Origins, in the "Mage Origin" story quest: when the PC gets busted with Jowan and Lily coming out of the repository by Greagor, one of the responses available is This is not what it looks like.
- Whilst rescuing Queen Anora who's been kidnapped, the player is caught by Ser Cauthrien, who has come to arrest the Warden for murdering their way through Arl Howe's estate. They attempt to explain the situation and point out the disguised Queen Anora beside them, however Anora decides to claim that the Warden was the one attempting to kidnap her! The Warden can decide to either fight their way out or surrender peacefully, but not before having the option to call Anora a "traitorous bitch" first!
- The option to say "Uh Oh!" is also available.
- Can be seen in A Dance with Rogues if the Princess begins a romance with Bran. In one of the first stages of the romance she's given the option to offer Bran they both cuddle in the same sleeping bag to keep warm, since at this point the party's mostly camping in underground caves and the Princess is starting to feel very cold. Nothing happens between them as, even if the Princess attempts to get too intimate with him at this stage, he'll refuse. In the next morning Bran's sister Norah will see them like this and immediately grins at Bran who will briefly explain the situation and tell her it's not what she thinks. Norah won't believe him, especially if the Princess decided to sleep naked.
- Persona 3:
- Fuuka, nervous about wearing a swimsuit during her upcoming trip to the beach, decides to try a (noisy) ab-toning machine... which tickles horribly and won't come off. Mitsuru naturally knocks on the door to ask a favor, but stops when she hears a loud vibrating noise and Fuuka giggling.
- Also, in P3P, Aigis's introduction (also at the beach) comes out completely different for the female protagonist. After rebuffing Junpei and Akihiko, who were hitting on her, they soon find her...tightly hugging the protagonist and gushing about how happy she is to find her.
- A meta-example — One FAQ for Persona 4 laid the games conversation choices out with only the lead in question. The last question for Yukiko's girlfriend social link, the point where they're in an intimate relationship, was given solely as "So... the couch, or the futon?". Play through it, and they're just talking about sitting.
- In Hijikata's route of Hakuōki Zuisoroku, and its OVA adaptation Sekkaroku, when Chizuru's brief stint of posing as a maiko to eavesdrop at Sumiya ends in chaos, Hijikata grabs her and makes a run for it. They're stopped at the front gate by a well-meaning bystander who takes Chizuru for the geisha she's dressed as and assumes that Hijikata is either kidnapping her or trying to elope without resolving her debt. Trying to explain goes nowhere fast; Hijikata loses his temper and ends up loudly announcing that he's the vice-commander of the Shinsengumi and Chizuru is under his protection. It apparently takes him a while afterwards to live down the rumors.
- In Mio's route in Little Busters!, she ends up running away from Riki who chases after her and, when she stumbles, they fall onto the ground with Riki on top of her, one hand on her chest. Of course, soon afterwards Kurugaya comes along and accuses Riki of being a pervert. He rushes to explain himself...and she believes him immediately, because after everything she's done to him so far, she'd have known if he was the type to do something like that.
- Of course, the reason Mio was running away in the first place is because Kyousuke was brushing lint off Riki, and she (being a Boys Love fangirl) immediately assumed they were having an intimate moment. Riki is completely clueless to this fact.
- Also in "Visual Novel/Little Busters", on Komari's route, she falls fast asleep on the rooftop, leaving her clothing in a state of general disarray. If Riki tries to straighten her clothes up, she (predictably) wakes up while Riki is liftimg her shirt, and proceeds to go into hilarious freakout mode, while Riki fervently tries to explain himself.
- Played for Drama in Mass Effect 3. During a terrorist attack orchestrated by a group Commander Shepard acknowledged working with in the past, Shepard bursts through a door with their gun raised on Councilor Udina, the human representative in the galactic government. It's actually because Udina is working with Cerberus to orchestrate the attack. If Shepard and the Virmire survivor haven't repaired their relationship to the point Shepard can convince him/her of what's really going on, Shepard or a squadmate will have to kill them.
- In the Whateley Universe, it's happened at least twice so far. One time, it was Phase, standing with pants down and an erection, while Hot Scientist Bunny Cormick knelt down to get a 3-D model of said privates (for something else Phase is planning). So Bunny's roomie walks in just then. And brings back Phase's girlfriend, among others. It took a while to explain.
- This Bash Org quote:
<anamexis> oh man
<anamexis> I was opening a coke, right
Beefpile (~email@example.com) has joined #themacmind
<anamexis> and it exploded
<anamexis> ALMOST all over my keyboard
<anamexis> but I got it away just in time
Beefpile has quit (sick fuckers)
- AJ visits Egg in her room to inform her of the fact that she will be punished for Nights' prior misbehavior, only to see that the bed has been converted into a double and Kube is hiding in the corner looking awkward.
<Facilitator A_J> Really now, Prosecutor.
<Facilitator A_J> I hardly thought you the sort.
- They had been sleeping together, but only in the most innocent sense of the phrase.
- Said word for word in Darwins Soldiers by a system admin after Montgomery walks in on him trying to delete a bunch of porn popups on his computer. A virus had hit his computer.
- Subverted in the Mission Hill episode "Porno for Pyro": Kevin is pleasuring himself to pornography in a public bathroom and accidentally commits arson trying to hide it, but no-one ever suspects him of any wrongdoing.
- Family Guy
- Subverted in the episode "Sibling Rivalry": after being discovered embracing bags of Lois' liposuctioned fat with his pants down, Peter says "Umm... this is exactly what it looks like."
- In "The Tan Aquatic with Steve Zissou", Stewie gains an obsession with tanning, but Brian forgets to let him out and Stewie is so badly burned he can barely get up. Brian retrieves some lotion as Stewie manages to get up to his knees, and he squirts it from the bottle from hip level onto Stewie's chest as Mr. Furley (from Three's Company) enters and hurriedly says he'll come back later, while Brian can do nothing but say this trope (in the uncut version on [adult swim] and the DVD; the FOX version cuts off before Brian can say the line).
- "Go Stewie Go" had Lois trying to screw Meg's boyfriend, and when Meg catches Lois on top of the boy, Lois lamely says "Um...rape?"
- When Peter takes Cleveland to audition for the Bachelorette...
Cleveland: Peter, I can't do this. I'm too nervous. I gotta go.
Peter: No, no, Cleveland, I'm not going to let you do this. I'll tie you down if I have to. [ties his hands to the chair]
Cleveland: Peter, this is only making it worse. Oh, God, my claustrophobia is setting in!
Peter: It's all right, it's all right, it's okay. It's all right. It's the fabric. It's the fabric. It's your clothes. All right, let's get your clothes off. [takes Cleveland's clothes off]
Cleveland: Peter! Peter, what's wrong with you? I'm naked!
Peter: Oh, God, you're self-conscious. I'm sorry. Here, you know what? Look, look. Cleveland. Look. See? See? Now you're not alone. You're not alone, Cleveland. [takes his clothes off]
Cleveland: Let me out of here! I need to get out of here!
Peter: Cleveland, no. No, you're staying. This, this for your own good. This is for your own good. [presses against Cleveland to keep him in the chair]
Executive: [opening door] Oh, my God!
Peter: Hi, we're here for the interview.
- There's also the episode where OJ Simpson stays with the Griffins. Simpson spills lasagna all over the floor and Lois slips in it and lands in an awkward position, and at that moment Brian walks in and begins screaming, believing that Simpson killed Lois.
- In the third season of Winx Club, this happens in episode 21 after Layla caught Nabu having snuck on the ship. While Flora was filming a message for Helia, Musa was putting shackles on Nabu. The camera angles made it look like Musa was kissing Nabu, and Riven saw the message and got the wrong idea. The misunderstanding was quickly cleared up in the next episode after a brief fight between Riven and Nabu, and seeing that Riven really cared about her, Musa decided not to break up with him.
- In a Robot Chicken sketch, a man finds his wife in bed with another man. The woman pretends they were playing a role playing game and the husband asks if he can also play. In a later sketch, the man is in bed with another woman. He explains that they were role playing and the wife says she knows.
- Futurama: Happens in the episode "Why Must I Be a Crustacean in Love" with Fry when Zoidberg walks in on both Fry and Edna who is kissing him on her sofa.
Zoidberg: Edna, I couldn't stand it any longer. I— Gasp! Fry!
Fry: Dr. Zoidberg, it's not how it looks!
Zoidberg: Her caviar is on your neck!
- In one of the stranger episodes of King of the Hill ("Hank's Dirty Laundry"), Hank Hill needs to watch pornographic videos to prove to a video clerk that the porno video he allegedly rented and didn't return doesn't exist, so he can clear his credit and buy a new washing machine. When Peggy sees him from behind, crouched over (presumably masturbating, but actually taking notes to find clues), she freaks out and tells Bobby to leave the house. The original scene (which can be seen on the complete second season DVD) had Hank shaking his pen after it dried up, making the illusion of masturbation more obvious (naturally, the FOX censors wouldn't allow this).
- And in "Strangeness On A Train", Hank pulls the train's emergency brake, the sudden screeching halt throwing everyone to the floor in a heap. The conductor (already in a sour mood) assumes they're engaged in an orgy and kicks them off the train.
- Spoofed in another episode where Peggy and Bobby start grilling with charcoal; when Hank finds a briquette in the kitchen, Peggy quickly insists that it's drugs (considering how Hank gets about his propane, drugs would probably be preferable).
- The Venture Bros. gives an example in the episode "Dr. Quymn, Medicine Woman", when the nature-loving Dr. Quymn stumbles upon Brock & the boys training an Orangutan to box as part of one of Rusty's schemes:
Rusty: No, noooo, this isn't how it looks!
Dean: Yeah it is.
- Kim Possible
- In the episode "Homecoming Upset". Bonnie forces Ron into a kiss just as Kim arrives on the scene. After getting over the shock of the sight, a very pissed off Kim has to be reassured by Ron that Bonnie forced the kiss onto him unwillingly. Turns out, Kim is well aware of this, but she's still angry all the same.
Ron: Hey, I was the "kissee" here, not the "kisser"!
Kim: No kidding! It took ya twelve stinkin' years to kiss me!
- "Ill Suited", where Ron is trying to explain why he stole Kim's battlesuit.
Ron: Wait wait! It's not what you think!
Kim: Oh? So you're not a cheater, a liar and a thief?!
Ron: ... OK, it is what you think.
- Wolverine and the X-Men: Happens during a training session between Iceman and Shadowcat, with both rolling in each others arms as Angel walks on them.
- Generator Rex: In "Robo Bobo", Holiday walks into Rex's room to find Rex kneeling on the floor with his face seemingly pressed up against Bobo's butt. Her "i'll come back later" is priceless.
- Subverted in G.I. Joe when Cobra Commander spots Destro and Baroness making out.
: S-She had something in her eye, Cobra Commander! Cobra Commander
: My eye, she did
- In American Dad! episode "I Am the Walrus", Stan makes sure that Steve sees him and Francine having sex, then talks to him afterwards...where he completely destroys this trope, listing off several normal excuses (like the Heimlich Maneuver or "giving her a lying-down hug") and then saying "It was none of those things. I was having sex with her. I was plowing her" and so forth.
- In the Gender Flip episode of Adventure Time, the Ice Queen has disguised herself as Prince Gumball and taken Fionna up to the prince's bedroom, where the real Gumball is trapped in ice on the ceiling. Fionna fights off the Ice Queen but Cake, hearing Fionna shout, rushes upstairs to find Fionna and Gumball standing by his bed, Fionna's dress ripped from the fight. Cake jumps to the wrong conclusion, screams "Don't you touch her!" and attacks him.
- Happens to Johnny Test three times in the episode "Sleepover at Johnny's" with Jillian Vegan as her evil villain Overprotective Dad Dark Vegan catches them. In order to hide Jillian from Susan (who wants to kill Jillian for getting Gil's attention), Johnny pulls Jillian into the closet. Then, when trying to convince Jillian to leave, he spins a bottle as substitute for a coin flip. And finally, after a fall, Jillian ends up smudging her lipstick on Johnny.
- From Dilbert: Dilbert video tapes himself while he's taking a bath because he ultimately gets all his engineering ideas in the bathtub. During one recording session he drops his soap and is reaching between his legs and says the unfortunate line "It's so small I can hardly feel it." When Dogbert ultimately distributes the tape to Dilbert's coworkers nobody thinks he's talking about soap.
- In the TRON: Uprising episode "Rendezvous", Tron walks in on Beck repeatedly replaying his memories of Paige, whereupon Beck explains that it's "not what it looks like" and that he's "gauging [his] opponent". Tron doesn't buy it (whilst refering to Beck and Paige's meeting as a date).
- In the The New Adventures of the Wonder Twins short Be Kind, Rewind the twins are at a video store when they spot Marvin and Wendy, now adults. They try to evade Marvin and end up going into the basement of the store, which is the pornographic section. Marvin notices them and follows them. As they're in the Adult section he gets the wrong idea that they are either incestuous or they watch porn together.
- South Park "Good Times with Weapons": At the end, Kenny, Kyle and Stan thought the townspeople were anger with what happened to Butters to learn, they were really angry at Cartman for his nudity, not the weapon. The boys go to the conclusion that just as long the adults are worried about nudity, weapons are okay.
- Parodied in one episode of The Boondocks, where Robert tries to go on a date, only to have to leave his date waiting in the living room to take care of something. When she finally gets impatient and comes upstairs to see what's keeping him, she walks in on Robert, Huey and Riley standing around a stripped-down-to-his-underwear-and-tied-to-a-bed Tom, while Uncle Ruckus is dressed as a priest and whipping him. She immediately comes to the (correct) conclusion that they're all performing an exorcism, but is still offended enough to call off the date anyway.
- In Batman: The Animated Series: Selina looks for Isis after the cat leaves through an open window, and witnesses two thugs snatching up cats in a bag. Realizing they probably kidnapped her, she attacks them. Officer Montoya breaks up the commotion, and thinks she was assaulting volunteers for an animal shelter, and arrests her.
- There are various viral videos of bull elephant seals doing really inappropriate looking things with motor vehicles. They're actually trying to beat up the vehicles.
- Surprisingly, a really common example of this is when dogs mount other dogs they know — regardless of the gender of either dog — in a way that humans usually assume is at least an attempt to have sex. Dogs, weirdly enough, don't actually mate in 'doggy-style' — if the one on top actually penetrates the other, they twist round until they're rear-to-rear. The motivation for climbing on another dog's back without seemingly intending to enter him/her is obscure, but seems to be an expression of superior status.
- Another animal example is rattlesnakes. Since they're snakes, and have no legs, male rattlesnakes fight by wrapping their tails around each other and butting heads. When people see them, they frequently assume the snakes are mating, not fighting. (A mated pair of snakes are entwined, but lie on the ground; a fighting pair usually rear up.)
- An Alford plea is basically this. "I'm entering a guilty plea because I know it looks like I committed the crime, and there's plenty of evidence, but I swear, I didn't really do it."