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, "proving" to the girl that nothing untoward was happening.
This can also apply to parents or teachers finding young people in compromising positions, where one or both parties age is the problem.
Can provide the grounds for a Third Act Misunderstanding.
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.
Another common way this trope, though it's still nowhere near as the Accidental Pervert one, is the looks-like-a-killer way. A guy is holding a knife, he's covered in red stuff, someone lying on the floor appears to be bleeding and he has a psychotically angry look on his face, but he's not actually a killer. He's covered in tomato sauce, he's holding a knife because it almost fell onto him, his friend is passed out because a sauce pan full of tomato sauce fell on him and he's angry because there's sauce all over the floor.
See Innocent Innuendo for a more sexual-related variant of this trope, and Abuse Mistake for a more violent variant.
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
Harem comedies in general rely heavily on this trope, if to distract people from the main couple (or make their relationship not so painfully inevitable) or inspire shipping.
Also in one episode, Akane burns herself while trying to ignite Ranma's rage; the fire has burned off her top so she's left in her bra, and Ranma gives her his shirt to cover herself. Ryôga comes across this — and thinks Ranma tried to rape her.
Akane finds Ryoga on top of a female Ranma in bed, right after Ryoga forced open Ranma's shirt. Ranma himself assumed the case the wrong way. Because while Ryoga was only checking to see if Ranma had a weird mark, our lovesick hero was merely waiting for the love-making to begin.
Kaname is first introduced to Sôsuke's CO Teletha Testarossa, a 16-year old girl, coming out of the shower in his apartment. Since she is unaware that Tessa is his CO, Kaname's immediate (and justifiable) assumption is that she is his girlfriend — an assumption only encouraged by Tessa, who's too pleased to be taken for Sôsuke's girlfriend to be any help at all in clearing things up.
However, when Tessa actually climbs into bed with Sôsuke in an episode of Full Metal Panic? Fumoffu, Kaname — by this point well aware that he's a hopeless case — replies to Sôsuke's panicky "It's not what it looks like!" with an irritable, "yes, yes," and proceeds to get on Tessa's case for breaking their mutual agreement not to go into Sôsuke's room.
Before the first meeting with Tessa, there is an episode where Sôsuke notices a thief sneaking up to Kaname's balcony and goes to stop him. It turns out to be Shinji Kazama, a classmate of theirs forced to steal a pair of Kaname's panties by upperclassmen who are holding something of his hostage. Shinji's also a military Otaku, so he and Sôsuke start having a lively conversation. So Kaname steps out onto the balcony just in time to see the two of them chatting away — and worse, when Sôsuke starts to explain, he raises his hand and accidentally shows the panties he grabbed from Shinji earlier. Batter Up!
An odd version of this occurs in Higurashi no Naku Koro ni, because what it looks like is not sex, but murder. Keiichi finds Rika's body being pecked by crows, and in the process of fending them off, he drops his axe into her blood covering it with her blood and his fingerprints, though in this case it really isn't as it seems.
Maison Ikkoku: Made up almost entirely of a long string of Not What It Looks Like incidents for the major characters. In the beginning they tend to end in apparent Snap Backs, amplified by pathological levels of Cannot Spit It Out. But as the show progresses they have long-lasting repercussions and increasingly force Godai and Kyoko to talk to each other and learn to trust each other. Particularly notable examples:
Godai and Asuna (Mitaka's sort-of fiancée) open Mitaka's door to find him on the floor on top of Kyoko. He actually fell on her after passing out from his fear of dogs, but Godai and Asuna both look like they've been clocked with a brick and leave before Kyoko can catch them to explain. It was nice to see the tables turned on Kyoko for once, and have Godai be the jealous one.
Subverted when Godai's student Yagami gets her friends to lock him in a storage closet with her. She's wearing only bloomers and a bra, and threatens to scream rape if he doesn't stay and talk to her. She grabs him when he tries to leave, the struggle results in a fall, and Godai thinks his life is over when the principal opens the window with Kyoko standing behind her... while he's kneeling over a half-naked Yagami, with his hand on her breast. Luckily for him, they've been listening long enough to know he's not at fault.
Quadrupled, subverted, averted, and inverted when Mitaka takes Kyoko on a date that turns out to actually be, 1. an omiai cooked up with the help of Kyoko's mother. Kyoko calls Godai and asks him to come help her, but when he gets there Mitaka tells Godai that he's reserved a hotel room for them before whisking her away to dinner before Godai can see her. Kyoko is notably anxious — Mitaka asks if she called Godai, then "speculates" that, 2. he must not have cared enough to come. When Kyoko's father shows up at Ikkoku late that night and she's not back, he freaks out and tries to hunt the city for them; Godai goes with him (mostly to keep him calm). When they get back and she's still not home, he keeps telling him to have faith in his daughter 3. despite appearances. When Kyoko does get home (after turning Mitaka down) and finds out they've been looking for her, she blows up at her father for overreacting. So he claims that he had faith in her, and 4. makes it look like it was all Godai's idea. This alone may establish Rumiko Takahashi as the Queen of Not What It Looks Like.
Mitaka gets drunk and can't remember what happened between him and Asuna, except that he woke up in the morning in bed without his clothes on. He asks what happened, and she, thinking he is talking about their kiss, confirms they "did something". As if that isn't enough, Asuna's dog and Mitaka's dog did do What It Looks Like that night — he misunderstands when she tells him about "the pregnancy," and promises to "take responsibility". Now this is all classic comedy, and you're just waiting for the Snap Back, but by the time Mitaka learns the truth it's too late and he's committed to marrying her. He was rather unhappy about it too. At first, at least.
Godai has to go to a love hotel to cover the bill for a drunken housemate (Akemi) whose date had abandoned her, and walks out with her just in time to run into his nominal girlfriend Kozue — who then immediately runs to Kyoko for advice. But it turns out that Akemi had engineered the whole thing in order to give Kozue the impression that Godai was seeing other women, so that she would break up with Godai, so he could get together with Kyoko. And it works, too. Now doubtful about Godai, Kozue accepts the marriage proposal she had received from someone else, tells Godai, who admits he really wanted someone else (just not Akemi). When Kyoko asks Akemi about Godai, Akemi is careful to word her answers so Kyoko ends up with exactly the wrong impression. This time, the only way Godai can account for his actions is by confessing his love to Kyoko, and they (almost) sleep together that night after over years' of UST.
Mazinger Z: It happened sometimes in the original series, but the Shin Mazinger Zero spin-off gave a particularly hilarious example. In a chapter Kouji and Minerva-X are together inside the cockpit. During the battle Mazinger moves a lot and Minerva lands on Kouji on a very awkward and embarrassing position (face-down and on top of Kouji, with her head hovering above his groin and Kouji's head stood between her legs). Sayaka -who had just arrived and destroyed three Mechanical Beasts in a fit of jealous rage- sees them, and they -after displaying tremendously comical Oh Crap stares- try to explain it is not what it looks like, and Minerva was not human but she actually is a Super Robot created by The Professor Dr. Kabuto to be Mazinger-Z's Battle Couple. Sayaka's reaction was an incredulous Flat "What." before trying killing them.
In REC (Notthe Spanish horror film), Aka notes that Fumihiko never comes home after going out drinking with an old crush whose boyfriend had just broken up with her. He'd carried her back to her apartment after she'd passed out drinking, then she'd woken up and wanted to continue drinking with him through the night.
In Nodame Cantabile, Chiaki's ex-girlfriend Saiko comes to see him so she can complain about being passed over for the lead role in a concert. Nodame sees them together and spirals into comic depression. Slightly different in that Saiko (after a few drinks) does try to get back together with Chiaki, but he refuses.
In the Beach Episode, Kenji Harima ends up naked and grappling with the bikini-clad Eri Sawachika when their classmate Akira Takano walks in. Even worse than the usual Not What It Looks Like because it looks like he's about to rape her, including to Eri herself. Akira is immediately able to discern (and explain in detail to Eri) exactly how they got into that position, rather than jumping to the obvious conclusion. This only serves to further cement Akira's position as the only Genre Savvy person in a series that parodies Genre Blindness.
Akira: Ah, let me guess. Eri walked in on you while you were changing, and you, in your infinite wisdom, decided to grab her to keep her from screaming. Don't worry Harima, I don't think you're a pervert, but you are a great big idiot.
It gets better — the reason he panics and grabs Eri is because he's afraid it'll lead to another misunderstanding with Tenma, his love interest. Before the beginning of the series, he rescued her from a thug and carried her back to his apartment since she was unconscious. When he leaned in for the traditional Dude, She's Like in a Coma kiss, she woke up and thought he was about to molest her (or already had). Unluckily for him, Akira wasn't present to explain.
The release of School Rumble in the U.S. invoked this trope in all of the promotional material, especially with the tagline: "It's not what you think! It's hilarious!"
Love Hina: It usually ends up with either Naru or Motoko attacking Keitaro.
In Mahou Sensei Negima!, the next series by Ken Akamatsu. It's often subverted by the fact that most of the characters are often fully aware that it isn't what it looks like. This doesn't stop these types of moments from happening often. The worst is probably this, which could very easily be construed as a sexual encounter if one was not aware of the context (NSFW, obviously. Also, spoilers).
Ai Yori Aoshi averts this: despite having so many situations where it's Not What It Looks Like, as the girls listen to Kaoru's explanations and actually believe him. Sometimes, he doesn't even need to explain anything. Except for his first encounter with Miyabi. He'd gotten out of the tub in an unsuccessful attempt to keep Aoi from coming in. Then he slipped and fell on top of her. So Miyabi enters and sees Kaoru, naked, kneeling between Aoi's legs ... with his hands firmly planted on her breasts. It was perfectly natural for Miyabi to throw him across the room and start trying to stomp him to death. <snicker>
When the Student Council demands that the SOS Brigade produce a book of short stories if they want to continue using the Literature Club Room, Kyon is forced to write a romantic short story. He refuses to give Haruhi the last page, and she attacks him, holding him in a wrestling position. Enter Mikuru, who knows about Kyon and Haruhi's love for each other and the Belligerent Sexual Tension. She sees them in this position◊, and...
Taniguchi jumps to the obvious conclusion after seeing Kyon kneeling over Yuki in an empty classroom. Actually, she was on the floor because she had just saved Kyon from a rogue Data Entity, and was trying to recover from the wounds she took in her fight with it before she could get back up and they could finish fixing the damage. While it wasn't what it looked like, Kyon couldn't exactly explain.
In Disappearance, Kyon has been losing it all through the beginning when it seems like Haruhi and Koizumi have been erased, Mikuru and Tsuruya don't recognize him, and Asakura has returned. Then he finds Yuki. she recognizes him, which gets his hopes up for a second, but doesn't remember Haruhi or any of the things they've been through. He finally snaps and eventually pins her against a wall in a way that looks like assault. Once he finally comes back to his senses, he realizes about how easily this scene can be misconstrued if someone were to walk in and backs off.
Played... oddly in season 3 when the ridiculously busty Tiffania asks Saito to feel her breasts, because she's trying to understand why everyone keeps asking her whether they're real. Saito, rather stupidly (considering his past track record) agrees to check them out and is predictably caught by Louise and Siesta in bed with Tiffania, enthusiastically groping her. Played straight in Tiffania's case, but almost certainly inverted in Saito's case.
Also averted and played straight simultaneously in the first episode of the second season. Saito tries (and fails) several times to kiss Princess Henrietta. Unfortunately, the head guard, Agnes, sees this, but decides to forgive him of "his shameless act". More unfortunately, Louise goes absolutely berserk, whipping Saito until the sun rises the next morning, which is when Agnes barges into the room to report. Saito is on the floor, almost completely nude, covered in numerous bruises and cuts. Louise is straddling him, blouse open, skirt pulled up, stockings torn, and out of breath. It actually is what it looks like, but this is not sexual in the least.
Saito and Agnes spar with wooden swords, and Saito gets his ass kicked. Eventually, Saito manages to knock her down and pin her. At that moment, Louise walks in to find Saito on top of Agnes with them both panting and sweaty...
Welcome to the NHK features a comedic example. Misaki spills hot sauce on Setou's lap, and jumps in to wipe it off. Cue Yamazaki walking in, with Misaki's back to him.
Blown out of all possible proportions in Daily Lives of High School Boys: the obsessive-in-hindsight Literary Girl chases Hidenori (who runs for his life, scared of how she looked running at him) to the next town overjust to explain she wasn't on a date and was just walking with a classmate. Cue Hidenori not having any idea what she's on about.
In Ah! My Goddess, it's a common occurrence for someone to pull Keiichi into a compromising situation, but Belldandy always believes him when Keiichi explains that it's Not What It Looks Like.
On one occasion, he doesn't even need to explain — when she finds her sister Urd naked in the bath with him, her immediate response is "Why didn't you tell me so I could join you?", prompting another character to say that Belldandy must be stupid to trust Keiichi so blindly. But considering that Keiichi can't even make moves on the eminently-willing Belldandy, it's quite reasonable.
Belldandy once defended her K1 from a manufactured compromising situation by saying "It's true! He doesn't have the guts to do that!" She realized how bad that sounded and tried to correct herself, but just made it worse. Specifically, she corrected herself by saying, "My Keiichi...isn't enough of a man to-" This results in the unsound effect of "Digging the hole deeper."
When they were under attack, Urd manipulated Keiichi into groping another woman in front of Belldandy. Belldandy subconsciously channels her jealousy into explosions, powerful enough to defeat the attacker.
Belldandy has flat-out stated that she will always believe Keiichi — even if he's lying.
In an episode of InuYasha, Inuyasha has been wounded, and Kagome tries to administer first aid (not knowing about his demonic Healing Factor). In order to do this, she must remove his clothes, which leads to the two of them on the ground, her on top, struggling to pull open his robe, and loudly ordering him to undress. At the time Kaede is Right Behind Her, along with some children who take the scene the wrong way.
Nearly every episode of Chobits. Poor Hideki is always found in compromising situations... especially when it comes to Chii's "power button".
In Mai-Otome, after Shizuru discovers a secret about Akira (that she's disguised herself as a boy and is impersonating Prince Takumi), Arika walks by and sees the two of them in a suggestive pose with Shizuru's face behind Akira's.
Early in Mermaid Melody Pichi Pichi Pitch, Lucia, looking for Rina to make friends with her, finds her on the roof apparently cutting class to kiss Kaito. In actuality, Rina was harassing the poor boy instead, as she mistook him for the Big Bad in disguise.
Happens all the time in Girls Bravo. Quite a lot of episodes start with Miharu ending up naked or near-naked in front of Yukinari, during which Kirie will probably walk in and beat the shit out of him before bothering to hear an explanation.
Rito constantly ends up in ridiculously suggestive situations with Lala in front of Haruna, the girl he has a crush on. Some of the situations he's had to attempt to explain his way out of include him and Lala popping out of a locker in the girl's locker room while naked, and running into Haruna in a lingerie store, just in time for Lala to emerge from the changing room wearing only a bra and panties and ask Rito what he thinks of it.
Later, Rito grabs one of the devices Lala has made as she's searching through things. Somehow, he and Haruna activate it. It ends up being the device that transports a person without their clothes. Eventually they are found by the school nurse, who's response is, naturally, to leave them alone to get back to what they were doing.
In the first episode of Karin, Kenta witnesses Karin embracing an older man in a park and jumps to the conclusion that she is a prostitute (conveniently failing to notice that she is, in fact, biting the man's neck). Later on, he sees her in a similar position with his own mother. Hilarity Ensues.
The second season of Hidamari Sketch has Yuno walking in on Sae posed on all fours over Hiro and starts freaking out. Turns out the two were practicing for the school play, with Sae being the criminal. I wonder what the crime was. Oddly, this scene is depicted in the OP for the first season, making it Bait-and-Switch Credits at the time.
In the Beach Episode of SHUFFLE!, Sia catches Rin carrying a half-naked Asa to the washroom and jumps to the wrong conclusion; unbeknownst to Sia, Asa's bikini top was washed away by a large wave.
In Candy Boy, there is a roll call just when Kanade and Yukino are fighting over control of a mobile phone, which makes them end up on the bed in a very suggestive position. After an awkward pause the student checking on them simply declares that the "shameless couple" is in and leaves.
This happens several times in the hospital episode of Get Backers to Ginji and Himiko. Himiko was not amused.
Yumeria: After her first battle in the dream world, Mizuki rushes to Tomokazu's room to see if he had the same dream. His cousin Nanase finds them with Mizuki kneeling between his legs (bonus points because Mone slipped between Mizuki's legs and has her head poking out from under Mizuki's skirt). Tomokazu twists this, deliberately making it seem it is what it looks like with a shy expression and a whispered "Please be gentle." Mizuki's face gets redder than is physically possible, and she wails, "It's a misunderstanding!"
Subverted: Kouta is most definitely groping Nyu, who as local Innocent Fanservice Girl made him do so because she... uh, liked the sensation. While he has an excuse, it's pretty clear what was going on.
There was later another scene where it happened again (but with the Nyuu and Kouta naked) that Mayu sees, and walks off before Kouta can even try to explain.
Played straight however when Yuuka opens the screen door just as Kouta pulls the wet underwear off Nyuu who's lying back on the tatami, because she can't change her own clothes.
Although played straight briefly at the beginning in Mx0, the presence of openly lecherous Ise and Kuzumi's past attempts to stop Ise's schemes quickly teaches the girls to give Kuzumi a chance to explain himself. At one point Kuzumi ends up in the woman's pool time as a girl not only do they create a believable lie for him to use they don't even make him leave. Saving half dozen of them from drowning may have helped though.
In All Rounder Meguru, Meguru's sister finds him practicing his ground grappling techniques on a cloth doll in his bedroom. She's entirely sympathetic.
"Don't worry, I totally understand. If you don't practice now, you might mess up and end up getting dumped."
Princess Tutu has a somewhat more innocent variation. Episode 20 opens up with a beautiful woman sneaking up behind Perpetual Frowner Fakir and giving him a kiss on the cheek. Later, it shows him out buying flowers with her and smiling. Ahiru and her friends see them together and automatically assume that they're dating, but the woman later happily informs Ahiru that she and Fakir are Like Brother and Sister.
Inverted in Fushigi Yuugi. Taka and Tasuki are napping together (with absolutely no overtones at all, no sir). When they wake up, Taka realizes he can't see himself in the mirror, leading him to experience a minor Heroic BSOD, which he begs Tasuki to keep a secret because it will upset Miaka. Miaka herself promptly walks in, sees them all rumpled and uncomfortable looking, and wants to know what's going on. Taka comes up with the excuse that "Tasuki can't sleep unless someone is hugging him," vaguely suggesting it is what it looks like (and you can't tell me Yuu Watase didn't know some fans would really get a kick out of it).
Tamaki trips and falls onto Haruhi as he and the Host Club visit her apartment on her day off. In walks Haruhi's dad...
In another case, during a storm, Tamaki attempts to help Haruhi overcome her fear of thunder and lightning by blindfolding her and plugging her ears. While Tamaki may have good intentions, in walks the remainder of the Host Club ready to accuse him of being an S&M loving pervert.
In Gintama, while Gintoki and Hattori are staying at the hospital, the latter gets a lit candle shoved into his butt by Sacchan, which he later asks the former to remove. He reluctantly agrees to do so, just in time for everyone to pay him a visit and catch him while he's in the act.
Wonderfully subverted in Bitter Virgin, despite one character's efforts to make it seem exactly what it looked like. Yandere Kazuki attempts to seduce the male lead Daisuke, going so far as to unbutton her shirt and threaten to cry rape if he leaves the room. Right then walks in female lead Hinako, a Shrinking Violet who Does Not Like Men and has only managed to open up to Daisuke. Kazuki keeps her word and tells Hinako Daisuke tried to rape her. Hinako's response: "Liar. Suwa-kun would never do that." The final nail in Kazuki's coffin is when a third party, Daisuke's sister, appears and suggests going to the police to prove her claims.
In Darker Than Black Hei learns the hard way that, when purchasing clothes and undergarments for a Dollthat you're sheltering from the Yakuza, it's generally a good idea to not go alone, lest you run into the target of your UST and be forced to explain that the wig and bra you're buying aren't for yourself.
In Harukanaru Toki no Naka de - Hachiyou Shou, Akane is visited by Dragon God's messenger spirit and tries to follow him as he starts to leave; Yorihisa, who is guarding her outside the door, rushes into the room, and the two of them end up on the flooron top of each other just as a court lady walks in to inform them of the return of the house owner. Cue Yorihisa hastily apologizing to Akane and yelling to the court lady not to leave without a word as she walks away chuckling.
In World Embryo Riku's father comes home unexpectedly after a business trip. As he arrives, he notices Shizuru acts weird and seems to try to prevent him from entering part of the house. However, he has an urgent need to go to the toilet. He manages to get past her, opens the restroom door, and finds his son crouching down in front of the toilet, holding down the underpants of a pre-pubescent girl sitting on the toilet who closely ressembles Shizuru's sister Amane when she was a kid. Cue "It's a misunderstanding!" from Riku.
My Bride Is a Mermaid has an epic one after Lunar spills water on herself, causing her to revert to her mermaid form. Nagasumi tries to dry her off, only for her to revert to her human form at the worst possible time: her father enters the room as Nagasumi is rubbing Lunar's butt with a towel. He nearly gets killed over it. It's worth mentioning that Lunar's father is the Terminator, and Nagasume was already on thin ice just by existing.
Nogizaka Haruka no Himitsu has a straight romantic misunderstanding version of this, but there's also several times when Haruka's prying sister/father mistake innocuous activities for sex.
In Onegai Twins Karen faints and falls face first into Maiku's lap. And then the other two girls walk in the door.
Karakuridouji Ultimo does this in chapter 3. Ultimo, has been seriously injured and, for some reason Yamato thinks that a robot boy is comparable to a fairytale princess. So Yamato decides a kiss is the only way to wake Ultimo up (why he felt the need to strip to his boxers and straddle him is beyond us), but doesn't actually have to go through with it, since Ultimo wakes up just in time. Sayama walks in just in time to see a half naked Yamato on top of a very young looking boy who's crying (He was just happy Yamato was trying to help him). She jumped to the obviousconclusion.
Subverted in Omamori Himari when water spirit Shizuku shows up in Yuuto's bathtub. He lifts her out of the water before realizing she has the form of a preteen girl. His cry of surprise brings Rinko running in, only to see him holding Shizuku with his hands on her breasts. Shizuku's "drowned girl" appearance, however, causes Rinko to think Yuuto has discovered a corpse rather than that he's doing anything lewd. There's also the fact that he cried out in shock.
During the Mariah sequence in JoJo's Bizarre Adventure, Joseph and Avdol wind up not only getting magnetized by Bast, but stuck to each other's sides. In order to be able to chase her down, they first have to detach from each other. They quickly figure out that their heads are opposite poles, and likewise their feet. That means to detach, all that has to be done is for one of them to get his head down to the other's feet. However, when they're starting this, some children are looking on (note that this is in Egypt, where man-man romance is...not encouraged). They manage to explain it away by saying that they're practicing a dance. Once the kids are gone, it's back to detachment preparation. Unfortunately, by the time Avdol's head is level with Joseph's hips, the kids are back — with friends. Even worse, so is the old woman who crushed on Joseph earlier in the day. That crush inverts fast... which turns out to be a good thing. Not just because Joseph no longer has to worry about her, but because the drubbing she subjects him to detaches him from Avdol by itself.
Baby Steps: Straight-laced protagonist Eiichirou vehemently protests his innocence after being labelled a "perverted stalker" when he was caught secretly watching his classmate, Natsu, practice for her tennis club. To be fair, he was watching her out in the open at first, but ducked for cover out of embarrassment when she started to look his way.
In Beauty Pop, Narumi thinks he sees Ochiai and Kiri kissing. Ochiai is actually getting a bug out of her hair, and it's only the angle at which Narumi sees them that makes it look like a kiss.
Early in Tasogare Otome X Amnesia, a girl walks in on a situation where Yuuko has fallen on top of Teiichi (she'd put on his glasses for a joke, and they really screwed up her vision and balance) and then started getting flirtatious. Teiichi promptly yelps that "It's not what it looks like!" ... forgetting that Yuuko is a ghost, and the new girl can't see her, so it didn't look like anything naughty to her.
Late in the second season of Code Geass, Kallen walks in on C.C. telling Lelouch "Please take off your clothes, I will do my best" in a very uncharacteristically timid voice. This ends up being less hilarious and flaily than it could have been, given the fact that Lelouch is in the middle of a Heroic BSOD thanks to the previous episode. It's also pretty quickly resolved when Lelouch explains to Kallen that C.C.'s suffering Laser-Guided Amnesia and has reverted to a childlike state. And yes, the whole thing is innocent, if rather unorthodox: Lelouch thinks his sister is dead, and C.C. wants to bandage him, mistakenly thinking his pain is physical rather than mental and emotional.
This happens in Heart No Kuni No Alice when Peter, the devoted crush, walks in to find Alice held down by Ace and Boris, who are simply trying to hear the sound of her heart because neither actually have one.
In an early episode of Rosario + Vampire, Yukari Sendo creates a voodoo doll of Tsukune to try and drive Moka away from him, and uses it to make him feel up Kurumu when she comes to visit him in the sick-bay. Moka walks in on them, with Tsukune panicking and Kurumu in ecstasy, then Yukari forces him to trip and pull Kurumu's panties off. Kurumu certainly doesn't mind.
This happens again in the second volume of the manga. Tsukune's shirt get's messy and Kurumu offers to wash it. By the time the rest of the harem arrive, it looks like she's forcing herself on him.
Poor Tsubame has this◊ happen to her in an early chapter of Asu no Yoichi!. To be fair, it's a direct result of holding a loaf of cream bread before having a bout of bad luck.
In the manga of Brigadoon: Marin and Melan, someone walks in on Marin and Aloma half-dressed and very close together. They had changed their clothes because of a heavy rainfall, and Aloma was trying to interrogate Marin, but that's sure not what it looked like.
In one chapter of D.N.Angel when everyone was on a field trip, Disuke goes to Risa's room to give her some medicine, thinking she's sick. Riku comes in, prompting him and Risa to hide quickly in a closet. Riku leaves, Daisuke and Risa try and get out of the closet and fall...with them both landing on the bed with Daisuke in a compromising position on top of Risa. Guess when Riku comes back in because she forgot something?
This happened several times in Wandering Son. In an early chapter the protagonists sister walks in when he's undressing with a girl in his room, since he had been caught crossdressing by her. His sister then proceeds to think that he was doing something "dirty" and tells their mom. In a later chapter, set when the protagonist is a high school freshman, the sister catches him with his girlfriend and once again thinks he was doing something naughty. In reality his girlfriend was just massaging him and he got a Raging Stiffie by accident.
One scene of Family Compo revolves around this. Sora is arguing with his editor about how There Is Only One Bed at a remonstrant. Their argument sounds like his editor wants to have an affair with him but Sora is protesting her advances.
Invoked in Mobile Suit Gundam SEED Destiny when Meer Campbell sneaks into Athrun's roomExplanation she's posing as pop singer Lacus Clyne, the world at large still thinks she and Athrun are engaged, and Meer's all too happy to latch onto the handsome Athrun, and then answers his door while wearing a very slinky baby doll. It helps that the person at the door is Lunamaria, who has something of a crush on Athrun herself. Eventually Athrun realizes that trying to explain isn't going to do a damn bit of good and just gives up.
Variation in a phone call in Axis Powers Hetalia; Italy calls Germany, screaming in pain, claiming that his brother's "in bed" and "it won't come out". Germany assumes Romano is raping Italy and runs to help, only to find that the two are actually stuck together by their entangled Idiot Hair.
Happens in ½ Prince Prince finds Gui, who is technically straight but makes an exception for Prince, and Wicked, who knows Prince is really a girl and has had a crush on her for years on top of each other in their hotel room.
In Sakurasou no Pet na Kanojo Sorata is in a lot of these thanks to Mashiro. Often in those situations she will also say things either out of context, or out of order, to imply things done between her and Sorata.
The titular characters of Horimiya are sent to get everyone's drinks. They end up taking a long time, and everyone, especially Ishikawa, begins to assume the worse, which is only made worse when Miyamura tries to apologize for doing something (dropping Ishikawa's coke) and Ishikawa takes it the wrong way.
In Haiyore! Nyarko-san, Mahiro is attempting to get Pretty Freeloaders Nyarko and Cuuko out of the house before his mother returns from her honeymoon. Just as she steps in the door, the trio falls into the foyer from the living room, with Nyarko on her back, Mahiro on top of her (and between her legs) and Cuuko clinging to his back. Thankfully, Mahiro's mother actually does let him explain things, though we don't see the explanation thanks to the opening credits.
A darker variation happens in Bokurano. At the end of the second episode (chapter eleven of the manga) Jun appears to push Waku off the Humongous Mecha everyone is standing on. Whether it was intentional or accidental isn't certain at the moment, especially due to Jun's Jerk Ass nature so far and his "You're embarrassing us" line. Eventually we learn it would have happened no matter what. The pilots die after they finish using the mecha. Waku died at that moment and fell due to that.
In Love So Life, Shiharu responds with this whenever someone thinks she's Oeji's girlfriend, since with the twins they're often mistaken for a young family.
In episode 7 of Gochuumon wa Usagi desu ka?, two girls enter Chiya's cafe. One of them has a Brown Bag Mask, while the other is openly displaying a pistol. She immediately assumes she's being robbed until Cocoa, who was holding the pistol, reveals why they had those things on them.
Mikoshiba forcefully volunteered to be Miyako's shirtless model. Nozaki and Sakura came when he was stripping and shouting "Take a good look!".
Sakura and Hori act out Nozaki's script, and Mikoshiba comes just in time to hear the part where Hori's character shamelessly admits that he's in love with other girls than Sakura's character.
Nozaki imagines taking pictures at the beach and being mistaken for a peeping tom.
Miyako's college friends are perhaps not the brightest given that they doggedly stick with the assumption that Miyako's odd behavior is because she has a boyfriend in highschool, namely Nozaki. They also think she has an incredibly shady job because whenever they ask her what she actually does she just laughs, leaving them with the assumption that it's some dirty job performed at night. Hmmm...
The first time it comes up, one of her friends is convinced that they're going through a messy breakup with both of them being incredibly unfaithful while the tiny Sakura sits back watching with highly malicious entertainment at the drama. The reader knows that they're actually just talking about possible costumes for their characters.
When Ryousuke tries to check out what's going on, he thinks Miyako and Nozaki are talking about cosplay with Nozaki not being satisfied with anything, so at the end of the chapter he helpfully informs her that he would love to see her as a bunny girl.
Angel Densetsu': This pretty much describes Kitano's entire life. Due to several physical factors, his Uncanny Valley face is basically locked in Death Glare mode, and it's not helped by the fact that he unintentionally Kubrick Stares everyone he meets. So every time he shows up, everyone thinks he's a delinquent or Serial Killer, and thinkgs go downhill from there. In one instance, the teacher he was talking to cut herself on a broken mug, cue the witnesses going around convinced Kitano stabbed a teacher.
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.
Subverted when Spidey gets caught by a guard in the security room of the Kingpin's tower:
Spider-Man: Hey! Listen — this isn't what it looks like — unless it looks like that costumed freak Spider-Man punching your friend in the face so he can break into your boss's security system. Because if that's what it looks like... that's actually right.
Double Subversion later on. After Ultimatum Spidey stops Mysterio from robbing a gold reserve, but when the police arrive, it's just him. He starts off with "Wait, this is not what it looks like!", but they hear him out, and believe him.
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.
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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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: Sure.
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.
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.
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 and 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
"Hush" has a memorable "Not What it Looks Like" facial expression. While Anya is napping on the couch, a vamped-out Spike, who had just been drinking blood from his favorite mug, kneels down to retrieve something. Cue Xander, who walks in to see Spike, his lips covered in blood, his forehead all bumpy, come up from behind Anya's neck. Xander proceeds to render the be-chipped Spike into fist burger even as Spike flashes wide eyes and a "wait wait!" expression. Once the truth comes out, Anya is flattered (while Spike, who only gets an apologetic shrug from Xander, rolls his eyes at them).
"Hush" also has Buffy, in answer to the query of how she would kill "The Gentlemen" move her hand up and down at waist level. Following the horrified looks on her friends' faces, she then pulls a stake from her purse and they all nod in understanding.
"Witch" has this exchange when Willow discovers that Xander's been checking out books on witchcraft:
Xander: It's not what you think! Willow: You like to look at the semi-nude engravings? Xander: Okay... maybe it is what you think.
Later played for drama in "Angel" when Darla feeds off Joyce. Angel, in vamp face, tries to help, but Buffy walks in on him right as Darla leaves him holding Joyce's unconscious body.
And in "Revelations" when Xander discovers that not only is Angel back from the dead, but he's snogging Buffy. Given that sex with Buffy turned him into the evil Angelus, the Scoobies are understandably pissed.
Buffy: It's not what you think. Xander: Hope not. Because I think you're harboring a vicious killer.
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.
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.
In a particularly extreme example, J.D. ends up having sex with a girl at a funeral (the widow herself), with the guests in the other room hearing the girl scream out her orgasm... and then tries to explain to the shocked guests that the screams were screams of pains because he stubbed his toe.
Another variation in the same show is a scene implying a couple getting naughty... and then it turns out to be completely unrelated.
Turk: Mmm... Oh baby... Oh yeah... You are the best, baby. I love it when you bring me chicken wings in bed!
Another episode has Carla helping Turk study for an exam; she asks him if he would rather have her reward his correct answers by stripping off an article of her clothing or by giving him a sugar-free ice pop. The next scene cuts to her without a shirt on reaching behind her back to ... hand present Turk with an ice pop (not to remove her bra). When Turk asks her why she doesn't have a shirt on, she says it's because she has no clean shirts left, as their daughter spit up on them.
Yet another episode has Carla tell a story to Elliot about what she caught Turk doing in bed, when she was laying right next to him: he's implied to have been having A Date with Rosie Palms, but when Carla lifts up the covers, she lets an obnoxious gasp when he's revealed to be eating ribs in bed.
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. Gibbs: CPR? 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.
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.
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.
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 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."
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.
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.
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 Ah, Hell It's exactly what it seems
The story behind The Everly Brothers song "Wake Up, Little Suzie". 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.
Bucky: Oh ... you guys are home early. Hey, F.Y.I., this isn't what it looks like. Rob: Dude, it isn't what anything looks like.
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.
The painter Cavaradossi, fiancé of the title character from the opera Tosca begins the opera by helping hide an escaped political prisoner and old friend. Tosca realises he's hiding something and, after finding a misplaced fan in the church were Cavaradossi is working, assumes he is cheating on her. Much drama, blood and death ensues.
In The Producers, Leo wants to turn Max and himself in and hand their doctored record books over to the police. Max is kneeling, clutching the books to his chest and refusing to let go...while Leo stands behind him, arms wrapped around him, trying to wrestle the books away, all the while shouting "GIVE IT TO ME!" Then the Camp Gay director and his common-law assistant walk in...
"Now that's what I call celebrating!"
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.
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!
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.
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.
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 Red String, Reika walks in on Eiji's brother's fiancée all over him (against his expressed wishes). Her reaction so far is typical for this trope, even though they aren't dating. To be specific, she runs out and slaps Eiji when he tries to stop her. Then she asks angrily and accusingly what they would have been doing further if she hadn't walked in with Eiji's brother.
In this strip, when caught in an inadvertently compromising situation, Marten remarks, "I'd say 'it's not what you think!' only I'm not even sure what I think this is." In a humorous subversion, Faye realizes that, considering Marten's track record with women, it obviously couldn't be what it looks like.
Kroenen says this to Rasputin in Abe And Kroenen when he catches Abe holding Kroenen as they are about to escape the Ringwraiths. Unfortunately, not only does Rasputin have a rare moment of sense and realize that Kroenen and Abe are together, Kroenen has also inadvertently let slip that he can talk. Ironically, Rasputin's more upset about him hiding the latter than the former.
Sexy Losers contains a number of parodies of this. Unfortunately, the comic's less safe for work than a copy of Hustler, so a link might not be prudent.
Played with in strip #269, when Celia recalls finding out her boyfriend "slipping the wood" to a dryad. He says it's not what it looks, but it's unsure what it looks like in the first place....
Subverted when Nale seduces Haley in order to betray and kill her, only to be stopped when his enraged girlfriend Sabine arrives. She realizes what's going on immediately, but wanted to kill Haley herself:
Nale: It's not what it looks like. Nale:[simultaneous] I was going to KILL her. Sabine:[simultaneous] YOU WERE GOING TO KILL HER!
The Spanish webcomic 1 Millón de Monos. One of the characters says that "It's just what it looks like!" (Only, it's unclear what exactly it looks like.)
Ménage à 3 features an epic case when geek and (at the time) virgin Gary has new character Yuki sit astride his face and then get handcuffed to him. That part isn't his fault; admittedly, he does then deliberately grope her breast while she's unconscious, but he's honestly convinced that she must be a figment of his imagination at the time. Then he finds himself lying on top of her, panting (actually from exhaustion), just as she recovers consciousness. Much of this happens in public, but the real problem is that Yuki is a violent androphobe, and this incident almost gets Gary killed. Funnily enough he and Yuki end up dating for a while, much later.
And yet another Not What It Looks Like moment... in front of Emily's mother.
At one point in MegaTokyoRobot Girl Ping answers Piro's door in her underwear. Kimiko was not amused. And it didn't help matters that Ping has the body of a seventeen-year-old girl. Well, a malleable artificial body that can pass for almost anything between late middle-school and senior high school ages. Unfortunately that scene gave Kimiko an impression of the former.
This sort of thing happens constantly. Largo and Erika come out of a room half-undressed with Largo raving about how "soft" her body is...nope, they were building computers, and Largo's paranoid about static electricity, so they had to wear minimal clothing. Kimiko spends the night sleeping on top of Piro...but nothing else happens. Kimiko comes home to find an underwear-clad Erika, who yanks Kimiko's clothes off, and then Piro shows up and Erika makes him disrobe, too...so he can help fix her computer. Miho wanders to Piro's apartment and spends the night, then they go to a bathhouse and bathe together...but Piro was in jail all night, and they hardly even look at each other in the bathhouse.
Tanna: You pushed me to the ground! [silence] Various elven ladies: Did she just say- Oh my gods... She didn't. I can't believe he'd- Did they really? Tanna: Oh come on. What are you? A bunch of gossiping barmaids? It's not like that at all.
Played for Drama in Peter Is the Wolf, where the Titular character's girlfriend walks in on him tied to a bed, with a gag in his mouth about to be raped by his longtime stalker and mistakes it for him cheating on her. She promptly slaps him and breaks up with him on the spot. She learns awhile later she just abandoned the man she loves for nearly being raped and is completely horrified with herself.
Split Screen: The night Jan left for college (never to see her best friend, Jeremy, for a decade). She was going to meet him, to finally confess her feelings to him once and for all. She sees him waiting for her in the diner, with his girlfriend, Natalie. She runs off rather than confess her love in front of his girlfriend. Turns out; Natalie was A) A lesbian, B) Was only Jeremy's girlfriend so she could act as a buffer between Jeremy and Jan and C) was only there to make sure Jeremy stopped ducking Jan and confessed his feelings. It's twelve years before Jan finds this out.
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.
<anamexis> oh man <anamexis> I was opening a coke, right Beefpile (~firstname.lastname@example.org) 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) <anamexis> :<
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 Darwin's 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.
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).
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.
Destro: S-She had something in her eye, Cobra Commander! Cobra Commander: Myeye, 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 Testthree times in 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.
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."