A Sitcom plot where one or more characters tries to achieve some end — usually extricating themselves from trouble — by some kind of elaborate, unlikely plan, something like "You distract them by faking a heart attack while I sneak into the bedroom and switch the real ring for the fake one, and remember this whole time they think I'm you and you're me...". Often the plan isn't fully exposed and only Noodle Implements are given.
Sometimes they pull it off by the skin of their teeth. More often than not it all comes crashing down right at the end. Sometimes another character launches a Counter Zany, which may escalate into a Zany Scheme Chicken. This trope can sometimes be similar to a small-scale Gambit Roulette and the source of many a Full Name Ultimatum.
This trope, being over-used, is often subverted by having the character to whom the zany scheme is proposed simply shoot the whole thing down as ridiculous, and switch to another plot. An even further subversion occurs when the sensible plot then fails while the zany one succeeds.
Contrast with A Simple Plan.
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Anime and Manga
The fourth Jojo of JoJo's Bizarre Adventure had his fair share of these to make money, and almost always got away with them.
Mahou Sensei Negima! has Asakura and some of the girls from Negi's class come up with one of these (during the Beach Episode) to help Negi and Asuna make up after a fight. The plan: rather than you know, talk it out, they decide to pretend that Negi is drowning so that Asuna can rescue him. Then Chizuru decides to embellish it a little by adding some fake sharks, played by Natsumi and Ku Fei, to the mix. Naturally, they fail to tell Negi their plan, so he freaks out when he's suddenly pulled underwater and attacked by sharks. As such, he attacks a shark with Martial Arts, only to find that the shark knows Kung Fu. The plan fails miserably, by the way.
Dark King Silvers Rayleigh from One Piece. He proposed to Luffy that he should Break into Marine headquarters again, ring the bell that's inside a good sixteen times, wait for someone to take a picture of him there and then escape again back to the Isle of Women. Then, when his crew sees his arm that has 3D crossed out and 2Y underneath, they will know that they should stay where they are for another two years and take a level in badass or two. The funny thing is, it totally worked.
In Libeled Lady, Connie Allenbury is suing Warren Haggerty's newspaper after the paper prints a false story about her breaking up a duke's marriage. So what does Haggerty do? He gets his girlfriend to marry a reporter, then pays the reporter to seduce Connie, thus essentially framing her for breaking up another marriage and nullifying the libel suit.
Amusingly played with in Camp Rock, where Caitlin upon finding out Mitchie's Zany Scheme immediately calls her on how unbelievably stupid it is, and isn't particularly interested in hearing her explanation.
The selling point of Olsen Banden series is combining Zany Scheme with The Caper plot. When the creators became aware of that, number of schemes per movie increased.
In One, Two, Three, a Coca-Cola heiress fell in love with and married a Communist from East Germany. So James Cagney starts one of these to get the marriage annulled (or all proofs disappeared) and the husband imprisoned. But then Scarlett, the heiress, is pregnant, and he has to a) rescue Otto, the husband, from the claws of East German police, b) prove they're legally married, and c) turn Otto into an acceptable son-in-law.
A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas centers on Harold and Kumar trying to find a replacement Christmas tree for the one they destroyed. Their first plan of getting one from a tree lot is reasonable enough, but once that fails they try to steal one from a Christmas party at a mobster's apartment, and a church.
The Worlds Greatest Athlete has college coaches Sam Archer and Milo Jackson catch sight of the Tarzan lookalike, and potential super athlete Nanu. Sam and Milo learn that among Nanu's tribe when one man saves the life of another, he has become that man's protectorate for the rest of both their lives and must follow the man he saved wherever he goes. They then attempt several schemes to try and get Nanu to save Archer's life.
This forms the plot of almost every single novel, short story and TV adaptation of P. G. Wodehouse's Jeeves and Wooster. A typical plot involved Bertie stealing a piece of silver from a country house because the owner's niece, Stiffy, wanted her fiance to pretend he had caught the thief so her uncle would agree to the marriage - Bertie reluctantly agreed because Stiffy had found a notebook belonging to one of his friends that if made public would break up the friend's engagement, in which case the fiancee (who believed from a previous zany scheme that Bertie was in love with her) would marry Bertie, who, being too much of a gentleman and man of honor to point out he couldn't stand her... this is actually a much simplified version of the plot. The original is far more convoluted.
This was also par for the course in Wodehouse's Blandings Castle series, as well as a number of his one-offs.
The Jennings books more or less run on Zany Schemes, usually initiated and largely performed by Jennings himself in order to avoid getting told off by a teacher. Sometimes the schemes are pulled off without a hitch, sometimes they work but in a different way than intended, or end up not mattering because of some outside circumstances that nobody could have predicted, and sometimes they fail spectacularly.
Several of the chapters in Winnie the Pooh revolve around these, most notably Rabbit's plans to kidnap Roo and "unbounce" Tigger and Pooh's plans to steal honey and catch a "Heffalump".
Several sub-plots of Kill time or die trying revolve around this trope. Examples include a scheme to steal urine for a pregnancy test and a campaign to swing a student council election in favour of the candidate willing to give the club a club-room. The war-cry of WARP lampshades this trope: 'Bad idea?' *dramatic pose* 'How bad?'.
Live Action TV
The plot of many episodes of Happy Endings. Lampshaded in "The Ex Factor" when Penny meets Pete's friends, and is shocked when they are able to avoid such things. Notable is "Fowl Play Date" when Penny and Brad accidentally kill Alex's parrot and have to cover it up.
Lampshaded at one point when Balki mentions that whenever Larry tries to impress his boss, lie to his girlfriend (usually claiming to match the talents of some guy he perceives as a rival), or says, "I have a plan!", Balki puts a dollar into a cookie jar. Apparently, he'd been able to buy a small mansion with his savings.
They lampshade this frequently in later seasons:
Larry: Don't worry everyone, I have...
Everyone: DEAR GOD.
Larry: ...a plan!!!
Louis Stevens breathed this trope on Even Stevens. A few of them involved trying to buy hot sneakers from a shady salesman, making the neighbor kid look like a genius so he could meet his favorite news anchor and rent out his house as a bed and breakfast while his parents were away in order to afford to go skiing for a weekend his best friend Alan Twitty was almost certainly expected to be involved.
Lister: There's got to be a way out. There hasn't been a prison built that could hold Derek Custer. Why don't we scrape away this mortar here, slide one of these bricks out, then using a rope weaved from strands of this hessian, rip up a kind of a pulley system so that when a guard comes in, using it as a trip wire, gets laid out, and we put Rimmer in the guard's uniform, he leads us out, we steal some swords, and fight our way back to the 'Bug!
Frequently played with on The Drew Carey Show, where Lewis and Oswald eventually lost any chance of convincing Drew to go along with their plans ("Okay, we'll call that plan, 'The Idiot Plan,'" "If by any chance my plan fails, don't do your plan").
iCarly: Not relied on as much as othershows in its genre. One however, was Sam and Freddie rescheduling Carly's interview with a private school headmistress to her apartment, setting up a mini-golf course inside Spencer's apartment, inviting 2 dozen kids over, and getting the kids to think she had a prize hidden on her, done to sabotage Carly's chances of being admitted to the school so Carly wouldn't leave them.
The episode "iHave My Principals". After having Principal Franklin guest on iCarly which resulted in him being fired, two of the meanest teachers take his place. After the new co-principals create a reign of terror at the school, the iCarly gang connives with all the students. They hatch a plan to have an all-out schoolwide rebellion in order to prove to the school superintendent that their previous principal is much better than the new ones.
Subverted in "iScream on Halloween" where Carly explains a complicated scheme to gain access to the locked door of Apartment 13-B, but Sam just picked the lock.
Not too complicated, from what she said it sounded like the old "distract them long enough to get the necessity" scheme.
Defied in "iWant My Website Back". Mandy comes up with a plan to get iCarly.com back from Nevel. As soon as she mentions it involving three zebras, Sam shuts her up.
Blackadder: Am I jumping the gun, Baldrick, or are the words "I have a cunning plan" marching with ill-deserved confidence in the direction of this conversation?
Baldrick: They certainly are sir!
Blackadder: Well, forgive me if I don't do a cartwheel of joy; your record in this department is hardly 100%. So what is it?
Baldrick: We do nothing
Blackadder: Yup, it's another world-beater.
By and large, Baldrick's "cunning plans" are too stupid to even count as zany, especially since Blackadder usually dismisses them out of hand. The most notable exceptions are his plan to Edmund out of marrying the Spanish Infanta by pretending to be gay in The Black Adder, and the Swapped Roles scheme in Blackadder The Third.
Lois and Hal from Malcolm in the Middle actually have a standard protocol for when Hal ends up doing something complicated and stupid. The rules, established when Hal and Craig enter a competition involving a game that is so very clearly not Dance Dance Revolution and rapidly become obsessed, include freezing the joint bank account and the provisions that Hal still has to go to work and can not, under any circumstances, involve their sons.
Seinfeld: Kramar and Newman are prone to these, alone or working as a team.
One good example is when Kramer and Newman get the idea to take their money-back bottles to another state because they're worth more money there.
An episode of The Big Bang Theory has Sheldon coming up with a fake cousin, including creating a blog and Facebook page and hiring an actor to play him, to cover a small lie Leonard told Penny.
Elaborating, Leonard told Penny he couldn't go to a performance of hers because he had a work-related seminar to be at, which Penny accepted as a valid reason. Sheldon noted afterwards that this lie could easily be found out by the simple method of tracking down the event in question and discovering that neither Leonard nor Sheldon were scheduled to attend. Never mind that Penny would not investigate this lie so thoroughly, even if she could. In response, Sheldon told Penny that they weren't going to a seminar, they were in fact going to a drug intervention for Sheldon's fake cousin, with blog and Facebook page detailing a descent into addiction and despair.
Stargate Atlantis did this one episode. When the Asurans held the city, McKay had the team plant C4 explosives in the shield generators, supposedly so that when the shield activated it would essentially take itself down. However, he blabbed the whole plan to Woolsey, who can't resist the Asuran mind probe.Here's the good part. That was actually part of the plan. The real plan was to have the Asurans find the C4, and thus overlook the crystals that turned the entire shield into a giant anti-replicator wave of doom that saved them all. I call this one Zany Scheme and Batman Gambit in one.
It's worth noting that the writers are beginning to lampshade it too. On Hannah Montana Lilly once bemoaned a zany scheme a good five seconds before Miley dreamt it up, prompting Miley to ask her if she'd become that predictable. Lilly (and probably the bulk of the home viewing audience) both responded "Yes."
Top Gear: it's never just "How easy to drive is this this Ford Fiesta?" it's "Could this Fiesta evade bad guys while driving through a shopping centre? Could it do a beach assault with the Royal Marines?" The really zany schemes are just for their own sake, such as "Buy a cheap car and turn it into a boat", inevitably preceded by the words "How hardcan it be?"
Subverted in the Doctor Who episode "The Impossible Astronaut", The Doctor winds up in the Oval Office, where he agrees (at gunpoint, which happened a lot in that episode) to help Richard Nixon find someone, he then proceeds to say (with dramatic music) "I'm going to need a SWAT team ready to mobilize, street-level maps covering all of Florida, a pot of coffee, 12 jammy dodgers, and a fez." All he really needed (and got) were the maps.
On Hyperdrive, Teal constructs an intricate plan that falls somewhere between Zany Scheme and Gambit Roulete involving chocolate, knockout gas, and the purchase of a planet, just so she can get a date with Commander Henderson.
Happens a lot in Only Fools and Horses. Likely most episodes in fact, although some, like the 'Peckham Spring' episode pretty much come to mind here.
In the Brazilian TV series, City of Men, our protagonists use schemes for everything from getting our main character's sister and a gang leader together using notes and candy to avoiding the wrath of gang members by making a map of the favela. These plans often backfire.
Occurs often in How I Met Your Mother; with the most insane and elaborate schemes coming from Barney, who has a tendency to go way over the top with every one, as well as having an inability to back down from a challenge. In one episode, it's revealed he hired actors to play his fake wife and son for years so that his mother would be proud of him.
A staple on Three's Company and a major plot point in the entire series, including the fact that Jack must pretend to be gay so he can live in the same apartment with two attractive girls.
When in episode 2.02 of White Collar, "Need to Know," Neal Caffrey requires $10,000 in cash on short notice, his associate Mozzie accesses one of Neal's secret caches through a pre-arranged zany scheme that involves various Noodle Implements which Mozzie acquires from FBI Peter Burke, refusing to explain their purpose until each is deployed.
House did this in an episode, in which Rachel swallows a coin and House and Wilson device a crazy plot to make sure Rachel won't be harmed while preventing Cuddy from finding out. Ultrasounds, fake cancer children, fake radiation leaks, and several illegal procedures ensue. The kid poops it out fine later, though by that point, House and Wilson had concluded that she'd never swallowed it
Averted notably in an episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, where she has some guests over for drinks, only to discover that they were expecting dinner. Rather than hatch a Zany Scheme to prepare dinner on the sly while they waited, Mary actually explains that there's been a misunderstanding. For a regular sitcom viewer this plotline can come as a shock!
In Community this happens quite frequently. It's the reason why a plan to get chicken fingers expanded into a racketeering empire.
Jeff: If we say we disapprove, we'll just drive her further into his hemp-braceleted arms. We need to be smart, we need to hatch a scheme.
Cory and Shawn on Boy Meets World were fond of coming up with these, though this diminished in the later seasons as the characters grew up and the show got more serious.
This trope combined with Indy Ploy is pretty much standard operating procedure for Crichton on Farscape.
Zany Schemes pop up all over the place on Chuck. Pretty much everything Lester does to boost sales or just plain slack off qualifies. Even the much more serious Sarah and Casey are Not so Above It All.
Chuck's plans on spy missions are often...unorthodox to say the least.
A soldier wants a nose job. The team of doctors sets up an elaborate scheme to get him the operation without anyone getting in trouble rather than just pretending he broke his nose.
A nurse's husband is visiting, but she's in trouble, so they create an elaborate scheme that creates more potential for being caught than doing something simpler and more straight-forward.
Hawkeye and Trapper take some blood from Frank while he's sleeping, to transfuse to a North Korean, who turns out to have hepatitis. They suspect Frank might have given it to him, so they cook up a Zany Scheme to get some of his urine to test, a Zany Scheme to keep him from having sex with Hot Lips, and one to keep him away from patients. All this when they could have pretended to notice some symptoms in him (Frank is known to be a bit hypochondriac, so he probably would have believed it), so he'd voluntarily submit to testing and take a break from sex and patients until the results came back. Instead they had to admit the reason for their odd behavior to keep him out of surgery.
Whenever Frank is in charge, you can bet Hawkeye is cooking up some kind of scheme.
The Marriage of Figaro teems with zany schemes. To stop the Count getting his aristocratic hands on Susanna, for instance, she and her fiance Figaro decide to outwit him by arranging an assignation between her and the Count but sending the page Cherubino dressed as a girl in her place. When the plan is rumbled they hit upon a new one: this time neglected Countess will disguise herself as Susanna and meet her own husband in the garden. Hilarity ensues, to the accompaniment of some of the most meltingly beautiful music ever written.
The aria that Tim Robbins plays over the prison loudspeakers in The Shawshank Redemption comes from the Marriage of Figaro. It is Susanna and the Countess composing a fake love letter to the Count. This gives Red's line, 'I don't know what those two Italian ladies were singing about, and I don't want to know,' a certain irony. They sound so angelic that it's probably lucky he didn't learn what they were really up to.
Subverted in Persona 3: During one of the early Full Moon missions, the team is making preparations to break into the school when Junpei comments that he has everything "set to go." Because Junpei is just the sort of person who would try it, everyone else assumes from the wording that he's rigged up some sort of bomb. His real plan is actually much simpler:
Generator's latest Zany Scheme in the Whateley Universe? Using her powers to create shoulder angels to torment Phase, because Phase was peeking at Generator's roommate in the bathroom. It goes From Bad to Worse
Eventually, the entire school was nearly wrecked.
Note that, previously, she was involved in an actual 'Noodle Incident', she animated a stuffed cabbit doll as part of an epic chase, she later rigged that cabbit with enough weaponry to rip a man's arm off, she's obsessed with Hello Kitty, and she's a trap! Zany Schemes are her forte. (Oh, and don't forget what she had to go through to go to a lesbian hot-tub thing. Even if she's not a lesbian.)
Don't forget when she decided she needed to wear the school's 'pacifist' and 'ultra-violent' armbands, and just switch off on different days. Generator is the definition of Crazy Awesome. Emphasis on the 'crazy'.
Also deconstructed with the Critic. With Kickassia at least, it's heavily implied that he wanted power because he's miserable with his usual life.
One Walfasflash was about Nitori intentionally creating a problem just so she could solve it and become a hero. The problem in question was the imminent collision of a ship and an iceberg (sound familiar?) which she attempts to solve by giving Shiki's hat and stick and one of Youmu's swords to Cat Girl Chen, then tossing her overboard so she could destroy the iceberg. She then realizes that Chen (a cat) can't swim. Luckily, it was All Just a Dream.
In Ultra Fast Pony, Rarity comes up with a convoluted scheme to ruin Fluttershy's modeling career. Said plan involves building a fence, ignoring a blue-bellied pelican, and dancing a polka. Also, Rarity got a bit distracted while she was coming up with the scheme, so instead of punishing Fluttershy, the plan culminates in punching Rainbow Dash.
His Evil Twin brother Nale is little better, and devised a Zany Scheme to kill Elan that involved, among other things, Thog on rocket skates (with only an 84% chance of having an anvil land on him).
In PvP, referred to as "Wacky Adventures". At one point Cole, who's upset that he always gets cast as the disapproving conventional one, insists on taking part in one - when Francis comes up with a sensible and risk-free plan to get the information they need, Cole then insists that they instead concoct an unnecessarily zany scheme to achieve the same goal.
Basically the entire, continuously evolving plotline of Triangle and Robert is an infernal machine powered entirely by Schemes both Zany AND Wacky. Plus the occasional Beam of Pure Chocolate.
The Zany Scheme arc of the Insecticomics features Thrust trying to come up with...well, see trope name. Dreadmoon isn't impressed.
Terror Island. Sid and Stephen's scheme to get the other to buy groceries is getting more and more zany.
In No Rest For The Wicked, Perrault is proposing a scheme to get Red and November inside the locked gate: he tracks down the owner, convinces him that robbers are about to attack, persuades him that his only safety is leaving open the gates so the robbers will plunder the place and let him escape — whereupon Red chops through the gate.
Aubrey from Something Positive comes up with these on a regular basis. Her friends have a standing rule stating that "the person who accidentally inspires one of Aubrey's schemes is the one who has to help her until it either blows up in her face, or she loses interest."
Most of the cast of Ménage à 3 are nothing like as clever as they think they are, so this is one of the comic's regular plot devices. Some examples by character:
Zii likes to think of herself as a great manipulator, but most of the time, she just improvises her way out of difficulties, and sometimes she makes things worse rather than better. For example, she brings Yuki into band rehearsals to disrupt Sonya's attempts to seduce her, but that of course brings Yuki into the band — which Zii had been specifically trying to avoid.
Sonya is, as she says herself, fulla great plansh... uh, full of bright ideas. Putting Peggy in a heavy wig and dark glasses to seduce Gary would just be one notable example.
For that matter — Peggy's Operation Jealousy scheme on behalf of Sonya may have been quite well-designed in itself, but it had to involve Sonya.
Tatiana's experiment to determine whether or not Gary really was "the perfect sub" tipped over the edge into lunacy. It actually sort of worked on its own terms, though, despite her failure to cover some details.
In one episode of Family Guy, Peter claims that his plan to get rid of the New York tourists who come during the fall is so brilliant that his brain would explode just by thinking about it. However, the following scene shows him behaving as silly as usual.
Recess lives off these, generally thought up by the gang's leader T.J. In one episode he even suffers Heroic BSOD because his schemes fail. He gets better after the gang prove that none of their plans work without him.
I'll turn him into a flea, a harmless, little flea, and then I'll put that flea in a box, and then I'll put that box inside of another box, and then I'll mail that box to myself, and when it arrives... (laughs) I'll smash it with a hammer! [...] (knocks over a bottle of poison) Or, to save on postage, I'll just poison him with this.
"Big Baby Scam", where Ren and Stimpy pretend to be babies so they wouldn't have to do any work and be fed and pampered. Oh, the victims of their plan are the exact same people.
"Altruists" of Adult Party Cartoon, to some extent. Despite the whole plotbeingvery unusal for the duo, they attempt to break into a house to steal money and various other things from a rich family. Their plan included distracting the angry duck guarding the house with Stimpy disguised as a duck-woman, willing for a one night stand, beating the couple's kids with a blackjack, and stealing a painting of the Mexican Elvis, Mexa Canelves. Of course, the couple they rob is the afromentioned one.