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Franchise / Sam & Max

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That's Sam up top and Max down below. Don't get them mixed up. (Leave that to Max)
Sam: Have no fear, simple citizens. The Freelance Police are here to keep the peace.
Max: Violently, if possible! You called??

Sam & Max started in 1987 as a comic by Steve Purcell. It covered the surreal and satirical adventures of two anthropomorphic animal private investigators: Sam, a six-foot tall "canine shamus" dressed like a stereotypical Film Noir private eye, and Max, a deranged, naked, trigger-happy white rabbit (sometimes described as a "lagomorph" or a "hyperkinetic rabbity-thing"). Sam was always the more laid-back of the two, and usually the voice of reason keeping Max from unnecessary violence, though Sam's definition of "unnecessary violence" could be a bit flimsy at times. In most of their adventures, the two would receive orders from the faceless Commissioner to defuse some bizarre situation, doing so with a combination of violence, gunplay, their wits, and dumb luck.

The comics eventually spawned a short lived animated series and popular Adventure Games by two different companies (all with Steve Purcell having considerable involvement):

The franchise consists of the following:

Use the links above to navigate to the pages of the various Sam and Max incarnations.

Sam & Max in general, and its original comic book, provide examples of:

  • Accidental Misnaming: Max has been addressed as both "Maxwell" (by Granny Ruth, in the animated series) and "Maximillian" (by Bosco when he was British), but neither on those occasions, nor any other, has Max given any indication of the name that actually appears on his birth certificate (assuming the doctor stuck around long enough to fill one out; you never know, with Max).
    • To further confuse matters, Max's ancestor from the early 1900s in "The Tomb Of Sammun-Mak" is called Maximus. It is actually hinted more than once that Max really is called Maximillian, but that he never goes by it. Similarly, Sam is called Samuel on a few occasions (often by Max), but his ancestor was called Sameth.
  • Adaptational Heroism: Though definitely still present, the games and especially the cartoon generally tone down the duo's Heroic Comedic Sociopath traits and frequently show them genuinely concerned about the well-being of their friends and allies.
  • Adaptation Distillation: Not unlike fellow funny media franchise The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, each adaptation of Sam and Max is slightly different than the one before it. Steve Purcell oversees and helps write each one and approves any changes, so it's all good.
  • Adventure Duo: Sam and Max, natch, who are also Heterosexual Life-Partners.
  • All There in the Manual: According to Telltale Games commentary on Season One, Creator Steve Purcell has a list of mandates he gives to the writers of various Sam And Max projects, the biggest being that Sam And Max, despite all the havoc they wreak, are always on the side of good. Another is that they often create a bigger mess while solving the problem at hand.
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: A store outside the duo's apartment in Hit the Road: Bosco's Guns, Liquor, Baby Needs.
  • Attack of the 50-Foot Whatever: Done in one of the comics, where Sam and Max travel to the Moon and find a civilization of man-sized rats, who are being preyed upon by a civilization of 50 foot cockroaches. Said cockroach lives in a giant human apartment that makes them look normal-sized in comparison. In the Cartoon, there's an adaption of the above comic "Bad Day on the Moon" as well as AIEEEE Robot, which features a 50 foot robot and baby. In the games, there's the stone statue of Abraham Lincoln and the killer robot thingy as well as a transformed Max in the Season 3 finale.
  • Barefoot Cartoon Animal: While it is true that many (if not all) of the other animal characters are barefoot, Sam seems to be the only one with humanoid feet.
  • Batman Can Breathe in Space: Sam and Max and a couple of other people can breathe on the moon without any trouble. The explanation given is that the "pansy" astronauts didn't bother to try.
    Sam: So let me get this straight, we can breathe here?
    Max: I guess those candybutt astronauts just didn't have the stones to try it.
    • Later spoofed in a Star Wars parody. The duo gets into an X-Wing knockoff to go fight the ''New Hope" Trench battle scene, Sam hopping into the cockpit, and Max into the unprotected socket that Droids go in.
      Max: Sam, it's cold out here, and I'm having trouble breathing.
      Sam: You're a real pest today, Max.
    • In "Moai Better Blues," there's an underwater scene with this exchange.
      Sam: How are we breathing?
      Max: You're breathing?
    • And in the animated series, Max begs Sam for a set of gills like the enslaved mutant townfolk they're trying to save.
      Sam: We don't need gills, little buddy! We're cartoon characters with absurdly large lung capacities.
      Max: I know, but I really want some!
  • Big Guy, Little Guy: A very odd example of the Trope, seeing as Sam is the Big Guy but tends to be the Straight Man of the two, often holding Max (the Little Guy) back from indulging in "unnecessary violence". (Although that term is loosely defined, since both Sam and Max are quite fond of solving problems with violence and gunplay).
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: Done with each iteration, to varying degrees. The comic and the Telltale games occasionally break it for brief one-liners, but rarely too much more than that, while the cartoon and Hit the Road are in full-on No Fourth Wall territory.
  • Casual Danger Dialogue: These occur regularly, given how Sam is unusually laid back and Max simply has little touch with reality.
  • Catchphrase: Several, including:
    • "You crack me up, little buddy!"
    • "Well, here we are in/on/at [name of location]..."
    • "Holy/Sweet [elaborate non sequitur]!"
    • "You're (such) a [adjective] [noun], Max."
    • "Can't think of a good reason not to!"
    • "I may weep openly."
    • "That's none of your damn business, Sam."
    • Bosco: It'll work, trust me on this, trust me. note 
  • Characterization Marches On: The very first Sam and Max cartoons were actually created as a parody of similar (albeit more serious) characters drawn by Steve Purcell's younger brother, Dave. When Dave left an unfinished comic lying around the house, Steve would take the opportunity to "finish" it for him, having the characters do things like mock the art style and mix up each others' names. Eventually, the parodies developed into comedic figures of their own right, culminating in the late 1970s when Dave Purcell formally signed over the rights to Steve as a birthday present.
    • Steve remembers this in a slightly less romantic, though no less friendly, manner - his brother's wording was apparently something along the lines of "These characters are now Steve's and I don't care what he does with them."
  • Christmas Episode: There's one for each medium: the comic story The Damned Don't Dance, the game episode Ice Station Santa, and the cartoon episode Christmas, Bloody Christmas.
  • Cool Car: The DeSoto (well, both of them... the one in the new games is explicitly a replacement) is capable of, among other things, driving to the Moon. Via stuffing the tailpipe full of matchheads, no less. (In the comics, at least. In the cartoon, it grenade jumps there.)
    • It can also cross the Atlantic Ocean.
    • The DeSoto ends up with a case of demonic possession in Season 2 of the Telltale Games series; it got better in Season 3, mostly.
      Curt: It's not so bad if you don't turn on the air conditioner.
  • Couch Gag: Each of the longer comics, and each game in Telltale's Seasons 2 and 3, is said to be based on something, like:
    Bay Day on the Moon (Based on the completely obscure French farce "Garçon, une omelette et deux bifteks")
    Night of the Raving Dead (Based on the heretical apocrypha "Sam and Max Meet a Guy Who Sucks")
    They Stole Max's Brain! (Based on the similarly-titled novel by Jane Austen)
    On The Road (Based on the famed Beat Generation novel, "Sam and Max Drive Around in a Car," by Bucky Kerouac)
  • Crapsack World: Downplayed when not used for laughs, but the duo's world has an over infestation of rats, trash is everywhere and almost everything is run down to some extent.
    • The rats are actually a form of Author Appeal- Steve Purcell used to keep rats when he was a kid, and quite likes them.
    • It rapidly gets worse in the games, where President Max displays an uncanny (for Max) level of dedication in destabilizing America and the world at large, even as he and Sam routinely save it.
    • Bosco's Inconvenience. Nuff' said.
  • Creator Cameo: In "Abe Lincoln Must Die" there is a painting of Steve Purcell dressed as George Washington hanging on the wall in the Oval Office.
  • Deus ex Machina: Too many to mention and always Played for Laughs. Special props to the Rubber Pants Commandos, who apparently are a Deus Ex Machina.
  • Diabolical Mastermind: Mack Salmon.
  • Eldritch Abomination: The comic story The Beast From the Cereal Isle centers around the duo's assignment to stop one haunting a grocery store.
    • Maxthulu/Junior Max in the last couple of episodes of Telltale's Season 3.
    • Also Yog Soggoth from Season 3.
  • Establishing Character Moment: In the first proper comic, Max foils a stalker and would-be rapist in an alley by gouging out his eyes with a particularly vicious Three Stooges-style eye-poke while scolding him, then goes back to walking with Sam as if absolutely nothing of note had happened.
  • Expospeak Gag: In one of the franchise's most enduring gags (though slightly less of it in the games than the comics or series, due to Sam taking most dialogue there), the characters tend to express whatever they're doing - no matter how ridiculous - with twice as many often over-elaborate words as possible. This is often combined with Buffy Speak, Non Sequiturs, Shaped Like Itself, and other tropes that intentionally make their dialogue comically pointless and incredibly off kilter.
    (from the cartoon) Bystander: Oh my, surely there's more to your occupation than just pummeling vaporous anomalies insensible!
  • Fastball Special: One of the ways Sam uses Max as a weapon. It usually ends with Max biting into the skull of whoever he's being thrown at.
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus: The Telltale games in particular have a good bit of text on the graphics that is tough to read but fun to catch. For instance, the coffee machine in Bosco's Inconvenience has settings of "warm", "hot", and "Lawsuit Hot".
  • Funny Background Event: All the time in the comics. Usually involving rats.
  • Gag Series: The comics, the cartoon, and Hit the Road are all supremely wacky and often outright nonsensical, with little that's played seriously.
  • The Ghost: The commissioner.
  • Good Cop/Bad Cop: One of the very first puzzles in the Telltale games, involves Sam and Max interrogating a rat (who stole their phone) in this manner.
  • Grievous Harm with a Body: In the comics, a particularly good one is Sam using Max as a club to knock someone off a motorcycle. Some puzzles in "Hit The Road" are solved by threatening to hit people with Max.
  • Grotesque Cute: Sam and Max, to some extent.
  • Guile Hero: The adventure games turn Sam into this, going from a relatively rational and level-headed thinker into someone who can constantly trick and scam pretty much every villain that he runs across. The Devil's Playhouse gets Max in on it too.
  • Hammerspace: One of the possible places the completely naked Max could be storing his gun. This has been left intentionally mysterious; Max isn't telling.
    • In Season 2 Episode 3 of the Telltale games, during a body-switching incident: "So THAT's where he keeps the gun!"
    • In Season 3 Episode 5 of the Telltale games, Sam remarks that he's never actually seen Max buy a gun, and suggests that Max's body secretes them.
  • Hand Guns: Sam sports a Hand Cannon revolver; Max has a Luger.
  • Hero's Classic Car: The pair's car is a 1960 DeSoto Adventurer in mock police livery, replaced with a convertible version for the Telltale games.
  • Heroic Comedic Sociopath: Both main characters to some extent, but especially Max.
    "I want you to sniff these handkerchiefs, and tell me which one smells more like chloroform!"
    • Also:
    Sam: That was the Commissioner.
    Max: Did he get my notes?
    Sam: Yes, but he said to quit carving them into the suspects. He can't read them without his bifocals.
    Max: Why don't I just write bigger?
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: The titular duo, although both have shown attraction to the same gender at various points, despite insistence otherwise; Max takes offense when Sybil calls the two "Luddites," declaring they're just "very good friends", and Sam says that he doesn't recall ever "dating within [his] own gender" when called a thespian.
  • I'm Taking Her Home with Me!: Despite his sociopathic personality, Max has a fondness for cute things; when he sees something he likes, he will occasionally ask Sam if he can keep it.
  • Inherently Funny Words: Sam often makes Max laugh or cringe with his choice of voculabulary. Several, including "Insensible", "Acumen", and their own creation "Undisquietingly". They reference the latter by saying it's impossible to say without laughing.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Sam and Max can both fall into this category. They're both Heroic Comedic Sociopaths, and Max explicitly states that he doesn't have a conscience at all at one point; but they both genuinely seem to have a passion for justice, and are almost always willing to help people who are in trouble. It might just be how they get their kicks, but still, it warms the heart to see.
    • Confirmed in the finale to Season 3 of the Telltale games: Max instinctively acting to try and protect a pregnant Sybil Pandemik in labour is what convinces his own superego not to explode and destroy New York.
  • Lampshade Hanging: All the time.
  • Lighter and Softer: Most of the games, at least until Telltale Seasons 2 and 3.
    • The cartoon is the lightest and softest, though they did manage to sneak guns and a closet full of weapons into a few episodes.
  • Lions and Tigers and Humans... Oh, My!
  • Mood Whiplash: Max's (temporary) death, (and Sam's reaction to it) in Bad Day on the Moon is a surprisingly somber scene.
    • As is the end of Telltale's Season 3, in which a similar thing happens. Many people didn't get the reference.
  • Mysterious Past: It's never been elaborated on how Sam & Max met each other (outside of it being since childhood), how they got the "Freelance Police" gig, or what the "Freelance Police" even really is.
  • Never Sleep Again: "The City That Dares Not Sleep" is about a monster, namely Max as an Eldritch Abomination, releasing spores that feed on the citizen's dreams and make the monster stronger. Which is why the whole city has spent a while without sleeping.
  • Noodle Incident: Sam and Max continually refer to the events and consequences of previous cases and adventures, not quite explaining what exactly happened.
  • Pet the Dog: After finishing a case involving a demon in their usual chaotic style, Sam and Max are leaving a store when a child falls off the Ride-a-Demon. Max, still talking and walking with Sam, casually reaches out and catches the kid, and then sets him down to toddle off, never breaking stride or losing his train of thought.
  • Private Detective: The Freelance Police, along with their neighbor Flint Paper.
  • Rubber Orifice: It's strongly implied that Max holds his Hyperspace Arsenal in his ass, meaning he must be able to fit everything there somehow without harming himself.
  • Running Gag: In every adaptation, Sam and Max always fight over answering the phone shouting "I GOT IT! I GOT IT!". Sam always wins.
    • With three exceptions: once in the cartoon when Max found an alternate reality Sam who was too mellow to be interested in answering the phone, another time in the cartoon where Max actually does win the phone fight, except it's not The Commissioner but their annoying loony stalker fan, and once in the finale of Telltale Season 2 when Hell literally froze over and Sam simply stood by and let Max answer the phone (just one of many improbable or out of character events resulting from the infernal ice).
    • Another running gag in the comic was a fake "Based On..." line under the titles of most stories. Telltale Seasons 2 and 3 continued this gag.
      "The Damned Don't Dance" (Based on a beloved holiday cookie recipe)
      "The Penal Zone" (Based on the classic instructional video "How to use your new SM-301 industrial strength dehumidifier")
    • Sam and Max occasionally get their names mixed up, but they always quickly correct themselves.
      Sam: Hey, Sam - I mean, Max!
    • "Don't say X, Sam."
    • "We killed your dog. =D"
    • Max responding with "None of your damn business" whenever he's asked where he keeps his inventory.
      • When Max asks Sam this in Telltale Episode 303, Sam responds in the same way. Max immediately lampshades this and finishes the comment.
    • "THEM!" (Bosco screams)
  • Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness: Sam is fond of using big words, often to the annoyance of Max. Also Sammun Mak, to the annoyance of Sam, ironically.
  • Sidekick: While Sam and Max are usually referred to as "partners", the dynamic between the two, with Sam usually taking the lead and acting as the voice of reason (comparatively speaking), is such that Max clearly comes off as the sidekick. Or maybe the enforcer. This is particularly true in the video games, since Sam is invariably the player character there, but for what it's worth sometimes Sam is seen as Max's sidekick by other fans and characters.
    Sam: (reading newspaper) "President [Max] and Assistant Destroy Internet." Assistant?!
  • Single-Issue Landlord: The landlord in the Show Within a Show "Midtown Cowboys".
  • Sliding Scale of Silliness vs. Seriousness: Very much down on the silly end, though The Devil's Playhouse up the drama quite a bit.
  • Unscrupulous Hero: When the chips are down, you can almost always trust Sam & Max to do the right thing, even when they don't stand to benefit from it - just be prepared for them to gleefully cause as much destruction and chaos as they can along the way.
  • White Bunny: Max.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Sam And Max Freelance Police, Sam And Max


The Adventures of Sam & Max: F

Sam, Max and Granny Ruth enter the prison showers.

How well does it match the trope?

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Example of:

Main / DemographicallyInappropriateHumour

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