A trope commonly found in Western Animation and sitcoms, this is when someone is out later than usual or is out when they aren't supposed to be. As quietly as they can, they enter their home... and are surprised to find their spouse or parents waiting for them, as they realize they're in for it now. The room is usually dark, with the waiting person's presence revealed when a light is turned on. For dramatic flair, they might even emerge from the darkness or pull a Chair Reveal.
Typically, the guilty party is a husband or a teenage child who was hanging out with friends for too long, or they weren't supposed to have left in the first place and had gone Sneaking Out at Night. Perhaps the character simply broke curfew and now hopes to return home without waking anyone.
When the waiting party is someone's parents, they are oftentimes an Education Mama or Helicopter Parents, and the child will be grounded as a result. When this trope occurs with a husband coming home to a disapproving wife, it simultaneously reinforces the stereotypes that husbands are untrustworthy or immature and that wives are nags, and is often a sign that they're not happily married.
Subtrope of The Anticipator. Contrast with Home-Early Surprise.
- Miss Kobayashi's Dragon Maid: When Kanna comes home after having run away and spent the day in New York City, Tohru is waiting for her the second she walked in the door. In this case, Tohru actually hadn't been waiting the entire time and had in fact been keeping an eye on her during her entire trip before presumably using her portal magic to get back before her.
- Princess Tutu: A non-parental example. Ahiru, returning to her dormitory after saving Mytho as Princess Tutu, is caught by Fakir, who finds it suspicious she is out so late. As she tries to walk away, he spots her Transformation Trinket and realizes her secret identity.
- This is the subject of a few Jeff Foxworthy bits:
- There is, of course, every guy who stays out way too late drinking with his buddies.
"We always say something like, "Baby, I'll be back by 5:30, quarter 'till six at the latest." Then we come rolling in, like...February."
- And then there's teenage Jeff trying to sneak back into his house after curfew, only to meet "The Creature from the Bathrobe Lagoon".
Mom: I don't wanna know where you've been, what you've been doing, or who you've been doing it with.
Jeff: Thank goodness, Mom, 'cause the details are a little fuzzy to me at this point.
Mom: You march your fuzzy butt in here, mister. Now where were you tonight?
Jeff: Well, Mom, I was in a hot tub with ten naked women.
Mom: That is sick. I don't wanna hear about it.
Dad: Hold on, baby, I'd like to hear a few details. Ten of 'em, huh? That's my boy!
- There is, of course, every guy who stays out way too late drinking with his buddies.
- Archie Comics: Archie comes home late. From upstairs his parents remind him that he was supposed to be home by ten. Archie responds that it is ten. Just then, the cuckoo clock in the hall chirps twice. Archie sheepishly cuckoos eight more times.
- At the end of the first storyline of Super Sons, Jon and Damian try to get back to the Kent home before anyone realizes they’re gone… only to find a sorely pissed-off Lois and Alfred waiting for them in Jon’s room.
- Happens in Zits with Jeremy sneaking home after his curfew and thinking he's got away with it, but his parents are laying inside his bedroom door in a sleeping bag. He faints.
- In Andy Capp Andy sneaks home to their bedroom late at night. The next frame is black, with a speech bubble from Flo asking "Is that you, Andy?", followed by another black frame, then another of Andy sitting up and saying suspiciously, "That's a funny sort of question."
- In FoxTrot, a sequence of Peter sneaking in late after the prom is framed as though a burglar is breaking into the house. We hear but don't see something clicking, somebody saying, "Freeze, mister!" and the response, "Aaaaah! Don't shoot!". Not a burglar holding Roger at gunpoint - Jason and Marcus catching Peter in the act with a flashlight and a dart gun.
- The Legend of Genji: In "The Avatar Returns: Part V", Genji returns home in the dead of night and stealthily climbs through the window of his apartment, only to find his mother waiting for him inside and ready to chew him out for Sneaking Out at Night during a military curfew.
- Harriett Potter in The Rigel Black Chronicles gets caught in a gang brawl in the Lower Alleys, causing her to arrive home well past curfew — and her dad is in the living room. And her identity swap with her cousin, living each other's lives for most of the year, means that she's not very good at answering his security questions.
- In The Incredibles, Bob returns home, eats a slice of cake, and discovers Helen waiting up for him. Cue kung-fu pose with cake in hand. IT's played up as though he were having an affair, but in truth he's actually gone back to superheroing.
- In House Party, Kid has returned from the eponymous party, sneaking into the house, thinking his pops was asleep. He's just taken off his pants and is crawling into bed. Cue the voice of his father in the doorway.
Pops: I wouldn't do that just yet. [belt snap] 'Cause your ass is mine.
- This is followed by an absolutely hilarious conversation during the credits as Kid's father monologues punctuated by cracks of the belt and Kid's cries of pain.
- In Footloose, Ariel's father waits for her when she returns home late at night after curfew.
- In Boogie Nights, Eddie's mother is waiting for him when he returns from a night out at Jack Horner's house. She makes a horrible scene which causes Eddie to leave home and move in with Jack.
- Rags: Charlie realizes he's close to breaking his midnight curfew and sprints all the way home, sneaking in through the bathroom window to avoid being caught. However, his stepfamily were there waiting for him, catching him in the act...and he manages to get away with it, because he was a minute early, meaning no rules had actually been broken.
- From the Highlands reverses the usual parent-child version of this trope. At the end of the story, Anton sneaks back into his cabin to find his teenage daughter waiting up for him.
- Early into The Outsiders, 14-year old Ponyboy accidentally falls asleep with a friend and stays up past his curfew (which is 12 AM). When he arrives home at 3 AM his Promoted to Parent brothers give him a scolding.
- Played for laughs in Black Books, when Manny comes home from an evening out with friends to find Bernard sitting in a chair waiting up for him, with Bernard proceeding to yell at him like a parent who's been waiting for an errant child all night. For context, Manny is a middle-aged man and Bernard is merely his employer/landlord.
Bernard: Maybe all those other little boys who work in bookshops can do whatever they want, but you're under my roof! You'll follow my rules! This isn't Waterstones!
- In The Day After a young woman creeps quietly home at daybreak after spending the night with her boyfriend, only to be confronted by her angry father. She points out that she is going to be married the next day, which is actually the source of his emotions- fear of losing his 'little girl'.
- Doom Patrol (2019): In a flashback, Larry arrives home late after being with his gay lover, only to find his wife waiting to confront him about how he hasn't changed despite promising to. He tells her that their family is what keeps him sane, but that does not placate her.
- One The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air Cold Open had Will sneaking back in from being out late and after evading Geoffrey and a seemingly sleeping on the couch Aunt Viv and Uncle Phil and dancing in silent victory, his Aunt then mutters, "Good night, Will!" As gis Uncle then shouts, "You're grounded!", which makes him stomp up to his room in response.
- The George Lopez Show: The Stinger for "George Goes to Disneyland" has George coming home late and being greeted by Max, who reminds him that he called into work sick with a tummy ache. He then turns on the light to reveal George covered in Disneyland merchandise, and he yells "I knew it! You went to Disneyland without me!".
- In Seinfeld, in the episode "The Bizarro Jerry", Kramer returns home to Jerry's apartment after a day at "work", when he turns on the light and finds Jerry sitting in the dark. Jerry is sitting at the table and they argue about Kramer being late.
- In Stranger Things, when Nancy returns home late from Steve's party, her mother is waiting in the corridor to berate her.
- On the show Teen Wolf Scott came home, closed the window, turned on the lights and BAM! There was Derek, sitting in a chair expectantly. Stiles went to Scott's house, went to his room, closed the door, turned on the lights and saw Scott sitting in a chair.
- The Stephen Foster song "My Wife Is a Most Knowing Woman" has these lines:
Not often I go out to dinner
And come home a little "so so,"
I try to creep up through the hall-way,
As still as a mouse, on tip-toe,
She's sure to be waiting up for me
And then comes a nice little scene...
- Slip, Slip, Slippin' In by Eddie Bond.
- Happens in the music video for "Love of My Life" by Erykah Badu: she comes home late (and presumably drunk, given the way the music is "screwed" and the scene is blurry) with her date (actually Li'l Flip), to find her mother waiting on the couch and asking where she's been.
- Country singer Collin Raye has a song called "That's My Story" in which he insists that he fell asleep in the back yardnote only to find out that his wife put the hammock in storage a week ago.
- "Wake Up, Little Suzy" by The Everley Brothers is based on the fear of this happening.
- Rick Gay's "I've Been Floating Down the Old Green River":
Half past four, Dan McGraw, came sneaking to his wifey's door.
She'd been waiting up all night, waiting for him to go to bed.
- Mindy McCready's "Guys Do It All The Time" starts out with her coming home at four in the morning to an angry boyfriend, only for her to point out the Double Standard that men often go out drinking with their buddies until the wee hours and expect not to get hassled about it.
- Inverted in "I'm a Member of the Midnight Crew" by Eddie Morton, where he says his wife was shocked to catch him coming home at two in the morning ... because she never expects him until dawn.
- Yes, Your Grace: Early in the game, Princess Asalia sneaks out to a wedding, and comes back from it quite late into the night. She's caught by her older sister, who tells their father.
- In Marvel Rising Ultimate Comics, Dante tries to sneak home after being out too late, but his parents are there waiting for him.
- In the OverSimplified recap of the Cold War, Stalin greets a Soviet citizen of East Berlin as he returns home from West Berlin.
- Kiwi Blitz: Steffi's best friend Benzene is caught by his parents after going out to fight crime with her.
- The Powerpuff Girls:
- The Powerpuff Girls (1998):
- One episode has Harold walking in with his wife there waiting, unknowingly to him, with wonderful news.
- This is played straight and inverted in an episode where the Professor begins dating a disguised Sedusa. The first time it's used, she scolds the girls for being out at night despite them being superheroes. Later on, the roles get reversed when the girls sit in the living room waiting for her to come home after a crime-spree.
- In The Powerpuff Girls (2016), Bubbles is in curlers sitting in chair angrily waiting for Donny the Unicorn to come home from a visit with a new friend. From the episode "Odd Bubbles Out".
- The Powerpuff Girls (1998):
- The Boondocks, with Granddad and another one of his insane girlfriends.
- SpongeBob SquarePants had an amusing example: Patrick came home from a party to a waiting SpongeBob.
- In The Simpsons episode "Brother from the Same Planet", Bart comes home from spending time with his "bigger brother" Tom. He opens the door to find Homer sitting on the stairs in the shadows. Homer confronts him about where he was.
"You've been out gallivanting around with that floozy of a bigger brother of yours, haven't you? Haven't you?!
- A recurring sketch on Black Comedy Monkey Dust: A sad looking man arrived home late at night to find his wife waiting up for him. He explains his lateness with an elaborate, detailed and dubious story. Skeptical wife asks him what he's really been doing. Man confesses to something disturbingly degrading. Funnier than it sounds.
- The American Dad! episode "All About Steve" has a three-fer. Stan comes home and walks into the living room, where Steve confronts him over having a black man else pose as him at a CIA softball game because he's ashamed that his son is a weak nerd. Then he enters the kitchen, where Francine chews him out about the same. Finally, he goes to the bathroom and is greeted by a bruised-up Roger, who tells him "I got beat up by a taco".
- The Family Guy season 4 episode "Deep Throats" plays this trope straight with Brian waiting in the living room to confront Meg with her relationship with Mayor West.
- BoJack Horseman attempts to pull this on Hollyhock in Season 4, sitting in the dark for five hours to invoke it. Unfortunately for him, he realizes only after trying to turn the light on that the bulb had burned out, prompting him to run out of the room to replace it, and then pull the trope off.
- Peppermint Rose begins with Rose stuck at home because she was grounded for coming home late the previous night.