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Dinner and a Show

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"What is this, cabaret? Entertainment while you eat?"
The Cat, Red Dwarf

When a family gets together in a Sitcom for a big family dinner, expect hilarity to ensue. Sometimes this is treated as just normal craziness that happens when everyone gets together. Frequently there's overlap with Dysfunctional Family, Obnoxious In-Laws, Parental Marriage Veto, and Big, Screwed-Up Family. There's usually someone who's outspoken and critical of other family members' lifestyle, choice of partner, job, etc. Sometimes, there's a Racist Grandma (or other relative) who likes to stir the pot, especially after one too many drinks, and who doesn't think that the rules of decorum apply to them. Occasionally, it's a relative announcing an engagement to someone the other family members don't like, or someone they haven't been seeing for very long.

An unfortunate bit of Truth in Television, as any advice column published around the holidays can attest to, as relatives who can get along when they keep a respectful (hundred miles or more) distance from one another can end up uncomfortable with one another if they have to be in the same room, especially if the stress of major holidays and the social pressure to present a joyful facade reach a boiling point. note 

Not to be confused with At the Opera Tonight or Dinner Theater where people go to have dinner and watch a show. In this trope, they are part of the "show". This trope may be found in a Thanksgiving Episode, which will almost certainly revolve around a big dinner.


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    Comic Books 

    Film — Animated 

    Film — Live-Action 
  • The Thanksgiving movie What's Cooking?. You get FOUR dinners and FOUR shows as four diverse families celebrate the holiday in Los Angeles.
  • Four Christmases featured the protagonists being forced to suffer through four meals with four dysfunctional families they usually left the city to avoid over Christmas.
  • A very uncomfortable example in Whale Music. Claire invites Dennis' friends, most of whom haven't seen him in years, and he has a meltdown, thinking Danny is speaking to him.
  • The fight between Rex and Fly in Babe prompts Mr. Hogget to leave his dinner and try to split the dogs up.
  • In The Pest, while Pest is having dinner with his girlfriend's parents, a tracker chip placed in his underwear starts to overheat, causing him to get up and flail around on the floor to stop the burning.
  • In The Doors by Oliver Stone, we get a good one, complete with infidelity, LSD, celebrities, and a curb-stomped duck.
  • The dinner scene in Saturday Night Fever. Unusually for this trope, this is a normal family dinner at the Ramero household, not a special occasion.
  • In Elle, the dinner party Michèle hosts for her friends and family goes south when her mother announces she's engaged again, to Michèle's displeasure.
  • When the Leonides family sits down to dinner with Charles in Crooked House, it isn't long before the family's dirty laundry starts being aired: with accusations of everything from murder to Communism.
  • In The Crime Doctor's Courage, David Lee gets a job as a waiter to infiltrate Gordon and Kathleen Carson's dinner party, where he creates a scene by accusing Gordon of having murdered his first two wives.

  • A darker than usual example in Alice Adams, when Arthur comes over to the Adamses for dinner. Social Climber Alice is desperate to pass herself and her family off as rich sophisticates, but it all goes to hell. It's far too hot, especially for the heavy dinner that the Adamses have prepared—the soup makes everyone more sweaty, and the ice cream is melted. Malena's half-assed attitude is expressed in her cap continually falling over her face. Virgil acts like the coarse factory worker he is rather than the successful businessman Alice wants him to pretend to be. Virgil accidentally exposes Alice's lie that he has two secretaries. It gets more and more uncomfortable until Arthur finally leaves.
  • The infamous dinner party hosted by Miles in A Civil Campaign.
    Miles: "My dinner party. It's just breaking up..." And sinking. All souls feared lost.
  • AJ's Annual Party from Naked Lunch. The party involves a live sex show (with possibly-simulated hangings), an orgy, and AJ decapitating a group of party-crashers while singing "Fifteen Men on a Dead Man's Chest".
    • Another instance in Hassan Salvador O'Leary's backstory, where he drove a herd of wild boars through a fancy restaurant and they ate the chef.
  • In James Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, the Dedaluses' Christmas dinner early in the novel soon degenerates into an angry debate about Charles Stewart Parnellnote  and the role of the Catholic Church in Irish politics, between Stephen's father and his aunt.
  • In Irvine Welsh's Skagboys, Alexander brings Alison to visit his family at a barbecue shortly after she starts working for him. His sister and mother confront him over his separation from his wife and children.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Brothers & Sisters, where Walker family dinners inevitably result in an argument. The only reason they're not the the page image is because deciding which dinner to use is a Herculean effort. They've started Lampshade Hanging it, especially Robert McAllister:
    Robert: Is this your first Walker family dinner?
    Sarah's latest male friend: Yes.
    Robert: Good luck.
  • One of the defining characteristics of the Crane family from Frasier, although usually some guests are involved as well. Recounting every time the family has thrown a disastrous dinner that descended into blood, tears, and chaos by the third act would take up half the page, but special mention should go to the time it was heavily Lampshaded in "Daphne Does Dinner", which featured a bizarre, Noodle Implements-filled opening scene, and in which Daphne's Epic Fail at her first lavish dinner since marrying Niles causes Frasier to proclaim that she is now "officially a Crane."
  • Basically every episode of Everybody Loves Raymond, whether or not more extended family members or Debra or Amy's parents are involved.
  • Michael and Jan's dinner party in "The Dinner Party" episode of The Office descends into a bitter fight between the two and utter chaos, much to the simultaneous amusement/horror of their guests.
  • Titus was fond of this trope as well: There was the episode where Titus' family and Erin's family came for Thanksgiving and wound up in the hospital, twice with his mother making dinner (one time drugging the entire family and trying to kill his dad, another with her psychiatrist fiancé showing up and making Titus and his dad upset), and once when Tommy was dating a woman who had slept with Titus - they went to her restaurant. Ken Titus even used the trope title as things got more and more awkward.
  • Gilmore Girls: Lampshaded by Lorelai when she and Rory once arrived for Friday Night Dinner and they watched an argument between Richard and Emily.
  • In Due South, Ray Vecchio's family seems to have this as their default setting. Ray ruefully lampshades the trope when Fraser is invited to sit for dinner in the pilot.
  • Game of Thrones: The night of Sam's return to Horn Hill with Gilly and the baby Sam in "Blood of My Blood".
  • Malcolm in the Middle. In fact, the family probably aren't any more dysfunctional at dinner than the rest of the time - it just brings them all into close proximity.
  • If we are to go by Six Feet Under, family dinners can get quite interesting when one member of the family has had ecstasy. Without him knowing about it.
  • So common on Picket Fences whenever they have dinner guests, that lawyer Wambaugh lampshaded it when urging another guest to accept an invitation: "Strange things happen when they eat."
  • Californication seems to be going out of its way to have one of these every series. They're yet to top the one from series 2 though.
  • One Saturday Night Live sketch was an advertisement for the greatest hits of dysfunctional family holiday dinners (for those who can't make it home this year). Each one ended with the father (Will Ferrell) yelling "*BLEEP* this, I'm leaving!" and flipping his dinner plate into the air. What really made this funny was that Ferrell's plate flips just got harder every time until the last one where he practically launches it across the table.
  • On Heroes, Thanksgiving dinner at the Bennet house starts with a massive argument and ends with Claire self-mutilating in order to demonstrate her Healing Factor, causing her mom's new boyfriend to pass out. Meanwhile, at the Petrelli house, they discuss how one of the brothers is actually dead, with his memories transferred into the body of a mindwiped shapeshifting psychopath.
  • Once an Episode in Blue Bloods, the Reagan family has Sunday dinner. Sometimes it's a serious discussion of the episode's events, sometimes it's the funniest part of the episode.
  • Downton Abbey: "Upstairs" meals are often the scene of some dramatic event or other—generally understated when guests are there, but Robert's private breakfasts with his daughters can involve a bit of overt shock (and they do much to shock him). "Downstairs" meals in the servants' hall can also be the site of much tension, which is inevitably broken abruptly by Carson or Mrs Hughes saying, "Back to work".
  • On Devious Maids, the ex-wife of a dinner party's host crashes the party and threatens to destroy the dinner after chucking a piece of crystal at him. This forces Marisol to intervene and forcibly shove the ex-wife out the door.
  • Happens more or less every episode in the Slice of Life sitcom The Royle Family.
  • Dexter 's season 4 Thanksgiving scene.
  • On Star Trek: Enterprise, this is how Trip describes T'Pol trying to eat with chopsticks.
  • Happened during Roseanne 's yearly Thanksgiving Episode. Some notable fights included Jackie and Bev fighting about Jackie's cop job, Nana Mary talking about her two abortions prior to having Bev, Jackie and Roseanne finding out about their father's decades of infidelity (though they wouldn't find out it had been decades until the following episode), and Bev coming out as a lesbian. Not that it's restricted to Thanksgiving, of course; one family dinner with Bev in attendance featured Roseanne throwing biscuits across the table and Darlene bragging about being groped by a male friend and more recently, Jackie getting in an argument with Darlene which results in the latter getting slapped in the face.
  • The Veil: In "Food on the Table", after a long sea voyage Captain John Elwood's celebration at a 19th century Mariner's Club is cut short when his wife jealously yanks the food off the banquet table. After he murders her, the Captain pays another visit to the Mariner's Club only to find that the Vengeful Ghost of his wife once again plays havoc with a banquet in his honor.
  • Sesame Street: In one insert, Maria is trying to have coffee with Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, but they are repeatedly interrupted by an argument among Muppets. Things have to be settled before the women can get back to their coffee.

  • Fodder for many an Anti-Christmas Song. A good example would be The Arrogant Worms "Christmas is Here," where everyone is already tense, but then one member who has been drinking heavily insults his in-laws, followed by announcing his wife's affair with the boss, causing the wife to start a Food Fight, escalating to knives and shotguns being picked up, and finally the cops arriving to find a massacre.



    Visual Novels 
  • Subverted with Amy’s birthday dinner in Melody if Arnold is present. Amy invites the protagonist, Melody, and Arnold to celebrate with her, and the two women make some unintentional double entendres while looking over the menu. It makes Arnold so uncomfortable that he storms off to the bar. However, the protagonist has a man-to-man talk with Arnold, he comes back, and the actual dinner is pleasant and peaceful.

    Western Animation 
  • Daria invokes this in "One J At A Time" as the reason she hasn't invited Tom to dinner with her family. Unusually for this trope, she voices more concern about her father's dignity than her own.
  • Doug: Judy (at the insistence of Mrs. Funnie) brought her new boyfriend Kyle home for dinner. She was reluctant to do so because she viewed her family as being boring, so she staged a performance where her parents were a writer and an anthropologist, and Doug was a butler. Doug was upset at this, so he tried to spice things up by being a secret agent instead. Kyle tells Judy that he would have accepted her family, no matter how "uncool" they were, and that she didn't have to put on a show for him. Afterwards, Kyle is never seen again, implying that he and Judy broke up (whether because of the antics of this particular evening, or for another reason.)
  • Hey Arnold! had quite a few of these, too. Most notably the Thanksgiving episode where the phrase is uttered during Mr Simmons Thanksgiving dinner. When the girl known as Joy starts choking, Mr Simmons' "friend" Peter dryly states this as he sips some red wine.
  • On Rocko's Modern Life, Rocko is invited over for dinner at Heffer's house. Awkwardness ensues when he finds out that Heffer was (literally) Raised by Wolves...and that he has no idea that he's adopted. The Wolfe family, meanwhile, are pretty dysfunctional in their own right.


Video Example(s):


The Croods and the Bettermans

So so many tangled webs. Each couple of the film argues across the table, while Thunk sits innocently eating a flower decoration and Gran, just for giggles, reveals her 'wig' to a terrified Sandy.

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