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Paid-for Family

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Jane: There's something you should know. My parents died when I was six. I'm an orphan.
John: ...then who was that lovely gentleman who gave you away at our wedding?
Jane: Paid actor.
John: I said, I said I saw your dad on Fantasy Island!

Something like The Paid-For Harem, this is when a character pays people to act as though they were his warm and loving family. A rather extreme form of I Just Want to Be Normal, if the character in question is incapable of founding a "normal" family, or a way to show said character's Freudian Excuse. Sometimes played for laughs, such as for keeping a I Want Grandkids parent at bay.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • It's implied in Noir that the couple Kirika was living with in Japan to prior to losing her memories were one of these, but the specifics, including who they actually were and who hired them, is left ambiguous and we only see them in a photograph that she finds in the house where she wakes up, but it's likely they were agents of the Ancient Conspiracy that has hands in the rest of the plot. It's also never established what became of her biological family (who were probably members of the conspiracy as well).
  • In Hades Project Zeorymer, Masato Akitsu's parents were paid by the International Electronic Brains group to raise him until he was 15. Masato had no idea of it, obviously, and is shocked when he's locked away by the firm and instead of bailing him out, the Akitsus collect their fee and leave him there.

     Comic Books  

  • XIII: In the comic, we learn more about the Mongoose's backstory, including that he pays prostitutes to act like women who want him to join their family for Christmas.
  • Robin: After Tim's father died Bruce offered to adopt him, only for a Jack's will to state his previously unheard of brother was Tim's godfather. It quickly turns out that this was all orchestrated by Tim, who paid an actor to act as his uncle so he could keep his freedom and because of his anger towards Bruce regarding Stephanie's death and final moments. When Batman finds out (of course he finds out, he's Batman), he tells Tim he's proud of him and shows him how to make the fake nature of his uncle even harder to uncover, because labyrinthine scheming is encouraged in that household over telling people who care about you what you really feel.note 
  • The Authority: In a decidedly creepy variation, in one story that has The Authority replaced by Sociopathic Hero Captain Ersatz versions, the Engineer has all her nanomachines removed and is brainwashed, then placed in a "family" of evil children and an abusive husband (all actors), that she will be conditioned to never leave or go against despite the abuse they heap on her.
  • An issue of Superman, when they were trying to keep Post-Crisis continuity (so Lex Luthor's parents were killed when he was a boy) but also trying to mimic early Smallville as much as possible (so they needed a Lionel Luthor character), had Young Lex hire an actor with a striking resemblance to John Glover.
  • The Flash: Captain Boomerang in one appearance, pays two elderly con artists he knows to play his aged parents. They testify to Boomer's good character to deflect Barry Allen's suspicions.


  • In the Steve Martin movie Housesitter, Goldie Hawn's character uses a local homeless couple to act as her parents at a reception.
  • The movie The Joneses (as in "keeping up with the") features a slight variation: a marketing firm hires some professionals to move into a wealthy neighborhood pretending to be a family to promote products by inserting them in their daily routine and hoping people will decide to mimic them.
  • Mr. & Mrs. Smith (2005): Mr. Smith learns his wife was an orphan, so when he asks about her parents at the wedding, she replies "Paid actor".
    Mr. Smith: I said, I said I saw your dad on Fantasy Island!
  • In National Lampoon's Vacation, Clark Griswold tells The Girl in the Ferrari (Christie Brinkley) that Ellen, Russ and Audrey are his brother's family and he borrows them to pose as his family when he wants to check out the hotels in his chain(s).
  • Shows up a couple times in the Japanese horror film Norikos Dinner Table. The main character ends up working for a group that provides people to pretend to be family or even a lover or spouse. Sometimes, they're even killed as an act of revenge against the real family member.
  • The Truman Show contains an example where Truman himself isn't the one hiring the family, instead it's Christof, the director of the show Truman is unwittingly starring in hiring actors to play his family and loved ones. The actor playing Truman's father eventually quit and was "written out" by allegedly dying; this becomes awkward when he decides to come back later, and gets an in-universe Ass Pull of how he survived that only makes Truman more suspicious that his whole life is a lie.
  • In We're the Millers, a marijuana runner offers varying amounts of compensation for two of his neighbors and a teenage runaway to pose as his loving, stereotypical suburban wife and children so he'll arouse less suspicion trying to run drugs over the U.S.-Mexican border.


  • The Count of Monte Cristo: As part of his plan, the Count hires an old Italian major to play the role of estranged father to the escaped murderer and illegitimate son of Villefortnote  Benedetto and Benedetto the dutiful son, as prince Andrea Cavalcanti, son of the very rich Count Bartolomeo Cavalcanti. This in order to get Danglarsnote  to get Andrea fianceed to his daughter (by breaking up with Morcerf'snote  son), expose Andrea as Benedetto on the day of the contract signing, and then expose Benedetto as Villefort's bastard. The Count takes his vengeance seriously.
  • An odd version of it occurs in Charles Stross's Halting State where Jack Reed is threatened with the kidnapping of the relatives whose communications he receives periodically, but he disregards the threat because they've been dead for years. The communications are courtesy of a service that helps him maintain the illusion that they're still alive.

     Live Action TV  

  • 30 Rock:
    • In the episode "The Moms", TGS producer Pete hires a professional actor to play Tracy's mom on the Mother's Day special of the Show Within a Show since the whereabouts of Tracy's real mother are unknown.
    • In "The C Word", Tracy gives a speech at a charity event for diabetes about his diabetic daughter. This impresses the host, Don Geiss, who invites Jack, Tracy, and his daughter to Martha's Vinyard. Once Geiss is out of earshot, Tracy admits to Jack that he doesn't have a daughter. Jack tells Tracy that they'll have a casting session on Monday.
  • In an episode of Halfway Home where the characters' families came to visit them, drug runner Carly's family is eventually revealed (to the viewer) to be actors - her real parents pretty much act as though she never existed.
  • In an episode of How I Met Your Mother, Barney pays a pair of actors (for several years) to play his wife and son... so that his mother will believe he's happy and has a family.
  • One episode of JAG has a marine refusing to testify in his own defense, because he believes it will dishonour the memory of a dead friend. Vic, his lawyer, brings in the dead friend's father, who reads a letter his son sent him about how the thing that killed him was an accident waiting to happen, which gives the marine courage to tell the truth about how his friend died. Both the father and the letter were fake— Vic hired an actor to encourage his client to take the stand. Of course, this action being morally suspect at best, the lawyer does get called on it by his superiors.
  • Kenan & Kel: Afraid it was to tell something bad the principal wanted to meet Kenan's parents, he hired a couple of (rather lousy) actors to pose as them. Kenan had to entertain the principal and his fake parents to dinner at his house and, obviously, it ended with Kenan's real parents appearing in the end.
  • In The King of Queens, Carrie Heffernan becomes mother to one of these, a "family" otherwise composed of actors which is used to present an illusion of cosy normality, employed to sell hard-to-shift houses. Carrie gets into this so much that she gets withdrawal symptoms when it ends, and the child actors playing her kids accuse her of being creepy and threaten to take out injunctions.
  • Legends of Tomorrow. The Reveal that Ava Sharpe is actually a clone is presaged by the Legends discovering her family are actors hired to pretend to be her parents whenever Ava would visit her "home", or when people would come asking about her.
  • Midsomer Murders has a very strange episode in which various women prostitute themselves, catering to various fetishes: one does domination S&M, another is a woman "caught" in a bear trap, waiting to be rescued by a passing hunter, and yet another is a smiling housewife awaiting her husband's return with a warm meal. The murder victim even tells her he'd want to marry her... for real.
  • The Odd Couple (1970): When Oscar's rival for City Council shows up for an appearance with his family, campaign organizer Felix hires minority actors to play Oscar's loving family.
  • Pushing Daisies has an episode where the murder victim works for a company called "Frescorts" where people who have trouble making friends can hire "best friends" to hang out with them.
  • This is the central premise of Sons Of Tucson. The Gunderson boys hire Ron Snuffkin to pretend to be their dad.

     Video Games  

  • Magical Diary: Damien later admits that his parents are really just a couple of his servants, ordered to raise him. It's unclear on whether or not he had a happy childhood or not, since the only information you have on the matter comes from Damien himself - and he is more than willing to twist the facts to make himself look sympathetic.

     Web Comics  

  • Referenced in Questionable Content - Hanners once admits that she's secretly worried that the rest of the cast are just skilled actors paid by her (ludicrously wealthy) parents to give her the illusion of a normal life. Faye's response: "Well, if we WERE, we wouldn't be allowed to admit it, so there's not much point in worrying about it, is there?".
  • A strip in Mac Hall has Ian accuse Micah of having character actors play the part of his parents, in order to deceive him from the fact that he may be an old man in disguise who has been stalking him all his life. Just another ordinary day at the college.

     Western Animation  

  • An episode of Recess had a parent/teacher conference where Spinelli was too embarrassed to have her family come so she paid a couple of people who did a really bad job. In an unusual variation on this trope, her real parents are the "normal," loving ones, but because they're Amazingly Embarrassing Parents she hires a pair of "cool" jerks instead.
  • Invader Zim: When Zim used his Irken technology to build a replica of a human house, it also built robotic replicas of a stereotypical Fifties-style "Mom" and "Dad." Usually, they're in the background, but when Zim has to modify them and bring them to Parent-Teacher Night at his school, Hilarity Ensues.
  • Bob's Burgers: "An Indecent Thanksgiving Proposal" had the Belchers' landlord promise them several rent-free months if Linda, Tina, Gene, and Louise will pretend to be his family. Why? His old flame Shelby is coming to dinner and Mr. Fischoeder knows she will only be interested in him if she thinks he's taken. Hilarity Ensues.
  • In the American Dad! episode "Con Heir" we find out that for many years Stan had hired an actor to play his father. The truth comes out after the actor dies and Stan's real father shows up.