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Parent ex Machina

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In many sitcoms and teen dramas where young persons are the focus of the show, parents (and other adult authority figures) serve no purpose in the show other than to swoop in at the last second to either deliver An Aesop or to ensure that they Can't Get Away with Nuthin'.

After a while, you start to wonder how exactly they keep catching the kids, given that they seem to have absolutely no involvement in their lives otherwise.

Few shows adhere strictly to this model: in many, the adult steps out of this role on rare occasions for a A Day in the Limelight episode. Another alternative is the half Parent Ex Machina; the show typically employs Two Lines, No Waiting, with separate storylines for the adults and the kids, which interact only at the last moment to deliver An Aesop or catch the kids. Many a Double Aesop is forged this way.

Essentially one step up (or down, depending on how you look at it) from Adults Are Useless. Compare and contrast Parents as People, where the parents are almost too busy getting Character Development to actually do any parenting.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Bleach:
    • Uryuu Ishida loses his power at the end of the Soul Society arc. When he is targeted by two Aizen-designed Menos-class hollows, his father appears out of nowhere to save him. The pair have been fighting for years because Ryuuken hates quincies and didn't want Uryuu to become one, so Uryuu is shocked when Ryuuken volunteers to restore Uryuu's power to him. Although the restoration method turns out to be brutal (it can only work if the quincy is pushed to both their physical and spiritual limit), Uryuu's power is duly restored. The story still has not explained why Ryuuken offered to restore Uryuu's power despite having spent years wanting Uryuu to give up being a quincy.
    • At the climax of the Arrancar Arc, the captains, Vizards and even Urahara's group have been defeated by Aizen and there's nothing Ichigo can do, leaving him powerless to watch as Aizen departs the battlefield. Cue his father miraculously gaining his feet in time to inspire him to give pursuit. Not only that, but once inside the time-warping Dangai, Isshin just so happens to have the equipment on his person required to control the time-field to allow Ichigo to engage in a special training method he just happens to know all about. And in super-condensed time, too, so three months training in the Dangai is only an hour's time in the real world. Later on in the Lost Agent arc, Isshin's activities behind the scenes is what enables Urahara to design a method that allows Ichigo to regain his shinigami power.
  • Naruto:
    • In the Pein Arc, Naruto in his Unstoppable Rage almost rips Kurama's seal open but he is stopped by his father, Minato thanks to a failsafe.
    • Naruto is taught by Killer B how to enter his inner world to combat Kurama, a tailed beast sealed within him. It just so happens Naruto's mother, Kushina, appears as a chakra ghost and explains to Naruto that she was the previous host of Kurama, and thus has specialized knowledge on how to subdue him, including a technique that's super-effective against the demon fox. This makes Naruto's eventual fight with Kurama much easier, as his mother steps in to restrain the fox.

    Comic Strips 

  • The Face on the Milk Carton has shades of this. The heroine suffers significant angst through the story, before informing her parents, who fix everything.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Boy Meets World, especially in its early seasons. In the later seasons, Mr. Feeney's character became a lot more substantial, but the parents were all but written out.
  • Leave It to Beaver. Happens with some frequency. Often Wally, Beaver, or both do something they shouldn't have and their parents always seem to find out, often courtesy of some sort of unexpected circumstance. Happens often enough that it seems they Can't Get Away with Nuthin'.
  • Just the Ten of Us, especially in its later seasons, where Coach Lubbock's four eldest daughters replaced him as the primary focus of the show.
  • Gilmore Girls particularly in its later seasons, though subversion since the parent-child relationship is so often reversed.
  • An episode of Star Trek: The Original Series, "The Squire Of Gothos", had a variation on this. Trelane, who seemed to be a Sufficiently Advanced Alien, turned out to merely be a naughty child. His "parents" (who appeared as blobs of energy) arrived just in time to save Captain Kirk and punish their boy.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
    • A similar situation happened in the episode about Buffy's roommate from Hell. The girl, as it turned out, was a demon who "snuck out" to spend time with the mortals. Her father "rescues" Buffy from having to interact with her anymore, at which point, Buffy moves in with Willow. Being dragged back to her dimension, the demon grumbles: "When will you stop treating me like I'm nine-hundred?"
    • Buffy herself often faced this trope in the early episodes. Her mother was involved in some plots, but very few, and she almost never did anything useful. Often, when she did appear, it was to try to have a heart-to-heart with her wayward daughter about either mundane matters that had no real importance compared to what Buffy was dealing with (although usually it was somehow metaphorically related to the plot), or supernatural events that she grossly misinterpreted. Later, Buffy told her mother that she was the Slayer, which, after the initial shock, improved their relationship significantly.

    Web Animation 
  • Most parents in the GoAnimate Grounded videos are this, often only showing up out of nowhere to punish and ground the troublemaker of the video once they step out of line if they weren't already present.

    Web Comics 
  • Dominic Deegan. Miranda Deegan is aware that her children are adults, but doesn't hesitate to bail them out if they are in serious trouble. Since she also happens to be one of the most powerful Archmages in the setting she also counts as a Deus ex Machina.

    Western Animation 
  • Kim Possible: Kim's parents are at times very supportive of their globetrotting, crimefighting daughter.
  • Spoofed in South Park, which usually has one of the children delivering the Aesop to the adults.
  • In many episodes of Rugrats, probably a majority, Adults Are Useless from start to finish. But there are also many episodes where the parents will suddenly catch onto the Devil in Plain Sight misbehavior of Angelica, or otherwise do something useful to resolve the plot at the end of the episode.
  • The mischievous alien having fun at the expense of Danger Mouse and Penfold (episode "The Aliens are Coming") turned out to be playtoys of an alien child who leaves Earth with his dad who says there's no intelligent life.
  • The Futurama episode "Where No Fan Has Gone Before" parodies the example from Star Trek: The Original Series (see above). Melllvar, an energy being who uses the Planet Express crew and the former cast of Star Trek: The Original Series to host his own Trek convention, gets scolded and dragged away by his mother at the end. Except he's not a child, he's 34.
  • Regularly defied on Phineas and Ferb; Candace wants her mother to serve this role, but any evidence of Phineas and Ferb’s antics almost always vanished before she can see it, and on the rare occasions that she does, it’s either All Just a Dream or immediately retconned. For Candace, Failure Is the Only Option.