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Storm in a Teacup

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A standard sitcom plot in which a character frantically tries to correct the consequences of an earlier mishap, only to discover all the fuss wasn't necessary.

At first, to both the character and the viewer, whatever has gone wrong seems to be catastrophic — a valuable object has gotten damaged, a crucial task has been neglected, or the preparations for a special occasion are not ready. It must be fixed at all costs before the boss, parent, or person who owns the MacGuffin learns about it. As a result, the character gets involved in various, increasingly desperate shenanigans.

In most cases, Hilarity Ensues and the character fails their mission, maybe with all ending in a catastrophe. Note, however, that these elements aren't strictly mandatory for this trope to apply.

What matters is that, in the end, the mistake wasn't that big of a deal. If it's a damaged object, then it was about to be thrown away, didn't have emotional value, or was a cheap knock-off. If it's a task, chances are, it was all for show, so the higher-ups think stuff is being done. Alternatively, the task or object was truly valuable, but the second character thinks all of the first character's commitment to salvage the situation more than compensate for it.

This might lead to An Aesop about love being more important than material stuff or duty. The lesson can also be that things will be fine if you ask for other people's support — the character, after all, was trying to solve it alone, so they need to learn to trust and rely on other people sometimes.

Some cases give this a twist. The viewer is well aware from the beginning that there's no need to fret that much despite the character thinking the contrary. That's why Bridezillas and Control Freaks are very prone to this. Or their attitudes may be the reason why another character doesn't want them to learn about the mishap.

The cause ranges from a Broken Treasure or a Doomed Autographed Item to trying to find a Meaningful Gift. On the other hand, Dead Pet Sketches are usually reserved for subversions or when this trope is Played for Drama.

It may be a case of Poor Communication Kills, as one of the characters is unaware they don't need to worry that much. Sister Trope of Milholland Relationship Moment. May be accompanied by a "Fawlty Towers" Plot. Sub-Trope of "Shaggy Dog" Story. Contrast with All for Nothing (a story's buildup gets its payoff. A later event renders it meaningless).

Named after a British idiom that means fussing a lot about something unimportant. In the US, it's known as "tempest in a teapot".

Not to be confused with the Red Hot Chili Peppers song, which takes the phrase literally, the video game, the Porridge episode, or the Rome-based video game developer.


Anime & Manga

  • And Yet the Town Moves:
    • "Pandora Box": Zigzagged when The Ditz Hotori discovers Kon's birthday. They are celebrating Toshiko's birthday two days earlier at the Maid Cafe when an excited Hotori starts asking for everyone else's b-days. There's no problem until Kon, who Used to Be More Social, says it's not a big deal and tries to change the topic. Hotori rummages through Kon's purse for her student ID in a careless (although ultimately well-intentioned) impulse. It turns out, Kon's birthday is the 8th of September, aka today. The mood plummets and Hotori tries to make up for it by sweeping back the confetti back into the cone and throwing it again. She then sings "Happy Birthday", offers Kon to buy her a gift from the candy store, and promises to throw her a party next year because she's memorized the date. Fed up, Kon yells at her to stop with the pity party. Some days later, when things have calmed down, it's implied that Kon does acknowledge Hotori's earnest efforts and they resume their usual dynamic.
    • "And Yet the Town Moves": Initially Played for Laughs but then Played for Drama and subverted. Hotori's uncle gifts her a Montblanc fountain pen, which she keeps calling a fountain pendant, upon entering high school. She decides to "decapitate" it to weld it to a fancy-looking magnifying glass. When her uncle asks her to visit him during the summer break, she freaks out, especially since she just learned how expensive the pen is. She submits an In-Universe Troperiffic detective story to a writing contest with a 5 million yen prize. She predictably doesn't pass the first round of examinations and, with how nice her uncle seems to be, it doesn't seem as if he would mind her creating a magnifying pendant. However, in her despair over the news, she doesn't notice an incoming truck and ends up in a coma due to a brain injury. When she recovers, she tells to her uncle that the pen got destroyed in the accident — which it didn't.
  • Wish: Angels are running around terrified of what God thinks of their romantic entanglements. Turns out, God isn't as Smitey as characterized.


  • Firefly: The Ghost Machine: Badger was hired by Adelai Niska to obtain the Ghost Machine. Badger in turn hired Malcolm Reynolds to pick up the Ghost Machine and bring it to Badger, who would then pass it on to Niska. When Mal refuses to pick up the cargo, Badger is fretting over how to explain that delivery will be late, or possibly not occur at all, in a way that won't end up with Badger hanging up in Niska's meat locker. While he's trying to sort this out, Niska calls him, and says he no longer wants the Ghost Machine, and since he's the one backing out of the arrangement, it's only fair if Badger keeps the down payment and can do whatever he likes with the device (that he doesn't actually have). Badger can only sigh in relief and marvel at his good fortune.
  • "The Necklace": Most decidedly not Played for Laughs in this Guy de Maupassant's short story. A woman borrows her friend's diamond necklace for a fancy dress party, only to lose it. Rather than tell her friend what happened, she buys a replica of the necklace, using loaned money that takes her and her husband a decade to pay back. Near the end of the story, she runs into her friend (whom she hasn't seen since the party) and reveals the truth. The friend, tears welling up in her eyes, reveals that her necklace was merely "paste" (costume jewelry), and didn't cost a fraction of the replacement's price tag.

Live-Action TV

  • Line of Duty: Exploited and discussed in "A Disastrous Affair". Ted convinces Steve to make up a fuss about Gates' unwillingness to fill some forms about an innocuous fault —free breakfast— just so Gates thinks they are grasping at straws and not actually onto his actual crimes.
  • Sabrina the Teenage Witch: Salem the cat accidentally breaks the family secret board. He spends the episode meticulously putting it back together, finally succeeding and dragging it back up to the attic at the end... and someone else breaks it while he's dragging it up the stairs. And then it turns out that they had another board just like it and don't care about it being broken. Salem faints over this revelation.

Puppet Shows

  • Under the Umbrella Tree: Played for Laughs in "The Trombone". After showing Jacob and Iggy her new trombone, Gloria asks them to keep an eye on it while she's at the park. As soon as Gloria leaves, Iggy and Jacob decide to try playing it. They both do surprisingly well after an unsuccessful attempt or two, but Iggy falls down while playing it, and when he gets up, the slide has come off. Never having seen a trombone before, they both think it has broken in half. They frantically try to fix it before Gloria gets back and finally resort to tying and taping the slide onto the trombone. When Holly gets home first, she thinks they're playing a joke on Gloria and tells them that they should just put the trombone back together before she gets home.
    Iggy and Jacob: [in unison] Huh?
    Holly: Oh, we're going to play it like that, are we? Okay, maybe I'd better put it back together. Knowing you two, you'd probably try some other trick. [She removes the string and the tape, then puts the slide back on the trombone.]
    Iggy and Jacob: [in unison] What?
    Holly: You and your jokes.

Western Animation

  • Danger Mouse: The episode "Ee-Tea!" toys with the phrase as wordplay. DM and Penfold track the disappearance of the world's tea to a spacecraft they've infiltrated:
    Penfold: Well...maybe that this is a spaceship for a planet of intergalactic tea bags...who have been driven off course by a storm in a teacup. And are going stir crazy for a pound of tea leaves. And if tea leaves, so can I!
  • Dexter's Laboratory: In "Morning Stretch", Dexter uses a time expansion helmet so he can get showered, dressed, eat breakfast, and finish his homework before the school bus arrives. He gets all this done just as time returns to normal, only for Dee Dee to block his path because it happens to be a snow day, so school is cancelled. (And the fact that Dee Dee was still in her night dress suggests their parents weren't going to send to school them anyway due to the bad weather.)
  • The Fairly OddParents!: In "Tiny Timmy", Timmy's parents buy an antique vase and warn Timmy and Vicky about how fragile it is. At the end of the episode, Timmy stops Vicky from breaking the vase and then breaks it himself. Just as Vicky starts to gloat, Timmy's parents begin laughing, it turns out the vase was ten-dollar junk from a garage sale, but it was insured for a few thousand dollars, and they were banking on it being broken.
  • Handy Manny: In "Squeeze Makes A Promise", Squeeze leaves the lid off of Maurice's tank, and he escapes into Manny’s workshop… except it turns out that Maurice never escaped; he was in his tank the whole time, just camouflaged.
  • Milo Murphy's Law: Used as a Literal Metaphor in "Agee Ientee Diogee" as Dr. Doofenshmirtz says "talk about a tempest in a teapot" when the shrinking grenade's effect wears off while he's inside a teapot.
  • Miraculous Ladybug: In "The Mime", Marinette accidentally deletes a video off of Alya's cellphone and panics, convinced that this will destroy their friendship. After frantically trying to find some way of retrieving the lost data before Alya can find out, she confesses... only for Alya to reveal that all of her footage is automatically saved to her cloud, meaning her mistake was no big deal. She's only upset that Marinette wound up working herself into such a state over it.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic: In "Lesson Zero", the third episode of the second season, Twilight Sparkle goes mad with worry when she realizes she's forgotten to send her weekly friendship report to her mentor Princess Celestia. This culminates in half the town of Ponyville fighting over Twilight's favorite childhood toy after a botched attempt to "make a friendship problem". It is only revealed at the very end that Princess Celestia wasn't expecting a friendship report every week.
  • Spongebob Squarepants: Played for Laughs in the episode "Wet Painters". Spongebob and Patrick panic when they get paint on Mr. Krabs' first dollar, only to be told that the supposedly irremovable paint can be easily removed with saliva.