Elliot Carver: Which means...?
Henry Gupta: Government agent. When it looks too good to be true, it usually is.
A character is looking into the background of another character. Upon looking into them, someone will say something along the lines of mentioning that they have a spotless record, not even a minor infraction like a speeding or parking ticket. It counts just as much as if they mention that the only thing on their record is a ticket; if that's the worst they have, then it's not that bad.
This has a couple uses. It can show how saintly a character is by essentially "praising them by faint damnation," or it can show that they seem to be an unlikely suspect, which means that in a Police Procedural show, well, that's another roadblock the Main Characters will have to come back from. In rarer cases, it can mean that they've changed their identity and their record is so clean because it didn't exist earlier.
Contrast and compare Orgy of Evidence, which looks suspicious because it's overwhelmingly incriminating.
- In Batman and Captain America by John Byrne, the generals tell Cap that they suspect Bruce Wayne, financier of the Gotham Project, to be behind the plot to steal it, because there's no visible impropriety in his business dealings, and they find that suspicious. Cap retorts that by the same logic, they should suspect him.
- Judge Dredd: In one chapter, the Judges do a random sweep of citizens' apartments and become highly suspicious when one person turns out not only to have zero violations in his apartment, but has never broken any of Mega-City One's laws in the past. Note that the Meg is such an oppressive hellhole that it's practically impossible for someone to not break any. Powdered sugar and caffeine are illegal.
- Transmetropolitan: Senator Gary Callahan picks a political neophyte called Joshua Freed for his running mate in the presidential election. After looking into the Freed's political background for two seconds, Spider declares that his background records are too clean and that something is up. Freed is a three-week old Artificial Human with falsified records grown and owned by a fascist third-party candidate, allowing Callahan to both gain the fascist's endorsement and not have to openly run with him on the ticket.
- Cursed Blood: Aizawa looks into Bakugo's school records and finds they're completely clean with not a single reported incident. Given Bakugo's personality is combative at best and sociopathic at worst, this tips off Aizawa that Bakugo's record has been falsified, especially since Izuku's record notes several instances of being assaulted or bullied but never once name his attacker.
- Danny and Kara: While trying to find some dirt on Kara, all that Sam finds is that, as Kara already told, she grew up in Kansas and lives in Metropolis. The lack of things like juvenile records or remarkable accomplishments is something Sam holds as a reason to believe Kara "a skeleton or two" in her closet.
- In One for All and Eight for the Ninth, the UA staff realize that Bakugo's school records have been tampered after they saw on the internet a video of him violently threatening Izuku. This also prompts Nezu to make more intensive background searchs, and thus he also finds that, despite also having a spotless record, there were multiple sexual harrasment accusations against Mineta that were swept under the rug thanks to his family's connections. Aizawa even wonders if a completely clean record is a red flag now.
- In Professor Arc: Student of Vacuo, Cinder's complete lack of a criminal history and largely mundane personal history tips off Junior, Roman, Jaune, and Neo that she's far more dangerous than she already appears to be. Junior notes that almost her entire personal history has been forged and the forgers have since been killed.
- Played for Laughs in Skittering Campione: when the Council of the Sands is unable to find anything about Taylor, they conclude that she has to be so deeply involved in crime that she erased every trace of her existence to have a normal life.
- The Departed:
- When Colin Sullivan is up for promotion, Ellerby says to him, "You have an immaculate record. Some guys don't trust an immaculate record. I do. I have an immaculate record." The irony, of course, is that Sullivan is The Mole in the police force.
- On the flip side in the same movie, to do deep undercover work, Billy Costigan has to actually go to prison on some trumped up assault charges so that he has a criminal record and no one thinks he's working for the cops, on account of his family's ties to organized crime. (The fact that he applied for and went through the police academy is a matter of public record, but with the jail time, Costigan can just claim he washed out)
- Used in Miss Congeniality to establish that the villain was untouchable, which meant... well, they had to use the plot of Miss Congeniality.
- A variation in The Santa Clause 2: when Calvin/Santa takes a temporary leave and is replaced with a toy Santa that happens to be a Knight Templar, the toy Santa in a later scene decides to place all kids in the world in the "Naughty" list for various petty reasons, including one that had done absolutely nothing naughty all year, claiming that this only made the child more suspicious.
- Tomorrow Never Dies: Elliott Carver's hacker genius Gupta is able to spot red flags that make him conclude that James Bond is not a banker, but actually a government spy.
Henry Gupta: Bond's got a perfect employment record. Ten years, he's crossed every "t", dotted every "i".
Elliot Carver: Which means?
Henry Gupta: Government agent. I call it "Gupta's Law of Creative Anomalies". If it sounds too good to be true, it always is.
- It should be noted that Gupta did cross paths with Bond at the start of the movie when Bond crashed an arms deal where Gupta was buying the encoder for Carver's schemes, however, he would've been too far away to see Bond in the shootout that ensued as Bond began taking out the terrorists and their various weapons.
- Good Omens: Aziraphale is an angel, and so scrupulously Lawful Good that he's been audited five times on the basis that anyone who turns in accurate tax forms on time has something to hide.
- In the The Millennium Trilogy, Lisbeth investigates Michael on behalf of Mr Vanger, as Michael is indicted for libel. As his previous record proves to be clean, Vanger decides to hire him as a detective.
- The Stormlight Archive: One of the reasons why Adolin believes Kaladin when the latter accuses Brightlord Amaram of stealing the Shardblade Kaladin earned, and covering it up by killing his squad and selling him into slavery. Brightlord Amaram is famed for his honor and impeccable record, which makes Adolin suspicious because his own father is also well known for honor, and yet has a stained reputation. Adolin also notes that he wouldn't dirty his own reputation to save someone's life, unlike Kaladin.
- An episode of 3rd Rock from the Sun has Harry (an alien) run for City Council. The incumbent, who is rather corrupt, recruits a police officer to dig up Harry's criminal record. The officer recounts that Harry has no such record. Literally no misdemeanors, felonies, or miscellaneous criminal infractions in his entire time on this planet. Why, it's almost as if he were... Amish...
- Comes up frequently on Barney Miller: they check a perp for priors and he comes up clean, so Barney tries to talk the injured party into dropping the complaint.
- In Bones, after Dr. Vincent Nigel-Murray is killed, the cast reminisces about how he was apologizing for the worst things that he had done to them... and realized that none of them were very bad. This makes them realize if that's the worst he's capable of, then he was a really nice person.
- Shows up often on Castle. One notable example is when investigating the torture and subsequent murder of a surgeon. Ryan and Esposito are discussing how unusual it is for that to happen, given that the surgeon had no criminal record and no connections to any mobs. Ryan goes so far as to observe, "The guy didn't even have any porn on his computer."
- In one CSI episode, the two suspects in a killing are found with one having killed the other. Brass is surprised at this, as the suspect who killed the other has no criminal record. He emphasizes this during the interrogation by showing him a folder of his past crimes. It's empty.
- Double Subverted in CSI: Miami. When they check on a suspect, his record has a collection of normal, petty offenses and complaints, but the team notices that the other civilians involved with the complaints are all related to police officers. They explain that witness protection programs deliberately include minor criminal records with new identities to avoid this trope, and that pattern is enough for them to realize that the identity has been manufactured by the government.
- Very frequently used to describe Dexter's Victim of the Week, usually to handwave how the victim was Beneath Suspicion and thus slipped through the cracks.
- Doakes cites something similar to this after looking into Dexter's background. He believes that no one's record is that clean unless they've done some scrubbing. He's right, although Dexter's late father/mentor Harry is more responsible for that than Dexter himself.
- Quinn, being Doakes-lite, reaches the same conclusion.
- When looking into the identity of the girl that Dexter found at the home of a victim, he mentions that she doesn't have so much as a speeding ticket.
- In How I Met Your Mother, when Marshall looks into the background of Robin, he mentions that in addition to not being married, she's "not so good at parking legally."
- In the Heat of the Night has an infamous episode, "Perversions of Justice," in which a young teacher is accused (falsely) of inappropriately touching a student's private parts. As a witch hunt ensues, the officers do a background check, and all they find is an indecent exposure charge... back when he was in college, said incident having been part of a drunken late-night romp. (Gillespie and his officers let it slide, as they recall their own drunken, dumb-and-stupid antics as young college-aged adults.) One other incident that comes up, however — a heretofore unexplained resignation from a previous job — wasn't even for criminal reasons: The teacher was grieving the deaths of his parents in a car accident and had a nervous breakdown in the classroom; the teachers former boss reveals this to an officer, Capt. Bubba Skinner. Unfortunately, neither the revelation of these facts nor the accuser later admitting the accusation was false will do anything to restore the teacher's reputation.
- Played for laughs on one episode of Law & Order: Criminal Intent. A person of interest in the Case of the Week was so squeaky clean "he even does jury duty" (referencing the joke that juries are made up of people too dumb to get out of jury duty).
- Luke Cage (2016): During the first season, Misty Knight has some skepticism about whether Luke's superheroics in Harlem are helping or not, and they're not helped when her colleague Bailey does a background check on Luke and finds that Luke has an almost squeaky clean record to the point that the only place his name exists is on his New York driver's license, because his real name is Carl Lucas and he's an escaped fugitive.
- Shows up on an episode of Person of Interest: the CIA agent who is the Victim Of The Week happens to not only be pretty pristine in terms of dirt, but the parking ticket that is on his record was fought most earnestly (with a 70-page report, even), which is clear evidence that he will try and find the reason why everybody on his listening post was massacred, no matter what.
- The Practice: While prosecuting Russel Bakey, Helen Gamble considers it odd his record doesn't have even a speeding ticket.
- In Red Dwarf, when Rimmer is convicted of mass murder by an automated justice system, he protests: "I've never so much as returned a library book late." (The novels clarify that while Rimmer is not an especially moral person, his absolute cowardice prevents him doing anything that could get him into trouble.)
- In Revenge, Emily is noted by the Graysons to be "squeaky clean" without a single morally questionable thing on her record.
- A late fourth-season episode of The Secret World of Alex Mack uses this to describe the man sent by the FDA to review GC-161, a drug that was designed to let people eat as much as they wanted without gaining excess weight, but instead induced Combo Platter Powers. Knowing there was no way the FDA would approve GC-161, Danielle Atron and Lars conspire to inconspicuously drug his coffee and put him in a situation that would publicly humiliate him and ruin his reputation, allowing GC-161 to be pushed onto the market.
- A variant is Played for Laughs in The Last Days Of Fox Hound when The Sorrow attempts to judge Decoy Octopus by making him face the souls of everyone he's ever killed... only to find the two of them in an empty river and be utterly baffled that someone could work for Fox Hound without ever actually killing anyone. Octopus remarks how his talents as a disguise artist make avoiding confrontation his thing, but does admit that he's technically guilty of mass-murder purely by associating with and supporting the rest of his teammates. Sorrow just shakes his head and laments how his test simply doesn't work anymore.
- A Miracle of Science: When a low-ranking mobster doing some work on behalf of the main antagonist (a Mad Scientist by the name of Virgil Haas) realises he might be mixed up in something that will bring more heat than he can handle, he gets a hacker on his payroll to start digging up more information about Haas. He turns out to be a complete blank slate: No criminal record, no academic transcripts, and he's been paying exactly ten thousand per year in taxes three years in a row; not a dollar more, not a dollar less. Turns out Haas altered or destroyed most official records of his existence to keep law-enforcement off his trail, although surprisingly he seems not to have changed his name.
- In Nodwick, a pair of bureaucratic devils look up the history of the Lawful Good cleric Piffany and discover that the worst thing she's ever done is squash a bug. And she did a week's penance to make up for that!
- A variant in Questionable Content, when Roko is researching the person responsible for assigning May her body. While she doesn't have access to his criminal record, since she's not a cop any more, she does find a Suspiciously Bland Twitter Account, and speculates that he must have a private account where he's into "deranged shit".
- Black Jack Justice: "The Big Time" features Jack and Trixie hired by an insurance investigator to find a lost set of heirloom pearls. One of the reasons the pearls have stayed missing is that there is no obvious suspect for theft; every member of the family who would have wanted them valued them more for their status as an heirloom than for any amount of money they could have gained from selling them. Background checks on the family further reveal that none of them have the kind of record that could make them suspicious, such as gambling debts or being secretly poor. The worst crimes this prestigious family have been a part of were drunk driving that only ever murdered a tree, a ten year-old indecent exposure charge, and a juvenile record for a man who is currently fifty-eight, making it likely not worth the trouble of unsealing. Indeed, in the end it's revealed the pearls were never truly stolen. The late owner gave them to his wife's hospice nurse as a gift after his wife's passing and, despite everything being legal, the nurse was happy to return them when asked.