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Too Good to Be True

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"If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is."
Old Saying

Genre Savvy characters are often aware that in real life, perfect outcomes to practically anything are extremely rare. Whether the asking price for something at Honest John's Dealership is just a little too low to be believable, that ravishingly lovely lady throwing herself at the protagonist claims to have an extremely unlikely fetish for guys matching his specific description (which incidentally includes the word "ugly"), or some present situation just plain seems to be a little too wonderful to be real, the character's instincts tell him something must be wrong. Somebody must be getting screwed here, and if he can't determine who's the patsy, that somebody is probably himself.


Such instincts, more often than not, tend to be sound: Honest John's name is a misnomer and that product he's trying to unload for next to nothing is actually a liability to its owner, which is why he's trying to get rid of it; that lovely lady is a Honey Trap or worse and plans to deliver her victim to his worst enemies to be tortured to death; and the reason things are going so well is that one of the protagonist's enemies is setting him up for a terrible fall from the heights of his greatest triumph. Note that this instinct is common in characters from all parts of the moral spectrum, though heroes tend to be targeted for this kind of deception a lot more than villains. Also, while high intelligence tends to coincide with this instinct, characters who are Too Dumb to Fool are especially likely to be appropriately skeptical that they could really be on an endless lucky streak.


As much as this instinct often proves to be Truth in Television, the Rule of Drama actually dictates that it's even more likely to be an accurate appraisal of the situation in fictional works, since an ideal situation in which everything goes according to plan leaves no room for Conflict, and without conflict, there's no story. Considering how very often this instinct expresses itself to both the characters and the audience, let there be In-Universe Examples Only on the main page for any given work to which this applies, please. Audience Reactions expressing this instinct can go on the Fridge Logic tab.

A Con Man's skill often lies in convincing The Mark to ignore this instinct, especially when it comes to a Get Rich Quick Scheme or a cheap item that Fell Off the Back of a Truck.

A Super Trope to:


In-Universe Examples Only:

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     Anime And Manga  

  • Puella Magi Madoka Magica the Movie: Rebellion: This is one of many deconstructed character flaws present in Homura Akemi, as it is how she realises the idealised Mitakihari was a Lotus-Eater Machine. Yes, even in an ideal world created by her own mind she cannot rest happily.
  • A Certain Magical Index: Touma gets extremely suspicious when he wins a lottery prize for an all-expenses-paid vacation in Italy for two. Given his legendarily bad luck, he thinks this could only be happening if everything is going to go horribly wrong. Which, of course, it does.
  • Run With The Wind has the Kansei University dorm, the current residence of the main characters. It has lodging, meals and the rental price is relatively cheap. Sounds like a bargain, right? Unfortunately, it turns out the full name of the dorm is Kansei University Track and Field dorm. Being in the track team is obligatory for all tenants.

     Films - Animated 
  • A somewhat downplayed example in Aladdin: The Return of Jafar: Abis Mal is offered tons of treasures in exchange for setting his genie Jafar free. Initially he's elated, but just before he's going to make the wish, he remembers that Jafar has been a complete Jackass Genie the entire time he's had him. If he sets Jafar free, what's stopping Jafar from making all his treasure disappear and doing horrible things to his former master the moment he's loose?
  • Winnie-the-Pooh believes that he can spend every day of his life with Christopher Robin playing and enjoying their peaceful life in the Hundred-Acre-Wood together. It's understandable since the entire franchise until Pooh's Grand Adventure: The Search for Christopher Robin had usually featured the two together playing in every episode, short, or movie. Then at the beginning of that movie, Pooh discovers to his dismay that this is unfortunately not the case, as Christopher Robin must start attending school. In his song "Wherever You Are", Pooh laments that he "used to believe in forever, but forever's too good to be true". At the end of the film, after a Darker and Edgier adventure full of Break the Cutie, Eldritch Locations and the like, despite his reunion with Christopher Robin, Pooh has realized that they can't always spend every day together anymore.
  • In Pinocchio when the Coachman takes Pinocchio and the other boys to Pleasure Island, Jiminy Cricket walks around observing the place which seems to be a child's paradise where you can eat whatever you want, play carnival games and go on rides, smoke and drink alcohol, and destroy the place all without interference from authority figures, he wonders to himself "there's something phony about all this", it turns out to be a trap for unsuspecting boys who are encouraged to behave badly so they will transform into donkeys and the Coachman can sell them into slavery.

     Films - Live-Action  
  • A shop owner in Cone Heads admits to having suspected the truth all along when his incredibly industrious new employee Beldar admits to being an illegal alien (which technically he is, though the shop owner is unaware of just how alien he is).
  • In the first Matrix movie, Agent Smith gives a Hannibal Lecture about how this trope thwarted the machines' earliest efforts to build a Matrix that was intended to be a utopian Heaven-on-Earth for humanity because humanity just wasn't buying it: "It was a disaster. No one would accept the program. Entire crops were lost." He speculates that this distrust for perfection is inborn.
  • As one of the investigators in Minority Report points out, the cops' discovery of an "Orgy of Evidence" actually makes him more skeptical that they're pursuing the right suspect (and he's right, sort of).
  • In Terminator 2: Judgment Day, John calls his foster parents to see if they're safe from the T-1000. What initially tips him off that's something's not kosher is that his foster mother is being far nicer to him than she ever has before, since normally she's fed up with his juvenile delinquent ways. Sure enough, the T-1000 has already replaced her, and is in the middle of killing off his foster father as well while they're talking.

  • In Words of Radiance Adolin is unsurprised and completely willing to believe Kaladin's claim that Amaram betrayed him and murdered his friends, noting that Amaram's completely flawless reputation suggests to him someone who's putting a lot of effort into looking good. This is at a time when his father's genuinely well meaning efforts are destroying his reputation.

     Live Action TV  
  • In The A-Team episode "The Road to Hope", Hannibal suspects from the start that something is up with their latest client, because she's offering them $300,000 to come to her cushy house and her fancy yacht and update her security. Face doesn't want to believe him, but it turns out Hannibal was right.
  • In Castle's first episode, Richard Castle is rather bothered by how quickly and neatly everything on his first case falls into place, though the cops don't see anything wrong with this. It turns out he's right, and the man they've arrested is a patsy.
  • In Married... with Children, any time a Bundy acknowledges a streak of good fortune, bad luck will ensue with disastrous results.
  • Star Trek: The Original Series. In "The Cage", the crew of Enterprise discover the survivors of another Starfleet vessel, heroically surviving in Robinsonade-style, yet all in perfect health. Then their captain is Lured into a Trap and these survivors all vanish into thin air, as they are a telepathic illusion created by the inhabitants of the planet as The Bait.
    Boyce: It was a perfect illusion. They had us seeing just what we wanted to see, human beings who'd survived with dignity and bravery, everything entirely logical, right down to the building of the camp, the tattered clothing, everything.
  • In the Star Trek: Voyager episode "Hope and Fear," our heroes meet an alien Omniglot who helps them decode a message they received from Starfleet several episodes earlier, and it directs them to a new starship with a quantum slipstream drive that can get them across the galaxy in three months. Janeway starts to get a Gut Feeling that this is just too perfect—and she's right. The alien wants to use the ship to capture the crew and feed them to the Borg.
  • In "Dead Stop" from Star Trek: Enterprise, T'Pol notices Captain Archer is visibly troubled about the mysterious repair station they've found which is able and willing to fix every bit of the extensive damage to their ship (and the injuries to its crew) in exchange for the amazingly low price of just 200 liters of warp plasma. His instincts are sound, as it turns out there's a "hidden fee" the station also tries to extract from them.
  • In episode 3 of season 1 of Death in Paradise all of the evidence points to one person. Naturally, Richard feels it's all too neat.
  • Jack O'Neill notes this about the Aschen, a highly advanced race that basically solves all Earth's problems single handedly. Needless to say, he's right.
  • In the Enemy at the Door episode "The Polish Affaire", a man and woman who were lovers in the Balkans before the war are reunited when he escapes from a forced labor camp and hides out in her garden. It turns out that his choice of hiding place owes nothing to luck, nor even the fact that he was transferred to a labor camp so near her; the escape was stage-managed from the beginning, and not for either of their benefit.
  • Community: In the episode "Remedial Chaos Theory," Jeff says he can't stay long for Troy and Abed's housewarming party because he has an invitation to an awesome new club.
    Jeff: Look at this place. It's like it was designed for me.
    Abed: It was. I made that in Photoshop and mailed it to you a month ago so you'd keep tonight open on your calendar.
    Jeff: There's no such thing as Single-Malt-Platinum-Boobs-And-Billards Club?! [realizes] Oh. I guess I never said it out loud.

     Video Games 
  • In Persona 5, this is part of the reason the Traitor gets found out: their story is just too conveniently lining up with the goals of the Phantom Thieves for the rest of the Thieves to not notice. Goro Akechi offers to join the Phantom Thieves and help them escape the authorities if they agree to disband after one last heist. Given that Akechi was hellbent on bringing the Thieves to justice in the months before, the Thieves are suspicious of his intentions but go with his plan anyway since they don't have any other options. However, Morgana notes that Akechi accidentally revealed himself as being able to hear Morgana speak normally (something only people who have been to the Metaverse can do) way before Akechi claimed he first went. These suspicions are proven right when Akechi outs himself as The Heavy.

     Web Comics  
  • In The Order of the Stick, this is how Elan realizes that they are in a Lotus-Eater Machine. Specifically, while Haley's (saving her dad and becoming filthy rich) and Roy's (saving the world and proving to everyone that fighters didn't suck) happy endings were good and (sorta) realistic goals, Elan's happy ending involved the coming true of childish fantasies that would never work in the real world, such as his father and mother getting back together (his father being a Lawful Evil tyrant and his mother being a Chaotic Good commoner). Elan's realization of how unrealistic these dreams are, and admitting to himself that they will never work, is what breaks them out of the illusion.
    • When Nale gets caught by the same Lotus-Eater Machine, what breaks him out is the realization that he's been monologuing at the heroes for hours, and yet they haven't taken advantage of it.

     Western Animation 
  • In the Phineas and Ferb episode "Phineas and Ferb Get Busted!" this is how Candace finds out that the events of the episode are All Just a Dream — she realizes that things are getting too good to be true when Jeremy proposes to her.
  • Played with in the American Dad! episode "The Vacation Goo. Francine finds out that every family vacation was just a simulation Stan created, and she demands that he take the family on a real vacation. He actually does take the family on a cruise ship, but Francine becomes convinced it's fake after seeing several unlikely sights, including Stan and Hayley getting along, Steve hooking up with an attractive woman, and Roger being on the ship (he wasn't invited, but one of his personas got a job there).