Two (or more) characters, for whatever reason, must pretend they do not know each other over a long period of time. There are two obvious reasons for this to happen:
- A spy mission or con game is in progress, and two seemingly unrelated characters chatting like friends would give away the play. If this is the first time some of these characters have appeared on the show, the audience might not be told that the characters know each other either.
- One character denies knowing another because they think the association would reflect badly on them. This might be a matter of life and death, for example if the person being blanked is an official unperson and the one doing the blanking is scared of a visit from State Security. In a Teen Drama or Soap Opera, however, it's more likely that one character is just embarrassed to be seen in public with the other, and demands that they pretend not to know each other.
Compare Friendship Denial.
Examples Type 1:
- Lucky Number Slevin: The audience isn't told until the end that Slevin and Mr. Goodkat are actually working together in the same con.
- Rounders: Mike and Worm use this trope when they work together at the same poker table several times throughout the movie. This backfires in a major way during their final game, where Worm gets caught cheating when dealing a winning full house to Mike, thereby pissing off a room full of New York state cops.
- The Phantom Menace had a brief shot of someone on Tatooine who was nabbed by the Star Wars Expanded Universe and made into an ultra-conflicted Jedi named Quinlan Vos. He could have helped Qui-Gon and company, but he was infiltrating something or other and assumed the same of the other Jedi.
- Used in one of the western films in the Trinity series, where the titular character Trinity and his brother Bambino pretend not to know each other so that they can cheat at cards. The scheme falls apart when a professional gambler accuses Trinity of cheating, which Trinity was doing by giving everyone at the table increasingly good cards, but his brother ended up with the best hand.
- Bowen and Draco pull this scam on villagers in Dragon Heart, with Draco attacking a village and Bowen pretending to slay him.
- The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2015):
- Defied by Solo, who deliberately makes contact with Illya several times while undercover, mostly to troll him.
- Played straight, however, with Gaby and her handler, Waverly. Neither Solo nor Illya saw that coming.
- This is the fatal mistake Fredo makes in The Godfather Part II. He pretends not to know Johnny Ola when they meet in Cuba, but later on babbles excitedly about the various places in Havana that Ola took him to, while Michael can be seen covering his face in despair.
- In Night Train to Munich, Dick Randall is recognized by an old friend and fellow cricket player, Caldicott. But the problem lies in the fact that Dick is pretending to be a Gestapo officer to save his friends from the Nazis. He shakes off Caldicott, but it's not enough to dispel suspicion from the other Gestapo.
- The Bells of Death: The protagonist, Wei-fu, is a swordsman who lose his family in a bandit raid five years ago, but unbeknownst to him his sister actually survived, and was forced into becoming a concubine for the bandit leader. Five years later Wei-fu has infiltrated the bandits' ranks, when the brother and sister meets each other for the first time... in front of a whole legion of villains. They are forced to pretend each other are strangers.
- Donnie Brasco. The undercover FBI agent who is the protagonist punches someone who is about to greet him as Special Agent Jo Pistone. He then pretends to his Mafia associates that the man made an obscene pass at him.
- In Dan Abnett's Warhammer 40,000 novel Brothers of the Snake, after he worked with the Damocles squad of Space Marines on a mission on Ceres, the Inquisitor Mabuse meets up with them at a coronations. He draws off their leader to alert him that he is passing as a trader and not as an Inquisitor.
- Agatha Christie's N or M? has a retired (former British Intelligence) couple going undercover at a hotel. Their respective cover stories were devised separately, so they could not act as though they knew each other.
- In The Sookie Stackhouse Mysteries, Eric often follows Sookie into the territories of other vampires. Since, as an important leader in his own territory, he is often not welcome elsewhere, he frequently assumes a false identity for that time.
- Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix: Members of the Order who work in the Ministry of Magic, such as Arthur Weasleys (head of the Misuse of Muggle Artifacts office) and auror Kingsley Shacklebolt, pretend they don't know each other to avoid arousing suspicion, and act rather coldly to each other at work, though Arthur whispers what his wife's cooking for dinner at the Order's headquarters to him afterwards.
- In the Charlie Parker Series, Parker, Louis and Angel frequently travel separately to and from meeting points, particularly if there's a likelihood that somebody is going to die. They even go so far as to take separate rooms in the same hotel and spend their time there refusing to even look at each other.
- Unsurprisingly for a show about a gang of long-con operators, this happens all the time in Hustle.
- Mission: Impossible, being a con game series, uses this nearly every episode.
- In the same vein as Mission Impossible, Leverage does this several times. The team will often pretend not to know each other as part of a con, or even to actively be at odds with each other (in one episode, Sophie, posing as a high-ranking member of the Irish mob, pretends to murder Nate, while at one point Parker pretended to be a dead woman that Nate and Sophie pressured the mark over).
- In the Star Trek: The Next Generation two-parter "Gambit", Riker is captured by a rogue vessel, which has already been infiltrated by a presumed-to-be-dead Captain Picard. Only here he's known as Galen.
- In the Monk episode "Mr. Monk Is At Your Service," Monk and Natalie have to play out this trope when Natalie shows up at her obsessive ex-boyfriend's house where Monk is undercover as a butler.
- Daredevil (2015): In the season 1 episode "Speak of the Devil", Matt decides to chat up Wilson Fisk's girlfriend Vanessa Marianna at her art gallery. While Matt is talking to her, Fisk unexpectedly shows up. Fisk knows Matt as one of the lawyers at the law firm that got Karen off when he tried to have her framed for murder, and later used for Healy's defense, and who is now opposing counsel to him in the tenement case. So Matt has to be careful with his words so that Fisk won't realize he's talking to the same guy he had a conversation with over the police radio a few episodes earlier.
- Murder, She Wrote episodes featuring MI6 agent Michael Haggerty generally feature the slight variant of "We barely know each other", since Jessica's reaction to him showing up usually makes it quite clear to others that she recognises him from somewhere.
- Bosch: In season 5, Harry Bosch is going undercover to find the leaders of a pill mill who just murdered a pharmacist that refused to continue selling oxycontin to them. To do so, he receives a set of fake ID with his pictures and the name "Dominic Reilly", to pass himself off as an opioid addict and gain access to the smugglers. He goes to the VA complaining of pain in his knee, and meets one Dr. Hansen, who signs him up with an opioid therapy group. On the way out of the hospital he sees one of the men in the group, Louis Degner, selling pills to another group member, Elizabeth Clayton. Bosch and Edgar follow Louis to his house and arrives just as Louis is frantically administering narcan to revive an overdosed Elizabeth. The police and paramedics are called, and to win Louis's trust, Bosch pretends not to know who Edgar is and helps Louis avoid arrest. Subsequently, Louis agrees to take Harry to the Garcia Pain Clinic.
- The Order of the Stick: Not quite a con, but the protagonists are being cautious, and not advertising that they know each other, when Belkar is in the arena. Leads to him and V being able to insult each other by way of "introduction". And causing Elan to cluelessly ask "What's your name, Roy?" after being "introduced" to him. Not that it matters; it eventually transpires that the Genre Savvy General Tarquin assumes that when a number of high-level characters enter the city at around the same time, they're an adventuring party.
- Girl Genius Agatha gives Dimo a half-lidded glare when he nearly blows her attempt to keep her identity hidden and states:
Agatha: Thank you, kind sir whom I have never met before this very moment.
Dimo: ...Ho! Hy gets it! Dot's me!
- In El Goonish Shive, when Grace and Ellen start attending Moperville South High School, Nanase, who's a bit edgy about all the secrets she has to keep, starts insisting they're supposed to be meeting for the first time, something no-one had suggested up til then.
- Parodied in Yu Yu Hakusho Abridged when Sakyo and Toguro are working together to pull off a scam. After they exchange greetings using the other's names, they simultaneously claim that they've never seen each other before in their life.
Examples Type 2:
- In season 2 of Code Geass, Lelouch is stuck having to pretend he does not know Nunnally in order to keep up his charade of not having regained his memories while around Suzaku.
- In the manga Sanctuary, the two main characters spend much of the time pretending to be strangers to each other, all the while assisting each other in their plan to shake up all social stratas of '90s Japanese society.
- A quick gag in the Ranma ½ manga has Genma and Sōun making fool of themselves on the street with their usual hammy antics, just as Nabiki, hanging out with some other girls from the school, is passing by. One of her friends asks her if that isn't her father, while Nabiki is ignoring them and pretends she'd never met them.
- Rent-A-Girlfriend: Chizuru insists that Kazuya treats her like a total stranger while at the university. Given that they're constantly pretending to be a couple to keep up appearances, it only adds more to their difficulties in keeping the lie when they start developing feelings for each other.
- In a Garfield strip when Jon and Garfield are at Irma's Diner:
Jon: How is your rib?Irma: Ticklish.Jon: I meant your beef ribs.Irma: Don't know, hon. I've never tickled a cow.Jon: You don't know what you're missing.Garfield: I'm not with this man.
- In The Contest, when Fluttershy walks onto the stage, Rarity shatters the silence by cheering loudly, only to trail off as the whole crowd turns to glare at her. Twilight, who is next to her, sinks into her seat in mortification. The announcers issue a reminder about the rules regarding noise levels, and Twilight turns to the pony on her other side and whispers, "I don't really know her."
- Attempted by Johnny in Battlefield Earth, when Terl brings out his Love Interest. Since he's speaking Psychlo, the girl has no idea what he's saying. Johnny goes further and tells Terl that he finds the female repulsive. Terl agrees with the latter, being an alien, but then shows a picture that the girl drew, which is clearly of Johnny.
- In Lawn Dogs, a woman who had just been making out with Trent later avoids him at a party, due to his outsider status.
- Attempted by Loki in Thor: Ragnarok, who had gained the Grandmaster's favor and pretends not to know Thor when the latter first arrives on Sakaar, but Thor's not having any of that.
Loki: I've never met this man in my life.
Thor: He's my brother!
- In the first Red Dwarf novel, Lister first meets Rimmer when the former is driving a (stolen) taxi cab and the latter hires the taxi to take him to an android brothel while (ineffectually) pretending to be a high-ranking officer. For various embarrassing reasons, when Lister is later "introduced" to Rimmer as his subordinate, Rimmer pretends not to know Lister.
- Aspects of both showed up in Starfighters of Adumar. Wedge Antilles, pilot and all-around hero acting as ambassador to a world believed to be very recently discovered, finds his old flame Iella from Intelligence there, looking at him without any visible recognition. When Wedge sends one of his pilots to talk to her, she asks how the pilots are doing. Later he confronts her and finds that the New Republic has known about this world for somewhat longer than he'd thought, telling him that she can't blow her cover. Later still he confronts her again, and finds that another reason is pain — they didn't break up so much as drift apart, and she'd never tried to bring them back together, and he'd moved on to other relationships, even though they hadn't lasted. She'd like them to both forget about it. But Wedge loved her too.
- A tween-book titled Mom, You're Fired! involves the narrator, embarrassed by her mother singing opera in public and "dressing like a Gypsy," lying to a new friend and claiming her mother is her babysitter. When she has her friend over, she asks to call her mother by her first name, on the excuse that it sounds more grown up, to try and preserve the lie. She eventually realizes that her mother is not as embarassing as another friend's mother, (whom she previously wished was her own mother,) but the narrative ends before we see her new friend's reaction to being lied to.
- In the Charlie Parker Series, at Sam's baptism while Angel and Louis are acting as Sam's godfathers, Angel wears a suit so horrendous that fashion-conscious Louis spends the entire day pretending to have no idea who he is, even when Angel is standing next to him and talking to him.
- In the Doctor Who Expanded Universe New Series Adventures novel Plague City, when the TARDIS crew arrive in 18th century Edinburgh, Nardole is wearing a kilt and tam o'shanter, claiming to be a member of "the Clan McNardole". The Doctor says "You'll get us all punched in the face" and starts shouting at the tenements "He's no with us! We're no with him! Honestly just met! Don't even like him much either!"
- In Texas Showdown, Able Team are sent to infiltrate a mercenary army. To his horror, Carl Lyons recognizes their CO as someone he put in prison when he was an LAPD detective. He urges Gadgets and Blancanales to denounce him to save their own lives, but they refuse. So to try and distance himself from them, they stage a nasty fight in the barracks. It turns out to be a moot point as the CO has also recognised Lyons, and is more interested in making a deal with the government than getting revenge.
- In Huge, Chloe spends half the season pretending Alistair is not her brother, since she resents him being at a camp she previously considered her sanctuary.
- In Degrassi Junior High, Stephanie (Alpha Bitch) orders her nerdy little brother to pretend that they're not related. When she gets her comeuppance in the first season finale, she apologizes to him in private, and promises to spend more time with him. But when he asks for a few favors, she grins and says, "Don't push your luck."
- In Scrubs, JD and Turk pretend not to know each other for a few weeks due to an embarrassing memory that they unwittingly brought up. It was done as a gag though and they're seen talking to each other again a few scenes later.
- In an example that fits both types of the trope, when Dr Ethan Pierce first appeared on Shortland Street he and Dr Brooke Freeman pretended not to know each other, even though they had been lovers for years. Brooke felt that Ethan was an embarrassing reminder of her past and was already dating another man, while Ethan decided to go along with the ruse so that he could also date other women as well as use Brooke as a spy to gain a professional advantage at the hospital that they both work at.
- In a Season 3 episode of Gossip Girl, Blair bumps into Dan and Vanessa and insists on this trope. Though she then backtracks when she realises how easily Dan is fitting into college life and asks him to be her date for Georgina's party
- The dramatic variety occurs in Colditz - as the final days of World War II approach, the prison camp's Nazi Political Officer calls his girlfriend to ask her to run away with him. Scared that the phone might be tapped, she tearfully denies knowing who he is, and says he must have a wrong number.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Dawn's reaction to learning that Buffy has gotten a job as a youth councillor in her school:
"You understand you cannot talk to me, look at me, or hang out with any of my friends, right?"
- Spike clearly has some kind of history with Anya's old friend the vengeance demon Halfrek (to the point that she knows him as "William"), but they both deny knowing each other, out of what seems to be mutual embarrassment. As they're played by the same actress, one fan theory is that she's Cecily, the girl he wrote "Effulgent" for.
- On The Wire, stick-up-man Omar steals money from the Barksdale crew, then gives Proposition Joe some of the cash in exchange for Avon Barksdale's pager number. Omar then uses the number in a failed attempt on Avon's life. When setting up a parlay between Omar and Stringer, Joe wisely pretends to have never met Omar in person.
"Don't believe we've met; Proposition Joe. You ever steal from me, I'll kill your whole family."
- In the Friends episode "The One With Ross's Sandwich", the C-plot involves Pheobe and Rachel taking an evening class together but Rachel not taking it seriously. They discuss this and decide Pheobe can take Monica instead, who takes it way too seriously. The ending credits play over this:
Other student: What is with that Monica girl?Phoebe: I don't know. I didn't come with her.
- The Meakins' Catchphrase in Rentaghost is, whenever the Pantomime Horse starts causing havoc, to look around and say, very unconvincingly, "What a funny horse! I wonder who he belongs to?"
- The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel: In season 2 episode 7 "Look She Made A Hat," Midge uses her family's Yom Kippur dinner as the place to come out and disclose her new career as a stand-up comedian, since she has to take off early to do a gig at the Gaslight for a booker. She has her manager, Susie come over for this confession. Abe has already learned about Midge's career after inadvertently catching her perform in the Catskills two episodes earlier. Rather than admit to keeping his wife in the dark, he plays along and pretends he doesn't already know Susie:
Susie: Hi, Abe.Abe: Very good. Deducing that I am Abe, Miriam's father. Hello, person I've never met before. Nice to see you for the very first time.Susie: Okay, so clearly I missed a pretty hefty cocktail hour.
- In the Lian Yu flashbacks, Oliver Queen is captured only to find Sara Lance, whom he assumed drowned during the sinking of the Queen's Gambit the year before, is still alive and working for his captors. She invokes this trope, telling Oliver to not reveal his real name because they'll be killed if anyone realises they know each other. Subverted when it turns out Sara has already told them who he is and she's just playing along to get Oliver to reveal further information.
- Played for laughs when Sara Lance officially returns to Starling City, though she's secretly been there for months as a masked vigilante. Sin (who worked with her during that time) glomps Sara on sight to everyone's confusion. Sin quickly makes up a story about how she always does that when people come back from the dead due to having a zombie fetish, then rolls her eyes.
- In The Bible, Peter denies knowing Jesus when he's brought to trial the night before the crucifixion, making this Older Than Feudalism. And it was just a few hours after Peter said he would never do such a thing. And Christ being all-knowing, insisted he would, and he did. Peter was facing trial and horrible, excruciating death rather than embarrassment, but still...as soon as Peter realized what he did, he was horrified.
- In Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair, Fuyuhiko and Peko, the heir to the Kuzuryu clan and his bodyguard, respectively, are the only two classmates who knew each other prior to coming to Hope's Peak Academy. Fuyuhiko insists that their prior relationship never existed, and as such, Pekoyama calls him by his name instead of "Young Master", while Fuyuhiko, instead of calling Peko by her first name, tends to not refer to her by name at all. Ultimately, however, the truth behind their relationship comes out at the end of the second trial.
- In Housepets!, when Miles the wolf becomes a substitute teacher his teenage son Rockstar is show insisting to his human friends that "Mr the Wolf" is no relation.
- In Daria, snotty Quinn is terrified that having Daria as a sister will endanger her social status — so the two must pretend not to be sisters. In a late episode, Quinn finally softens and admits this to her friends. Her main rival tries to make a big stink over it, but the others, Stacy and Tiffani reply, "Oh, we knew. We were just being polite."