Misleading situations in live-action TV.
- Inverted in a 3rd Rock from the Sun episode in which the rest of the family is outraged to discover that Tommy is secretly a gourmet chef after finding oregano and fresh rosemary in his sock drawer. Tommy desperately insists that it's marijuana.
- Inverted on 30 Rock:Tracy: I wasn't watching cute little kitten videos, I was watching pornography! Who put these sleepy kitten videos on here?
- Played with in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., after Simmons meets the beautiful Aida, with whom her boyfriend Fitz has been spending quite a bit of time.Simmons: Now I see why you've been spending so much time here.
Simmons: Aida. She's... beautiful.
Fitz: Is she? She's all right I guess. I prefer classical beauty myself.
Simmons: She's so real. Her conversational responses, her range of motion.
Fitz: Those are weird things to say about a person.
Simmons: Fitz, she's an android. You do know she's an android, right?
Fitz: Of course I know that she's an android, because I helped build her. Why do you think her dynamic reaction force is so low?
- ALF, of all series, does this once. In one episode ALF put on some weight and can't stand up on his own, so he asks Willy to help him. Willy gets behind him, tries to lift him up and both of them start moaning. Then Kate comes in.
- This is actually one of the key running gags (out of many) in 'Allo 'Allo!. And a subversion since it is almost always what it looks like Rene making out with the waitresses and his wife always buys his explanation. The trope is played straight when Lt Gruber makes advances, though.Edith: Rene! What are you doing with that servant girl in your arms!
Rene: You stu-pid woman! Can you not see I am [making an utterly implausible excuse!]
- A particularly horrific subversion of this trope occurred in American Gothic (1995): Sutpen, a convicted killer now released from prison for good behavior, is taken in by Carter as fulfillment of a debt to Buck... after which he begins, quite unsubtly, to put the moves on Carter's daughter. (The popsicle-suckling scene is particularly over-the-top.) After catching Sutpen and his apparently willing daughter practically skinny-dipping together, then giggling and tickling each other under the sheets, Carter forbids them from having any more contact. The very next night, he hears giggling again, grabs his rifle, bursts into his daughter's room, and fires...only to discover it was his daughter and wife playing together, and he had just killed his wife. The fact this is apparently a repeat of history and the reason Sutpen was locked up in the first place, as it's strongly implied Sutpen accidentally killed the wrong man for sleeping with his wife, when it was Carter who had done the deed, only puts the icing on the cake.
- In the episode "Salvage", this is the villainous Angelus' verbatim reaction to being caught holding Lilah's body right after she'd been stabbed in the neck by Cordelia. Everyone naturally assumes he's the one who killed her, and Angelus is so amused by this turn of events, and by the fact that the heroes would never believe him anyway, that he doesn't even try to hide his snickers as he delivers the line.Angelus: [in a sarcastically overwrought voice] Wait, guys, it's not what it looks like!
- In "Sanctuary" Buffy rushes to Los Angeles after hearing rogue Slayer Faith is gunning for her former Love Interest, only to find a recently-showered, shirt-unbuttoned Angel giving Faith a Cooldown Hug. The fact that Faith recently slept with Buffy's current boyfriend does not help matters.Angel: It's not what you think.
Buffy: You actually think that I can form a thought right now? Giles heard that — that she tried to kill you.
Angel: That's true.
Buffy: So you decided to punish her with a severe cuddling.
- In the episode "Salvage", this is the villainous Angelus' verbatim reaction to being caught holding Lilah's body right after she'd been stabbed in the neck by Cordelia. Everyone naturally assumes he's the one who killed her, and Angelus is so amused by this turn of events, and by the fact that the heroes would never believe him anyway, that he doesn't even try to hide his snickers as he delivers the line.
- Arrested Development has this exchange:George Sr.: Hi... This is not what it looks like...
Lucille: It looks like you're tweaking her nipples through a chain-link fence.
George Sr.: Yep ... Yeah, that's it.
- Ash vs. Evil Dead: Ash's father comes back as a Deadite, resulting in a rather messy fight that leaves Ash standing over a hacked-up corpse drenched in blood. When his daughter Brandy walks in, suffice to say, this doesn't look very good.
- The Big Bang Theory: Uttered by Penny when everyone catches her and Raj coming out of Leonard's room. Sheldon was confused, though: "What does it look like?" He does eventually figure out it looked like coitus had happened between the two of them, only to dismiss the possibility of that being what actually happened because of what she said, forcing Leonard to point out to him that Penny might have been lying. However by the end of the episode Penny learns from Raj that they didn't actually end up sleeping together, so it really wasn't what it looked like.
- In an episode of Big Time Rush Kendall is constantly put into this situation with Jordin Sparks, as everything he tries to do for his girlfriend Jo turns into what looks like a romantic scene with Jordin just as Jo walks into the scene.
- Inverted in Blackadder II when Baldrick walks in on Blackadder and "Bob" about to kiss on the floor.Baldrick: Don't worry, Bob. He used to try 'un kill me too.
- Subverted in an episode of Blossom after being played straight multiple times within one scene: Blossom's father walks in on her and her date making out on the couch, to which she hastily babbles this, her father's date comes downstairs, making him blurt this out, then the closet door opens and Joey and Six fall out, leading Six to declare:"This is exactly what it looks like!"
- Of course, this isn't true either, Six was throwing herself at Joey, who was trying to fend her off, resulting in them taking a fall.
- Boy Meets World:
- Played straight and subverted in the same episode.
- First, Cory, already suspicious for no good reason, walks in on Topanga and Shawn in a compromising position. Shawn had slept on the couch in the student lounge due to Cory installing a deadbolt and Topanga came by to visit him in the morning.Cory: Underpants!
- Later, Angela manages to talk Cory down and make him realize that there is definitely nothing going on between Shawn and Topanga. They snuggle up next to each other in bed and Cory comments on the trope and states how impossible it would be for anyone to find reason within this picture. Suddenly both Topanga and Shawn walk in, causing Cory to instinctively shout out the trope name. However, they nonchalantly shake it off and the episode ends with both jumping right in with Cory and Angela.
- First, Cory, already suspicious for no good reason, walks in on Topanga and Shawn in a compromising position. Shawn had slept on the couch in the student lounge due to Cory installing a deadbolt and Topanga came by to visit him in the morning.
- In a more serious version of this trope, Cory and Topanga are working late on a school project and they happen to fall asleep in the same room. Because of the Double Standard, Cory is praised for his alleged prowess while Topanga is ruined. Finally Cory nerves himself to do the right thing and saves Topanga by stepping forward and admitting that it wasn't what it looks like. He was remarkably Easily Forgiven too.
- Played straight and subverted in the same episode.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
- "Hush" has a memorable "Not What it Looks Like" facial expression. While Anya is napping on the couch, a vamped-out Spike, who had just been drinking blood from his favorite mug, kneels down to retrieve something. Cue Xander, who walks in to see Spike, his lips covered in blood, his forehead all bumpy, come up from behind Anya's neck. Xander proceeds to render the be-chipped Spike into fist burger even as Spike flashes wide eyes and a "wait wait!" expression. Once the truth comes out, Anya is flattered (while Spike, who only gets an apologetic shrug from Xander, rolls his eyes at them).
- "Hush" also has Buffy, in answer to the query of how she would kill "The Gentlemen" move her hand up and down at waist level. Following the horrified looks on her friends' faces, she then pulls a stake from her purse and they all nod in understanding.
- "Witch" has this exchange when Willow discovers that Xander's been checking out books on witchcraft:Xander: It's not what you think!
Willow: You like to look at the semi-nude engravings?
Xander: Okay... maybe it is what you think.
- Later played for drama in "Angel" when Darla feeds off Joyce. Angel, in vamp face, tries to help, but Buffy walks in on him right as Darla leaves him holding Joyce's unconscious body.
- And in "Revelations" when Xander discovers that not only is Angel back from the dead, but he's snogging Buffy. Given that sex with Buffy turned him into the evil Angelus, the Scoobies are understandably pissed.Buffy: It's not what you think.
Xander: Hope not. Because I think you're harboring a vicious killer.
- In "Wrecked" we have a lot of unsubtle magic = drugs metaphors, so Buffy isn't amused when she finds witch Amy with a bag of weed.Amy: It's not what you think it is — it's sage!
Buffy: That is what I think it is.
- Castle; in "Tick Tick Tick...", Castle insisted on staying at Beckett's apartment (sleeping on her couch) to protect her from a killer obsessed with Castle's Nikki Heat novels. The next morning he made her pancakes, but another dead body was deposited outside her front door. Ryan and Esposito investigated and Castle was unable to convince them that his staying at Beckett's overnight was completely innocent.Esposito: Pancakes is not just breakfast, it's an edible way of saying, 'Thank you SO much for last night.'
Ryan: Castle, come on, we're your friends- details.
Castle: Okay, come here. [the boys form a huddle] THERE ARE NO DETAILS!
Esposito: I can't even look at you right now.
Ryan: [writing on his notepad] Witness refuses to cooperate.
- Charmed had that episode where they fought an evil wizard. His minion, a golem, reveals to Paige that he has no belly button. She has to go down on her knees to see. In comes Piper.Paige: It's not what you think! I was examining him!
Piper: I don't care what you call it, just cut it out!
- In the episode "Dude" of the BBC series Clone, Ian has finally managed to remove the camera that the government planted in his eye and given the camera to a big friendly dog. The dog encounters Jasmine, on whom Ian has a hopeless crush, jumps on her and licks her face. The men watching the surveillance feed think that Ian is attacking Jasmine. Being villains, they are impressed with Ian's apparent behavior.
- A flashback in the Cold Case episode "Strange Fruit" has a white woman and her brother-in-law arriving home to find a strange black boy in her house, apparently cavorting with the housekeeper. The flashback from the housekeeper's POV reveals that he had walked into the house looking for the kids who stole an American flag off his front porch and was merely introducing himself to the woman.
- In Community episode "Interpretive Dance", when Troy and Britta announce they have a secret to share with the group, Annie's reaction shows she believes them to be a couple. They really just want to invite everyone to a dance recital.
- In a bit on The Daily Show, host Jon Stewart demonstrates "chat roulette". He makes random video-chat connections with four people, three of whom are naked, before seeing one of his own anchors sitting in bed making a jerking motion just out of sight. "Jon, it's not what it looks like! I'm playing Wii Butter Churn." He shows the Wii controller, then adds, "and masturbating."
- Doctor Who:
- In Russell T. Davies' novelization of "Rose", Jackie walks in on the Doctor and Rose after they've fought off the severed Auton arm, with Rose straddling the Doctor (in the wreckage of her coffee table) while holding a plastic hand.
- "The Impossible Astronaut" opens with an outraged, sword-wielding Cavalier finding a naked Eleventh Doctor hiding under his wife's skirt. One can't blame the chap for having the Doctor thrown into the Tower of London.The Doctor: You know, this isn't nearly as bad as it looks.
- "Demons of the Punjab": The Doctor, her companions and Prem first encounter the Thijarians, sinister-looking aliens called "demons" by any locals who see them, in the woods with the body of a holy man, so they naturally assume they killed him. Actually, they were just paying a Due to the Dead, and the Sadhu was actually murdered by someone else.
- The season 2 Christmas Episode of Downton Abbey features a failed attempt at this. Lady Rosamund finds her temporary love interest genuinely in flagrante with her maid. He tries to brush it off, with little success:Lord Hepworth: My dear, this is... isn't what it seems.
Rosamund: Is there room for misinterpretation?
- On The Drew Carey Show episode "Drew's Reunion" a girl that Oswald had dated and dumped left him tied up and naked, when Lewis went to un-tie him his own date Bo Derek walked in on him straddling his naked friend and she ran off. Later Lewis tells Kate that if she sees Bo tell her that him and Oswald were not having sex, it just looked like it.
- Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman of all shows pulls this. The titular character notices her beau Sully sneaking off with her friend Dorothy into Loren's store, with Dorothy closing the blinds and putting up the "Closed" sign. When in another instance she actually catches them coming downstairs from Dorothy's room, she flips out, only to have Dorothy reveal that she's been teaching Sully to dance in order to surprise Mike.
- Several seasons later, Jake notices his sweetheart Theresa sneaking off with local Jerkass Hank. When he confronts Hank and he refuses to reveal what's going on, Jake gets drunk and starts trashing the town. An angry Hank finally reveals that Theresa has been teaching him to read and that he didn't say anything because he felt it was no one else's business.
- The opening skit of the 2006 Emmys had host Conan O'Brien wandering onto the set of several TV shows. The final scene had him walking into an empty house and finding himself in the middle of a "To Catch a Predator" segment, insisting to host Chris Hansen (like the numerous real life creeps caught), "It's not what you think."
- ER: Doug Ross' girlfriend unexpectedly shows up at his place, only to find him chatting and laughing with another woman on the stoop of his apartment building. He spots her and hurriedly declares, "It's not what you think", to no avail—given his reputation as The Casanova, she's completely (and probably correctly) convinced that they're either pre or post-coital.
- Same quote, different context in Firefly's "Trash", prompting the hilarious subversion:Mal: Unless it looks like we're stealing your priceless Lassiter, because that's exactly what we're doing. Don't ask me about the gun though; that's new.
Durran: I appreciate your honesty. Not, you know, a lot...
- When Niles gets into bed with his couples therapist (believing it to be Maris) and demands to know what is going on, the therapist starts by saying, "It's not what it looks like" before exasperatedly saying, "What am I saying?"
- In another episode, Maris is out of town and Niles and Frasier commandeer her beach house to host a swanky party. After an incident with a dead seal causes the neighbour to call the police, thinking she saw Niles stabbing Maris (he was actually stabbing the seal's corpse to help it sink.) Frasier insists there is no foul play, just as the cops draw back a curtain to see a soaking wet and half-crazed Niles wiping blood from a kitchen knife.
- In "The Gift Horse", Roz kisses Frasier in an attempt to show up an ex-boyfriend, only for Niles to see them. Frasier's attempts to explain aren't helped by Roz kissing him on the cheek.
- An epic one of these with a dramatic twist where, in picking up a ring that had fallen down, it appeared Joey was proposing to Rachel.
- Then there was that episode where Joey and Ross "took a nap" together after watching Die Hard...
- And when Monica wrestles Rachel to the ground to force to use her eye drops, Rachel says: "You know, if Joey and Chandler walked in right now, we could make a fortune!"
- In The One Where Joey Loses His Insurance, Joey finds out that the pain of his hernia is alleviated when he presses on his lower abdomen. Unfortunately, he does this (which involves having part of his hand inside the front of his pants) while filming a commercial with a child and saying the line "I've got a surprise for you."
- Full House:
- Season Three episode "Just Say No Way", when Jesse walks into the main area and sees DJ sardonically mocking the boy's stupidity, which he falsely concludes to mean she's offering them beer for real and then goes off the deep end to falsely accuse her until her friend, Kevin, clears up the misunderstanding later.
- In the seventh-season episode "Making Out is Hard to Do", after Jesse wakes up from his nightmare (where he ends up washed-up, overweight and bald and Rebecca ends up divorcing him and is romantically involved with Joey), he sees Rebecca and Joey face-to-face in close proximity, prompting the following conversation:Jesse: How could you do that right in front of me?!
Rebecca: Joey had cream filling in his eye.
Joey: You squeeze one and — pffft.
Jesse: So there's nothing going on between the two of you? Joey's just an idiot?
Joey: Is there a third option? *beat* I need to wash out my eye.
- Game of Thrones: One reason why Jaime's killing of Aerys ruined his reputation is the fact that not only did he break his vows to protect him, but he did so when his father's army was in King's Landing. As a result, everyone thinks he did it to help Daddy and/or save his own skin. This is decidedly not the case.
- Grace and Frankie: Lampshaded for laughs when Brianna pays Coyote an unexpected visit, only for a half-naked young man — Coyote's long-lost half-brother — to come out of the bathroom.Brianna: I know there's a perfectly good explanation for this, but please don't tell me yet.
- In the Hawaii Five-0 episode "Hoa Pili"/"Close Friend", Ryan (Brendan Ford) caught his wife Allie (Tara Platt) sleeping with his best friend (whom he helped out in a rainy day by becoming his business partner) Liam (Yuri Lowenthal) in his boat Allie. It was Liam who put this trope into practice, while Allie didn't really seem troubled and only asked Ryan "what are you doing here?". To make matters worse, Liam was going to get killed, while Ryan made Allie watch it, but then a boat explodes and we enter the real story. Note that Tara and Yuri are a Real Life married couple.
- In an episode of The Hogan Family, Sandy is floored to see Mark's girlfriend Cara sneaking out of his room early one morning. They both insist that they merely fell asleep while studying. Sandy struggles to believe them and finally does after Mark tells her off for not trusting him.
- In Hogan's Heroes, Col. Hogan is meeting with Soviet agent Marya (the only character in the series who always outwitted Hogan) in an apartment. When they hear a door open, Marya exclaims "He is my brother!" (At that moment, she was straddling him with her lips firmly against his.) Fortunately, the person at the door was LeBeau (who believes everything Marya ever says).
- A B-plot in the episode "Who's Your Daddy?" involves House getting a physical therapist to help ease the pain in his leg. Twice in a single scene, characters walk in on him with his pants down groaning in pleasure while she... massages his damaged thigh. Both times he immediately yells, "Not what you think!" without even being prompted. It doesn't help that the angle is such that anyone walking in might interpret the scene as her giving him a blowjob.
- The writers really like this trope. It happened to Cameron in "Daddy's Boy" when she was examining a potential patient's groin infection/fungus/whatever it was. For the record the man's boss didn't buy it, asking the "doctor" to leave a card behind.
- Inverted by House himself in another episode. House is with his ex-girlfriend washing dishes when her husband walks in, to which he replies, "It's not what you think. I know it looks like we're washing dishes, but really, we're having sex."
- In the Lifetime Movie of the Week A House Of Secrets And Lies, a woman walks in on her husband and his secretary going at it on the couch in his office. He name-drops this trope, prompting her to scream at him and ask what kind of an idiot he takes her for.
- iCarly has one of these in the episode "iEnrage Gibby". Gibby's girlfriend falls on Freddy, the rest of the episode is spent preparing for the fight.
- Subverted? Inverted? Umm, something, in The IT Crowd episode "Tramps Like Us". Douglas, the sexual harassing boss, is ordered by the court to wear electric pants that taser his balls when he gets aroused. They break so he takes them to Moss in IT, who has a concussion and amnesia, and had previously been sexually harassed by a drug induced libido crazed Douglas (which led to the electric sex pants).Douglas: You there, computer man, fix my pants.
Moss: I beg your pardon.
Douglas: Pull down my trousers and do your job.
Moss: [kneeling in front a pantless Douglas] I don't know what it is. What am I supposed to do with it?
Douglas: I don't know, fiddle about with it. [sparks fly from his crotch]
[inter-faith tour group of clergymen walk in to Douglas' back turned with a kneeling Moss in front of his crotch]
Douglas: Yeah, oh, yeah... [looks over his shoulder while gyrating his hips] Fuck off!
Moss: [no longer concussed and amnesiac] I'm in my happy place. I'm in my happy place. I'm in my happy place.
- In the It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia episode "The Maureen Ponderosa Wedding Massacre," Liam McPoyle is getting married to the titular Maureen, while his brother Ryan tries to derail the wedding due to their ongoing incestuous relationship. Liam and Ryan eventually reunite, and Dennis, Frank, and the viewer are treated to an extended scene in which Liam is standing with his hands on his hips, looking very pleased, and Ryan is crouched down by his groin making gagging noises. Turns out he's "begging for forgiveness."Liam: [after about five seconds of this scene] Hey, man.
- Gussie Fink-Nottle is victimized by this several times in Jeeves and Wooster, and it always just happens to be his hopeful fiancée Madeline Basset who walks in on him.
- Bertie gets one of the violence variant in "Return to New York". Arthur Slingsby storms into Bertie's apartment while Bertie is practicing golf, slips on a golf ball and falls to the ground. His wife and Bertie's love interest walk in to find Bertie standing over the injured Slingsby with a golf club in his hand and jump to the obvious conclusion.
- This Just For Laughs prank pulls this on the unfortunate fellows who stop to help out the snagged bride. They're just trying to free her dress from the thorns, honest!
- A couple of moments in Kim's Convenience involve characters' innocent actions getting badly misunderstood.
- When a delinquent tries to rob the store, Jung convinces him to give up his knife for the cash register's contents. After the robber leaves, Jung plays with the knife as the police comes in. They arrest Jung thinking he was robbing the store. He only manages to be let off because one of the policemen is his friend.
- At the church, Mrs. Kim and Mrs. Park catch Jung giving Jeanie Park a flask of alcohol. Mrs. Kim is furious as she's humiliated in front of Mrs. Park and is worried over Jung's reputation as a former delinquent. As it turns out, the flask belongs to Mr. Park and Jeanie shoved the flask into Jung's hands when Mrs. Kim and Mrs. Park walked in.
- Gerald feels very uncomfortable when he hears Janet moaning and thinks she is pleasuring herself. She was actually having a massage with a neck massager.
- Subverted in The King of Queens: Doug discovers Deacon having a candlelit dinner with a woman other than his wife, and struggles to come up with an innocent reason for it. Finally Deacon tells him "It's what it looks like, okay?"
- While it happens several times in small doses in Kyle XY, probably the most obvious example is in "Hands on a Hybrid", when Kyle and Jessi reveal their "navellessness" to each other just as Amanda walks in.
- Lois & Clark: An alien assassin breaks into Clark's apartment and attacks him. Clark defeats him, but he shapeshifts into an attractive woman just as Clark's neighbor walks in, causing her to think Clark has just cheated on Lois and abused/raped a girl. In the confusion, the assassin escapes.
- Being The Hedonist, Lucifer takes full advantage of the fact that he's an irresistible Chick Magnet. But in one episode he suspects his mother is possessing the body of a teen actress in a high school soap opera, so starts freaking out when she throws herself on Lucifer and starts to tear off their clothes. Naturally Chloe walks in at that point to find Lucifer apparently in bed with a half-naked schoolgirl.Lucifer: Detective, for once this really isn't what it looks like!
- Lucifer casually walks into Chloe's house while she's in the shower and cooks her breakfast. This leads to a Humiliation Conga where Chloe drops her Modesty Towel in shock at finding him there, then her daughter and ex-husband walk in and draw the obvious conclusion.
- Lucifer has Ella doing some private forensic work he doesn't want Chloe to find out about. Unfortunately Ella is a Cuddle Bug, so when Chloe walks in on them hugging, their Blatant Lies as to why Ella is there and hugging Lucifer only convince her they're involved.
- Played for Drama when Lucifer and Chloe find two people dressed in bright yellow rubber overalls and gas masks carrying a corpse on a stretcher.Ava Lyon: This is not what it looks like.
Lucifer: What? Minions day out?
- "Off the Record" has an example from both sides. Reese sneaks into Lucifer's suite and finds a woman who's gagged and Chained to a Bed. She's very displeased when he tries to rescue her: she's exactly where she wants to be, but assumes that Lucifer is trying to add Reese to their erotic roleplay without her prior consent.
- Being The Hedonist, Lucifer takes full advantage of the fact that he's an irresistible Chick Magnet. But in one episode he suspects his mother is possessing the body of a teen actress in a high school soap opera, so starts freaking out when she throws herself on Lucifer and starts to tear off their clothes. Naturally Chloe walks in at that point to find Lucifer apparently in bed with a half-naked schoolgirl.
- The Made in Canada episode "Trojan Horse" builds up to a brilliant example. Network executive Brian's daughter, Eliza, has obtained an internship at Pyramid Productions, and Brian tells Pyramid CEO Alan to keep his lecherous production heads Richard and Victor away from Eliza, or else. Alan sends them away for the day and apprentices Eliza to production adviser Veronica, while Richard and Victor put together a film pitch and Richard tricks Victor into waiving his upfront fee for a cut of the back end (which he expects to be zero). Eliza, however, is a lesbian and falls in love with Veronica; when Veronica rejects her over dinner, she gets blind drunk in despair. Richard and Victor bail Veronica out by carrying Eliza back to Brian's hotel suite. On the way, Richard and Victor discuss a second film pitch, and begin arguing again over whose fee will comprise the front end or back end, while in the suite, Brian is screening his new ice dancing documentary for a bored Alan...Ice dancer: [on film] What I love most about skating is the whoosh of the wind through my hair! [Alan almost nods off] It really feels like I'm flying! Flying!
[the door opens and Richard and Victor carry in the nearly unconscious Eliza]
Victor: No no no, this time I'm taking the back end, you take the front end!
[Brian drops his martini glass in horror; he and Alan stare in disbelief at the embarrassed Richard and Victor]
Richard: [to camera] This is not good...
- Modern Family:
- Mitchell and Cameron get into a silly fight about a trophy that each has won. Mitchell eventually decides to make up by displaying all of Cam's other trophies on the mantlepiece. He gets the box of trophies from the garage - but a mouse pops out. Mitchell drops the trophies and starts stamping around to kill the mouse — but to Cam it looks like he's tramping on the trophies.Mitchell: I was going to make this whole display!
Cam: I think you just did.
- Phil walks in on Haley and Andy cuddling in bed and her boyfriend later walks in when she is wearing nothing but his shirt and he is putting his pants back on. Andy starts to explain but both times they assume the perfectly innocent explanation immediately to the point that Andy is annoyed that no one believes that it could be what it looked like.
- Mitchell and Cameron get into a silly fight about a trophy that each has won. Mitchell eventually decides to make up by displaying all of Cam's other trophies on the mantlepiece. He gets the box of trophies from the garage - but a mouse pops out. Mitchell drops the trophies and starts stamping around to kill the mouse — but to Cam it looks like he's tramping on the trophies.
- Moonlight: After discovering Morgan is Coraline, Beth rushes to Mick's apartment to tell him. There she finds Coraline walking down the stairs in Mick's shirt. Mick protests that nothing happened, although it's undermined in that they were about to have sex in the shower before Beth interrupted them with her arrival.
- An episode of My Two Dads had the dads walk in on Nichole and Cory (the geeky one of her two not-boyfriends). Cory shouts out "It's not how it looks!" then adds: "Actually, how does it look?"
- The Nanny:
- In "A Fine Friendship", Fran gets a too-tight dress stuck over her head and Mr. Sheffield tries to help her remove it. Just as they manage to pull it off, they over balance and fall down onto her bed, just as Niles is walking past. Niles overheard them saying things like "Don't worry Miss Fine, we'll get it on!", "Mister Sheffield, I'm so hot!" and "I can't do this standing up! Just get on the bed!", and afterwards asks "If you let me tell Miss Babcock about this, I'll work free for a year!"
- In "Fashion Show", Fran crawls under Maxwell's desk to massage his foot. Then Niles walks in and hears Fran's voice say "How does this feel Mister Sheffield? Do you want me to rub some lotion on it?" from under the desk, he pauses, then whispers "Should I leave?".
- In "Close Shave", Maggie's volunteering as a nurse at a local hospital. But one night, Maggie gets Fran to cover for her as she goes to a concert with her friends. However, Fran finds herself in a room with Maxwell, who's suffering from a sudden case of appendicitis and needs surgery. When the surgeon tells Fran to shave him for surgery, Fran tries to get out of it, but is pressured into doing so. Then, Niles walks in, finding Fran massaging shaving cream all over Maxwell's lower body, leading him to ask "Bucking for a raise?".
- Done several times on NCIS, and usually Played for Laughs.
- In one episode, Gibbs walks into the morgue and sees Palmer giving CPR to a dummy, to which he asks, "New girlfriend?" The next scene is him walking into the lab and seeing Abby giving a model of DiNozzo mouth-to-mouth.Abby: This isn't what it looks like.
Abby: Oh, then it's exactly what it looks like.
- In another episode, Diane (the mutual ex-wife of Gibbs and Fornell) is at McGee's place in protective custody, and they fall asleep on his couch—albeit fully clothed, implying that nothing sexual happened. Unfortunately, they don't wake up until Gibbs and Fornell arrive. Gibbs looks mildly bemused, while Fornell is pissed. Tony, naturally, makes sure that McGee can Never Live It Down.
- This gets recreated two seasons later with Gibbs falling asleep with ex-wife #2 (again, fully clothed) and Diane the one who flips out upon seeing them.
- In "Day in Court", Bishop thinks that her husband is having an affair until she realizes that the woman she saw him with was an IA officer from his job, and concludes that he's having problems at work. Then it turns out that it was what it looked like—he wasn't being reprimanded, he was sleeping with the IA officer.
- A scenario similar to the first one in NCIS: New Orleans when Pride and Loretta walk into the lab to find Sebastian on top of a CPR mannequin. It turns out he's trying to recreate the victim's murder.
- In one episode, Gibbs walks into the morgue and sees Palmer giving CPR to a dummy, to which he asks, "New girlfriend?" The next scene is him walking into the lab and seeing Abby giving a model of DiNozzo mouth-to-mouth.
- From Neighbours, after Sonya catches Jarrod struggling to resurrect the plant she gave him to look after.Jarrod: It's not what it looks like!
Sonya: It looks like you're trying to repot a dead plant.
Jarrod: ...Then it looks pretty accurate.
- Subverted in a first-season episode of Night Court in which court clerk Lana Wagner, flying high on cold remedy drugs, is making passionate romantic advances on Judge Harry Stone in his office. Harry's office door opens to reveal lawyers Dan Fielding and Liz Williams and bailiffs Bull Shannon and Selma Hacker, who take a moment to absorb the scene of an alarmed Harry and an enthusiastic Lana in a torrid embrace.Dan: [sarcastically] No. Let me guess. This isn't what it appears to be.
Lana: [lustily] Oh, yes it is!
- One Life to Live. After Luna tracks her husband Max and his mistress Blair down in Atlantic City, Max hides in the bathroom while Luna screams at Blair, who feebly denies having an affair with Max or even knowing where he is, but the already disbelieving Luna has her suspicions confirmed after finding Max's discarded shirt. After Max finally emerges from the bathroom, Blair even more feebly tries to claim, "This isn't what it looks like...", but the fed-up Luna simply tells her to shut up.
- Played for Drama in Outcast. Much of Kyle's hometown (and his wife) believes that he beat up his wife and is a domestic abuser. In actuality, at the time she was possessed by a demon and he was trying to free her.
- In The Outer Limits (1995) episode "Last Supper", immortal Jade lifts her shirt to show Frank her birthmark. Unfortunately, her boyfriend (Frank's son) and his wife walk in on them and take it the wrong way.
- Perfect Strangers. Balki is utterly disgusted to find an inflatable woman in the trunk of Larrys car:Balki: You live with someone for years, and you think you know them. . .
Larry: Its not what you think!
Balki: This isnt an inflatable woman?
Larry: I use her so I can drive in the carpool lane on my way to work!
- (amusingly, Larry appears just as ashamed, and Balki just as disgusted by this explanation as by the original assumption)
- The Swedish Netflix series Quicksand revolves around the 18-year old Maja being convicted after a school shooting, with the prosecution insisting that she planned the whole thing with her boyfriend. Her prints are on the weapon, she sent some incriminating texts beforehand, she admits to killing her boyfriend... just how involved was she? The boyfriend planned the shooting alone. In the heat of the moment, Maja picked up a weapon and fired to stop him, but ended up killing her best friend as well. She did not know what the boyfriend was planning, nor that he was planning on blowing up the school and that he had killed his father earlier that morning. The text messages were just spur-of-the-moment anger. With the actual culprit dead and our heroine having just killed two people, she becomes the perfect Scapegoat.
- Red Dwarf:
- The Polymorph infiltrates the ship and takes the form of Lister's underpants, then starts attacking him when he puts them on. Kryten (who has been cleaning the bunk room with a vaccuum hose connected to his groinal socket) rushes to help him pull them off, then Rimmer walks in to see Lister on his back in his underpants, thrusting his hips, screaming "Pull em down!", with Kryten kneeling over him, and then pulling his pants off.Rimmer: Well I can't say I'm totally shocked. You'll bonk anything, won't you Lister?
- In a much later episode, Lister, while trying to move a different vending machine, which is sentient and has a crush on him, winds up knocking it down and falling on top of it, then starts trying to pick it back up again. Rimmer and Kryten turn the corner into the corridor to see Lister grunting and bouncing on top of the vending machine.Lister: I'm just trying to pick her up.
Kryten: Looks like you're well past that stage to me, sir!
- The Polymorph infiltrates the ship and takes the form of Lister's underpants, then starts attacking him when he puts them on. Kryten (who has been cleaning the bunk room with a vaccuum hose connected to his groinal socket) rushes to help him pull them off, then Rimmer walks in to see Lister on his back in his underpants, thrusting his hips, screaming "Pull em down!", with Kryten kneeling over him, and then pulling his pants off.
- In Roswell, this happens in the early stages of the Max/Liz/Kyle triangle, when a suspicious Kyle has followed Max and Liz (Max is driving). Liz ducks down into the driver's side foot-pit to either retrieve something or hide from the person they came to follow, and Kyle draws the obvious conclusion.
- Scrubs does this a lot, although subverted quite often in that it turns out that it was what it looked like, but the involved characters try to come up with an excuse.
- In a particularly extreme example, J.D. ends up having sex with a girl at a funeral (the widow herself), with the guests in the other room hearing the girl scream out her orgasm... and then tries to explain to the shocked guests that the screams were screams of pains because he stubbed his toe.
- Another variation in the same show is a scene implying a couple getting naughty... and then it turns out to be completely unrelated.Turk: Mmm... Oh baby... Oh yeah... You are the best, baby. I love it when you bring me chicken wings in bed!
- Another episode has Carla helping Turk study for an exam; she asks him if he would rather have her reward his correct answers by stripping off an article of her clothing or by giving him a sugar-free ice pop. The next scene cuts to her without a shirt on reaching behind her back to ... hand present Turk with an ice pop (not to remove her bra). When Turk asks her why she doesn't have a shirt on, she says it's because she has no clean shirts left, as their daughter spit up on them.
- Yet another episode has Carla tell a story to Elliot about what she caught Turk doing in bed, when she was laying right next to him: he's implied to have been having A Date with Rosie Palms, but when Carla lifts up the covers, she lets an obnoxious gasp when he's revealed to be eating ribs in bed.
- Joanne deliberately set up one of these in Seacht to upset Linda; as of this writing, she has not revealed what she and Pete were actually doing in her room.
- Subverted, in the episode "Never Block Cookies" of Selfie, Charmonique and Eliza break into Henry's office to get info on him to set him up on a date. CEO Sam Saperstein walks in.Saperstein: Ladies, what's going on here? Because it looks to me like you're rifling through Henry's personal belongings.
Charmonique: Oh, we are.
Eliza: But... we have good reason.
- Played straight in a rather touching Sister, Sister episode. As it turns out, Ray was paying respects to his dead wife. In addition to all the evidence stacking up against Ray, who wasn't even aware that Lisa (his current love interest) and their daughters were suspicious, Lisa meets the ghost of Ray's old wife, who admits to being "the other woman," without realizing that the woman is a ghost.
- Smallville loves this one.
- In "Rush", Clark and Chloe are making out in the Talon when Lana walks in on them. Clark is affected by red kryptonite and Chloe an adrenaline-inducing parasite.Clark: It's not what it looks like.
Chloe: Yeah it is, Lana. It's exactly what it looks like.
- In "Gone", Martha Kent finds Clark and Lois in the bathroom together, Lois wearing Clark's shirt.Lois: I don't understand what the big deal is. We were just taking a shower—
Clark: Showers, we were taking separate showers.
- In the episode "Crossfire", Oliver decides to help Mia and let her train at his home. His ex-girlfriend Lois visits just as Mia walks out of the shower.
- In the episode "Fierce", Clark offers to let Lana stay in his house and hopefully salvage their relationship.Clark: I have to warn you that my life has gotten a little more... [Kara walks into the room wearing a bikini] complicated.
Lana: [gasps and looks at Clark worriedly] That might be an understatement.
Clark: This is my cousin, Kara.
- In "Escape", Lois caught Clark in the shower with a naked Chloe.
- In "Rush", Clark and Chloe are making out in the Talon when Lana walks in on them. Clark is affected by red kryptonite and Chloe an adrenaline-inducing parasite.
- At one point in Stargate SG-1, the rest of the team is searching for Cameron and Vala, who've gone missing. They break down a motel room door to discover Cameron half naked and handcuffed to a bed; he assures them that it's not what it looks like.
- Star Trek:
- Star Trek: The Original Series has an off-camera, real-life example. George Takei was apparently told at the last minute that Sulu would have his shirt off in the episode "The Naked Time". In his autobiography he recounts that he immediately started a hardcore push-up regimen in his trailer, and says he's not sure what people must have thought walking past his trailer with all the rocking and grunting, but it probably wasn't what it sounded like.
- Star Trek: The Next Generation: In "Timescape", the Enterprise and a Romulan Warbird are frozen in time, except that nothing's what it seems:
- The Romulan Warbird is firing upon Enterprise (but only with the intent to disrupt the energy transfer beam which is overloading their engines and which Enterprise cannot shut down);
- There's a Romulan on the bridge, looming over a fallen Riker (he's moving to offer assistance);
- And worst of all, Dr. Crusher has been shot by a Romulan (he was actually shooting at an alien intruder and Crusher got hit by accident).
- Star Trek: Voyager. In an episode with heavy Ship Tease between them, Lieutenants Tom Paris and B'Elanna Torres are trapped in a subzero environment and huddle together for warmth, only to be teleported to safety. Cue amused reactions from the crew at the sight of two officers clutching each other tightly.
- Played for Laughs when Kara opens a closet and finds Eve making out with Mon-El, her legs wrapped around him.Eve: This isn't what it looks like...
Kara: This is the definition of things being what they look like!
- Lena Luthor and Winslow Schott, both tech geniuses, meet at a gala that is then attacked by people with alien guns. They crawl under the stage to fix a device to disable the guns, and when they crawl back out, sweating and disheveled, everyone stares.Winn: This isn't—we weren't—we saved the day!
- Played for Laughs when Kara opens a closet and finds Eve making out with Mon-El, her legs wrapped around him.
- Strong Medicine. Clinic receptionist Lana is stunned to see a local minister approaching a prostitute and handing her money before they walk off together. She confronts him when he shows up at the hospital with another hooker, only for him to explain that he's counseling these girls and gives them money so that they aren't anxious about losing income in the time they spend talking to him.
- In "What Is And What Should Never Be" after being touched by a dijinn, Dean wakes up in an alternate timeline where the Winchesters never became Hunters. Their mother is still alive, likewise Sam is getting married to a still-alive Jessica, but Sam and Dean aren't very close and all the people they saved are now dead. Dean realises that he needs to change things, so he breaks into his mother's house to steal a silver knife to kill the dijinn. Sam catches him and Dean gives this trope, making it look as if he's going to tell Sam the truth. Instead Dean says he's stealing the silverware to pay off a gambling debt, which is more in tune with his character in the alternate timeline.
- In "Mommy Dearest", Castiel tries this line when the police find him, the Winchesters and Bobby at the scene of a massacre. It's a moot point, since the cops quickly turn out to be monsters themselves.
- On The Thin Blue Line, after Boyle sets Fowler straight (see Engineered Public Confession), the Mayoress comes in, looking for a plea bargin. The conversation, in which she demands that Raymond "give it [the plea bargain] to me" and his assurances that she'll be "more than satisfied" (with the loophole of Goody wearing an unofficial uniform during the bust) gets recorded over Patricia's morning workout.
- On Treme, Davis says this when Annie walks in on him sitting in a room with a shirtless Sophia passed out in front of him the morning after Mardi Gras. He saved a drunken Sophia from being raped, and took off her shirt because she vomited on it. Annie never doubts him for a moment, (it probably helped that Davis was fully clothed).
- In Uchu Sentai Kyuranger, Black Ranger Champ begins the series hating and mistrusting Orange Ranger Stinger because he saw the latter standing over the body of his creator/father-figure Prof. Anton with his stinger tail out. Episode 13 reveals that Anton was actually poisoned by Stinger's evil older brother Scorpio, and Stinger found him and tried (unsuccessfully) to administer an antidote. When asked why he didn't explain this earlier, Stinger responds "My brother's sins are my sins", but Champ drops his misguided hatred and says he'll help Stinger hunt down his brother.
- Averted in the UFO episode "Close Up". Paul Foster walks in on his superior Commander Straker having what appears to be an intimate tête-à-tête with a mini-skirted Lieutenant Ellis. The ever-calm Straker advises him to never judge a situation by the end of a conversation. However it's Played for Drama in a flashback scene when a private eye photographs him entering an apartment with Ellis and he's Mistaken for Cheating by his wife, who divorces him (Straker is unable to explain because his work is so secret his wife could be Killed to Uphold the Masquerade).
- One episode of What's Happening!! has Dee's friend Robin wanted to run away from home, but asked Dee to talk to the guidance counselor about it. The counselor ends up thinking Dee was the one who wanted to run away, which results in her family being nicer to her as a result. Dee ends up taking advantage of the confusion to get them to buy her things, only to have her face the repercussions when the matter is straightened out.
- Will & Grace plays with it. Karen starts teaching Grace how to get her boyfriend to be more assertive by withholding sex. When Grace starts shooting down the idea, Karen starts talking her through it, which leads to a mailwoman coming in to see her telling Grace "I am not going to have sex with you" repeatedly. The mailwoman's response? "I'll have sex with you."
- In Wizards of Waverly Place, there is an episode where Alex makes a wish with a genie that everyone would stop comparing her to Justin, but the genie makes everyone forget him. Hilarity and wrong presumptions ensue when Alex's best friend, Harper (who has a crush on Justin), leaves furiously, thinking that Alex and Justin have gotten together, because Justin moved to Alex's place.
- In The X-Files episode "Chinga", Scully is a bit put off when she calls Mulder and hears grunting and women moaning in the background. Mulder pauses the video he was watching and passes it off as an episode of World's Deadliest Swarms. Subverted when it turns out that he was telling the truth.
- The tendency for BritComs to base plots around this kind of misunderstanding is parodied in The Young Ones cutaway sketch "Oh, Crikey!", in which a sitcom husband accidentally gets into a compromising position with his dog just as The Vicar walks in.