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This describes any number of situations where characters play a role, generally to practice for a real life situation. Hilarity Ensues.
For example, Alice wants to talk to Bob, but she's afraid, so her friend Carol tells Alice to pretend she's Bob and practice on her. Carol could actually be in love with Alice, creating an awkward situation; or Carol could act like a complete jerk, making Alice more worried; or Alice could freeze at just the thought of talking to Bob, even though it's still only Carol; or Carol could really be Bob in disguise. The possibilities are limitless.
There's also psychological roleplaying - where you pretend you're the other person - which always seems to end up:
Alice: "I'm Bob. I have no fashion sense and I don't know what I want to do with my life."
This is by no means exclusive to romantic situations; role plays take place everywhere, from work to school to friend circles. It seems to happen most often when a plot requires a Group Therapy episode.
Anime and Manga
- In Yuu Watase's manga Epotoransu Mai, the genie inside Mai's digital organizer has the power of Voluntary Shapeshifting, and he takes the form of Mai's Love Interest so she can practice her Love Confession on him. When she finally spits it out, his response is a deadpan "I hate you." (He explains that he was just trying to help her be prepared for the worst...)
- It happened with Tenma and Harima in School Rumble. She even put on his sunglasses and added whiskers to show him how to confess.
- In one episode/chapter of Ah! My Goddess Peorth tells Keiichi, who has a severe case of Cannot Spit It Out, to pretend that she's Belldandy so he can practice saying "I love you" to her. This eventually leads to a Not What It Looks Like situation when Belldandy walks in to find Keiichi repeatedly shouting "I love you!" at the top of his lungs to Peorth as as she shouts "more! more!".
- In Inuyasha, Kagome's little brother Sota has a crush on a girl in his class. He asks Inuyasha to let him practice on him, and Inuyasha reluctantly agrees. Then Kagome walks in.
- In Definitely Maybe, Isla Fischer gets Ryan Reynolds to practice his engagement speech on her. His original speech? "Will you, um, marry me?"
- In The Film of the Book Never Let Me Go, Hailsham students are shown doing a role-playing exercise to teach them to order things in a cafe. Much awkwardness ensues. And apparently the lesson didn't take, since the (now grow up) characters are shown in a later scene being struck dumb when asked for their order by a waitress in a real cafe.
- In Riding in Cars With Boys, Beverly Donofrio has to tell her parents that she's pregnant at 15. She practices on her best friend, Fay.
Fay: Okay, pretend that I'm your parents, say what you're going to say.
- In the 2005 film version of 'Pride and Prejudice', Mr. Bingley practices proposing to Jane Bennett with Mr. Darcy in the role of Jane. Darcy generally doesn't get farther than answering "Mr. Bingley" before Bingley breaks off and tries another approach.
- The most recent film incarnation of Freaky Friday, Jamie Lee Curtis and Lindsay Lohan, while body-switched, use this as an excuse as to why they're behaving so oddly.
- In Havemercy, Thom attempts to instill manners in the Airmen by setting up a roleplaying game in which they have to put themselves in the shoes of people they've wronged. Needless to say, Hilarity Ensues.
- The original version of The Office: A training coach puts off a little role playing exercise, to show the right and wrong way to deal with customers. Unfortunately, he asks Brent to be his partner. Painfully awkward hilarity ensues.
- In the American version, Andy and Erin role play Andy breaking up with his current girlfriend so he and Erin can start their ship. They play it with Erin reacting a few different ways.
- In the Friends episode "The One With... The Stoned Guy", Ross doesn't know how to talk dirty to his new girlfriend, so he practices with Joey, leading to a Ho Yay Not What It Looks Like moment when Chandler walks in on them.
- Gilmore Girls did this with Rory and her mother. Lorelai was pretending to be Rory's then-boyfriend, Dean, when Rory was trying to figure out how to tell him she'd kissed another guy. But Lorelai was having too much fun making fun of Dean's hair.
Lorelai (as Dean, in pseudo-masculine voice): Rory, what do you think of my hair? 'Cause sometimes, I wake up in the morning, and I'm like "Cool." And sometimes, "Not so cool."
- Pushing Daisies: Olive tells Aunt Lily (who's been revealed to be Chuck's mother) to say to her what she wants to say to Chuck. Unbeknownst to Lily, Olive's brooch is bugged and the real Chuck is listening in.
- On Arrested Development, Tobias and Lindsay go to couples' counseling (with a doctor played by Bob Odenkirk) in which this is one of the tools used. Tobias, who thinks he's an actor, does a terrible job at playing Lindsay ("I'm a woman, with womanly needs!"). Eventually, the psychologist starts playing Tobias, and it gets... awkward. Quickly.
- In Community, when Jeff is facing the prospect of meeting his Disappeared Dad, Britta suggests that to prepare him they role-play, with Britta taking on the role of Jeff's Dad. Jeff then proceeds to take on the role of Britta's Dad. Things break down not long after, with Britta pretending to be Jeff's dad tries to seduce Jeff pretending to be Britta's dad, and Jeff reveals he is actually an under cover agent and that they are in Iran and Jeff's dad is now under arrest for homosexuality.
- 30 Rock has one of the NBC psychologists having Tracy doing a role-playing exercise to deal with his daddy issues. The psychologist has Tracy talk to the chair like it's his dad. Tracy has trouble imagining that the chair is his dad, so Jack pretends to be Tracy's dad. It goes downhill fast.
Jack (as Tracy's mom): He gambled away my welfare checks
- On Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Spike makes several attempts to practice an apology speech (complete with a box of chocolates as a peace offering) using a mannequin wearing a blonde wig and one of Buffy's sweaters. At least one attempt ends with him losing an argument to the mannequin and then bashing it over the head with the box of chocolates before carefully picking it up, dusting it off, and starting over.
- On Boy Meets World, Topanga suddenly breaks up with Cory after he tells her he loves her, and Shawn gets Cory to re-enact the moment he said those words to figure out what got Topanga upset. Thinking they're alone, he gets Cory to pretend he's Topanga and hold his hand and say "I love you", only to realize there are a bunch of students looking at them through the doorway.
- In As You Like It, Rosalind (disguised as Ganymede) helps her love interest Orlando practice talking to the woman he's in love with—who is, of course, Rosalind.
- Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead:
- Guildenstern pretends to be Hamlet so Rosencrantz can practice asking him questions to gather information about his "affliction." That is, once Rosencrantz gets the idea of Comic Role Play straight.
- On the boat, each of them gets a turn to play the King of England while the other pretends to arrive at the court, explain who he is, and hand over the letter meant to be delivered to the king. In both cases, the one pretending to be the King opens the letter while in character, reading aloud the death warrant enclosed.
- In a Ctrl+Alt+Del strip, Ethan freaks Lucas out by wearing fake breasts when playing his girlfriend.
- Family Guy did this with Peter/Lois and Brian/Stewie.
- Happens in Drawn Together when Xandir's roommates role play as his family to help him confront them about his homosexuality. However, his friends decide to go for the worst-case scenario approach and by the end of it, over half the group is dead. Xandir thanks his friends' corpses and merrily goes off to speak to his family.
- Life With Louie does this, when Andy thinks about asking his boss for a pay rise. Ora convinces him to try with Louie. Of course, it turned into Crowning Moment of Funny:
Andy: M-mister A-Applegate...
- Right after that, Ora and Louie do it again, to show Andy how he should act.
- Rugrats- In the subplot to the first episode, "Tommy's First Birthday", adult brothers Stu and Dru Pickles attempt to stage a puppet show version of "Little Red Riding Hood". While the babies go on the episode's adventure, we keep flashing back to the puppet show's degeneration into petty bickering and emotional baggage. After it ends, a third adult comments "Well, it was definitely a spirited performance."
- The Replacements has Gordo trying to teach Dick how to treat women so he asks Dick to pretend that him is K.
Gordo: Dick, I want you to do the laundry, clean the house, and take the kids to school.
- Daria had the Morgandorfer family go through the psychological version, switching roles in a family therapy session. It starts out funny, but Helen ends up genuinely getting her feelings hurt.