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One of the show's characters brags about his opulent lifestyle to a faraway friend, a relative or just someone he wants to impress. Impressed indeed, the other character wants to come over and see! The only problem was, the braggart was lying, and now, all of his friends must roleplay out the lies in a desperate attempt not to reveal the truth.

Common in the Sitcom, and often happens as the result of a Fawlty Towers Plot. Other times, the person the character wants to impress starts it off by bragging about his life. In still others, the visitor reveals that he knew all along, and was playing along to deliver An Aesop.

Usually, one way or another, the lie collapses. Traditionally, the associate reveals that regardless of the lie, they are (for some truly different reason) far more impressed with the life the character actually leads.

Compare The Celebrity Lie. Also see Mock Millionaire, Princess for a Day.

Examples of Maintain the Lie include:

Anime & Manga

  • Best Student Council had an episode with the same title as the trope name, wherein Cyndi Manabe has been writng letters to her mother, telling lies so that she won't be worried about Cyndi's welfare. This would be fine, except the lies are ridiculously extravagant.
  • Episode 27 of Keroro Gunsou has the Keroro Platoon and the Hinata family preparing to Maintain the Lie to Keroro's father that the frogs have succeeded in their invasion of Earth... but they never get the chance, as he leaves right after he gets there.
  • In the Love Hina manga, Motoko tried to do this to avoid disappointing or standing up to her older sister twice. After her attempt to feign marriage to Keitaro propmted Tsuruko to break her sword and briefly throw her out of the Kenjitsu school/order you would think she would learn....


  • The Bollywood film 'Munna Bhai M.B.B.S.' revolves around this plot. Munna Bai is a gangster lord with a heart of gold in Bombay. He has told his family however that he is a doctor, and has even created a fake hospital. But, his parents find out, and thus he decides to actually go to medical school. Various hijinks happen, and some serious, heartfelt touching moments as well. Surprisingly well done.
  • The Frank Capra movie A Pocketful of Miracles uses this trope: a mother sends her young daughter to a convent in Spain and regularly writes her letters in which she pretends to be part of the New York society when she's actually a beggar. Years later, the daughter decides to come back to New York City and meet her mother with her husband-to-be, a count who in all certainty will cancel the wedding if he learns the truth. Cue shenanigans.
    • The Jackie Chan movie Ji ji (Miracles in english) is based on Capra's Pocketful and obviously uses the trope too. Change New York City for 1930 Hong Kong; cue shenanigans and kung fu.
  • This is the plot of Waking Ned Devine. The title character is a man in a small Irish village who wins the lottery, and promptly dies from shock. One of the protagonists has a dream that convinces him that Ned would have wanted the other villagers to enjoy his winnings, and so he and his buddy convince (almost) the entire village to pretend that Ned is still alive and attempt to con the claim inspector. Hilarity, naturally, ensues.
  • In Harold Lloyd's best known film Safety Last, Harold has to climb a building as a publicity stunt because his friend (the real human fly) is being chased by a cop. Harold pretends he's the daredevil to start the climb, intending to switch at a window on the next floor. His friend is never able to ditch the cop, so Harold ends up climbing the entire building.
  • In Goodbye Lenin, Alex is told that if his ill, formerly comatose mother, recieves a severe shock (like oh, the revelation that East Germany is no more) she could go into cardiac arrest. In order to prevent this, Alex drags all their friends and family into an elaborate ruse to convince her that the GDR is still standing.
  • In the French 1969 movie Hibernatus, a man is found frozen in Greenland near the remains of a ship that wrecked in 1905. The man is revived and turns out to be the grandfather of the wife of a wealthy industrialist. At the behest of his wife (who threatens to disinherit him) he kidnaps the "Hibernatus" and brings him to his mansion. They are caught, but are forced to let the "grandfather" live with his granddaughter under one condition. In order to avoid giving him a heart attack, the government re-creates the early 20th century in the industrialist's neighborhood in order to convince the frozen man that no time has passed. Then he finds a TV.
    • The movie handwaves the problems of being frozen alive by claiming he was accidentally flash-frozen in glycerin that was being transported on the ship when it wrecked.
  • Adam Sandler's movie Just Go with It is about a successful plastic surgeon who tricks women into bed by pretending to be an abused husband. Then he meets a women (who is 10 years his junior) with whom he actually wants to start a relationship. The problem is, she finds his fake wedding ring. Now he has to pretend to be in the middle of a divorce with his cheating wife and has to convince his assistant and her kids to play their parts. It's not too long that the lies quickly spiral out of control.


  • Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn has a dramatic version. Prester John rose to fame and became king of Erkynland after slaying the great red dragon, Shurakai, which had claimed the life of the two previous kings. It is only after his death of old age and the ensuing disasters that it is revealed that the previous king, Ealhstan Fiskerne, slew it, dying in the process. John took his sword Minneyar, renaming it Bright-Nail, and claimed credit for the deed. John's Blood Knight tendencies, his persecution of the Sithi (whom he suspected of knowing the secret), and even his treatment of his sons (favoring the martial Elias against the introspective Josua), all derive from his attempts to maintain this lie throughout his life and result in the conflict against the Storm King being far worse than it could have been. It also sets up The Hero Simon's reveal as King Eahlstan's heir.

Live Action TV

  • An episode of The Addams Family was based on Lurch's aged mother coming to visit him, and his having never told her he was a butler; most of the story involved his posing as the master of the house, with Gomez acting as butler, Morticia as maid, and Grandmamma as cook.
  • A rare dramatic example occurred in the last season of Angel, in which our heroes had to Maintain the Lie to Mr. and Mrs. Burkle that their daughter is still alive, when in reality she'd been killed and her body taken over by an ancient demon-god. Among the many complaints that viewers had about Season 5, this is often cited as the most execrable thing the writers/characters ever did.
    • To be fair, Wesley was going to tell them; it was Illyria (the demon-god) who suddenly decided to start the charade, because she legitimately didn't want to hurt the Burkles. (Though it is still kind of messed up...)
      • Feels even more messed up at the end of the episode with the flashback to Fred leaving home all those years ago, driving off to find her destiny...
  • Occurred at least four times on Three's Company.
    • Actually, it was the whole premise for Three's Company. Jack tells the landlord he's gay so he can live with two girls, and has to keep up the act every time he visits.
  • In one episode of Small Wonder, Brandon talks Joan into impersonating Bonnie so he can impress a business visitor from Japan.
  • A variation appeared in an episode of WKRP in Cincinnati, where the staff all conspire to give a visiting auditor a horribly inaccurate impression of the station. The later syndicated revival also did a "straight" version of this trope where they all tried to help the station secretary pretend to be the manager and put through an important business deal.
  • In Black Books, Manny claims to his parents that he runs the titular bookshop, although this lie quite swiftly collapses.
  • On How I Met Your Mother, when his mom gets really sick and expresses regret that she never got to see Barney settle down, he actually hired actors to play his wife and son (started with just a wife, but the actress likes to go "off script" and announced her "pregnancy") so his mother would think he was a happily married family man. He actually kept this up for seven years. When his mom finally found out the truth, she was relieved. Turns out she'd never been able to stand her fake daughter-in-law and grandson (with his annoying attempts at catch phrases) all these years.
    • Barney's gay brother has the opposite problem. He used to be just as big a Casanova as Barney but he fell in love and got married. Since Barney hates the concept of marriage, he did not tell Barney about it. When he visits New York, he pretends to still be single and trying to pick up men in a night club.
    • Ted's parents pretend to be happily married while they have actually been separated and dating other people for months.
      • It is also hinted at that Ted's grandmother died and they decided not to tell him.
  • This happened regularly on Seinfeld since the Jerry, Kramer and Elaine put a lot of emphasis on how others perceive them and will lie to make themselves look better
    • George lied to Susan's parents about having a house in the Hamptons. It's subverted in that they knew he was lying from the beginning and only went along to see how far he would take it. And, of course, because they don't like him and enjoyed watching him squirm.
    • When George's unemployment benefits are about to be cut off he asks for an extension and pretends that he is about to land a job as a salesman. The company does not exists and he gives his case worker Jerry's phone number instead. To maintain the ruse Jerry now has to answer his phone as "Vandalay Industries"
    • A sports equipment salesman claims to have been a tennis pro but is actually terrible at tennis. In order to maintain the ruse Jerry has to throw a tennis match against the guy. Not only does this make Jerry look like a horrible tennis player but the salesman keeps insulting him.
    • George and Jerry can't get a cab at the airport so they pretend to be the people a limo driver is waiting for. Turns out the person George impersonates is a notorious neo-Nazi and the driver is supposed to take them directly to a big rally where the guy is the main speaker. The fact that Jerry is Jewish makes it even more uncomfortable and dangerous for them to maintain the ruse.
  • On an episode of The Big Bang Theory Leonard lies to Penny about coming to see her perform in a production of Rent. Sheldon is disturbed by the logical holes in the lie and begins plugging them by elaborating on the original lie to the extreme degree of hiring an actor to play the relative they were supposed to be helping.
    • Penny tells her father that she and Leonard are dating again and manages to convince Leonard to go along with the lie. They spend most of the time trying to fool Sheldon since they can't bring him in on the scheme due to his tendency of over thinking and ruining any plan of this nature.
  • Occurs several times on F Troop, usually when the peace-loving (and money-making) Hekawi Indians have to pretend to be fierce savages to impress a visitor to Fort Courage.
  • Cheers episode "Diane's Nightmare". Andy-Andy Schroeder wants Sam to pretend that he owns the bar and Sam is his employee so Andy can impress his girlfriend.
  • The Nanny features Fran pretending that she is the wife of millionaire Broadway producer Maxwell Sheffield, and not his nanny, in order to impress relatives to whom her mother has been bragging. In another episode, the butler Niles pretends that he is Maxwell Sheffield, that Fran is his wife, and that the actual Maxwell Sheffield is the butler in order to fool visitors from the butlers' guild.
  • In the pilot episode of Psych, Shawn, who is really just hyper observant, tells the cops he's psychic to avoid being thought of as a suspect in all the crimes he solves for them. He's been pretending for six seasons now.
  • On the The Good Wife Alicia and Peter Florick have been separated for most of the series due to Peter's infidelity. However, Peter has to maintain the public image of a man with a supportive wife who will stand by him through his various legal and political troubles. Alicia is willing to play along in order to protect their children from the scandal.

Video Games

  • Ron DeLite is firmly possessed of the belief that his wife will leave him if she realizes he's not loaded, and his wife is firmly possessed of the belief that security guards make quite a lot of money. To maintain the illusion he steals from his company, gets fired, lies to her about being fired, and then resorts to grand and overdramatic theft just to keep her thinking she can go on shopping sprees.

Web Comics

  • In What Birds Know, Elia's father left her mother long ago, and to deal with the shame, the latter turns to prostitution while keeping up the facade that he's simply working a long way away.

Western Animation

  • Two separate episodes of SpongeBob SquarePants used this plot, both involving Squidward and his annoyingly successful high school acquaintance Squilliam. Oddly enough for Squidward, it was actually successful one of those times.
    • Inversion: When Patrick's parents ( not really) visited, Spongebob faked being an idiot to make Patrick seem smarter.
  • An episode of Doug had Doug's family putting on a play to impress his sister's new boyfriend, as Judy thought they were too boring. Doug took offense to being written out of the family and cast as a butler, so he struck back by improvising his part as a secret agent trying to stop a bomb threat.
    • Another one had Judy pretending to be Doug's sick cousin Melvin to cover a lie he told Patty. It was eventually reversed, though, when Judy took "method acting" to the next level and Doug became the one maintaining the lie.
  • The Simpsons had an episode where Homer used Mr. Burns' mansion to impress a researcher who kept track of everyone in Springfield from childhood on.
    • Not to mention the one where, to get out of an arranged marriage, Apu told his mother he was already married. When she arrived from India to meet the wife, Homer got the idea to have Marge and the kids pose as Apu's family.

 Apu: Is it just me, or do all your plans involve a horrible web of lies?

Homer: It's you.

  • The villain of Rainbow Brite, whose mother disapproved of this whole gloom and evil business, had to convince her that he was perfectly well-adjusted. By stealing the protagonists' castle, among other things.
  • Hey Arnold once had Sid trying to pass off Arnold's room as his own to impress a wealthy exchange student.
  • "Her Parents" of Adventure Time in which Jake pretends to be a rainicorn so his girlfriend's parents will accept him.
  • Jimmy Neutron had Carl pretending to be the residential boy genius, not Jimmy, to impress his pen-pal, a Swedish model... Turns out she was lying as well.
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