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There are a lot of things on TV that just don't happen in the real world: Nobody lives in a huge apartment in New York for a hundred bucks a month; single men don't adopt adorable moppets to sass up their lives; the ratio of fat guy to hot wife is substantially lower; and when George Lopez tells a joke, nobody laughs. But even unoriginal writing has to come from somewhere, and some of Hollywood's most outlandish plot twists didn't come from the booze-soaked mind of a hack writer; they came right from the damn newspaper.

6
Maternity Ward Screw-Ups

The Cheesy Plot:

If television and movies are to be believed, hospital maternity wards are a veritable breeding ground for incompetence and skullduggery. Take the 1961 Disney classic (or 1998 Lindsay Lohan atrocity) The Parent Trap: A light-hearted comedy about a divorce so bitter and hostile, the two parents split their twins at birth and lead them to believe that they are only children and that their other parent was murdered and fashioned into a stylish ottoman by Ed Gein (at least that's how we remember that movie, but we suffer from a bizarre mental condition that causes us to remember things as much more awesome than they actually were).

While you certainly can't blame the maternity ward for that wacky series of events--the parents were assholes and the kids were identical twins--what about babies that don't look like each other? That's a pretty common switcheroo in the entertainment world as well. It's happened multiple times on the soaps All My Children and One Life to Live, as well as The Ghost Whisperer. It's so common, TV Tropes has a whole section devoted to it.

Shit Gets Real:

It turns out there's a creepy amount of truth to this one: Apparently maternity wards in real life aren't too discerning when it comes to what parent gets what child, just so long as the little crumbsnatchers are out of their sight eventually.

For example, Marti Miller and Sue McDonald had no idea their families had been switched until one mother fessed up... 43 years later. Or Kay Qualls and DeeAnn Angell, who were switched in 1953. One of their mothers even told the maternity ward that they had fucked up. Unfortunately, she was ignored--a fact that can be attributed to the 1950s being a much simpler time, when having a vagina meant you didn't get to be taken seriously.

As for twins being separated, it happens so often that a research center was opened to study how their lives are different. Hell, even the classic "twins being mistaken for each other" gag has actually happened: In Spain, a woman discovered she had been separated from her twin in a Canary Islands maternity ward 28 years earlier, when she randomly stumbled into a shop that her sister frequented. And, since we stopped reading immediately after we verified our claims, we can only assume one turned out to be rather fussy and useless in a fight while the other spent her entire life relentlessly training in the art of kickboxing, and upon meeting decided to team up and avenge their master's death while learning valuable lessons about life from one other and doing the splits. Either that, or they just made out. That's pretty much all pop culture has taught us that twins do.


Van Damme is prepared to do both. At the same time.

Ha ha, we're so irreverent. What funny, completely implausible scenarios we come up with- oh wait, that happens all the time too--and in fact the twins have unwittingly married each other. God, that's so gross and disturbing we can barely masturbate to it.

5
The Unknown Rich Uncle Dies and Leaves You All Of His Money

The Cheesy Plot:

If you need to create some hilarious upper-class/lower-class hijinks, even just for an episode, nothing works quite as well as giving some broke loser a shitload of cash. Sometimes it's in the form of a bunch of hicks finding oil under their land (and moving to Beverly Hills) or winning the lottery. But most often, it's the forgotten relative who dies and leaves said shitload of cash to one of the poorest schlubs in the story. It happened on The Golden Girls (with the wacky stipulation that they take care of a pig) and The Drew Carey Show, and in movies like Brewster's Millions and the 80s Billy Crystal cop movie Running Scared. But seriously, in real life if you had a rich relative, you'd know, right?

Shit Gets Real:

Wrong. Take Sarah Snyder, who hadn't seen her grandfather since she was nine. Considering grandpa lived in a van, she probably wasn't expecting to inherit much more than half a bottle of Thunderbird and a few lice infested blankets when he died. It must have been quite a shock when she ended up with $263,000 that he'd been keeping in a vinyl suitcase. That's a nice haul, but we'd be willing to bet that suitcase was pretty nasty.


The suitcase may also have been meat

Even the dirt-poor schmoe who suddenly becomes a billionaire happens occasionally. Cavemen Zsolt and Geza Peladi (that's not an insult to their intelligence: they literally live in a cave) recently found out their grandmother had passed away, leaving them a $6.6 billion fortune. Their mother was apparently such a screaming bitch she had never bothered to inform her mom that she'd had kids, and lawyers only stumbled across these guys while doing genealogical research. Man, it's always the people that could use it the least, right? Damn cavemen probably blew it all on wheels and fire-sticks.

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4
Running Around In the Enemy's Uniform

The Cheesy Plot:

Oh no! The Bad Guy Army (an army comprised entirely of men recruited from the Bad Guy province of Evilistan) has captured some character that you are emotionally attached to despite being absolutely useless! What are you going to do?! Easy: Beat up some guards, steal their uniforms (which will of course fit you perfectly) and sneak into the fortress. Because, naturally, evil people are incapable of facial recognition and won't notice random idiots they don't recognize charging around their workplace suspiciously murdering their fellow Bad Guys.

Shit Gets Real:

This is so common there are actually laws in the Geneva Convention about not doing it during war, which is kind of a bummer, because the movies make it look awesome! Even so, Hitler tried it in World War II (he wasn't a "play by the rules" kind of guy) and the results of that particular fuckup most likely inspired the hit comedy Hogan's Heroes. Because nothing provides joke material like concentration camps.


"Concentration Camp? More like Distraction Camp! Ha ha, no but seriously, I can't focus at all because I'm starving to death. FOR THE LOVE OF GOD HELP."

And then there was Friedrich Wilhelm Voight. Voight was screwed coming AND going, and not just because he lived in 19th century Germany. Voight didn't have a passport, so he couldn't get a job, and he didn't have a job, so he couldn't get a passport. In literary circles, that's what's known as a Catch-fuckthisisbullshit. At his wit's end, Voight decided to capitalize on Germany's love for mindlessly following authority, scrounged up a little cash and bought a captain's uniform. He stopped five soldiers on their way to their barracks and ordered them to follow him, which they did--because he's wearing the special pants, so he's got to be an officer, right? Voight got them to arrest the mayor and treasurer, and ship them off to Berlin, then walked off with four thousand marks. Nobody at any point questioned his credentials or even asked why they'd never seen this captain before.


Presumably out of fear of being bludgeoned to death by his giant brass balls.

3
Evil Twins

The Cheesy Plot:

On the list of lazy plot lines, it's hard to top throwing an evil twin into the mix. While it's mostly famous as a soap opera trope, sci-fi shows also love beating this contrivance into the ground. Buffy the Vampire Slayer did it with the hot vampire Willow. Arnold Schwarzenegger did it in the The 6th Day which was... less hot. There are a multitude of other ways to shoe-horn it in there: Maybe they're a clone, maybe the characters meet their double in an alternate universe, or perhaps--if you're in a Jerry O'Connell vehicle--you meet your double whenever the writers can't figure out a good plotline. Or maybe there was just an argument in the writer's room about how the only way Allyson Hannigan is hotter is if she's on Allyson Hannigan (which is an argument that we the viewers all collectively won).

Shit Gets Real:

But don't believe everything you hear. Not everybody has a doppelganger. Just a few unlucky bastards like Joseph Lesurques. He almost exactly resembled a thief who had brutally murdered a bunch of people at a mail carriage and, despite the fact that he had an alibi and plenty of people willing to stand up for his character, they packed his ass off to the guillotine anyway. Exactly the kind of jurisprudence we expect from Victorian-era France.

Good thing we as a society have advanced since then and developed techniques like DNA testing... that we don't use. Ronald Cotton was identified by Jennifer Thompson as her rapist, repeatedly, on the stand. Cotton even got another conviction overturned and retried, wherein a different woman also thought he raped her. So that Cotton guy got exactly what he deser- oh hey, did we mention that there was a guy in prison loudly and profoundly bragging about how this Ronald Cotton sucker was serving time for the rapes he committed? And that a judge refused to allow that in court? Because that's just the kind of shit that happens in North Carolina? The entire state is like a Hugh Grant movie, chock full of wacky misunderstandings, only instead of romantic shenanigans everything ends in forced sodomy and injustice.

But all of those were just very convincing lookalikes. For the pure evil twins, look at the Han sisters, Sunny and Jean: Among Jean's bigger exploits were lying to get out of the Air Force, a whole bunch of check fraud and several attempts to impersonate Sunny. After those impersonation attempts failed, she decided to step her game up by hiring two teens to kill her sister. Luckily police arrived on scene before that could happen, and authorities were able to apprehend the correct sister. Presumably after they cornered the two and, finding themselves unsure of who to shoot, discerned the correct target when the good one spoke up and screamed, "Shoot us both; it's the only way to be sure!"

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2
Mistaken for the Special Guy

The Cheesy Plot:

If you ever see an episode of a sitcom set at a hotel or a restaurant, a common plotline is to mistake some random schmuck for a respected critic while treating the real critic like shit. Even brilliant artists like Alfred Hitchcock used this gag. In The 39 Steps, the hero, who had already been mistaken once for an enemy spy, tries to lose some cops in the crowd surrounding a political rally. He stumbles on stage, where they mistake him for the guest speaker. In true wacky cliche style, he manages to improvise a rousing speech and still escape his pursuers, all while in handcuffs. Which just reinforces what we've been saying all along: If Hitchcock were alive today, he'd be directing Friends.

Shit Gets Real:

Sometimes, though, life turns into one of those zany romps. Guy Goma was waiting on a job interview at the BBC when a receptionist wandered in and asked for "Guy." Of course, she was looking for Guy Kewney, who was going on air to speak about Apple and the Beatles suing each other because--and this just shows that you can revolutionize the handheld gadget industry and the pop music genre, yet still be complete and utter tools--they both thought they owned the rights to the word "apple." Goma apparently thought this was part of his job interview, and managed to show some surprising restraint considering how completely irrelevant the interview questions for Supply Manager were getting--until about halfway in he realizes, holy shit, this is actually going out on air:

Goma, perhaps hoping to prove beyond question that he is indeed an "adaptive multi-tasker who thinks on this feet," just up and rolled with it. Unsurprisingly, he didn't get the job. But since then, he's had a string of TV appearances, they might be making his life into a movie and he's become the official poster boy of "Goin' With the Flow" everywhere. Sorry, McCounaghey.

1
Drugs that Let You Fake Death

The Cheesy Plot:

This one has been around so long it predates TV: Shakespeare used it in Romeo and Juliet most famously. The idea is that you take a drug which reduces your bodily functions down to the point that, for all intents and purposes, you're deader than "All Your Base." Hollywood just took that, removed the whole "teenagers stabbing themselves in the heart" thing and ran with it. It's pretty common on fantasy shows. Even serious, 100 percent fact based dramas like 24 will feature Jack Bauer faking his death with drugs, since his daughter wasn't handy to lure a cougar in to maul him.

Shit Gets Real:

As stupid as "a drug can fake death" sounds, it actually does exist. It even inspired one of our most beloved horror cliches: Namely, zombies. Somebody actually got their hands on the zombie powder used by Voodoo practitioners and discovered that, in addition to bird feathers, ground-up bones and whatever other garbage the priest had laying around, its main ingredient is pufferfish. Pufferfish are chock-full of tetrodotoxin, which as we've noted before is a great way to die horribly. But if you take just enough of it, you'll just get really, horribly sick and depress your system so much that everybody will think you're dead.

Of course, Hollywood leaves out the whole "vomiting everywhere and seizing uncontrollably" bit, but really, we don't need to see Jack Bauer doing the puke-covered booty-clapper. Knowing he does the Jack Bauer Power Dump is good enough for us.

You can find more Dan at seitzeeing.wordpress.com.

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For more techniques that television likes to use on its viewers, check out 5 Cheap Tricks TV Shows Use To Keep You Watching and The 6 Most Gratuitously Cleavaged Women on TV.

And stop by our Top Picks (Updated 2.15.2010) to see that age-old Internet technique: fake boobies.

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