Obfuscating Stupidity/Live Action TV

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  • Lt. Columbo, famously. Maybe the single most well-developed example ever on television.
  • The Beverly Hillbillies: Jed Clampett, in particular the first seasons, despite his stereotypical "hayseed" appearance and mannerisms, clearly is a lot smarter than he lets on.
  • Green Acres had Eb take an accountancy course via the Clarkwell Institute only to be sent an acting course instead. Turns out Mr. Drucker and Mr. Kimball are also Clarkwell alums (who had also gotten the wrong courses which led them to their current careers). Clarwell also has its own anthem.
  • Used every few episodes by Detective Sledge Hammer!: he is written off by everybody as a violent idiot, but then manages to crack the case, with a sudden admission that he had been taking notes all along -- even if in most other episodes he was just a lucky idiot. This is even given a spot of Lampshade Hanging in one episode, when a game show host killed off a competitor who was getting close to the top prize. He avoided having to do this before by only recruiting idiots. When the sidekick is confused how someone that smart got on the show, Sledge enlightens us with this line: "You see, he looks dumb, but turned out to be a genius; a trick I've used myself."
  • Cordelia Chase in Buffy the Vampire Slayer initially appeared to be The Ditz, but a throw-away gag in Season Three revealed she was actually rather bright when she aced her SATs, and a minor sub-plot later in the season further established her academic creds. Her later appearances in Angel followed up on this development, showing her as far more intelligent than she had originally seemed (not that this was difficult).
    • While many other Buffy characters can be guilty of Obfuscating Stupidity, one of the most glaring examples is "Comfortadore" Xander Harris, a bright, resourceful young man with all the potential in the world. He was also lazy and spent the first five seasons making stupid mistakes. Thankfully, he grew out of it.
      • It's instructive to note that Willow, the brightest student in the entire school by a wide margin, and Xander, the alleged slacker, were always in the same classes. If Xander could consistently place into every AP course in high school, then even the part where he's struggling in them doesn't change that he's still above average.
      • He also went from being an apprentice carpenter to a construction foreman in less than two years. Normally, obtaining a Certified Construction Manager license requires a program of study equivalent to a 4-year degree.
    • Buffy herself also personifies this trope. She's got the vapid California blonde act down to perfection and uses it quite frequently as part of her arsenal to get her enemies to underestimate her. However, as one of the longest-lived slayers in history and a combined SAT score of 1430, she's definitely more than a pretty face.
  • In Doctor Who The Doctor, particularly in his second and fourth incarnations, often used to play the fool to lull his enemies into a false sense of security ("Would you care for a jelly baby?"). Most recently, in 'Family of Blood' whilst pretending to be still human, his blundering nervousness lulls the Family into such a state of arrogant superiority that they don't notice that the buttons he's 'accidentally' pushing will destroy their ship until it's much, much too late. This was occasionally subverted, as well, with the enemies realising that this was what he was doing - most notably in 'City of Death', in which Count Scarlioni's understanding of the Doctor prevents him from being deceived.

Countess: My dear, I don't think he's as stupid as he seems.
Count Scarlioni: My dear, nobody could be as stupid as he seems.

    • The Seventh Doctor also has his moments of this, seeing how he often appears to play the buffoon only to continually outwit the enemy without effort. Particularly highlighted with his 'adjustment' of old quotes.

The Doctor: "A stitch in time...takes up space."

    • "The Dominators" demonstrated what happens when this trope combines with Ham and Cheese. "The clever ones tell us what to do, you see!"
    • To be fair you could name millions of these in Doctor Who alone, but the essential one's gotta be "Smith and Jones", surely! "I must appear to be human..." "Well you're very welcome to come home and meet the wife, she'd be honoured. We can have cake!"
  • John Crichton from Farscape does this very, very well. Many of his plans rely on the villain of the week dismissing the dumb human as inferior...leading to their ultimate defeat. John is an accomplished physicist and aerospace engineer, who designed the titular Farscape spacecraft to test his own theory, and at one point late in the show he builds his own thermonuclear weapon. From scratch. From memory. Even the rest of the crew underestimates the guy.
  • Other characters accuse Constable Benton Fraser of Due South of this, disbelieving he really is that polite, honest, and noble and it's not an act.
  • In Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, we discover that Chinese businessman Zhang Tao has been pretending that he can't speak English because "it's fun". Jack Rudolph is not impressed.
  • President Logan on 24.
  • Lauren Graham (of Gilmore Girls fame) pulled off this stunt while participating in the second tournament of Celebrity Poker Showdown. Despite being known as a fairly intelligent woman, she would flip her hair and say generally stupid/sarcastic things ("So many numbers!") to throw off her competition. Not only did the other players fall for it, but Lauren went on to the Championship Game of the season, losing only to former co-star Maura Tierney.
  • Bull Shannon on Night Court, though only occasionally.
  • One episode of Jack of All Trades revealed that George III was feigning his legendary madness in order to confuse Napoleon.
  • In Thirty Rock, Kenneth is seen as the bumbling Pollyanna of the show, yet Jack thinks that "In five years we'll all be working for him...or dead by his hand."
    • Tracy might be an example of Obfuscating Insanity. Although he is clearly quite genuinely nuts at times, he is also well aware of how much his fame and fortune rely on this fact. So he makes sure to act as bizarrely as possible, and gets offended when mistaken for normal. "If I'm normal I'm boring, if I'm boring I'm not a movie star."
  • Jayne Cobb on Firefly. While still not the highest caliber shell in the magazine, he acts thicker than he really is, as established in the very first episode.
    • Some examples of Jayne's intelligence are seen a) when he's asked by Mal (in said pilot episode) to interrogate a prisoner - when the prisoner tells him a convincing lie, Jayne sees right through it and accuses the prisoner of not even trying - and b) in the episode "Shindig", Badger finds himself groping for a word, and Jayne supplies it: "pretentious." Mal looks at him with disbelief, seeming to wonder himself if Jayne is truly all he seems.
      • And in "The Message," he shows forethought and a slight philosophic interest.

Jayne: [to Sheppard Book] "Me, I see a stiff, one I didn't have to kill myself, I just get the urge to, ya know, do stuff. Work out, run around, maybe get some trim, if there's a willin' woman about...My kinda life don't last long preacher. I 'spect I'm invested in makin' good sport of it while I can."

      • Its even shown briefly in the Serenity movie; in the final battle scene when everybody is dragging out some nearby crates to form a barricade against the Reavers, Jayne is the only person to remember to actually look in the crates first to make sure that they don't contain anything explosive or hazardous.
    • Mal exhibits this to some extent also, though it's an in-universe trait; the viewers know he's more intelligent than he lets on. Mal and Jayne reveal more in the episode where Malcom figures out that it was Jayne that sold them out to the Alliance during a heist. Jayne then shows a much deeper personal side when he asks Mal that if he's gonna kill him for betraying the crew, please don't tell anyone that's why he died; he'd rather they remembered him as the abrasive idiot than as a traitor.
      • Lampshaded when Mal corrects The Operatives's reference to "Rime of the Ancient Mariner", then mocking Inara's disbelief.
        • Depending on who you ask, that scene was less of a lampshading than it was a moment of inverted Or So I Heard. Inara never made the mistake of thinking that Mal was stupid. She most certainly thought he was uncultured, though.

Inara: "I don't suppose you'd find it up to [the] standards of your outings. More conversation, and somewhat less...petty theft and getting hit with pool cues."

          • According to supplemental material, Mal is the son of a wealthy rancher, and his mother insisted on making sure he was educated and cultured. Note how in one episode he displays knowledge of a fairly complicated formal dance. He even manages to keep up effortlessly while holding a conversation. It's mostly that he prefers the outlaw lifestyle.
    • River can come across as this, although in her case it's less of pretending to be stupid and more of being too messed up to properly sort out what she does know.
  • Likewise, Colonel O'Neill on Stargate SG-1, while far from a rocket scientist, usually presented a snarky persona that appeared much dumber than he actually was, often to fool his enemies or simply to annoy his allies. Or maybe the other way around.
    • Of course, there's more than one way to look at everything.
    • He is an amateur astronomer (when he's not spying on his neighbors through his telescope) and a brillian strategist/tactician. He is also fluent in Spanish, can beat General Landry in chess, can be diplomatic if he has to, and is smart enough to quickly pick up how to control an alien starship with a little guidance. He is also the only one who can come even close to keep an alien database in his head without dying immediately.
  • Colonel Sheppard of Stargate Atlantis often appears to be goofy and laid back with a predilection of not taking things very seriously. His detractors tend to underestimate him and take his easy-going personality at face value, especially if there are other officers who want his position as Atlantis's military commander. This usually comes back to bite them in the ass when Sheppard goes to prove that his rank and job are rightfully his. He's also extremely intelligent to the extent that the genius Dr McKay was very surprised to hear he could have gotten into MENSA.
    • In an Alternate Universe. That Sheppard could be a completely different person.
      • Also in the regular universe. The Alternate Universe Sheppard is just active in MENSA, whereas in the regular universe, he opts out even though he qualifies.
  • Otoya Kurenai from Kamen Rider Kiva combines this with his savant-level violin playing to pretty much get whatever he wants. The problem is that it works a little too well, and when he tries to tell people what's really going on the results are somewhat predictable.
  • Kamen Rider Den-O has a case based on ignorance rather than stupidity: throughout the series, Ryotaro's sister Airi is a sweet, caring big sister whose memory seems to have been altered so she doesn't even remember her fiancé Yuuto Sakurai following his mysterious disappearance. In a later episode, she reveals to Ryotaro (and the teenage version of Yuuto) that she knew all along, and in fact helped create Sakurai's Plan to protect the Cosmic Keystone (their future daughter Hana) from the Big Bad. In order to throw the villain off the trail, Airi had to pretend to be innocent and clueless so he never realized she was important until Ryotaro was strong enough to defeat him.
  • Vila Restal from Blakes Seven is a genius safecracker/pickpocket who spends the majority of his time acting like a cowardly imbecile. While he is a coward, he isn't stupid.
    • Very, very good at both obfuscating stupidity and drunkenness. He once managed (episode Stardrive) to simultaneously tell the rest of the crew what difficult and dangerous technical feat they had to do to save the ship, and convince them he was FAR too drunk to do it himself: "Because my lovely Dayna, and Soolin, no one ever tells someone who is drunk to volunteer."
      • Another time he figured out he should hold on to a looted sidearm because the guy whose hospitality they were sharing kept his booze under lock and key. Vila, a drinking man, found this very suspicious.
      • And the time he fought off a hostile alien entity by confusing it with nursery rhymes and nonsense. Granted, he had a bit of help from Orac on that front, but Orac couldn't process nonsense and Vila could.
      • Some fans have speculated that Avon actually sees right through it, and his grudging respect for Vila's skill in bringing it off is the reason he never could bring himself to get rid of Vila once and for all.
  • Most everyone on Burn Notice uses this at some point, being a spy show it is what they do. On many occasions Badass Michael has had to allow himself to be beaten up as part of his Batman Gambit. At one point he went all out and walked with a lanky stride, had matted and greasy hair, talked about two pitches higher than normal and came complete with an inhaler.
    • For that matter, Michael's normal personality (or generic one when he's working a cover) when he isn't on the job has some elements of being a snarky idiot just to put people at ease.
    • Sam basically embodies this completely. The initial impression one gets of him is a slightly overweight womanizer who chugs beers and has about as much insight as a sixth grader. While the first part is still completely true, one learns over the course of the series that he's a former Navy SEAL, has numerous contacts across multiple government agencies, and can be just as manipulative and technologically proficient as Michael or Fi.
  • In an episode of Unhappily Ever After, Tiffany tests the hypothesis that guys prefer stupid girls by playing the part of two people--a smart person with glasses and a Ditz without--for the same guy.
  • Robert Goren on Law and Order: Criminal Intent's unassuming demeanor and odd mannerisms tend to actually become the frightening point about him when he corners the criminals.
  • iCarly: In iHire An Idiot, Ashley, the hot intern Freddie picked. She seems to be as dumb as Cort but in the end is revealed to be a very intelligent college student. She only pretended to be stupid as part of Freddie's plan.
  • Lauren "Am I bovvered" Cooper from The Catherine Tate Show appears to her teachers to be a dim, rude, and dismissive teenage layabout. She is rude and dismissive, but certain sketches have revealed her to be smarter than she appears. She can recite from memory obscure Shakespeare, she has memorized at least part of the Periodic table of elements, and can converse in fluent French (and knows her signature catch phrase in Modern English, Elizabethan English, French, and Sign Language.) It seems she is pretending to be dim as to not be alienated by her much dimmer friends (while been smart enough to manipulate them).
  • Andy Pipkin from Little Britain, who onscreen is shown to be a monosyllabic dolt, however in many of the sketches, when Andy says he wants (to do) something he doesn't like, Lou will remind him that he expressed a negative opinion of said thing, some of which make him sound like a philosopher.

Lou (to Andy): But I thought you didn't like tattoos. You once told me they were nothing more than graffiti over God's work.

    • Mind you, in a season three episode Andy responded to Lou saying something along those lines with "stop paraphrasing me".
  • In Star Trek: Enterprise's "In a Mirror Darkly," Mirror Hoshi pulls it on both the characters and the audience. She seems like nothing more than a willing consort for whoever her captain is at the moment, then at the end she poisons Mirror Archer and declares herself Empress of the Terrans.
    • Well, Hoshi from the normal universe is a linguistic genius. It's just that the Terran Empire is a heavily-patriarchal society, where women are mainly appreciated for their beauty.
  • Tony DiNozzo in NCIS comes across as an immature Jerk Jock Handsome Lech who spends far more energy goofing off, chasing women, and giving his teammates a hard time than he does actually investigating. When he has to get serious, however, he quickly proves that he is not only a highly skilled investigator, he's also an effective leader, and particularly following the fourth season it becomes clear that most of his immature behavior is a front under which he is a lot smarter and more capable than he lets on.
    • There are many scenes that point to this, usually beginning with Ziva berating him for seemingly goofing off. When Gibbs asks for updates, Ziva and McGee usually have minor or incomplete information but Tony always has thought a step ahead and has comprehensive research to present to Gibbs.
    • Also, during the season 2 episode "SWAK", surveillance footage shows that he came back to NCIS long after everyone else had gone home to review evidence, and the lack of surprise this gets from the team shows that it's not unusual behavior.
    • Tony deliberately invokes Obfuscating Stupidity as part of his crime-solving arsenal: his favorite method of interrogation is annoying suspects into saying too much. Tony even manages to provoke Eli David, the director of Mossad, into revealing something he shouldn't...while Tony was the one being interrogated.
    • Gibbs outright admits it in "Flesh and Blood" to DiNozzo's father, stating outright that Tony's womanizing, hedonistic, and downright irritating persona is a front that hides the best special agent he has ever known.
  • In one episode of The Mentalist, "Flame Red", the killer is an intelligent young man named Tommy who has been pretending to be mentally retarded for some time, ever since he it got him out of a parking ticket because of the magical words "he didn't know any better." He gets angry after someone he knows is killed for greed, and gets revenge.
  • Michael Guerin, in early episodes of Roswell is one step up from being a high school drop-out, playing truant and skipping classes as often as not. In conversation with Maria, his eventual love interest, he claims his favourite book is James Joyce's Ulysses. She scoffs and doesn't believe him...so he recites a very long passage from said book from memory.
  • Megan in Drake and Josh pretends to be an innocent little girl in front of her parents so they won't believe her brothers when they go to tattle about the not-exactly-harmless pranks she pulls.
  • Mohinder Suresh of Heroes has many moments of real stupidity, which means his occasional forays into Obfuscating Stupidity can still catch the audience and other characters off-guard. In particular, he successfully pretended to have no idea of Sylar's real identity on an eight-hour roadtrip, even going so far as to invite him into his home and cheerfully offer him tea -- which Sylar accepts, silently gloating that he's got Mohinder so completely fooled, only to find himself passed out on the floor five seconds after he actually drinks the "tea."
    • Of course, he returns to his usual role immediately afterwards and manages to screw up again.
    • Mohinder also convinced Bob he had been outsmarted and mindwiped by the Haitian, even though his real goal had been to locate, cure and release the Haitian all along.

Bob: "Where is the Haitian?"
Mohinder: "In...Haiti?"

      • For extra funny, they're having this conversation in Haiti.
  • In Bones, it's been observed in-show that Seeley Booth's Obfuscating Stupidity serves the dual purposes of making people underestimate him and allowing Brennan to be "the smart one" (Granted, she is the smart one, but he lets her think the gap between them is even larger than it is).
    • Bones is guilty of this as well as several conversations and episodes imply or state outright that she knows perfectly well how smart/dumb Booth is. Later episodes expand the idea as her playing dumb to his particular skills so that he can have his thing.
  • Arguably Murdock in The A-Team. Despite being in a psychiatric hospital, he has no problems helping the team out and often comes up with plans that match Hannibal for genius.
  • Like in the earlier films, the '50s Zorro television show had the title character disguise his secret identity with stupidity; however, instead of being a rich fop, his alter ego was a bumbling Zorro sympathizer who supposedly lacked the skills of his idol.
    • Sergeant Garcia, while never the sharpest sword around, would sometimes "accidentally" help Zorro or some else who had been wronged.
  • Power Rangers Ninja Storm: Lothor, who had spent the season being one of the silliest villains in the franchise history, reveals in the finale that he's been playing dumb all season -- even his constant losses have been part of a massive plan to fill hell the abyss of evil so full with monsters that he could burst it open and unleash hell on Earth all the stored evil on Earth at once.
    • How could you forget his nieces who were out doing him in the look dumb I am department, they were acting so bubble headed that everyone who met them "knew that nobody could be that stupid" and yet they genuinely appeared it till the last 6 or so episodes of the season
  • Dollhouse: Alpha. The character's reveal gave cold shivers, considering how convincingly the actor had been selling the goofy one-off hilarious fanservice guest star part up to that point in the episode.
  • During his early TV career, British presenter Louis Theroux ruthlessly exploited a put-on faux-naif persona to lull his subjects into a false sense of security. This was a surprisingly effective interview technique, though it seems that people eventually caught on, and he doesn't do it much now.
  • A large part of the modus operandi of rookie lawyer protagonist Kuryu Kohei in Hero is to act ditzy and excitable, hiding his brilliant mind.
  • Used by a rookie defence lawyer in Law and Order: After letting all the State's witnesses go unchallenged, he lays out a case basically saying finding his client guilty is questioning the will of God. After the Judge shoots this down, he then changes his client's plea to not guilty by reason of mental defect. Normally this wouldn't be allowed at that stage of the trial, but he then reveals his client will have a solid appeal on Sixth Ammendment (right to a fair trial) grounds, using his own incompetent defence up to this point as evidence. All to catch the prosecution off guard with the plea change.

Judge: Either you are a brilliant strategist, or you are the biggest jackass to step foot in my courtroom.

  • Boston Legal's Denny Crane seems like a senile, self absorbed wackjob and he usually is...until he steps into a courtroom.
  • Dave, the truck driver who doused Alex in superpower-inducing chemicals in The Secret World of Alex Mack, puts his own safety on the line by foiling the greedy and evil Danielle Atron's schemes to find out Alex's identity. Dave pretends he has no idea who the victim of the accident was, but reveals in the last episode that he knew it was Alex since the beginning, yet had hidden it all those years.
    • Not quite: he had discovered the secret in his A Day in the Limelight episode where he used the skills learned by a rather goofy "How to be a spy" course on tape. He decided to keep quiet in accordance to said course's last lesson: "Whenever you discover a secret, no matter how big it is, it's best to keep it for yourself."
  • In the Saturday Night Live sketch "Masterbrain," Phil Hartman portrayed then-president Ronald Reagan as a doddering-yet-genial goofball (the image that was and still is popular among his detractors) when presenting himself before the press or the public. Behind closed doors however, Hartman's Reagan revealed himself to be a Machiavellian manipulator in full command of the issues of the day.
    • Another sketch had Marilyn Monroe acting the Dumb Blonde she was known for in public, while behind closed doors showed her as the brains behind JFK's presidency while He was a moron who only acted smart in public. The first part of this premise actually has some basis in truth, as Norma Jean Baker/Marilyn Monroe was well read and her breathy voice and deer-in-headlights expression were something of a put-on.
  • On one episode of The Steve Harvey Show, Lydia (with encouragement from Romeo and Bullethead) dumbs herself down when her boyfriend Arthur starts to lose interest in her because she aced a chemistry exam.
  • Whitley plays with this trope on an episode of A Different World. When she and Dwayne are partners in a quiz bowl, Dwayne tells her that their kiss on a previous episode meant nothing and that he was in love in Kinu. He also alludes that Whitley is not very smart and that she is spoiled. Whitley becomes angry and sabotages the second half of the game by giving wrong or flat out stupid answers, and at one point not giving any answers. She even files her nails in one scene. Of course Hillman is eliminated from the tournament.
  • Carla's brother from Scrubs pretends to not have learned English so as to play with Turk's head, whom he's had a rivalry with ever since Turk mistook him for a valet at Carla's mother's funeral. This is only revealed to Carla when Turk provokes him enough for him to yell out in English, "That's it, you sonofabitch!" (starting at 3:30)
    • Similarly, Turk doesn't tell Carla right away when he finally does learn Spanish.
  • To some extent, Dean Winchester from Supernatural also fills this role. His younger brother, the family genius, has sniffed at Dean's lack of education but we've seen Dean do some fairly impressive intellectual feats of his own. Dean put up with Sam's (usually good natured) teasing about his smarts for years, but as of season four has shown a growing level of irritation whenever Sam shows genuine surprise at Dean displaying any hint of his actual intelligence, including a dirty look and an offended "What? I read!" in the episode Sex and Violence. Depending on the writer, this comes across as either Dean hiding his own intelligence to better allow Sam to shine or Dean being a Genius Ditz at best.
    • Prior to the beginning of the show Dean seems to have depended on his father to tell him what to do, and when John disappears that responsibility falls to Sam. Due to the events of seasons three and four Sam's judgement can't be trusted, and Dean has to start thinking for himself.
  • Mr. Eldridge on Remember WENN usually comes off as The Ditz, but in the episode where he wins the lottery he manages to use his winnings to buy a controlling interest in the station and save his own job.
  • The Avengers: John Steed, almost every episode.
  • The title character of Merlin does have his moments of clumsiness and cluelessness, but sometimes he may use it to his advantage.
  • In one episode of All in The Family, Mike is spouting off about how clueless Archie is when Edith tells him, "If you were really smarter than Archie, you would be smart enough not to let him see that you're smarter than him." (Which offers a tantalizing hint that Edith's ditzy exterior might be at least a partial application of this trope in its own right.)
    • In the early seasons, Lionel Jefferson would have fun with Archie by adopting a stereotypically "black" version of this around him.
  • Eliot from Leverage. Ostensibly just the dumb heavy, he's actually quite intelligent and enjoys activities such as gourmet cooking. In the "Zanzibar Marketplace Job", he ends up running the entire con-slash-rescue mission.

Maggie: You know, people underestimate you, Eliot
Nate: That's kind of the point.

  • The jury's still out but in Caprica Serge Graystone, the Robot Maid about the size of a trashcan, has a Twitter feed that suggests he knows more than he's letting on - and that he's not simply very well programmed to fake sapience.
  • In an episode of The Daily Show, Jon Stewart accused Fox And Friends host Gretchen Carlson of engaging in this in order to pander for a less educated and anti-intellectual audience. The incident cited as proof was Carlson claiming to having to Google the meanings of terms "czar", "ignoramus", and "double-dip recession" despite being a Stanford honors graduate in Sociology, having studied at Oxford and being a talented violinist.
  • The title character of Everybody Loves Raymond demonstrates this frequently.

"I may seem dumb, but that's just to get your mother to not ask me to do stuff!"

    • At another point in the series, both he and Frank tell Robert that this is a key strategy in a marriage.
  • In Being Human (UK), George does menial labor in a hospital and is later revealed to have "a brain the size of a planet". Of course, there's the problem that he turns into a wolf every month, so it makes sense that he'd want a low-profile job with access to a room to lock himself up in. The first season finale gives another example, when he appears to be scared enough of an evil vampire to abandon Mitchell. It turns out that he'd cleverly set up a trap in which the evil vampire would find itself locked in an isolated room with George...just as the full moon comes up.
  • Peggy, Shirley's grandmother in The Adventures of Shirley Holmes, has shades of this sometimes. Some other times, she's more of a Bunny Ears Lawyer. Also Shirley often "disguises" as a ditz when she's trying to find clues.
  • In the West Wing episode "Running Mates," Leo McGarry deliberately flubs his prep session for the vice-presidential debate, then leaks the story anonymously to various news sources. His opponent spends the run-up to the debate convinced he'll win - until Leo proceeds to kick him all around the debate floor and then use him as a rag to mop up the resulting mess.
  • In Sherlock, Molly's dumb, Camp Gay boyfriend "Jim from IT" is revealed to be James Moriarty, the INTELLIGENT Camp Gay criminal mastermind.
  • A subversion occurred in the VH-1 Reality show, I Love Money 2 where a contestant simply referred to as "It" floated into the final episode because he was likable, physically nonthreatening despite his size and just one more vote for the main alliance. Channelling Johnny Fairplay of Survivor fame's "Dead Grandma" ploy, claiming he had a sick/dying grandfather won him the sympathy to reach the Final 3 where he revealed it was a lie, he doesn't need glasses and dropping his Uncle Tomfoolery speech pattern, making it seem like he really would become the show's winner...only to get lost, lazily reach a challenge the other two contestants were almost finishing then not even bothering to finish and simply ordering food and to cap the Humiliation Conga, he dropped his plate on the ground.
  • Speaking of Survivor, Nicaragua sees Jud Birza, better known as "Fabio", would use this as his strategy the whole time. Not only does he wind up in the top 3, he wins the whole thing.
    • There's a bit more to be said about this; almost the whole game, Fabio had been playing the male dumb blonde stereotype. At a certain point in the game, when there were 6 people left, there is a four person alliance (Sash, Chase and Holly) against a three person "alliance" (Fabio and Dan and Jane, who weren't in an alliance, but didn't have much to go on). In an incredibly subtle and clever move after winning immunity, Fabio put an idea in the heads of Sash and Chase that Jane was a bigger threat than Dan, their original planned target, and they took the bait. Fabio then proceeded to slink back into the shadows as Sash and Chase made the idea entirely their own and Jane found out about it. By this point, they had completely forgotten that the idea was Fabio's. Cut to Jane putting out the fire angrily before tribal council... and Fabio grinning maniacally when nobody could see him.
      • The best thing about this? He started playing dumb because he looked the part.
    • This has actually proven to be an excellent strategy in Survivor. Pretend to be stupid so that people drag you along and underestimate you, and then start turning everyone around and against each other, as well as playing the friendly person so that you can win the personal vote, too. This worked for Vecepia who flew under the radar in Marquesas and got votes because Neleh was The Load. It also worked for Natalie in Samoa, who noticed that Russell Hantz was eliminating everyone who wasn't Too Dumb to Live (Russell said that Marisa and Betsy were the first to go because he felt they could have beaten him) and aligned herself with Rusell so that he would drag her along. Even further, she pretended to be The Load along with Mick so that Russell would never pull a You Have Outlived Your Usefulness on her like he did on Shambo and Jaison. Then when the Jury questioned everyone, she admitted she was the least deserving while Russell slammed the other two and bragged "Aren't I awesome?". The result? She won seven votes. This goes to show you that if you align yourself into the middle-or-low man on the totem pole, you are perhaps in the best spot.
      • And in the very first season, Sue Hawk used this to great effect even if she didn't end up winning. Richard, who was the be all, end all mastermind of Borneo, was surprised at the fact that Sue had been planning all along to betray him and take Kelly to the final two before her and Kelly had a falling out because, lampshaded by Sue, she was thought of by him as nothing but "a dumb redneck".
  • Brenda Johnson in The Closer is a sweet, scatterbrained Southern eccentric - until her suspect slips up and gives her what she wants. At which point said suspect is painfully reminded that Brenda Leigh Johnson is a CIA-trained interrogator.
  • Most of the main characters in Misfits could fit, as all of them are smarter than let on. The best example is possibly Simon, who at first appears to just be a creepy weirdo, but soon becomes The Smart Guy, organising the group to get away with murder. Twice.
  • Oliver Leek from Primeval manages to convince everyone around him that he's a bumbling right-hand man, when he's actually a coldly intelligent Diabolical Mastermind.
  • Papa Lazarou from The League of Gentlemen uses this as part of his stage act to confuse his volunteers (mostly women) to hand over their jewelry.
  • Shawn Spencer of Psych got a perfect score on the California detective's exam at age fifteen, identified T-rex bite marks from a time he climbed on a museum exhibit several years previous, and once fired a gun from the hood of a moving vehicle, between the slats of the grill of another moving vehicle, after being shot in the shoulder. He generally acts as though he knows absolutely nothing about anything apart from pop culture and detective work (and the latter only with Gus and his father). This is an odd example, however, because he does this not to get people to underestimate him, but because he needs to believe he's a somewhat normal human being.
  • Sean Connery on the Celebrity Jeopardy! sketches on Saturday Night Live. Originally, he was just as stupid as all the other celebrities, but when the focus shifted to his adversarial relationship with Alex Trebek, it became obvious that he was just faking it to get his goat. (Sometimes, he even admits as much himself.)
  • Sergeant Schultz on Hogan's Heroes repeatedly states, "I know NOTHING!" but in reality he's probably on to just about everything that goes on in Stalag 13. At one point, he stops Hogan's crew from pushing him too far on a deal: "Sometimes I have to work for OUR side!" This was reportedly a conscious decision of actor John Banner's, to portray a decent human being who just happened to be in the German army and to subvert the ironic pattern of typecasting as a Nazi that Banner (who was Jewish and escaped Austria one step ahead of the Nazi occupation) experienced in his career.
  • Tom Ballard from Waiting for God has been doing this so long he has trouble working out when he's doing it and when he's just being mentally lazy, leading to an unusual case of Becoming the Mask.
  • Lt. Commander Bud Roberts on JAG once used this as a means to get a serial killer who felt it was his duty to remove the "waste" from the Navy to confess in court.
  • Done by quite a few characters on Chuck.
    • Sarah especially seems fond of adopting the role of a ditzy girl who has drunkenly wandered into whatever situation she's in by accident, which allows her to walk out of places she's found herself trapped in and serves as a good excuse to walk into places where she would otherwise be immediately shot dead or at least regarded with suspicion.
    • Chuck himself falls back on this at times, relying on his nerdiness and $12-an-hour Buy More job to make the bad guys assume that there's no way he's a spy.
  • Castle: At a shooting range, Castle first appears to be a terrible shot. Until Beckett promises to give him the files he wants, if he's able to hit the ten ring. He sinks the next three bullets exactly there.

Castle: You're a very good teacher.

  • In Breaking Bad, Skyler's old boss Ted becomes noticed by the CID, due to massive tax fraud that she helped cover up. She fixes it by pretending to be a Dumb Blonde secretary who only got the job by sleeping with Ted, and hopelessly screwed up the company's accounts by stupidity rather than intentional fraud. Plus, she gets revenge on Ted for getting her involved by not telling him about the plan beforehand, and making him sweat through part of the audit alone before showing up late as part of her character.
  • In the "Village Idiot" sketch from Monty Python's Flying Circus, John Cleese's idiot is portrayed this way. When nobody else from their village (except possibly other idiots) is around, he'll discourse learnedly to the camera on the "vital psychosocial role" played by idiocy; as soon as someone walks by, he slips back into character and starts babbling nonsense and comedically falling off walls.
  • Del Boy from Only Fools and Horses sometimes does this when he wants to manipulate someone else into having an idea that he's had, and thinking it was their idea in the first place. For example, in one of the later episodes of the show (after the Trotters have become multi-millionaires and lost it all), Del has been declared bankrupt and banned from being the manager of Trotters Independant Traders. He realises that someone else - namely, Rodney - could manage Trotters Independant Traders and hire him to work for them. Instead of just asking Rodney if he'll be the new manager, Del proceeds to manipulate Rodney into coming up with the idea of managing the company himself. He even pretends to not understand what Rodney is suggesting and that he needs it explaining to him again, presumably to strengthen the illusion that it was Rodney's idea.
  • The Inspector Lynley Mysteries: Detective Sergeant Barbara Havers is tiny and adorable, with a pair of enormous green eyes and an accent that thoroughly betrays her working-class origins. She uses all of these to devastating effect, playing the "silly, uneducated little girl" card right up until she gets what she needs from her suspect - at which point she reveals that she is more than a match for her Oxford-educated partner in terms of her detective skills. She might not be an Oxford grad, but she is a frighteningly competent detective with several decades of street smarts who is much, much smarter than anyone would guess.
  • While Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C. was built on the idea that the titular character was a dumb-as-bricks hick out of place, more than one he was shown to have exceptional wartime skills, such as him and the Sargeant being the only team in the survival exercise to gain weight, or dismantling a wooden bridge that was to be simulated as detonated so he had ropes to build snare traps with.
  • Detective Lester Freamon is the master of this on the first season of The Wire, convincing all around him that he's a "hump" who, in the words of his new commanding officer, "couldn't find his own gun." When he finally does reveal his inner Chessmaster to his colleagues, they literally stare at him slack-jawed. He still keeps up the facade to the bosses, though, which pays big dividends in the season finale: despite being the prime mover behind the decision to investigate the politicians who took money from Big Bad Avon Barksdale, he's the only member of squad who ends up being rewarded by the bosses for his work on the detail, receiving a transfer to the Homicide Squad while most of the other detectives were being Reassigned to Antarctica.
  • Alan Davies, the permanent panelist slash resident Butt Monkey from the Panel Game QI. He admitted that the show requires someone to do the dirty job of feigning ignorance from time to time, and he usually steps up to do it.
  • On White Collar, Peter does this from time to time. For example, in "All In" he deliberately plays the bumbling agent, lets a bunch Mei Lin's co-workers appear to confound him by speaking only Chinese at him, and then walks away -- and reveals to Neal and Lauren that he was recording the whole thing for later translation.