Every family has its secrets, and TV shows and movies have gotten a lot of mileage out of them. In the new HBO series Family Tree, Tom Chadwick (Chris O'Dowd) goes on a journey to learn about his family after receiving a mysterious box of stuff from a great aunt he doesn't know. With that in mind, we looked for some other family secrets in TV —we didn't have to go far.
Arrested Development (2005)
The secret: The Bluth family is full of secrets, but they’re not great at hiding them. Consider George Bluth’s brother, Oscar, the long-haired hippie identical twin who thinks and acts like George’s opposite. (Both are played expertly by Jeffrey Tambor.) Almost from the first time Oscar shows up, there are hints that he might be the biological father of Buster Bluth, the most clueless member of an incredibly clueless tribe. It becomes clearer and clearer that not only is Oscar Bluth Buster’s father, but that he’s continuing his affair with Lucille Bluth, George’s wife.
The big reveal: It’s only the mention of a particular popcorn brand that finally makes Buster see the light: “I just wanted to share my Pop Secret with you!” says Oscar, and it hits stupid Buster like a lightning bolt. Running into his mother, he screams, “You said my father was my father, but my uncle is my father! My father is my uncle!”
Watch the trailer for Family Tree, the new series from HBO
The Simpsons (1991)
The secret: The Simpsons has had tons of family secrets over the years, but one of the first—way back in season two—was the son Abe Simpson (a.k.a. Grampa) had with a carnie/prostitute he met at a fair. (“She did things your mother never would do—like have sex for money.”) It coincided with the pregnancy of his wife, Mona, and the two boys—Homer and Herb—were born at the same time. But Mona insisted Homer never know the shame his father brought on his family, and Herb was carted off to an orphanage, never to be seen or spoken of again.
The reveal: Until a near-death experience induces Abe to spill his guts. From the hospital bed where he’s resting after his outrage over the latest McBain movie gives him a mild heart attack, Abe tells Homer the story of his half-brother, Herb (voiced by Danny DeVito). “This makes me special, dad,” Homer says. “Since I'm the one you kept, that must mean you really loved me.” “Mmm, interesting theory,” responds Grampa. That sends Homer on a quest to find Herb, which he does—in Detroit, where Herb runs a failing car company. It doesn’t work out well. As Lisa notes later, “His life was an unbridled success until he found out he was a Simpson.”
It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia (2006)
The secret: Dee and Dennis Reynolds have grown up under the assumption that the man who raised them, Frank Reynolds (Danny DeVito), is their father. Turns out he isn’t, as least in the biological sense, when a man named Bruce Mathis (Stephen Collins) sends Dee a friend request on MySpace (ah, 2006) and claims to be her father.
The reveal: Frank tags along as Dee and Dennis confront their mother (Ann Archer) at lunch, where she confirms Mathis is their father. Frank promptly has a stroke, and the kids go on a quest to meet their dad, who turns out to be a philanthropist and all-around good dude. That doesn’t work with the It’s Always Sunny crew, naturally. Frank may not be Dee and Dennis’ biological father, but they’re much more his kids than Bruce’s.
The secret: Pierce (Chevy Chase), who has spent his life cowering by himself in his father’s disapproving, racist shadow, has a half-brother. And he’s not white! And he’s his dad’s longtime assistant!
The reveal: “Digital Estate Planning” finds the Greendale crew playing a video game to help Pierce earn his inheritance from his malevolent father, Cornelius. (Most of the episode was rendered in blocky 8-bit graphics, which undoubtedly perplexed people flipping channels.) Also competing is Gilbert Lawson (Giancarlo Esposito), the secret son of Pierce’s dad and the cousin of Pierce’s nanny. When Gilbert cheats to get ahead in the game, the group confronts him, and he announces his true relationship to Pierce and his dad. When he eventually makes it to the end of the game and wins, Cornelius announces (via the game) that he may only have the money if he signs a document promising never to reveal his secret. He refuses, and he and Pierce find a common bond: hatred of their dad.
Family Guy (2009)
The secret: Lois is Jewish. That makes Lois’ family Jewish, and Peter enthusiastically embraces this newfound identity, even if it doesn’t really apply to him.
The reveal: After Peter discovers a lump in Lois’ breast while they’re having sex, she gets checked out at the hospital, where she learns her mother is Jewish. Not only that, but she survived the Holocaust—yet no one knows, because Lois’ dad wanted to be able to get into the right country club.