Unfortunate Item Swap
A character confuses two similar-looking items, leading to embarrassing or dangerous situations


(permanent link) added: 2012-06-20 17:22:21 sponsor: MidnightRambler (last reply: 2012-06-26 04:18:02)

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The single-player version of Satchel Switcheroo.

Bob has two (rarely more) different items, which look rather similar on the outside; however, in reality they are vastly different, and meant for different people and/or situations. Of course, Rule of Funny - or in rare examples, Rule of Drama - dictates that he must get them mixed up, with disastrous results.

Items often used for this include:
  • Audio or video recording media.
  • Letters in closed envelopes.
  • Two meals or drinks - one poisoned or otherwise tampered with, the other perfectly normal.
  • A real weapon and a fake one.
  • Bottles of poison, magic potions, or other chemicals.

A common gag is for Bob to realise that the item he is holding, which he believed to be Item X, is actually Item Y: 'Oh no! Then the thing I sent to Alice was...' Cut to Alice receiving Item X and being surprised or angry.

Thanks to the Law of Conservation of Detail, this trope is often set up so obviously that Genre Savvy viewers can see it coming from miles away; in many works, the mere existence of two objects which can be easily confused is a Chekhov's Gun with the safety off.

Note that in order to fit this trope, the mix-up has to be accidental - if it happens because of misdirection (another character intentionally tricks Bob into this) or ignorance (Bob genuinely isn't aware of the difference between the two items), it's not this trope.

Overlaps with Script Swap and Blind Mistake. Oh Wait, This Is My Grocery List is a subtrope. Compare Satchel Switcheroo, which is about two or more characters accidentally and unknowingly exchanging items.

Examples:

Anime and Manga
  • In one episode of Maison Ikkoku, Godai records two spoken messages on tape - one for his Love Interest Kyoko, one for a toddler who said she wanted to marry him. Naturally, Kyoko gets the tape where Godai explains that he can't marry her because she's far too young, and the child gets the tape where he declares his love and says he will do his best to become worthy of her hand. (For added hilarity, the toddler's name is also Kyoko).
  • In One Piece, the villain Spandam commits an epic blunder by mixing up his two snailphones, accidentally issuing a buster call (basically a "Something has Gone Horribly Wrong here, level the place with heavy artillery, take no further orders from this phone" emergency order) on his location.

Comic Books
  • Happens frequently in Donald Duck stories; usually involves a gift meant for Daisy.
  • In one EC Comics story, a bigamist has a wife who bowls competitively, and another who golfs on a tournament level. He sends each of them a pair of shoes for their sport, but he puts them in the wrong boxes, so the bowling wife gets the golfing shoes and vice versa. He might have been able to laugh this off, if they hadn't been sharing a hotel room due to both reservations being made under his name.
  • The origin of Bouncing Boy from the Legion of Super Heroes - he mistook a bottle of experimental Super Serum (which he was supposed to be delivering when he got distracted) for the bottle of soda pop he'd just bought.

Film
  • In The Emperor's New Groove, Kronk mistakes the bottle of extract of llama for the bottle of poison due to faulty labeling.
  • In Johnny English, Johnny intends to play a DVD on which the villain explains his Evil Plan in detail to a crowd of royalty, politicians, and other VIPs. But this trope happens, and a clip of Johnny dancing half-naked comes up instead.
  • In Monsters vs. Aliens, the Big Red Button that launches all the nuclear missiles is identical to, and right next to, the button for the coffee dispenser. President Hardaway is warned in time. In The Stinger, he's not so lucky.
  • In My Favorite Brunette, the Bob Hope character manages to get a record made of the Evil Plan, but the Peter Lorre character switches it for a music record.
  • In Nine To Five, Lily Thomlin's character accidentally buys rat poison instead of non-dairy coffee creamer (they're packaged ridiculously similarly), and thinks she has poisoned her boss.
  • The Return of The Pink Panther: Chief Inspector Dreyfus has both a real gun and a lighter that looks identical to the gun. After getting angry at Clouseau he tries to shoot him with the gun but it turns out to be the lighter. Later he tries to light a cigarette and ends up shooting himself with the gun.
  • The entire plot of Road Trip is built on this. The protagonist inadvertently sends a sex tape (of him cheating) to his long-distance girlfriend, instead of a tape on which he sings a romantic song for her. Cue epic quest to get it back before she gets to watch it.

Literature
  • In My Uncle Oswald, Yasmin Howcomely tries to seduce the King of Norway by giving him a chocolate truffle filled with a powerful aphrodisiac. However, she accidentally gives him a perfectly normal truffle and eats the "spiked" truffle herself. Note, however, that at this point in the book, she has pulled the exact same trick succesfully with a lot of rich and famous men.

Live-Action TV
  • In the fourth season of Blackadder, Captain Blackadder, who is about to be court-martialled for shooting General Melchett's pet pigeon, writes two letters: one asking his klutzy sidekick George for a sponge bag, another asking his brilliant lawyer cousin for legal aid. Of course, his idiotic aide Baldrick gets the letters mixed up.
  • In one episode of Cheers, Sam burns an envelope which he believes to contain his sperm count test results - but he's got it switched with Frasier's will.
  • In the Doctor Who episode "The Lodger", the Doctor, in a hurry, accidentally grabs an electric toothbrush instead of his sonic screwdriver.
  • Friends: A porn video is swapped with a video of Phoebe's friend giving birth (intended to prepare Rachel for giving birth to Emma). Chandler and Monica's romantic evening is thus ruined.
  • In the "Police Raid" sketch from Monty Python's Flying Circus, Graham Chapman plays the role of a policeman who intrudes on two guys having lunch, claiming he's got a warrant to search the premises. After a brief awkward silence, Graham produces a paper bag from his pocket, drops it on the table, and begins loudly declaring that he has discovered a bag which may indeed contain illicit substances. Eric Idle searches the bag to find... a sandwich. Dismayed, Graham looks at the camera and inquires, "Blimey! Whatever did I give the wife?"
  • My Name Is Earl: Chubby has two guns, a real gun and an identical-looking water pistol he keeps filled with vodka. He accidentally kills himself (offscreen, between episodes) when he tries to squirt some vodka into his mouth with the wrong gun.
  • Soap: Eunice is having an affair with a Congressman. A Blackmailer sends him pictures in a manila envelope, threatening that he'll expose the affair unless the Congressman pays him. As he and Eunice are talking about it, a delivery boy from a newspaper comes to pick up a copy of the Congressman's speech scheduled for the next day. The Congressman absently hands him the speech in a manila envelope. A few minutes later, after the Congressman's wife comes home, she picks up the manila envelope and opens it - it's the speech. The Congressman accidentally gave the blackmail photos to the press.

Western Animation
  • In The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron, Jimmy keeps all the crew's superpowers from a past episode in ridiculously similar sprays. He also puts a love potion in the same type of tube. Oh, and they come across a situation where they actually need them. Fast.
  • In the Tex Avery cartoon Crazy Mixed Up Pup, a man and his dog are out for a walk and get hit by a car. The paramedics come, but one mixes up "human plasma" and "dog plasma," so that the man gets the dog plasma and vice versa. The man starts acting like a dog, and the dog like a man.
  • On South Park, a pornographic video gets switched with a Lord of the Rings tape. When Butters accidentally watches the porn video, his confusion translates into acting like Gollum.

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