Unfortunate Item Swap
The single-player version of Satchel Switcheroo
Bob has two (rarely more) different items, which look 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.
Anime and Manga
Films — Animated
Films — Live-Action
- 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 surveillance clip of Johnny dancing half-naked in front of his bathroom mirror comes up instead... Live... To the whole world.
- In 9 to 5, 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 (yes, in his office in broad daylight) but it turns out to be the lighter. Later he tries to light a cigarette and ends up shooting his nose off 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.
- A pair of envelopes in Drag Me to Hell, with disastrous results.
- In Blame It On The Bellboy, three envelopes intended for three guests at a hotel get mixed up by the aforementioned bellboy (played by Bronson Pinchot).
- The whole premise of 8 Heads In A Duffel Bag.
- In the french movie Subway, the two halves of the plot are each kickstarted when two identical recordings - a bootleg opera performance, and two criminals' confession - are mixed up.
- In The Comedy Of Terrors Waldo Turmbull (Vincent Price) has a bottle of poison he taunts his father-in-law with, and also a flask. Hilarity eventually ensues.
- In The Captains Paradise Alec Guinness' character, who has a wife in two different ports, accidentally swaps the presents he intends to send them. Fortunately for him, the homebody wife interprets the swimsuit she receives as a sign that he finds her sexually desirable, while the party-going wife interprets the apron she receives as acknowledgement of her domestic side.
- A biology professor announces a pop quiz: students will be forced to identify species of birds from their droppings. "Our first specimen" He reaches into a brown paper bag and pulls out a ham sandwich. He frowns and dumps out the bag, revealing an apple and bag of chips. "My word," he blurts out, "What did I eat for lunch?"
- In Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress, the old miller puts down 2 identical calabash gourds: one filled with liquor, the other with lamp oil. On their last toast, Luo pours out the lamp oil for everyone to drink instead of the liquor.
- 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.
- In Snuff, this is lampshaded without being used. Sam Vimes has two similar boxes — one snuffbox and one container of goblin snot. He muses on the possibility of mixing them up, but it doesn't happen.
- In The Dresden Files novel Storm Front, Harry makes an Escape Potion because he might need one and a Love Potion because Bob insists on teaching him how. Unfortunately, he doesn't label them and has Susan take the wrong one in an emergency.
- The plot of The Sharing Knife gets started when the hero tosses his two knives, one charged and capable of killing the monster they're currently fighting and the other uncharged, and she stabs the monster with the wrong one.
- After Robbie breaks a vase in Atonement, he writes a apology letter to his friend Cecila (whose family owns the vase), but accedentally fills it with a declaration of love and some things he shouldn't have. He writes a replacement letter, and gives it to Cecila's sister Briony to give to his love However, he gives her the wrong one by mistake, and Briony reads it, thinking that he wants to assault Cecila. This leads to things going wrong. Very, ''very'' wrong.
- In one of the Teenage Worrier books, Letty recounts a story of a friend who went bra-shopping and bought a headscarf as a birthday present for her grandmother; but then realized she had posted the bra instead of the scarf.
- In the same book, Letty's family find her mother missing and a note from a man promising to pick her up. They assume she has left them for a new boyfriend. It turns out he's the husband of someone she's visiting to discuss a business deal, but she got mixed up and left them his note to her instead of her note to them explaining where she'd be.
- And Then There Were None has the general find out about his wife's affair with a subordinate when she mixed up her letters to her lover and her husband.
- 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 lieutenant George for a sponge bag, another asking the brilliant lawyer Hugh Massingbird 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.
- 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?"
- In the "Get me Hennimore" sketch from That Mitchell and Webb Look, Hennimore is a slightly clumsy secretary who is given two extremely similar orders by his boss (e.g. To put a Krufts dog show in room 1 and dog-eating Koreans in room I) which ends up with disasterous, sometimes dangerous consequenses.
- In an episode of the reality series Pyros, the speaker wiring at a fireworks show gets mixed up, and ended up playing the raw time codes used to synchronize the show (both tracks were on different audio channels of the same CD) instead of music, reducing its soundtrack to beeping noises. When the operators realized this and quickly fixed up the speakers, the person operating the music insisted on restarting the CD entirely instead of just letting it go, leading to Dead Air in the sky until it got to the part of the show that it was stopped at.
- 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.
- A two-part episode of the 2010 The Defenders played this for drama. A woman dies (temporarily) and a high school football player is left brain damaged due to two bottles of epinephrine being labeled too similarly. (They were of different potency.) They ended up suing the pharmaceutical company that produces the epinephrine and show the danger by having Kaczmarek intentionally trigger his shrimp allergy.
- In the NCIS episode "SWAK", Tony learns that his Christmas gift for Gibbs was accidentally switched with one intended for one of his girlfriends. Unfortunately for him, having accidentally given his boss edible body powder is the least of his problems at the time.
- How I Met Your Mother: Robin gets Lily a vibrator for her wedding shower before seeing that the attendees are Lily's immediate family, mostly elderly women. Naturally, there's another gift with identical wrapping, leading viewers to expect an accidental switcheroo, but in fact Robin deliberately swaps the tags, then confesses afterward.
- A first-season episode of Once Upon a Time has David accidentally give his girlfriend Mary Margret the Valentine's day card he'd meant for his wife Kathryn.
- Occurs in an early episode of Red Dwarf, where Lister is singing in the mirror and applying deodorant from a spray can. Once he's finished he grabs another can to apply shaving cream, only to find it sprays antiperspirant; no surprises on what the first can actually was. To top it off, he's completely unflustered and simply grabs a swab of cream from under his armpit!
- El Chavo del ocho:
- An episode had Quico trying to pull a prank on El Chavo with a mouse inside a paper bag, pretending it was full of cookies. However, Doņa Clotilde comes up with an identical bag of sugar for him to deliver to Doņa Florinda. Quico being Quico, he mixes up both bags, with predictable results
- In another episode, Profesor Jirafales lends Quico a scorpion inside a bottle, to show for his mother. But of course, Doņa Florinda gets scared, and when she faints, drops needles all over the house. Later Quico accidentally swaps the bottle with the scorpion with an empty bottle of Popis. Then, Quico believes that the scorpion escaped, and everyone is scared. In the end, everyone is pricked by Doņa Florinda's needles, believing that the scorpion stung them.
- In the pilot of The West Wing, Sam is leaving the house of the girl he slept with the night before; she holds both of their pagers and remarks that they look identical before accidentally handing him hers. When he later receives a page from an escort service, he realizes both the mix-up and the fact that she's a call girl.
- In a 1984 Bloom County strip Opus the penguin wakes up too early and accidentally brushes his teeth with Preparation H instead of toothpaste while he's still sleepy.
- In this Hark A Vagrant, Lord Lovat mixes up his letter to the king with his letter to the Jacobites.
- In a similar vein to the Bloom County example above, an early Wapsi Square strip had a not-yet-awake Monica grabbing the wrong item to apply to her toothbrush. This did lead to a name for a band some of her friends were in: Fermented Banana.
- In Schildkrote's Persona 3 Let's Play (Part 5), the man that sells equipment to the protagonists explains that he won't sell guns, lest they get confused with Evokers in the heat of battle. Evokers are magical gun-like artifacts that are used through pointing them at your head and pressing the trigger, so the concern is understandable.
- In The Adventures Of Jimmy Neutron Boy Genius, 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.
- In the Donald Duck cartoon "Chef Donald", Don accidentally puts rubber cement in a waffle mix instead of baking powder. The resulting mixture is too rubbery to stir, no matter how much Donald tries.
- 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.
- One episode of Doug had Doug and Skeeter, Patti and Mr. Bone go to the same amateur recording studio to record their own music videos. They get their videos, and Doug is the first to realize that he got the wrong tape (he got Patti's) and goes to get his back... only to learn that Patti had Mr. Bone's. He never finds out that Mr. Bone had his.
- In The Looney Tunes Show, Daffy, Porky, and Lola are all taking the written driving exam, with Porky being the only one who has any idea what he's doing. Daffy deliberately swaps his test with Porky's. That's not this trope. What is this trope is when Porky is about to turn in his second attempt at the test, he crashes into Lola, causing both to drop their tests. Naturally, they pick up each other's.
- In a House of Mouse cartoon, Mickey writes an angry letter to Mortimer and a love letter to Minnie, and tests out his new fax machine by sending both. When Mortimer reveals that he got the love letter, Mickey rushes off to stop Minnie from reading the angry letter. However, though Minnie did get a fax, it was a completely unrelated message from Daisy. The person who actually got the hate mail was Roy Disney.
- In The Smurfs episode "Wedding Bells For Gargamel", the Smurfs are so busy preparing a hope chest for Andria the baron's daughter that in their rush to get it finished Poet and Brainy bump into each other and Poet ends up putting the map to the Smurf Village into the hope chest while Brainy has Poet's wedding poem. And even worse, as it turns out that Andria's husband-to-be is Gargamel, the evil wizard finds the map in the hope chest and now wants to marry her in order to get his hands on the map.
- In one old Magilla Gorilla cartoon, there was a Black Humor joke where Mr. Peebles was so depress, he tried to kill himself with his revolver. (Seriously!) Fortunately for him, it had somehow been switched with Magilla's water pistol, and squirting himself in the face made him come to his senses. Unfortunately, he wondered why that happened, and when Magilla looked in his toy chest, he found that he had the real gun. (Which naturally went off; he missed, but really made Peebles mad.)
- This trope causes many household poisonings per year in Real Life, usually due to beverage containers being refilled with chemicals, or due to misleading packaging that causes customers to confuse cleaning products with drinks. The Illinois Poison Control Centre Blog lists several examples of this.
- In one incident, a young man wanted to store some windshield cleaning fluid in his Jeep. However, the large jug that the fluid came in would take up too much space in the back seat. So, the man decided to pour some of the fluid into a blue Gatorade bottle. Unfortunately, one of his friends came back from playing basketball and took a few swigs of the cleaner thinking it was actually Gatorade. Luckily, the man was rushed to hospital before he died of wood alcohol poisoning, and suffered no lasting effects.
- On the 19th of August 2014, a woman dining at Dickey's Barbecue Pit in Salt Lake City took a sip of her sweet tea only to have her internal organs severely burned. The employee making the tea had poured in a packet of the highly caustic "Clean Force Fryer Cleaner" thinking it was sugar.