troperville

tools

toys


main index

Narrative

Genre

Media

Topical Tropes

Other Categories

TV Tropes Org
random
Unfortunate Item Swap
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.
  • Ririchiyo's reaction to realizing she did one of these in Inu X Boku SS leads to one of the single funniest moments of the series.
  • One filler episode of Naruto featured a mix up between two sealed envelopes, one containing a peace treaty, and the other containing the manuscript for Jiraiya's next adult novel. Unlike most versions of this trope, there were no negative ramifications. The leader who received the manuscript by mistake turned out to be a huge fan of Jiraiya's. He assumed the "original manuscript" was a peace offering and went forward with the negotiations.

Comic Books

Film
  • In The Emperor's New Groove, Kronk mistakes the bottle of extract of llama for the bottle of poison due to faulty labeling.
    Kronk: You know, in my defense, your poisons all look alike. You might want to think about relabeling some of them.
  • 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 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 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.

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.
  • 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.

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 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.

Newspaper Comics
  • 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.

Webcomics
  • 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.

Web Original
  • 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.

Western Animation
  • 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 soda. 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.)


Twin SwitchSubstitution TropesWeight And Switch
Unfortunate ImplicationsIndex FailureUnintentionally Sympathetic

random
TV Tropes by TV Tropes Foundation, LLC is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available from thestaff@tvtropes.org.
Privacy Policy
33580
35