In 1972, there was this great national scandal called Watergate, and with it came one of America's darkest chapters and lasting shame to one of the central figures in the whole mess Richard Nixon. Clearly, secretly recording and wiretapping phones to listen in on the Democrats, ... eavesdropping, as it were — was not anything to joke about.
But there was a matter of eavesdropping albeit of far less seriousness and magnitude that did make for a pretty funny little plot on an episode of The Brady Bunch that aired about eight months earlier. "Bradygate?" No, but one of the Brady kids had ... "The Private Ear."
Peter is looking for attention, and starts to get it when he secretly records his siblings conversations. Things they thought they had told each other in strict confidence, such as (gasp!) Greg having overdue library books, or that secret crush Marcia has on a classmate. Peter snickers as he lets slip details of these "juicy" conversations to his siblings, and it isn't long before a five-way free-for-all breaks out.
At dinner one night, the conversation is unusually quiet ... too quiet for Mike's pleasure. When he orders his kids to have normal conversations, they immediately begin arguing ... except for Peter, who is stifling a chuckle or two under as he chows down. Mike and Carol immediately deduce what's going on.
After dinner, Mike calls Peter to his den and asks him what he knows about his siblings' arguments. Peter confesses that he had borrowed the tape recorder without permission, and even plays back the recordings. Mike is hardly amused, and it isn't long before the other kids are called down for Peter to explain his "joke" and to say sorry. The others accept ... well, Greg and Marcia seem to, but when the rest scatter, Greg takes Marcia aside and conclude that their dad let Peter off very easy, thinking he really should have laid the lumber down on him (well, OK, not corporal punishment, but you get the drift). The eldest two Brady siblings hatch their own plan for revenge.
It seems that Peter had gotten better in geometry, and in fact got an A-plus on his latest test. And that Mike and Carol were planning a secret surprise party to celebrate. Well, that's what Greg and Marcia want Peter to believe after they first accuse him of secretly eavesdropping on them again, and then getting him to listen to what he recorded. And his parent's announcement that they're going away for the weekend — that's just to build the suspense.
Peter becomes convinced there's going to be a party and dresses up to celebrate for what's going to be a non-existent party.
Well, not exactly. At the last second, before Mike and Carol leave, they return with party favors and food and so much more. Turns out they really were planning a surprise party for Peter after all, to celebrate his accomplishment. Well, not really — it's a way to one-up Greg and Marcia, as Mike pulls the stunned eldest Brady kids aside and tells them he didn't appreciate them overstepping their authority and that he saw enough remorse in Peter to consider the apology sufficient. (It seems that Mike had recovered the tape recorder and listened to the tape.)
By the way, Peter gets his own tape recorder as one of the presents. And then Mike and Carol leave for their weekend trip.
Tropes present in this episode:
- Annoying Younger Sibling: While mostly through the show's run it would apply to either Bobby or Cindy, this time it's Peter. While he also did record his younger siblings (Jan, Bobby and Cindy) conversations, they forgave him more easily, unlike Greg and Marcia.
- Cannot Keep a Secret: What five of the Brady kids accuse each other of, tensions exploding at the dinner table. None of them are aware that Peter has instigated the trouble, and are so embroiled in their five-way battle royal they fail to notice he's the only one not participating in the argument.
- Extremely Overdue Library Book: Greg holds Marcia in strictest confidence this Dark Secret and that has a very large fine to pay note ... unknowing that Peter has the tape recorder going.
- Karma Houdini: Subverted. Marcia and Greg see Peter as one after he gets off with just having to apologize for his antics, but in reality, he did feel genuine remorse. He just got carried away and took his prank a little too far, unaware of the potentially serious consequences.
- Karmic Protection: This is the episode's single most defining trope. Peter may have a mischievous side to him in this episode, but he would never deliberately try to hurt someone, much less have evil in his heart. Ergo, Mike and Carol deduce this trope is necessary to ensure he learn his lesson sooner in life, rather than later, about the potentially serious consequences of eavesdropping. This, of course, does not account for what Greg and Marcia think of him thereafter, hence why Mike and Carol call them out at the end of the episode.
- Snooping Little Kid: Although Peter is by no means a "little kid" at this point he's 13 and in junior high his eavesdropping on conversations, by way of his tape recorder and then starting trouble is pretty childish.
- Talk About the Weather: Literally, the subject Mike doesn't want the kids to discuss at dinner one night when they aren't speaking to each other.