Hello again readers, friends and family. Thank you for joining me this week to review “The Private Ear”. Viewers first saw Peter’s eavesdropping antics on November 12th, 1971. The episode is a solid one and the first in some time to have no guest stars. Also, no scene of the entire episode occurs outside the Brady’s house and yard. While it is not the whacky laugh riot that was “And Now, A Word From Our Sponsor”, it also was not the drama that was “Juliet Is The Sun”. While the plot of Peter planting a tape recorder and listening to his siblings is not comedic, there are some funny lines sprinkled throughout the episode. Let’s begin reviewing “The Private Ear”.
For the second time in the series, Marcia arrives home starry eyed and walking on air. This time her romantic fantasies involve Andrew Whitaker instead of Harvey Klinger. Upon entering her room, Marcia swears Jan to secrecy before revealing she is in love. In a funny line, Jan first replies with a awestruck “Wooow” and then asks “Who is it this time?” Marcia says this time around being in love differs from those schoolgirl crushes of the past. She compares this go around with love to a shooting star versus a firecracker and states she is so happy and miserable at the same time. She and Jan leave the room and Jan is reminded about her vow of secrecy. In another funny line, Jan says she won’t tell anybody because she doesn’t even understand Marcia’s love predicament. As they leave, Peter enters the room. He pulls a tape recorder out from under Jan’s bed and plays back the conversation she and Jan just had. Regular viewers may notice the distinctive canned laughter of one man who had a “ho-ho-ho” laugh.
Okay readers, I hate to kick off an episode with nitpicking gripes, but here goes. Jan sitting at the desk working on homework(?) would suggest she had been there for a while. How much recording time was on one of the tapes this device uses? He also enters the room as soon as the girls leave. If he was going to stay so close by and eavesdrop, why does he even need the recorder? Finally, this must be one top of the line recorder! From under the bed, it was able to capture Jan and Marcia’s conversation with crystal clear audio. The pair sitting on the bed alone should have creaked the bedsprings enough to distort it some.
The scene that follows did have some laugh out loud moments for me. As underhanded as Peter’s deed was, his dealings with Marcia thereafter were funny. While she reads a book in the family room, Peter approaches her with a quizzical look on his face. He tells Marcia she looks different. He uses the same descriptions of being in love Marcia just gave to Jan to describe how Marcia looks different; he states she looks happy and miserable at the same time. At this, Marcia’s suspicion is rankled and says Peter knows something. Peter adds fuel to the fire by stating he knows nothing, not even the difference between a shooting star and a firecracker. With this, Marcia hisses “Jan” and is off to confront her seemingly loose lipped sister.
As Marcia confronts Jan, she still seeks to keep the details of her being in love a secret as she accuses Jan of telling you know who, about you know what, about you know whom (excellent grammar Marcia!) and now it will be all over you know where, resulting in Marcia’s ultimate humiliation. The you know what/who/where gag is as old as the sitcom itself, but it was played well here. As Jan denies sharing Marcia’s secret love life, Marcia accuses her of telling an “outright fib”. This line rang strange for me as a fib always seemed to me like a humorous tongue in cheek white lie or an exaggeration, not a full blown scandalous lie as Marcia’s anger would suggest. An outright fib to me sounds like saying a house fire was aggravating. As both girls storm out, Carol enters to see what the ruckus was about and Alice repeats back the you know whos and you know whats. In a funny reply, Carol thanks Alice for clearing that up for her.
The next scene sees Greg repairing a clock. Peter comes into the room and Greg is a bit short and snippy with his brother. When Marcia enters, Greg asks Peter if he would “get lost” so he can have a private chat with his sister. Peter obliges, but stops on his way out to turn on the tape recorder stashed under the bunk beds. With Peter gone, Greg shares how he checked out “The Red Badge of Courage” from the library and forgot about it. A funny reply comes from Marcia as she says some books are like that. He then clarifies he forgot to return the book. The 40 week overdue fine consumed his allowance and left him with no lunch money. Readers, for those of you who got an allowance growing up, did you have to use it to buy your lunch at school? I took my lunch most of the time, but when I did not, lunch money was not part of my allowance or considered discretionary income available to me. He hits up Marcia for a loan of lunch money so he can avoid a talking to from Mike and Carol.
In case anybody wanted to know more about the recording device, above is a close up image of it. It doesn’t look like the typical cassette tape recorder that I am familiar with. If any readers ever used one of those, please share your experience and any details about the contraption.
Outside, Peter again uses witty banter to reveal his knowledge of a sibling’s secret. Peter asks Greg about any good books he’s read lately and then suggests maybe he read one the year before. Then he shares he went to check out “The Red Badge of Courage” but found it had been long overdue. With this, Greg is furious and confronts Marcia. She swears she did not tell, but Peter’s revelation a moment before would certainly suggest otherwise.
Mike enters the bedroom and the episode’s B-plot is introduced. He and Carol have planned a ski trip for just the two of them. Carol is laying out her ski clothes. Mike presents her with a new purchase for the trip. Then Carol shares Marcia and Jan are still feuding. Her change of clothes suggest the argument has transpired for at least a day. Mike counters with his just experiencing Greg and Marcia feuding. It is unusual that Mike and Carol would allow all this angst and divisive behavior to continue for any extended amount of time. Regular viewers will recall from an earlier episode that one of the Brady family sayings was “A wise man forgets his anger, before he lays down to sleep”. Perhaps they’ve been a blended family long enough to know that sayings and platitudes don’t always work out in real life.
Downstairs, the wrath of the private ear continues. This time the victim is Bobby. He had confided in Cindy that he’d been sent to the principal’s office for the serious infraction of gum chewing in class. Wouldn’t it be great to return to a time so simple that chewing gum in class was worthy of the school principal’s attention?
With Peter’s troublemaking efforts impacting all five of his siblings, the Bradys eat dinner in stone cold silence. Check out that hunk of meat the Bradys are working on. Even with a household of three adults and six children, they’ll be working on that thing for a while! Also, the formal place settings made me chuckle. There is a salad fork and dinner fork alongside a saucer just for a roll. Perhaps such formality came with the luxury of a housekeeper. Growing up and still today, meals at my home see the same fork is used from start to finish and one’s roll or biscuit finds itself sharing the same plate as the rest of the meal. It also looks like none of them even touched their salads. That’s a lot of lettuce going to waste. Maybe the salads are consumed along with the meal, but the trend today seems to be that a salad is eaten before the main course.
While the kids all eat without speaking, they also all leer at one another. This does not go unnoticed by Mike and Carol. Carol asks if there is a silence contest taking place. Mike says if silence is golden then “this” must be worth a fortune. Mike finally orders some conversation to take place and not about the weather. This led me to ponder what exactly did Mike want them all to talk about? Mike’s conversation command is answered with all of the kid’s grievances about one another erupting again around the dinner table. As they all duke it out verbally, Peter looks on with glee at the chaos he has created. His exclusion from the arguments does not go unnoticed by Mike and Carol. What Peter has done here is a very, very lousy thing to do. Kids do stupid things though. They start trouble and make waves for reasons known only to the still developing mind. So, yes what Peter did was bad and he deserved some sort of reprimand, but I will also give him a pass as it can be attributed to youthful indiscretion.
Peter is called to Mike’s den for a talking to. He only meant for his eavesdropping ways to be a joke. Mike warns him that invasion of privacy is no joke and people have been sued for such. Peter is briefly worried that his siblings will be suing him, but is assured an apology this time around will suffice in place of a lawsuit. In a funny “true to life” moment, as Peter leaves to apologize he stops briefly at the door in hesitation before Mike motions him onward. That is one of those things kids just do and it is always fun when those little slices of life appear on “The Brady Bunch”.
Peter gives his apology to his siblings and all seems to be forgiven. Jan even concedes it was kind of funny. The river of forgiveness runs short and shallow for Greg and Marcia. Within minutes they are plotting revenge against their brother. The scheme they enact is just as shallow and lowdown as Peter’s eavesdropping was. Using the very same tape recorder Peter used earlier, Greg and Marcia stage a conversation with one another about a surprise party for Peter. The faux cause for celebration is Peter bringing home an “A” in geometry after doing poorly all year. Greg and Marcia’s conversation is so labored that Peter should have known something was up. Add to this they are holding the recording microphone right up to their mouths, so the vastly improved playback versus when it was under a bed should have clued Pete in too.
What follows is Greg entrapping his brother into listening to the recording. He brings the recorder into Peter and angrily accuses him of placing the it under Marcia’s desk. After Greg leaves the room, Peter reveals himself to be not fully reformed of his eavesdropping ways and gives the recording a listen. He falls for Greg and Marcia’s setup and is excited to learn about his pending surprise party.
The prospect of a party with gifts has Peter doing extra chores around the house. While peeling potatoes for Alice, he suggests he needs a new baseball mitt. When Carol enters modeling clothes for her ski weekend, he shares with Carol and Alice his feet are now the right size for brown cowboy boots. Alice and Carol surmise he is just giving very early suggestions for his birthday. After telling Mike that he just finished waxing his car, Peter pleads his case for typewriter ownership. Carol enters after Peter exits and shares he mowed the yard twice the day before. Was Peter just hoping for an increased haul of presents in exchange for all these extra chores? Was this sort of like a kid who behaves exceedingly well during the month of December in hopes of more Santa loot?
Peter’s next stop on the gift suggestion rounds is in the family room with Greg and Marcia. Instead of playing the Brady favorite of checkers, they are enjoying the more sophisticated board game chess. After asking if there is anything he can do for them, he gives the heavy handed suggestion of some new records as a gift. He says his own are all warped and scratched up. Greg and Marcia snicker at Pete’s raised hopes. One will notice here that all three kids are wearing different clothes from the earlier scenes, so poor Peter has been going around suggesting gifts for more than a day. I would compare their con job on Peter to the likes of giving a person one of those fake lottery tickets that reveal a $10,000 prize and then read the prize can be claimed “At your momma’s house”.
Back in Mike’s den, he has had it with his typewriter and decides he will record his notes instead. Carol fetches the tape recorder and they play it back and hear Greg and Marcia’s scheme. The scene ends with Mike and Carol looking at one another with concern. The next scene shows Mike and Carol setting out for the ski lodge. It sounds to me like Mike says they will be back “next Sunday night” suggesting they will be gone a week. However, when playing it back, Mike might have said “late Sunday night”. Regardless, Peter smugly replies to himself, “Sure ya will”. Greg and Marcia stand behind Peter and continue to delight in their misleading him to the prospect of a surprise party. With yet another change of clothes being evident in this scene, Marcia and Greg have now kept up this ruse with Peter for at least three days. We thought their worst hour was when they deceived Warren and Kathy in “My Sister, Benedict Arnold”, but this cruel ruse rivals that.
Up in his room, Peter has adorned his party suit. He tells Bobby he is going through a neatness period. Then he goes through a series of disappointments as he barges into the living room and Mike’s den expecting a celebration. Upon barging into the family room where Greg and Marcia enjoy another game of chess, the eldest siblings conscience final kicks in. Seeing Peter dressed in his best duds must have done it. Here it is revealed to Peter that the party expectation was just a revenge tactic they were using. Peter doesn’t blame them for being sore and supposes he deserved this letdown. With all acknowledging their own crappy behavior, Mike and Carol enter yelling “Surprise!” With gifts in tow, they announce there is a surprise party for Peter’s A in geometry. Among the gifts is a tape recorder of Peter’s very own. None of the sizes of the other packages suggest brown cowboy boots or new records though. This is one of the more bizarre conclusions to “The Brady Bunch”. It was one of the most forced happy endings we will see. Everybody’s bad behavior saw Peter receive gifts; among them was a tape recorder! It wasn’t as if that archaic piece of technology hadn’t caused enough trouble that Mike and Carol add a second one to the house! Greg and Marcia are briefly lectured on their poor behavior and told that in the future the discipline is to be left up to Mike and Carol.
The epilogue shows that the eavesdropping ways will continue. Peter demonstrates to Greg and Marcia how to use the recorder, but then tells them they should not (wink wink) listen to what he recorded. Of course they do and it is just Peter forgiving them for their mean prank and then laughingly chiding them for listening. It was a light hearted conclusion following Mike and Carol ending the episode with a stern lecture.
“The Private Ear” was a simple and solid story. The questionable conclusion of still having the surprise party is what defines it in the memory of some fans. Otherwise, the story is simple and not that memorable. Your own thoughts and opinions are most welcome! Next week we review “Her Sister’s Shadow”. See you then!