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Two characters swap roles in life, usually gaining greater understanding of each other's challenges. In '50's and '60's sitcoms, this often took the form of Dad staying home to watch junior while Mom went to work. More recently, kids tend to swap roles with parents. Another common formulation, usually played for comedy over the Aesop, is masters and servants swapping roles for some deceptive reason.

Often begins with a fight, where the two characters are convinced they can do the other character's job better, and/or the other character has a much easier life. Usually ends up with a Be Careful What You Wish For Aesop, with both characters realising that they prefer their own roles.

Contrast with Prince and Pauper, Decoy Leader and Emergency Impersonation. Compare with Freaky Friday Flip.

Examples of Swapped Roles include:


Anime and Manga

  • One scene in the first episode of the anime Palm Town and in the manga has Nurse Alice telling Dr. George and his wife Jane that one patient is complaining of a headache and another wants onion soup...but the former wants Jane to examine him and the latter wants George to make the soup. (In a slight subversion, George is an excellent chef in addition to being a doctor, and it's not hard to imagine Jane having the better bedside manner.)

Film

  • The movie Trading Places.
  • The premise of Freaky Friday is that of a mother and daughter swapping minds for a while, without actually intending to or possibly knowing that it was possible.
  • The Elvis movie Clambake, has millionaire oil heir Elvis swap places with a water-skiing instructor at a Florida hotel, to find a girl who isn't just interested in his money.
  • Becomes a minor plot point in Metropolis, where Freder "trades lives" with one of the workers to stalk Maria understand the workers' plight better.
  • In Mr Mom, Michael Keaton becomes a stay-at-home dad when he is laid off and his wife finds a high-paying job.
  • The movie Class Act.

Folklore

  • This happens in the Scandinavian folk tale "The Man Who Kept House."

Literature

  • The story of The Prince and the Pauper starts with a pair of identical people swapping outfits and going back to fill each others' role for a while... longer than either wants, it turns out. Oh, and while the prince is busy being a pauper, his daddy dies...
  • In the children's book Bea and Mr. Jones, the titular characters (father and daughter) switch jobs, with Bea taking over her father's job in advertising, and Mr. Jones going back to kindergarten. They end up enjoying their new jobs so much that they decide to keep the new arrangement.
  • In the final Time Scout book Skeeter poses as Armstrong to lure out a bad guy. That's because Armstrong isn't expendable; Skeeter is.

Live Action TV

  • The episode of I Love Lucy where Lucy and Ethel get jobs at the candy factory may be the most well-known example (thanks to the infamous conveyor belt scene).
  • Jerry and Kramer swap roles in Seinfeld after exchanging apartments, resulting in a laid-back, sarcastic Kramer and a jumpy, wacky Jerry.
  • In the third series of Blackadder, the nincompoop Prince George swaps places with scheming butler Mr Blackadder to avoid being killed by the Duke of Wellington. The predictable occurs.

 George: It's just like that story, "The Prince and the Porpoise".

Blackadder: "...and the Pauper", sir.

George: Oh, yes! "The Prince and the Porpoise and the Pauper".

  • The Lois and Clark episode "Chi of Steel" (which juggled three gender-equality storylines) used this in the C-plot, with Martha and Jonathan swapping places. Since they weren't Down on the Farm however, Martha's new role consisted of playing checkers, while Jonathan did all the things she'd normally do on a visit to Metropolis (shopping, cooking, ironing Clark's cape...)
  • My Family featured an episode in which Susan and Janey swap roles, with Susan as a single woman (and Ben trying to win her heart all over again) and Janey driven insane by the pressures of running a home and family.
  • Leverage had an episode where Sophie wanted to be the boss for once, and the entire team wound up switching jobs out of their normal specialties temporarily. After some events they eventually decided to go back to their original roles. But the die had been cast.
  • The parent-child version features in an episode of Step by Step.
  • On an episode of Dinosaurs, Robbie switched places with his father Earl as alpha male and family provider. He did it for the right to make decisions, but pretty soon the responsibility got too much for him. By the end of the episode, Robbie steps down from the alpha male position.
  • In Charmed Piper and Leo ended up switching powers for a day because of unborn Wyatt. Piper had to orb all over the place being a whitelighter while Leo had to cope with exploding powers as well as suffering from pregnancy symptoms.
  • In MASH, the 4077th decided to duplicate a British tradition of the officers and enlisted men switching places on Boxing Day (December 26th). Potter suspects that Klinger isn't assigning him normal assistant duties, which is true - in order to make the duties normal, he would also be sending Potter to Seoul to get oats for the Colonel's horse, among other things.
  • In one episode of White Collar, Neal and Peter pose as each other to encourage a witness to talk. It gets out of hand quickly.
  • American Pickers had Danielle go out picking while Frank watches the shop. Danielle hated how dirty picking really is and Frank is not very good at getting picking leads.
  • The Brady Bunch does this at least twice, once with the parents changing roles and once with Greg and Marcia swapping scout troops.

Music

  • The Kate Rusby song The Old Man about a man and his wife swapping jobs for a day. One of the '1950s' style stories as mentioned above, albiet based on much older material.
  • The Lonestar song Mister Mom.

Theatre

  • Tranio (a servant) switches places with Lucentio (his master) in The Taming of the Shrew so that Lucentio can woo Bianca.
  • Older Than Feudalism: In Aristophanes' The Frogs, the god Dionysos and his mortal servant temporarily pretended to be each other to trick the gatekeepers of Hades, in addition to their earlier deception of dressing Dionysos up as Heracles. This results in Dionysos getting whipped, beaten, and generally abused for various reasons, while his servant basically snickers in the background.

Web Comics

  • Furry Experience did an arc where Ronnie (PE major, has to pay own tuition) and Cat (Art major, parents pay as long as she gets good grades) swapped for a week, disastrously.

Western Animation

  • In one episode of Dilbert, he swapped roles with a guard. At the end after failing to do the job he swapped roles with Ratbert.
  • Occurred between Plankton and Mr. Krabs in the SpongeBob episode The Algae's Always Greener, though it really only affected Plankton in the end.
    • In another episode, Plankton and Mr. Krabs posed as each other to settle a bet of who would win if they had reversed roles.
  • Rocket Power: Trying to prove which of their chosen sports requires more talent, Reggie Rocket and Cleo swap events at Winter Fest, with Reggie ice dancing and Cleo playing on her ice hockey team. Subverted in the fact that they're both good and not only win their respective events, but impressed the other.
  • The Maryoku Yummy episode "Now You're Cooking!" had Omoshi and Maryoku switching jobs, mostly because Omoshi was annoyed that Ooka bragged that Maryoku, the best wishsitter, would also be a great cook.
  • In the My Gym Partner's a Monkey episode "Le Switcheroo," the animal school's counselor Mr. Mandrill had the grouchy gym teacher Coach Gills and the lone human student Adam Lyon trade places for a day when both began complaining to the principal about each other. Hilarity Ensued when the entire school somehow fell for their Paper Thin Disguises (Adam wore Coach Gills's bow in his hair and Coach Gills wore one of Adam's shirts below her fish bowl), but both learned the Aesop Mr. Mandrill was aiming for and gained new respect for one another.
  • An episode of American Dad had Stan and Roger swapping roles after Stan got frustrated with Roger acting like his concerns (running out of cookies to eat while watching soap operas) are a big deal. Roger quickly gets stressed out with actual work, accidentally hits Francine, and the neighbors mistakenly get the idea that Stan is beating her (not at all helped by the fact that, to do Roger's "job", he lazes about the house all day in underwear and a bathrobe and lets his hygiene slide).
  • Family Guy did the "kids and parents" version recently. Peter and Lois broke down after a couple days in high school while Chris did so well that Peter was fired and replaced by him. It seemed to be saying that "high school is hell" up until Chris got promoted and the additional workload drove him to alcoholism.
  • Done with Skipper and King Julien in an episode of The Penguins of Madagascar. In a strange variant of this trope, Julien earns Skipper's praise for successfully handling that episode's mission (even if by accident), but at the end of the episode, they're back to being Friendly Enemy.
  • The Fairly Odd Parents episode "Blondas Have More Fun" feature Wanda and her "identical-yet-somewhat-hotter" twin sister swapping roles to learn the difficulties of each other's lives.
    • Another episode included Timmy wishing to be Cosmo and Wanda's fairy godparents, to prove that being a kid was harder than being a godparent. It quickly spirals out of control with Cosmo and Wanda having to tag in being the visible Timmy, along with curfew and Vicky, and Timmy constantly fails many times of getting magic down (he spent an entire night trying to turn into a goldfish with gills).
    • Timmy and his Mom once swapped roles. For most of the episode, Timmy seemed to be the only one regretting it but she eventually revealed she also wanted to undo the swap.
  • Alvin and The Chipmunks: Alvin and Dave swapped roles, allowing Alvin to understand how hard parenting is.
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