Written by: Burt Styler. Directed by: Charles Barton.
This episode opens in an unusual setting–a boardroom.
Apparently, the guys around the table have bid on a construction project, and now they are finding out who gets it.
Except Henry & Associates bid $13,218,000. We learn that this is the third time in a row that Henry has underbid Bill by a very small amount.
Bill has known Henry for 15 years and doesn’t want to believe he would do such a thing. Always a good sport, he heads over to congratulate Henry on getting the contract.
Meanwhile, at home, the twins are playing with their friend Norman and his new toy.
Norman plays back a recording of Jody talking.
The ever-patriotic Jody doesn’t have that problem.
Buffy overcomes her mike fright to do a pig imitation on tape, and then Jody does a bunny imitation.
The entry of French into the room gives the kids a better idea: They want to get him on tape. As Buffy says, “He has a beautiful voice…just like in a commercial.”
(I’m not sure if that’s an in-joke, but Sebastian Cabot did do some commercials.)
“Jody, I understand the principles of electromagnetic recording,” French replies.
Buffy suggests that they record him reading Winnie the Pooh, so they can listen to it at bedtime if French isn’t around.
French reminds them that a tape recorder can’t tuck in a blanket or fluff up a pillow.
Fortunately for the kids, another victim soon breezes into the room.
After Buffy hangs up the extension, Norman has a brainstorm.
Buffy and Jody know Cissy wouldn’t like the idea, but they don’t need much convincing to go along with it.
(The image above is so classically “teenage girl”–her posture, the pink phone. I like Cissy’s side-ponytails better than the side-bow look she’s been sporting frequently this season.)
It involves a boy named Roger Lund and Cissy’s attempts to attract his attention. She’d tried getting her sweater caught in his notebook (?) and even wearing “sexy stockings” (!), but nothing worked–until today. Her winning move? Dropping her tuna salad in his lap.
(It’s a good thing for the whole family that Cissy is so wholesome. Imagine the eye-opening secrets a real teenager might have been keeping in 1969.)
Bill says that if it’s secret, they can’t tell him about it. As a parent, I think I would pry into their “secret game,” but Bill is clearly distracted.
The twins agree that it was and start filling him in on all the deets–the new boyfriend named Roger, the tuna salad caper, and all.
Cissy’s annoyed, but she can’t pin down exactly what they did. They have French as a witness that they didn’t listen outside Cissy’s door or eavesdrop on the phone extension.
The next day, Norman and his tape recorder make another appearance.
The twins are game. As Buffy says, “It’s fun hearing what you’re not supposed to hear.”
He’s telling someone about a matter that is “not easily described without embarrassment.”
When Bill comes home a bit later, he hears French’s voice and calls to him.
The kids are playing back the recording they made–a recording of French attempting to order a “beard snood.”
I know Bill can’t barge in and shut the tape off before it’s over because then WE wouldn’t hear it…
(The interplay of facial expressions between Keith and Cabot is wonderful.)
“He’s mad,” Buffy says.
Bill uses the old I’m-not-mad-I’m-disappointed-in-you line, and points out that they have invaded Mr. French’s privacy.
“Privacy,” Jody corrects him, pronouncing it with a short “i,” as French would.
(A cumbersome joke to explain in writing, but amusing on the screen.)
Buffy and Jody are properly abashed, but Norman is unrepentant.
Sassy little brat, isn’t he?
The next day, we find ourselves in Bill’s office. He has reluctantly brought in an expert to look for bugs, though he still doesn’t believe he’s being recorded.
Props to you, prop guy!
The bug is hidden in a desk drawer’s handle.
Saying that he must not be much of an engineering if he has to resort to such a tactic, Bill expresses pity for Henry.
That recording device is out of commission, but Norman’s is still active.
Norman accuses Bill of having no sense of humor, and he still denies that bugging is wrong.
“I say it’s okay with anyone as long as they don’t catch you,” Norman says, quoting his father.
(Hmm…I didn’t realize J. Edgar Hoover had a son.)
The victims this time are Cissy and that dreamy Roger Lund.
When Norman comes over later, Buffy and Jody reiterate that they can’t play spy with him anymore.
Soon, Cissy arrives home and hears her own voice emanating from the bedroom.
We hear some embarrassing sweet talk. When the subject turns to kissing, Bill finally prepares to intervene.
(Thank goodness–that spares us a tedious sitcom misunderstanding, in which Buffy and Jody get punished for something they didn’t do.)
Bill, Cissy, and French continue to listen as Norman calls the twins “goody-goods” and again denies that bugging is wrong.
“If Uncle Bill says it’s wrong, it’s wrong,” the twins counter.
(That does sound rather goody-goodish.)
Norman rushes out, past his hallway audience, and calls back, “How come it’s all right for you to listen to us?”
Back in Bill’s office, Harris returns to try to sell Bill some spy equipment of his own.
I have a feeling Harris got his training working for CONTROL. He should just install a cone of silence over Bill’s desk for sensitive conversations.
If spying is the price of success, he’d rather quit and return to working as a first-class welder.
It’s so obvious he did make the right decision that I can only assume he is fishing for head-pats from French. French, of course, obliges: “Integrity, sir, is never out of date.”
To Bill’s chagrin, Norman drops by again, tape-recorder in tow.
Bill says that in the Davis home, the kids have to follow his rules.
Norman still tries to convince Bill that bugging is harmless and fun. He made a tape of his parents talking before he left his apartment, and he insists on playing it for everyone.
It starts out with his dad saying, “Norman’s not really such a bad kid,” and goes downhill from there. When the possibility of consulting a psychologist comes up, Bill tries to cut off the tape, but Norman prevents him.
Norman rushes off, leaving his tape recorder behind.
The twins ask Bill how he knew that Norman would get hurt. Bill says he didn’t know, but when people do things that are wrong, someone often gets hurt.
After Bill and Jody leave the room, a comic exchange between Buffy and Cissy lightens the mood.
(Norman, meanwhile, went on to have a rich and fulfilling career with the NSA.)
Electronic espionage was a hot-button topic in the 1960s (as it is today), but people wouldn’t know the full extent of domestic spying for a few years. The FBI’s awful COINTELPRO program came to light in 1971, and President Nixon’s White House taping system became public knowledge in 1973. (Norman’s father and Nixon were kindred spirits–Norman says his dad records every conversation in his office with the consent of the other parties.)
Wonderful Frenchisms (“hirsute adornments!”) and the train-case technology are highlights of this episode. The ending is heavy-handed, but Norman is such a jerk that his comeuppance is satisfying.
Why did Bill even let Harris in the door for his spy-gear pitch? And why doesn’t anyone mention that bugging is illegal?
“You’ve just stumbled into a whole nest of squares.”–Bill
Norman: Bobby Riha. Harris: Richard O’Brien. Fred: William Boyett. Mr. McGraw: Larry Thor. Roger: Russ Caldwell.
Bobby Riha had a regular role in the short-lived Debbie Reynolds Show.
Richard O’Brien’s character acting included many police officer roles, including a recurring one on S.W.A.T.
Russ Caldwell’s screen career was very brief–he has only four IMDB.com credits.