From ‘Breaking Bad’ to ‘Community': TV’s best ‘bottle episodes’

Yahoo Contributor Network

The term "bottle episode" might not have been well-known to TV fans prior to the "Community" episode "Cooperative Calligraphy," but fans have actually been watching "bottle episodes" for years. A bottle episode, for those not familiar with the term, is an episode of a TV show that usually takes place in a single location with a limited cast (often as a cost-saving measure).

While bottle episodes are often written as a way to save money on expensive locations, they have a tendency to become the best episodes in a series, as they are usually more character-driven. Here are some of the very best bottle episodes ever produced.

"Breaking Bad"

One of the show's best episodes is still "4 Days Out," which takes place almost entirely inside and around the RV. When the RV's battery dies, Walt and Jesse are trapped in the desert, leading to some great drama.

But perhaps even better that "4 Days Out" is the later episode "Fly," which takes place almost entirely in the lab owned by Gus Fring. The episode starts off like a slapstick comedy (with Jesse and Walt trying to kill a fly that infiltrated the lab) but quickly veers into more dramatic territory as Walt nearly reveals his role in Jane's death. There are no explosions, no shoot-outs, and it's one of the most riveting episodes ever for the series.

"Frasier"

One of the Season 6 highlights was the episode "The Dinner Party." This episode takes place entirely in Frasier's home, features only the main cast (plus one voiceover), and the entire thing takes place in real time. It's also a great example of "the Crane curse" when it comes to dinner party disasters.

"Mad About You"

Though it may not be as well-remembered as some of its contemporaries, "Mad About You" did some very innovative things during its time on the air. Case in point: the bottle episode "The Conversation." Not only did the entire episode take place in the apartment, but the camera stayed stationary for the whole installment, focused at the door of the baby's room. At many points in the episode, there were no characters in frame (the characters were still audible, they were just not visible).

"Community"

As previously mentioned, the episode "Cooperative Calligraphy" is a great example of a bottle episode (and helped to popularize the term among TV fans). The episode takes place inside the study group's study room, while the rest of the campus takes in a puppy parade. What starts as a complaint about missing pens becomes an examination of the interpersonal trust dynamics in the group.
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