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Lessons I've Learned From T.V.: Longing for bottle episodes

Staff Writer

Published: Sunday, February 16, 2014

Updated: Sunday, February 16, 2014 20:02

It’s been a long time since I have seen a bottle episode on any major television show. For those of you who have lives and do not watch as much television as I do, a bottle episode is an episode that takes place entirely in a familiar set with only the main characters. The point is to keep them bottled into one location and let the events occur solely among them in order to keep the budget low. It is often done at times with the intent of saving money to put toward a more expensive episode. While it may sound like producing and money are interfering with quality, they often lead to interesting episodes that focus on character development.

I have not seen one in quite some while. The most recent one that comes to mind was an episode of “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.” The episode kept the characters into the confines of their bar where they played a complicated and ridiculous drinking game they created as children. The game involved heavy drinking, ridiculing one another and fighting. The episode was not only one of the show’s funniest, but it actually allowed for a lot more character development. These sorts of episodes work great on comedies because there is no need for action and it allows the writers a chance to place the characters in a static environment and provide some big laughs. There was an excellent episode of “Community” where the group locked themselves in their study room over some petty conflict to resolve it and ended up at each other’s throats. They even went a step further to verbally acknowledge they were in a bottle episode.

While more suited for comedies, these kinds of episodes do work on dramas and action shows as well. There were a couple of these episodes snuck into “Breaking Bad.” The two most noteworthy were when Walt and Jesse found themselves trapped in the desert with a dead RV cooking meth, and when they tried to find a fly in the meth lab. Both episodes placed the two in an external conflict which quickly escalated into a fight between them and allowed for some great dialogue between the two. Was it the greatest episode the show had ever seen? Of course not, but it still managed to entertain and remain suspenseful.

A bottle episode does not need to be a cheap thing where characters are placed into a silly circumstance in order to avoid expanding the budget. If well written and done properly, these episodes can actually be great. I don’t want to say that I think we should see more, as I am sure a majority of them would be done improperly, but I do believe it is beneficial for a show to have one here and there. It certainly can make for interesting television to scale things down every now and then. However, if we are talking about a show like “24,” then these things should not happen as it would be boring.


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