Bottle Episodes were original implemented on TV as a means of saving money, as the use of only one location, plus less costuming, mean’t that budget could be used elsewhere. What’s great about these episodes is that the relative boundaries actually make everyone involved more creative, with bottle episodes a prime opportunity to really dig into characters that fans are already invested in. With that in mind here are the 10 best TV bottle episodes.
10. Doctor Who: Midnight
Airing near the end of the show’s fourth season, Midnight is a locked room mystery with a typically sci fi twist. With money being saved for that season’s three part finale, Midnight is necessarily a smaller scale story. David Tennant’s Doctor takes centre stage, Catherine Tate was probably filming the magnificent Turn Left, as his Doctor has to deal with a stranded tourist ship in which an alien force takes over one of the passengers. Midnight is an episode with a brilliantly low fi, and unsettling monster, and an air of paranoia that is suffocating to both the characters and the audience.
9. Community: Cooperative Calligraphy
Community was a show built on a love of TV tropes, and it has had a few great bottle episodes, but the best is the season three effort, Cooperative Calligraphy. The gang become trapped in the study room in the flimsiest of circumstances that someone took Annie’s pen, leading to a very Midnight sense of distrust and paranoia. The episode literally strips the characters bare in order to showcase how dysfunctional they are is a group, and it’s brilliant.
8. Fraser: Dinner Party
The greatest pleasure in watching eleven seasons of Fraser was his relationship with his younger brother Niles, and few episode breakdown their characters more than The Dinner Party. Set in Fraser’s apartment. And played out in real time, the episode charts the brother’s progress while organising a dinner party. It’s a hilarious episode that pokes fun at their highbrow behaviour while also spotlighting how much they rely on each other. Till this day we may never no which #Crane is “the other one.”
7. Family Guy: Brian and Stewie
We can all agree that Family Guy is not the show it used to be, but sometimes it can surprise us. When it does it’s usually due to episodes that revolve around the Brian Stewie relationship. An animated bottle episode is rare, which is only art of the reason this episode is so good. What clinches it is the sensitivity of Brian and Stewie’s relationship, Brian’s occasionally suicidal thoughts make him a character worth caring about, and the grief Stewie would feel at losing his friend making him more relatable that ever before. All in an episode where Brian eats Stewie’s dirty diaper.
6. The X Files: Ice
Since The X Files is such a celebration of every side of the horror and sci fi genres it makes sense that they would have an episode inspired by The Thing so early in the shows run. The threat is simple: Mulder and Scully, along with some suspicious scientists, investigate a isolated base in which everyone stationed there died horribly. What’s even more entertaining than all of the allusions to The Thing, is that this is the first instance in which Mulder and Scully’s relationship, which is still only just begun, is truly tested.
5. Angel: Spin the Bottle
Spin the Bottle is the last ray of lightness before Angel season four plunges into darkness, and what a magical episode it is. Written and directed by Joss Whedon, Spin the Bottle has the team, including the returning Wesley lose all memory of their adult lives as they regress to the teenage versions of themselves. What follows is a side-splitting caper that may have the best vampire/masturbation joke ever put on screen. What more could you ask for?
4. Firefly: Out of Gas
Granted Out of Gas is a bit of a cheat since it has flashbacks, but they all happen in Captain Mal’s head, and his head is on Serenity for the entire episode, so it counts. Written by showrunner Tim Minear, Out of Gas is not only a great episode of Firefly, but one of the most effective first season episodes of any show. The reason that Firefly feels so fully formed, despite only lasting 14 episodes, is down to Out of Gas.
3. Friends: The One With the Two Parties
When it comes to Friends bottle episodes it’s tempting to go for The One Where No One is ready, but this second season classic is funnier and more ambitious, and is actually more reminiscent of Fraser, with the farce meter going off the charts. Not only is keeping Rachael’s parent away from each other, which results in her having two birthday parties, the episode is a fun comment on different types of parties, and a surprisingly poignant look at divorce. It’s also one of Ross’ best episodes.
2. It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia: The Gang Gets Held Hostage
The cultist of cult comedies It’s Always Sunny is the closest thing we will ever see to a live action South Park show, and The Gang Gets Held Hostage is probably the show’s best episode. The gang become trapped in the bar by agents of chaos the McPoyle’s in an excellent riff on Die Hard with arguably Danny DeVito’s best performance as Frank. Plus the fact that Charlie’s angry room is bloody unsettling.
1. Breaking Bad: Fly
The undisputed champion of bottle episodes had to go to the Rian Johnson-directed episode of Breaking Bad entitled The Fly. The reason it’s such a classic episode of a classic show is because it’s almost like an anti-Breaking Bad episode. The threat is a fly, not cartel members, or Salamanca brothers, just a fly, which give Walter and Jessie time to bond in a way they couldn’t before. It’s an episode with little action but a lot of drama, like any good bottle episode should have.