Top 10 TV Bottle Episodes

Script written by Max Lett. You know how they tell you not to bottle things up? Well, sometimes when you do, it turns out awesome. In this video, WatchMojo.com counts down our picks for the top 10 bottle episodes. A bottle episode refers to an episode of a show that is confined to as few, existing sets as possible and which uses as few extras as possible in its storyline. This is mainly done to produce an episode on the cheap, so the money can go towards more expensive episodes down the road; or to force writers to get creative. For this list, we’ve excluded cartoons, and shows like “Cheers” that are almost always limited to one or a few sets. Special thanks to our users rrekydoc, antonius1903, ImNevermore and Andrew A. Dennison for submitting the idea on our Suggestions Page at WatchMojo.comsuggest
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Script written by Max Lett.

Top 10 Bottle Episodes


You know how they tell you not to bottle things up? Well, sometimes when you do, it turns out awesome. Welcome to WatchMojo.com, and today we’re counting down our picks for the top 10 bottle episodes.

A bottle episode refers to an episode of a show that is confined to as few, existing sets as possible and which uses as few extras as possible in its storyline. This is mainly done to produce an episode on the cheap, so the money can go towards more expensive episodes down the road; or to force writers to get creative. For this list, we’ve excluded cartoons, and shows like “Cheers” that are almost always limited to one or a few sets.

#10: “Older and Far Away”
“Buffy the Vampire Slayer” (2002)

Joss Whedon also used the bottle episode format to tell the story in the “Angel” episode “Spin the Bottle.” But his most successful use of the device was probably this season-six edition of “Buffy,” which sees Buffy’s sister Dawn wish never to be abandoned again, resulting in everyone’s favorite vampire slayer and her friends being cursed to remain in her house. Trapped together in close quarters on Buffy’s birthday, emotions run high as issues between the group bubble to the surface in a high comedy, high-drama episode.

#9: “Duet”
“Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” (1993)

“Star Trek”’s tradition of saving money on effects with bottle episodes began with Original Series episodes like “Balance of Terror” and “The Tholian Web,” which occur entirely on the Enterprise. “Deep Space Nice” continued the trend with its successful season-one outing “Duet.” Taking place almost exclusively in a holding cell, the storyline sees Major Kira lock horns with a Cardassian who may or may not have helped massacre her people. In a clear allegory of the Holocaust, this bottle episode allows the tension to build without distraction, ensuring one of the franchise’s finest moments.

#8: “Ice”
“The X-Files” (1993)

This episode sees Mulder and Scully investigating a strange mass-murder suicide at a remote Alaska station, alongside a team of three scientists. Even in season-one, “The X-Files” team was willing to push the envelope by stranding its protagonists until they can find out more about the mysterious illness that overtook the crew – and it’s not easy. Despite the fact they’re in a confined for most of the episode and it was planned to save the show money, “Ice” ran over-budget. We think it was worth the money.

#7: “17 People”
“The West Wing” (2001)

Working within strict budgetary confines, Aaron Sorkin produces one of his finest “West Wing” episodes. Taking advantage of the show’s expansive set, much of the action takes place in the Oval Office itself when staffer Toby Ziegler confronts President Bartlet about his hidden multiple sclerosis diagnosis. And emotions run high. In high contrast to the seriousness of that storyline, the rest of the team is holed up in a conference room trying to make the President’s upcoming speech for the Correspondents’ Dinner funnier.

#6: “The Limo”
“How I Met Your Mother” (2005)

The gimmick of this season-one episode sees the main characters party-hopping on New Year’s Eve, trying to find the best possible celebration to attend. But their attempts to find the perfect party are constantly hampered by something: sore feet, cancelled dates, flat tires and guys who look like Moby. And, yes, almost all of the action takes place exclusively in the backseat of the limo – with the exception of a few, crucial street scenes.

#5: “The Conversation”
“Mad About You” (1997)

Originally aired with no commercial breaks, this season-six episode is one uninterrupted shot of the series leads waiting outside their bedroom door for their newborn to stop crying. The camera remains stationary while Paul and Jamie discuss the moral implications of what they’re doing to their baby, as well as whatever else randomly crosses their minds. Obviously, anything can go wrong in that scenario, but Paul Reiser and Helen Hunt rise to the occasion – they also can’t resist congratulating themselves on their hard work.

#4: “The One Where No One’s Ready”
“Friends” (1996)

Since “Friends” was built around the chemistry of its ensemble cast, bottle episodes were key. Never did they do it better than in this season-three episode, where everyone is slowly getting ready for Ross’ museum benefit at Monica and Rachel’s apartment. Every character gets his or her own moment to shine, with acting and dialogue taking center stage: There’s Phoebe’s ruined dress, Monica’s unfortunate voicemail, Rachel’s hissy fit, and Joey and Chandler’s nonsensical fight rounding out the silliness, and Ross’ whining tying everything together.

#3: “Cooperative Calligraphy”
“Community” (2010)

Self-referential as always, the “Community” crew isn’t afraid of a challenging storytelling device like the bottle episode; in fact, the show comes back to the format often in successful outings like “Remedial Chaos Theory” and “Cooperative Polygraphy.” However, the bottle episode considered one of the series’ best is “Cooperative Calligraphy,” wherein the group locks themselves down in the study room until Annie finds her pen. Full of references to the bottled format and pulling out all the clichés, this is meta comedy at its best.

#2: “The Chinese Restaurant”
“Seinfeld” (1991)

TV studios were once wary of bottle episodes, but when “Seinfeld” co-creator Larry David threatened to quit if they didn’t run this season-two episode they quickly changed their tune. In this groundbreaking bottle episode, Jerry, George and Elaine are on their way to a movie; but first they decide to grab some Chinese food. But that’s easier said than done, and while the trio waits for their table, they get into their typical brand of hijinks. A quintessential episode about nothing for the show about nothing.

Before we uncork our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions:
- “Midnight” “Doctor Who” (2008)
- “Marooned” “Red Dwarf” (1989)
- “Day 5: 7:00 p.m. - 8:00 p.m.” “24” (2006)
- “Hawkeye” “M*A*S*H” (1976)
- “The Suitcase” “Mad Men” (2010)

#1: “Fly”
“Breaking Bad” (2010)

Walt and Jesse’s meth-making adventures were quickly gaining momentum in season-three, until this polarizing episode paused things in their tracks. Our favorite meth-cooking team is locked in their underground drug-producing bunker, chasing an errant fly. Fuelled by lack of sleep, stress and sadness, the two both come to some realizations. Budget constraints originally forced series creator Vince Gilligan to produce this episode; but “Fly” also serves as a contrast to the more tense and action-packed moments of the series, ensuring everything pops as it should.

Do you agree with our list? What’s your favorite Bottle Episode? For more epic Top 10s published daily, be sure to subscribe to WatchMojo.com.
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