Even if you’ve never heard of the phrase ‘bottle episode’, you will have seen one in pretty much every one of your favourite shows.
In the industry, it refers to an episode that is meant to be cheaper than the usual ones on the show, mainly by either featuring fewer characters or focusing on minor characters and setting it in a single location.
It doesn’t always guarantee success (or a lower budget), but here are nine of the best times that TV shows have hit the bottle.
1. Breaking Bad – ‘Fly’
Before he made a little-known movie called Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Rian Johnson delivered one of the best – and most distinctive – episodes in Breaking Bad‘s run with ‘Fly’.
Contained to Walt and Jesse’s lab, it saw them chase the pesky fly throughout, all while the episode explored their relationship with Walt seemingly set to reveal his role in Jane’s tragic death several times. He never does, but thanks to stellar work from Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul, it remains gripping regardless.
2. The Walking Dead – ‘The Grove’
Of course, a zombie apocalypse is never going to be the nicest place to be around, but ‘The Grove’ saw The Walking Dead go as dark as it ever had before (and since).
We always knew there was something off about Lizzie and the episode proves it as it sees her murder her younger sister Mika when they visit an abandoned home with Carol and Tyreese, leaving Carol with no choice but to kill her. It’s super bleak, but held together by a sensational performance from the show’s MVP, Melissa McBride.
3. Brooklyn Nine-Nine – ‘The Box’
Brooklyn Nine-Nine is of course very much an ensemble show, yet there’s no doubt that the one pairing you always want to see more of is Jake and Captain Holt.
‘The Box’ gives you just that and it’s every bit as good as you’d hope with the pair taking part in an all-night interrogation of a murder suspect. It’s one of the funniest episodes the show has done with throwback gags, touching character development and a brilliant rant from guest star Sterling K Brown at the end.
4. Doctor Who – ‘Heaven Sent’
We could easily have picked the terrifying ‘Midnight’ here, where the Doctor got stuck on a shuttle coach and menaced by an entity possessing fellow passenger Lesley Sharp.
However, we’re going for the Peter Capaldi solo effort ‘Heaven Sent’ that saw the Doctor battle with his grief over Clara’s death as he was pursued by a creature in a time-loop castle (naturally). It’s Doctor Who at its most intelligent, challenging and mature.
5. Mad Men – ‘The Suitcase’
Fans finally got what they wanted in Mad Men‘s ‘The Suitcase’ as Don Draper and Peggy Olson were given a two-hander as they worked all night in the office to come up with a campaign for Samsonite.
It showcased two of the show’s best performers, Jon Hamm and Elisabeth Moss, at the peak of their game, with the sharp writing combining brutal character comedy with raw emotion to create an unforgettable episode. How it didn’t win at the Emmys is a mystery.
6. Banshee – ‘Tribal’
Cinemax’s hugely underrated Banshee went all-out with its bottle ep as the police station came under siege from Chayton and his Redbones as he sought revenge for the death of his brother.
What followed was an relentless hour of intense action where you had no idea who would survive and who would perish, yet which didn’t forget the quieter moments between characters, climaxing in the brutal and heartbreaking death of Siobhan at the hands of Chayton with Hood powerless to stop him.
7. Friends – ‘The One Where No One’s Ready’
‘The One Where No One’s Ready’ is one of the best episodes of Friends – and it doesn’t even need to leave Monica and Rachel’s living room.
Playing out in real time (much like Seinfeld‘s ‘The Chinese Restaurant’), it sees Ross getting more and more anxious as everyone is taking far too long to get ready for an important work event. It’s an episode that just gets funnier and funnier, and all the more effective because we can all relate to having that friend who’s always late.
8. Parks and Recreation – ‘Leslie and Ron’
Parks and Recreation delivered a bombshell at the start of its final season as it was revealed that Leslie Knope and Ron Swanson had become enemies.
It wasn’t until the fourth episode ‘Leslie and Ron’ that we realised why when their friends lock them in the office to hash out their differences. While there are flashbacks outside of the office, it’s too good an episode not to include as it’s packed full of understated emotion and sweet character beats.
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