How to Do a Bottle Episode

Counting down my top 4 favourite sitcom bottle episodes in this week’s Sitcom Special.

But wait… what is a bottle episode?

A bottle episode is an episode that takes place primarily in one setting, with minimal reliance on guest stars/non-regular cast members.

Last time I whined about disliking sitcom finales. But you know what? I love bottle episodes. (Even though Abed doesn’t). I love the crisp writing, the fact that they can’t rely on anything but their regular setting/characters/cast, and how those episodes perfectly encapsulate the tone of a series.


Good ol’ HIMYM has the number 4 spot in my heart with The Limo.


This is how all of my mix CDs start now

Anyway, this episode is decent. There’s tension (where is Lily?), emotional stakes (Ted and Robin. and also WHERE IS MARSHALL), and gut-wrenching drama (WHEEERRREE IIIISSS MARSHALLLLLLLL)

Okay, the Lily/Marshall story bugged me. It’s the kind of thing that bugs me, like when a character sits down to a hot meal and then gets up to deal with plot and leaves the food untouched. Infuriating.

Bottle episodes have an uncanny ability to teach us something about each character and their role within their group. Here’s what we learned about the HIMYM gang:

Barney: Enthusiastic (Get Psyched Mix), immature (losing the Get Psyched Mix), terrible to women (Natalya). That’s pretty much all there is to him. He’s a source of fun for the group but also really annoying.

Lily and Marshall: Can you sum up this couple any better  than in that moment where Lily stands up in the limo and starts calling for Marshall in the street? They always come through for each other.

Robin: Absentee. Doesn’t follow Ted’s rules of how things are Supposed to Be (everyone together, in the limo, there for the Big Moments… alluding to the finale here). But she does respond to Ted reaching out to her when her date stands her up, because he’s the only guy who’s ever been able to soften her. Hence her kissing him at the end.

Ted: Needs things to go according to his plans, whether it be his marriage and future family, or his New Years Eve. And his conflict is basically that he always seems to end up on the outside of whatever he has planned – i.e. he ends up outside of the limo when they ring in the new year. SYMBOLISM.


Then there’s Seinfeld with The Chinese Restaurant.

OF COURSE I’M NOT CARTWRIGHT. What a line delivery.

Of course, this is the quintessential bottle episode. It wrote the book on bottle episodes. Seinfeld usually does rely on its actors’ chemistry and comedic timing more than other sitcoms (the Office excluded, which is basically 9 seasons of bottle episodes with a couple exceptions).

The episode is set in real-time with no scene breaks. It’s a work of art. What else is there to say?

Kramer was missing, but we did get to see the other three’s characters under the microscope in this episode.

George: Everything seems to happen to him. And he’s not shy about complaining about it, and having outbursts. But when it comes down to it, and the man who took forever on the phone apologizes, George is all bark and no bite.

Elaine: She has an idea in her head about how the world should operate, and when it doesn’t, she pushes people until they start to co-operate with her version of reality (in which you get seated in order in a restaurant and aren’t kept waiting forever).

Jerry: He can’t let ANYTHING go. He won’t stop worrying about his uncle, and then he won’t stop wondering about the woman who looks familiar, and he doesn’t really care about his friends’ issues because he’s busy chewing on things he can’t actually do anything about.


The One Where No One’s Ready is another real-time bottle episode. It’s one of many Friends bottle episodes, and it was difficult to pick one, but I picked this one because of the part where Joey puts on all of Chandler’s clothes.

I’m breezy!

So, in this bottle, what do we learn about the Friends?

Ross: is a giant pain in the ass. He worries and overthinks so much that he ends up damaging his relationships with people. Despite his tunnel vision, though, he actually does care about the people in his life… he’s just terrible at showing it. (He was going to drink the fat.)

Monica: we already knew this, but Monica is obsessive. She can’t just let the message go. She can’t just leave her own message, she has to beep in. She can’t just ignore the second message, she has to tell Michelle. She can’t just let Michelle talk to Richard, she has to beep in AGAIN and delete all the messages. (None of Monica’s good qualities are shining in this episode, but to be fair, she’s in SUCH a breezy place.)

Rachel: doesn’t like being yelled at by her boyfriend in front of her friends. Huh. Not only that, but she stands up for herself and makes him sorry for it. We often think of Rachel becoming more and more assertive as the series goes on, but with Ross, she’s always standing up for herself (mainly because he keeps forcing her to).

Joey: Immature, loves to push buttons. Thinks putting on all of someone’s clothes is the opposite of stealing their underwear. (What?)

Chandler: Also immature, easily antagonized. This wasn’t a great episode for these two!

Phoebe: … she got the hummus. I don’t know. She’s also whimsical and weird, as told by her gigantic Christmas ribbon.

It’s occurring to me now that this episode mostly focuses on the Favourite characters – arguably, Ross, Mon, and Rach. The other three are definitely more comic relief – although all 6 do get to be serious occasionally, it’s definitely skewed towards the Gellers and Rachel.


Remedial Chaos Theory is the bottle episode I chose for Community. I realize that the one with Annie’s pen (whatever it’s called – I know this isn’t Friends anymore) is a self-proclaimed bottle episode, but Remedial Chaos Theory is my all-time favourite Community episode, so let’s talk about it instead.

We’re at Abed and Troy’s new apartment, and they have ordered pizza. Jeff rolls a die to decide who goes to get it, and creates 7 different timelines – one for each side of the die, and one for Abed to catch the die (the best timeline).

Sadly, this episode spawned that terrible Darkest Timeline story arc later on, but I prefer not to think about that.

I’m so happy I found this.

Jeff is the worst. That’s what we learn about him, because by not letting Britta sing Roxanne, he prevents the others from having a dance party instead of all the other emotional drama that ends up going down.

Troy is the best (him leaving is the darkest timeline). We also learn that Jeff made him insecure, and he looks up to Pierce a little bit because he made it on his own (I mean, kind of in the same way Trump made it on his own, but anyway). He responds really well to people being kind and genuinely happy for him.

Annie is consumed by sexual tension with Jeff in this episode, so… bleh. Also there’s a gun in her purse, which comes down to that creepy “let’s protect little Annie who’s half our age” thing.

Shirley shows a full range of her character’s bad side here – she’s whiny, she loves to guilt people, and she’s bitter in a less-Piercey sort of way. Do we see her good side in this one? Not really. Oh well.

Abed is just Abed. It was cool of them to make him so consistently Abed instead of trying to make him grow.

Britta is high, she creates fun for everyone by being spontaneous, and she dates weird guys. Jeff also ruins the group dynamic by picking on her so much, which is displayed perfectly in this one episode.

Pierce banged Eartha Kitt in an airplane bathroom. *eye roll*

Maybe the reason I love this so much is that it actually boils down the problem with this series. Annie and Jeff’s “relationship” is creepy (when she says she reminds him of her dad) and adds a sleazy tone to the entire series, the constant anti-Britta sentiment ruins the fun, Troy and Abed are just genuinely awesome characters who carry the team, Shirley is not given her due and she REALLY should have been because she’s an amazing character, and Pierce is just annoying.

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