From Stewie's therapy session to 'The One Where No One's Ready': TV's best bottle episodes
That time Family Guy jumped the shark
In March 2018, the long-running animated comedy had the Internet buzzing with its special Stewie-centric episode that seemingly broke all of the show's former rules. "Send in Stewie, Please" spent almost the entire half-hour in the tyke's therapy session and even gave him an almost five-and-a-half minute-long monologue rant.
While the episode was groundbreaking it wasn't nearly the first time that a series has chosen to change its format for one time only. "Bottle episodes" is industry-speak for an installment with limited or no supporting (or guest) cast and limited or no set changes. In the old days they were done to keep production costs down in order to spend big for sweeps, but lately shows are starting to strike up the habit just for creative reasons.
Ahead, check out the shows that paved the way for Family Guy.
Friends, "The One Where No One's Ready"
In season three of the hit comedy the show's writers created an episode that not only took place (almost) entirely in Monica and Rachel's apartment but also played out exactly in real time: The story kicked off with 22 minutes to go before the gang was supposed to leave for a gala honoring Ross.
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, "Party Monster: Scratching the Surface"
The show's most recent season decided to break from the action (well, action being a relative term — this is Kimmy Schmidt, after all) to give audiences a fake true crime-style documentary (mockumentary?). It follows DJ Fingablast as he attempts to vindicate his jailed DJ idol...the only hitch is that said jailed DJ idol happens to the Reverand who kidnapped Kimmy and the other girls (played by Jon Hamm).
The episode takes all of the clichés from the true crime genre and uses them for its own hilarity: news clips, prison footage, a shaky cam, you name it. There's even a nod to Catfish.
Seinfeld, "The Chinese Restaurant"
Picture this: Jerry, George and Elaine are waiting for a table at a Chinese restaurant. End scene.
Seinfeld was a show about nothing and perhaps no episode exemplifies that more than this one. The story rests entirely on their conversation as they wait for a table — George is trying to use the phone and Jerry is trying to decide why he recognizes a fellow diner. It sounds absurd on paper but so do all of the show's best episodes.
Breaking Bad, "The Fly"
One of the more polarizing episodes of the AMC hit show, "The Fly" came to be because production was short the money needed to move the set to a new location. As a result, creator and head writer Vince Gilligan came up with a concept that would feature only Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul, along with a few extras.
Walt and Jesse are stuck in the lab for most of the hour, waiting to catch and kill a fly that Walt is convinced will contaminate the batch. While the episode did very little to advance the narrative of that season, it allowed the two leads to engage in a fascinating dialogue about everything from Walt's cancer to Jane's death.
File this under Bottle Episodes That Probably Cost More Than Standard Episodes. It's also the perfect example of the way that today's network shows are changing the mold entirely. "B.A.N.", an acronym for Black American Network, is a complete standalone, one that someone could watch without any prior knowledge of the show or its characters.
The premise is relatively straightforward: Rapper Paperboy is appearing on a talk show after he got in some hot water for inflammatory tweets about Caitlyn Jenner, and Atlanta creates the entire episode around that talk show — commercials included. And in a nod to the otherworldly creativity of Donald Glover, the fake commercials are the best part of it all.
Community, "Cooperative Calligraphy"
The eighth episode of the second season of this cult show was devoted entirely to a group scene. The gang is about to leave class when Annie discovers that she lost her pen, which launches an episode-long search for the thing. Beyond the mystery of who took her pen, it allows for the whole cast to riff on pop culture references and obscure jokes, which are fan favorites elements of the series.
The West Wing, "17 People"
Considered by some superfans to be the show's best episode period, "17 People" was written by Aaron Sorkin himself. Lore has it that NBC was cracking down on The West Wing's budget, so Sorkin stepped in to write an episode with minimal sets and extra characters.
The bulk of the story centered around a big reveal (Toby finds out about President Bartlet's MS diagnosis) and the crafting of a plan. It's basically just Leo and Bartlet going back and forth about the implications — in other words, a very Sorkin-y 50 minutes.
Master of None, "Mornings"
Aziz Ansari has practically become synonymous with standalone episodes, especially in the second season of his Netflix show. In "Mornings," which aired during the freshman season before the tactic became a habit, we see Dev and Rachel move in together and then follow their relationship — or rather, the breakdown of it — entirely in the confines of their apartment. It spans a matter of months in just 22 minutes, giving tiny snapshots into their fights.
Mad Men, "The Suitcase"
What do you get when you center an entire episode around Don and Peggy? One of the best Mad Men episodes of all time. In this segment the Sterling Cooper exec and his secretary are staying late to work on a Samsonite pitch, but end up going out to dinner and sharing intimate personal information. Both Jon Hamm and Elisabeth Moss submitted "The Suitcase" as consideration for their Emmy nominations.
Girls, "The Panic in Central Park"
All hail Marnie, that self-serious enigma of a woman. Most Girls fans had resigned themselves to a complete dislike of the show's stuffiest (and perhaps most absurd) character, but the bottle episode devoted to her storyline helped change the tides for many.
Marnie runs into her ex-boyfriend Charlie and winds up going on a bizarre only-in-Girls adventure with him, that starts with a cocaine deal and ends with the two of them taking a rowboat out on the Central Park pond. Oh, and they roll out of the rowboat into the water — Marnie avoids catching the plague while she's wading around under there but does realize that she doesn't want to be married to Desi. Growth?