Bottle Episode

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

"I hate bottle episodes. They're wall-to-wall facial expressions and emotional nuance. I might as well sit in the corner with a bucket on my head."

Abed, "Cooperative Calligraphy" (the bottle episode), Community

One of the important things to do when planning a series is to consider how the budget should be spent. Rather than spreading it evenly over the episodes, most producers allocate more money towards the start, middle and end of the season (and if it's an American production, towards the Sweeps, wherever they may fall).

That way, you can keep the audience's attention by letting big stories (be they huge battle scenes, exciting explosions or just big-name guest stars) flare up every so often, rather than having a run of episodes that are equally flat.

Of course, this means that there's less budget to go around the others. To compensate, the producer will then commission a Bottle Episode, which is designed to take up as little money as possible. The easiest way to go about this is to use only the regular cast (or even just part of the regular cast) and set it in a single location, especially if you have a main standing set. This keeps production costs down, because no-one needs to scout locations, build new sets, or create fancy CGI graphics of the outside of the spaceship. Bottle episodes are often a chance for a slow, characterization-filled episode after a big, special-effects-laden action ep. Of course, all this doesn't mean the episode will be cheap, just that it's meant to be - like any regular episode, unforeseen complications can cause the show to run over the scheduled budget.

Note that the term has become synonymous with "single-location" episode, even though bottle episodes can (theoretically) have as many locations as a normal episode. All that matters is that it costs less, because the money is having to pass through a "bottleneck". The Star Trek cast and crew call this a 'ship-in-a-bottle' episode, which is where the name originated.

Typically, effects-heavy shows such as Trek will hold off on the bottle episodes until near the end of a given season, saving the Big Money for mid-season cliffhangers and special guests.

Bottle episodes are known as a challenge and/or a chore, depending on the writer. Since most/all of the episode is set in a single location (sometimes even entirely in one room) with a smaller than usual cast, the dialogue (regarded as one of the harder things to write) needs to be better and tighter than in other episodes since the writer can't really do anything else with the cast. Sometimes, writers create single-location episodes just as an exercise to see if they can, like in the case of one of the first bottle episodes, Seinfeld's "The Chinese Restaurant", which actually ended up costing as much as a regular episode due to the expense of the new set. In any case, this generally results in either one of the most boring episodes of a series, or one of the best. In britcoms especially, they tend to be one of the better episodes.

Some plots lend themselves to the nature of a Bottle Episode, such as Sinking Ship Scenario, Groundhog Day Loop, Locked in a Room, or Episode on a Plane. Die Hard on an X, though limiting the episode to one location, rarely fits this trope, since the other elements of that trope often negate the budget-saving aspects of a Bottle Episode. Also, a bottle episode may or may not involve a Minimalist Cast.

Almost all Clip Shows (and, by extension, Recap Episodes) fit this trope, despite not strictly being an actual Bottle Episode. Not to be confused with Drowning My Sorrows, nor with sending out messages in bottles.

Examples of Bottle Episode include:

Anime and Manga

  • The Haruhi Suzumiya episode "Someday in the Rain" takes this idea and runs with it including a long shot of Yuki reading a book motionless as language lessons and radio programs play in the background. Oddly the budget was clearly substantial and the episode has no connection to the light novels the rest of the anime is based on — implying that it may have been done either for the hell of it or as a deliberate reference to the typically conservative animation styles in anime.
    • Funnily enough, the episode was penned by the original author of the light novels.
    • Also of note is that it's chronologically last of first season, meaning it becomes the last episode on DVDs.
  • Episode four of Kamichama Karin has possibly the most Off-Model art of the whole series, but the story was actually quite well-written.
  • Episode 11-B "Nothing To Room" of Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt. The episode consists entirely of a single shot with no variations in camera angle or location (with some minor modifications to depict different times of day), and the majority of the episode is just the characters talking with each other about nothing in particular. Even the plot is minimal; it's basically "Panty and Stocking sit on the couch and waste an entire day." It still manages to be entertaining, though.
  • In the first season of Pokémon, the episode "Pikachu's Goodbye" was thrown together during the hiatus following the seizure incident, and was the first aired when the show returned. To take pressure off the animators, the only Pokemon included were Meowth and Pikachu (the latter in large numbers). The end result was arguably the season's Crowning Moment of Heartwarming.

Fan Works

  • Script Fic Calvin and Hobbes: The Series has "Hypercube", which features about two locations and a handful of characters.
    • "Roughin' It" takes it further, only having the title duo and two locations as well.

Live-Action TV

  • Saved by the Bell was often made of bottle episodes, especially in the first season where the scenes were shot entirely in the one and only classroom and the hallway immediately outside. Even more common on the single season of Good Morning Miss Bliss as it didn't have the same budget.
  • Night Court was almost exclusively bottle episodes particularly in the first season when budgets were limited. The vast majority of the content takes place in the aforementioned court room, with only occasional visits to the hallway and Harry's chambers. Later on another hallway and the cafeteria was added. Only rarely did they venture out to a late night restaurant or someone's apartment.
  • How I Met Your Mother uses flashbacks and flashforwards very liberally, but "The Limo" was as a bottle episode. No flashes, and the tale of them hitting up five parties for New Years Eve was told almost entirely from the backseat of a limo (with only a couple shots of street, and one brief phone call to the limo from one of said parties).
  • Star Trek: The Original Series was a pioneer of this trope. All the modern Star Trek series would frequently resort to series of Bottle Episode when Ratings were down (or when the budget was). A notable side effect of bottle episodes is that they are frequently of higher quality in terms of writing, direction, character development, and plot than their unbottled counterparts.
    • A perfect example of this is "Duet", from the first season of Deep Space Nine - shot purely on existing sets, with purely existing costumes and props, with a grand total of one guest star and a brief appearance by a semi-regular, it cost less than half a normal episode. It's also generally considered one of the top five episodes of the entire series' run and one of the best episodes in the entire history of the franchise, and is a crucial moment of Character Development for Major Kira.
    • Subverted with the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "The Next Phase". It was meant to be a bottle show and was written with saving money in mind... but they somehow didn't account for the many complicated special effects required, which made it one of the most expensive episodes of the season.
    • Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is sort of a bottle episode, at least as much as a movie can be. After Star Trek: The Motion Picture, with its huge budget and expensive special effects, got a "meh" reaction, the studio gave the next film a considerably lower budget. In fact, it got less than a third of the budget of the first movie. Khan was thus filmed mostly on existing sets with recycled props, models, and footage. This resulted in what is still typically considered the best Trek film.
      • A prime example of this is the fact that Kirk and Khan never physically meet in the film; they are always on different ships or planets. This too was done to save money: the two actors had busy schedules and working around them would have been much more expensive. Yet Khan is often cited as the greatest opponent Kirk ever faced, despite the fact that their scenes were filmed months apart from each other.
  • Because Joss Whedon has to take this trope and mix it up with Angst Up to 11, we have the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode 'The Body'. It has only one instance of special effects, one vampire (that's where the SE come from), and takes place almost entirely in a hospital and has no soundtrack. Did we mention it's the most depressing anything of anything ever?
    • There's also season 6's "Older and Far Away," where Halfrek tricks Dawn into wishing nobody can leave the Summers house. Hilarity and drama ensue.
    • Appropriately enough, "Spin the Bottle" from Angel has at least the tendencies of a Bottle Episode: most of the episode takes place in the hotel, with no guest stars and an "amnesia" concept that makes for a low need of special effects.
  • UK cop drama The Bill often invoked this in the old days, when the "cheapie" episode could be distinguished by the fact that it would take place entirely within the confides of the police station, and (usually) had a plot focused on characters doing their daily paperwork/avoiding doing their daily paperwork. In other words, the bottle episodes were usually the ones which focused a lot on 'character interaction' rather than on story.
    • One award-winning episode was set entirely in the back of a police van.
    • Another notable episode was set entirely in the Interview Room
  • Friends has done this quite a few times.
    • More specifically, Friends had to do this in the first season where the entire cast had to stay in one apartment, and it was so well received that bottle episodes became a staple of that program.
    • Notably, the season 3 episode 'The One Where No One Is Ready' is often lauded as one of the best episodes ever, and it never even leaves Monica and Rachel's main room (except for a short scene during the credits).
    • Interestingly, the episodes featuring all six Friends among themselves are consistently the best episodes of the entire series. This fact is why Thanksgiving episodes are typically bottle episodes.
  • Cheers had many episodes where the entire episode took place in the bar, including the entire first season. The first episode with scenes set outside the bar was the second season premiere, "Power Play".
  • Frasier, perhaps following the lead of the show it spun off from (Cheers), employed this a lot. Early episodes rarely left Frasier's apartment, KACL, and the Cafe Nervosa.
    • The grand champion example of a Frasier bottle ep would be "The Dinner Party" which uses only the main cast (plus one voice over), only one set (Frasier's apartment), and occurs in Real Time.
  • The first season finale of Married... with Children, "Johnny Be Gone", takes place only downstairs at the Bundys', only features the main cast, and is in fact one long scene. This was repeated, albeit with guest stars, in the penultimate episode "The Desperate Half-Hour".
  • Titus is nothing BUT bottle episodes, though sometimes it's two joined rooms rather than just one room and it does cut away to Titus in the Neutral Space [the black-and-white room in which Christopher Titus narrates the episodes] explaining a certain situation or giving insight on an event that just happened (often comedically; but sometimes dramatically. In "Tommy's Not Gay," one of the Neutral Space cutaways was about how a Wyoming kid named Matthew Shepard was killed because of his homosexuality, and act one of "The Last Noelle" ended with Titus reading the love letter of his abusive girlfriend who promised to never beat him up if he stayed with her). Other than that, a typical episode of Titus usually has two settings, the five main actors (Christopher Titus {as himself, essentially}, Zack Ward {Dave}, David Shatraw {Tommy}, Cynthia Watros {Erin}, and Stacy Keach {Ken Titus}), and maybe some recurring supporting characters (Amy, Titus's sister Shannon, Erin's Dysfunctional Family {Nora, Merritt, Kim, and Michael}, Juanita {Titus's violent, manic-depressive schizophrenic mom}, and/or Kathy {Ken's bitchy nurse fiancee}) or one-shot characters.
  • The Britcom Men Behaving Badly had a bottle episode that took place in a single room—indeed, very nearly a single camera shot.
  • Mad About You had a bottle episode ("The Conversation", which was also an example of The Oner) where the camera didn't move—it remained stationary, pointed at the door to the crying baby's room, while Paul and Jamie talked about stuff. The characters left the frame completely several times, talking off-screen and the camera was pointed at nothing.
    • This was lampshaded in the ending credits, where Paul was watching an unseen show and commenting about what amazing cinematographic skill it took to shoot an entire episode from one camera shot.
  • Spooks did something very close to one in its second series (The VX one) and it was one of the best of that series.
  • Without a Trace came close with "Doppelganger".
  • The Dead Zone had a Bottle Episode ("Cabin Pressure") that took place entirely on a flying airplane (which, admittedly, was not one of the show's normal sets). Interestingly, this episode was also an example of Real Time.
  • The Revival of Doctor Who has done this Once a Season since the second series, having to squeeze fourteen episodes into a budget (and shooting schedule) of thirteen. Often the limitation is not in set construction, but in special effects or actors:
    • "Love & Monsters": Both the Doctor and Rose are absent for most of the episode apart from the Cold Opening and the end.
    • "Fear Her": A nearly effects-free episode. It was a last-minute affair to take the place of a planned episode by Stephen Fry which fell through.
    • "Blink": Almost entirely effects-free and the Doctor and Martha are mostly absent.
    • "Midnight": Nearly all of the episode takes place in a single location with minimal effects. Donna is almost entirely absent from it, because she was filming "Turn Left", in which the Doctor was likewise mostly absent. It's basically one continuous scene: Of a sixty-six page script, there are thirteen scenes. Two are effects shots and one is wordless. Scene 9 is the longest one, starting on page 17 and ending on page 65. Rusty wrote it on the hoof in about three days. Like "Blink," this episode is considered remarkably good and scary in its weirdness.
      • And despite all this, it wasn't a money-saving episode. They had to build that one set to meet a lot of requirements, pay a whole cast for two weeks instead of a few days each, and spend a day on rehearsal, since it had to be performed basically like a play. It's a bottle episode done for its own sake. It's a bit surprising it ever got made.
    • "Amy's Choice": Which uses only the TARDIS set and the same sleepy country town utilized for "The Eleventh Hour."
    • "The Lodger": An episode set mostly in a Colchester flat. Amy's scenes are limited to a handful in the TARDIS control room.
    • "The Girl Who Waited": Almost everything is white rooms; Karen Gillan Acts For Two and the TARDIS fizzes a bit, plus there are robots and a quick shot of a garden, but there is nothing beyond that.
    • The specials for Red Nose Day 2011 are set within the TARDIS control room, which is also within the TARDIS control room. It's a Klein Bottle episode!
    • The original series had The Edge of Destruction, which was set entirely in the TARDIS, and the first episode of The Mind Robber, which was added at the last moment to extend the story to five episodes and took place only in the TARDIS and on an empty stage.
  • In Torchwood the vast majority of "Countrycide" was filmed entirely around a few buildings in rural Wales and had no CGI at all. And as with Doctor Who's "Blink", the episode is pant-soilingly scary.
  • Several episodes of The Twilight Zone were either filmed in a small space ("Nervous Man in a Four Dollar Room" was filmed in a single room with a minimal cast), filmed with a minimal cast (the Pilot Episode had Earl Holliman walking around a deserted town asking "Where Is Everybody?" for nearly the entire duration), or filmed only with two people (in "Two", Charles Bronson and Elizabeth Montgomery are the only two soldiers at war after World War III has vaporized everyone else). "The Last Night of a Jockey" takes all honours, however - set entirely in one room, with a cast of one (Mickey Rooney).
  • The 4400 had an episode that took place entirely inside NTAC HQ.
  • Two original The Outer Limits episodes were written specifically to be produced cheaply. "Controlled Experiment" was made at a time when the first season's production budget was going out of control, and "The Probe" was written and filmed after the series was cancelled to fulfill the show's commitment to ABC.
  • The Goodies used this a few times, two notable examples being "The End", where the Goodies' office was sealed in a block of concrete, and "Earthanasia", which took place in real time on Christmas Eve with the world being destroyed at midnight. These episodes usually came at the end of a series, after the entire budget for location filming, special effects and guest stars had been exhausted.
  • CSI had the lighthearted Lower Deck/Breather Episode "You Kill Me," about The Lab Rat Hodges running the other Lab Rats through elaborate (and absurd) murder scenarios as part of a CSI-themed board game he was creating. The previous episode featured the Put on a Bus departure of a main character, while the following episode concerned another main character breaking down after becoming addicted to prescription drugs.
  • Eastenders' two-hander episodes (and it's one-hander episode) are usually this to a T - originally designed as casting timesavers much like Doctor Who mentioned above, they've since become revered in their own right - although the show uses them sparingly to prevent overkill.
  • Farscape's "Crackers Don't Matter" is light on effects, takes place wholly on the ship, and has only one weird alien guest star—all odd for the series. The main characters all become increasingly crazy over the course of the episode, eventually turning on each other and exposing harsh truths about their relationships, making the episode a fan favorite.
  • The episode "Unfinished Business" of the new Battlestar Galactica consisted almost entirely of a boxing tournament in a single room and flashbacks to the time on New Caprica. The flashbacks had all been shot during the hiatus between seasons. They were intended to be spread across the entire season, but they all ended up being put into one episode.
    • Another episode of the reimagined Battlestar Galactica contained an extended space battle scene... in which the scene was depicted without CGI—or even seeing the battle at all—but rather by the reactions of the bridge crew to the audio of the space battle.
    • Not to mention the fact that a lot of the action happens in the eponymous battlestar, especially the CIC. Ron Moore mentioned at one point that it was a shame that they could not have shot more scenes aboard the civilian ships in the fleet.
  • Stargate SG-1 and Stargate Atlantis both have their fair share of episodes taking place almost entirely within the SGC or Atlantis, respectively. Including, for each series, the second ever episode.
    • They even reference each other a bit: One SG-1 episode was called "Grace" and most of the episode was Carter, alone, on the starship, 'hallucinating' a little girl named Grace, as well as some of the other members of SG-1 and her father, with those hallucinations bidding her to deal with her UST. For Atlantis they had Rodney stuck in a jumper under the ocean. The name of the episode was "Grace Under Pressure", which was a rather clever pun - the episode was essentially "Grace" under pressure. In this episode Rodney hallucinates Carter, who not only helps him cope with his situation but advises him on his relations with the rest of the Atlantis expedition.
  • During the second season of The West Wing, Aaron Sorkin was told that money was tight, and to make up for budget overruns, he'd have to write an episode with "no guest cast, no locations, no new sets, no extras and no film. In other words, [he] got to write a play." The resulting episode, "17 People," is probably one of his best.
  • Eureka episodes "H.O.U.S.E. Rules" (automated house S.A.R.A.H. locks the cast inside) and "A Night In Global Dynamics" (self-explanatory).
    • There's also the Season 3 episode "You Don't Know Jack" (people start to lose their memories), which consists of maybe 40% footage from previous episodes, and only requires one explosion as far as FX go. However, it is not entirely self-contained, as Allison's daughter is born in this episode.
  • A couple of Firefly episodes, such as "Our Mrs. Reynolds" or "Objects In Space," took place almost entirely aboard the ship.
  • Top Gear occasionally has an episode where the presenters tell us they've "spent all the money" and can't afford their normal mix of insane stunts and expensive cars. This is used as much ironically as straight up - what follows is either even more insane stunts with cheaper cars or the most expensive cars of the season.
    • An example is Series 14, Episode 07, where Clarkson claimed the budget had run out and he had to do a sensible review of the BMW X6 - and then filled the film with gratuitious Scenery Porn shots of him and the car all around the world. It started on a quiet English lane, but the fun began when Jeremy makes a note of the two-part clamshell glovebox.

Clarkson: It works well here, but what about upside down?
(Cut to establishing shot of the Sydney Opera House.)

  • Homicide: Life on the Street won an Emmy for "Three Men and Adena" which was almost entirely two detectives and a suspect sitting talking in the interrogation room. "Night of the Dead Living" from the same season similarly stayed in the station house.
    • Both of these episodes are substantially more Truth in Television, however, as they depict, in fairly realistic terms, events from the non-fiction book of the same name that inspired the show. Not that it didn't also help to save money.
    • Perhaps in a nod to the aforementioned Homicide, The Shield had, in its fourth season, an entire episode set in the Farmington police headquarters' interrogation room, where Vic Mackey and Monica Rawlings spend 42 minutes grilling a suspect. Notably, the episode was an extended 90 minute (with commercials) episode as opposed to the usual 60 minute (again, with commercials) episodes.
  • An episode of Bottom took place solely on top of a Ferris wheel and God's palm.
  • A episode of Hancock's Half Hour, 'The Bedsitter', was not only just set on the one set (Tony Hancock's bedsit flat) but also featured no other actors other than Tony Hancock himself. The plot, such as it was, just featured Hancock trying to amuse himself for 20 minutes. It was justly acclaimed as one of the funniest episodes he'd done.
  • Many episodes of The Sandbaggers come close to this - the majority of each plot unfolds in the offices of SIS, with the occasional exterior shot set in London or a stand-in for an Eastern Bloc country.
  • One Foot in the Grave episode "The Beast in the Cage" is set entirely in a car stuck in a traffic jam.
    • Similarly, "The Trial" is set entirely in Victor and Margaret's home and, much like the Hancock's Half-Hour example above, features no actors other than Richard Wilson.
    • There was also an episode, the name of which I don't immediately remember, which was centered entirely on Victor and Margaret in their bedroom late at night trying to find strange ways to fall asleep. Seriously, the whole episode either had them lying in bed arguing, or occasionally the two of them turning on the light and walking around to find their own (strange) solutions to their problem.
  • Lampshaded on Angel where one of the most acclaimed bottle episodes was actually called "Spin the Bottle".
    • While lampshading the bottle format, the title also makes sense in context with the characters reverting to their teenage personalities, and if there's one thing teens love to do at parties...
  • Red Dwarf has (almost) always handled its bottle episodes brilliantly. Examples include "Marooned", "The Last Day", "Quarantine", and "Out of Time", all of which are widely considered among the show's finest.
    • Though there's also Duct Soup, which frequently tops worst episode polls.
  • Episode 4 of Psychoville features only David and his mother attempting to avoid getting caught by a police inspector in a flat in Hammersmith, London. It's an homage to Alfred Hitchcock's Rope (with nods to Psycho and Frenzy) and mostly consists of two long continuous shots joined by a concealed edit.
  • The M*A*S*H episode "Hawkeye" has that character confined to a Korean family's hut after having crashed his jeep and gotten a concussion. Alan Alda is the only one of the main cast to appear in the episode.
    • "O.R." was shot entirely in the operating room. And since the Laugh Track wasn't used for any shot taking place in the O.R., this is the first M*A*S*H episode to omit the laugh track completely (although when M*A*S*H was shown in Britain initially the series omitted the laugh track - this is not the case nowadays).
    • "A Night at Rosie's" takes place entirely at Rosie's Bar.
    • "The Bus" takes place entirely on and around the title conveyance (which has broken down in the countryside behind enemy lines), and only five of the eight regular characters appear.
  • Flipped by Lost: between the on-location filming and narrative structure that constantly calls for new sets, it's almost impossible to have an episode filmed on just one or two standing sets. But by having each episode focus on just one or two characters, some of the actors can disappear for weeks at a time, possibly saving the producers money over the season. "The Constant" is one of the most widely loved episodes though only six (out of sixteen) regulars appear, with only two of them being original cast members. From season three on, each season has had multiple episodes with a tiny amount of the regular cast. Season five's highly acclaimed "Dead is Dead" tops "The Constant" and features only four...
    • An interview mentioned that the Hydra arc of season 3 was meant to be this due to the network's concerns about the show going over budget in season 2.
    • The season 6 episode Across The Sea is possibly. It features none of the regular cast whatsoever save a brief piece of archive footage from the first season, only prominently features 3 characters, 5 actors with big speaking parts (two of whom are child versions of two of the characters) and takes place entirely on the island.
  • The Leverage episode "The Bottle Job" takes place almost entirely within the pub Nate lives over.
    • The episode title has a double meaning, as this is also the episode where Nate starts drinking again.
    • Triple meaning, even. Team Leverage has to squeeze a con that normally takes the better part of a month to pull off into about an hour and a half—Nate explicitly calls it "The Wire in a bottle."
  • The Porridge episode A Night In takes this concept to an extreme—it's 25 minutes of two men talking in a darkened room.
  • Subversion: The Seinfeld episode "The Chinese Restaurant" took place entirely in...a Chinese Restaurant, in which the characters do nothing but hang around bitching about not being able to get a table and worrying about offscreen issues. The concept of an episode like that was so grounbreaking at the time that the network executives couldn't understand it, thinking that the only explanation was that production ran out of money. This wasn't the case—it was just an experiment by the writers, and "The Chinese Restaurant" became Seinfeld's Grow the Beard episode, introducing the unique plot and humor styles that made the show a hit later on.
  • Babylon 5 had an episode (Intersections In Real Time, Season 4) where the main character (Sheridan) was in a cell, being psychologically tortured to make him break. It is widely regarded as the most emotionally-charged (and NOT in a good way) episode of all the series.
    • It is also notable in having been done with one continuous take for each act of the show, and having only one main character (Sheridan) speak. The only other main character who appears is Delenn, who appears only as a non-speaking hallucination.
  • Breaking Bad had a fantastic episode- with only Walt and Jesse appearing- set almost entirely in one room - the lab - which saw Jesse and Walt chasing a fly for the full forty-something minutes. Better than it sounds thanks to the extraordinary levels of tension present throughout, coming to a peak when Jesse is balanced precariously at the top of a ladder while at least three potentially relationship-destroying secrets are on the brink of being revealed during the course of an absolute Tear Jerker of a monologue by Walt.
    • To a lesser extent "...And the Bag's in the River" in season 1 which takes place mostly in Jesse's house and "4 Days Out" which mostly takes place in an RV in the desert with Walt and Jesse stranded but is sort of a subversion as far as cost lowering goes as it was intended to take place entirely in the RV but the plot endeded up requiring more and more scenes outside and ended up becoming one of the season's most expensive episodes.
  • The season six Christmas episode of The X-Files was this; the other episodes were getting so expensive that Fox was getting antsy. Therefore, "How the Ghosts Stole Christmas" takes place almost entirely in one room and has only four cast members.
  • The aptly titled Regenesis episode "Unbottled". The lab is deserted except for the main cast and the terrorists holding them captive, and the protagonists spend most of the episode locked in a storage room.
  • In the Adam-12 episode "Light Duty", the whole episode takes place entirely inside the police station, as Malloy (sporting an injured wrist) and Reed man the front desk and listen to the day's action through the radio while dealing with assorted people who come in for assistance.
  • The Dragnet episode "B.O.D.-DR-27" also had Friday and Gannon manning the front desk.
  • Community has a lot. The most notable being the episode "Cooperative Calligraphy", which takes place entirely in the study room that the main characters meet for their study group. Abed and Jeff even refer to the "Bottle Episode" concept by name. (It's also the only one actually referred to as being "The Bottle Episode" by fans and crew alike.)
    • Also, the second season episode "Advanced Dungeons and Dragons" took place almost entirely in the study room with the group playing D&D. Like, dice-rolls-and-described-actions D&D, not elaborate-dream-sequence D&D.
    • And Applied Anthropology and Culinary Arts, the entire episode was shot in the anthropology room, due to the two/three expensive episodes it was between.
    • Season 3 has "Remedial Chaos Theory" which takes place entirely in Troy and Abed's apartment (save for one scene in the study room at the end) that involves Jeff rolling a dice to decide who has to go downstairs to let the pizza delivery man in the building and each way that it lands creates an alternate timeline.
    • Stunningly inverted (and quite possibly the only example to date) in the season two episode Paradigms of Human Memory . Most Clip Shows are employed so as to save production money and time, with very little money spent on taping and writing new material, the Clip Show is usually a type of Bottle Episode. This episode spoofs the very nature of a Clip Show by having the acutual clips be a bunch of Noodle Incidents to a variety of locations and situations never actually seen in the series. Financially, this episode was expensive, even to the point that DanHarmon himself paid for the Sara Bareilles song to be used in the Shipping Goggles portion of the episode. Interestingly the episodes before and after this one are true Bottle Episodes because of the expensiveness of this episode as well as the season finale.
  • "The Suitcase" from Mad Men, in which Don and Peggy spend a whole night trying to come up with an idea for a suitcase commercial. It was pretty much immediately hailed as one of the show's best single episodes.
  • "Pixelspix" and "LazyTown's Greatest Hits" are two examples from LazyTown.
  • "Just Act Normal", episode 5 of series 2 of Miranda, is set entirely in a psychiatrist's office.
  • In The Monkees, "Monkee Mother" and "A Coffin Too Frequent" both take place entirely in the Monkees' apartment. There's also the episode "Fairy Tale", which takes place on a minimalist cardboard set.
  • The Season 6 episode of Bones "Blackout in the Blizzard" has an abridged cast of the main characters; 2 of which spend the majority episode stuck in an elevator with a 3rd overlooking. The remaining 4 characters in the episode solve the entire crime in the standard "Jeffersonian" the dark.
  • In one of the few childrens' show examples, season 1 Victorious episode "Wifi in the Sky" takes place entirely on an airplane—though subverts the idea a little with webcam interaction with her friends.
  • While ranging quite a bit through various Seattle locales, episode #11 "The Missing" from The Killing's first season strikes many as being a bottle episode in spirit. It features only the two main characters, with generous helpings of heretofore basically absent character development. While some dismissed the episode for venting whatever narrative urgency the main murder plotline still had going, others were grateful for a reprieve from those most frustrating elements of the show.
  • The classic sitcom Barney Miller was nothing BUT bottle episodes. Every episode took place in the same squad office at the police station, which consisted of three small rooms: the main office, the holding cell, and Barney's office. That's it. Characters would come and go, but their interactions with the world outside the office were almost always implied and not shown. About once a year they would do an episode where characters actually went outside, but after a few seasons, even this was dropped. The show was never a big ratings hit but managed to last eight seasons because it was incredibly inexpensive to make.
    • Word of God says that the whole philosophy behind Barney Miller was to make a show that resembled a classic stage play. The economic benefits were just a happy side effect.
  • Most episodes of the Mexican sitcom El Chavo del Ocho are this, taking place in "La Vencindad" with occasional scenes inside Doña Florinda's or Don Ramón's apartments. There were also occasional episodes (or in some cases, single scenes) set in the school that El Chavo, Quico (before Carlos Villagran left the show), and La Chilindrina attend. There was however, one two-part location episode where the characters are on location in Acapulco.
  • The Britcom Dinnerladies. Every episode took place entirely on a single set. (The only time a character appeared elsewhere was in two short inserts of film (one a home video, one an in-universe TV show) that the other characters were watching)
  • The eighth season of Scrubs had to bring down its budget, in part by setting most of its 18 episodes in the hospital, and giving each cast member (including the main character, Zach Braff's J.D.) at least two episodes off. Thus, a lot of the episodes come off a little bottle-y, but a few episodes especially so. "My Full Moon", for example, only features cast members Sarah Chalke & Donald Faison, as well as a few recurring characters, and takes place over one night on one floor of the hospital.
  • Police, Camera, Action!:
    • The Liver Run, which was a Very Special Episode featuring the Metropolitan Police, Eli Kernkraut, Aliza Hillel - filmed in one room, and entirely footage-based (apart from interviews with officers).
    • Helicops (1995 episode) - only filmed at a police airfield in London and around Surrey, but nowhere else.
    • The episodes Don't Look Back In Anger (aired 13 November 1997) and Learning the Hard Way (March 1999) zig-zag this trope; the first one is almost a Clip Show with some new footage added, whilst the second one is an entire Clip Show / Recap Episode. Both are Very Special Episode episodes
    • Less Lethal Weapons - set almost entirely in one room with police weaponry.
    • Death Wish Drivers (which has 2 edited versions) - this episode has no Stock Footage, and does not go out "on report" with the police unlike the rest of the 2007 - 2010 series.
    • These episodes are often considered the best of the series by fans!
  • The NCIS episode "Trojan Horse" mostly takes place within NCIS headquarters.
  • Criminal Minds has the episode "Seven Seconds", which took place within the same shopping mall almost the entire time.


  • 12 Angry Men is an excellent example. About 95% of the movie takes place in the discussion room where the jury is sequestered, with the story taking place over a couple of hours of one day.


Video Games

  • Sequels made with as many reused assets as possible are common. The quality can fall everywhere from "cheap cash in" to "classic" as the feedback and extra experience/time have allowed the developers to fix all the original's flaws.
  • The live action opening cutscene for The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall was made into a secret meeting at midnight, lit only by a single torch that is dramatically extinguished at the end, to avoid creating any set for the opening. This allowed the developers to stretch the cutscene's low budget by creating only a throne, simple torch, a metal bin full of sand and costumes, none of which needed exceptional detail.
  • Dark Forces II: Jedi Knight, similar to the above, has no physical backgrounds (in 1997!) for its live action cutscenes, with all the backgrounds being still photos or prerendered CGI Chroma Keyed in. They actually hold up fairly well thanks to using heavy darkness to obscure the backgrounds and CGI characters and compensating for the lack of depth with overhead lights characters walk in and out of.

Web Original

  • Echo Chamber, the TV Tropes web series, had an episode on Walk and Talk which was substantially shorter and simpler than a normal episode. Tropers were divided on whether its brevity was an asset or a liability, compared to the previous episode.
  • KateModern tended to follow a schedule of one episode every weekday, with Bottle Episodes on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday and a more special effects-heavy episode on Friday. This was sometimes subverted, either by having the bigger budget episode earlier in the week or by showing an additional, often more dramatic episode at the weekend.

Western Animation

  • Clerks the Animated Series had a bottle episode, even though it was animated. They made a point of keeping Dante and Randal inside the store while incredible happenings occurred just outside, with the whole purpose being to hang a lampshade on how dissimilar the series was to the original movie.
  • The Invader Zim episode "Zim Eats Waffles", with the exception of the first minute and about twenty seconds at the end, consisted entirely of two camera angles. May have been due to a relatively large portion of the budget allocated to the second season finale (which was never made due to the series being canceled), although that remains unclear.
    • The commentary actually states that this was the writer's intention.
  • The Ren and Stimpy DVD commentary says that "Rubber Nipple Salesmen" was a Bottle Episode. To keep animation costs down, they never animated Ren and Stimpy getting out of their truck; the truck always pulls offscreen.
  • SpongeBob's "Gary Takes A Bath". 8-minute season 2 finale with one voice actor and only three characters. Mr. Krabs doesn't even talk.
  • The Sealab 2021 episode "Fusebox" consists almost entirely of one exterior shot of Sealab while the power is out.
  • According to Word of God, The Venture Brothers episode "Tag Sale...You're It!" was meant to be one of these by keeping the action on the Venture compound. Then the plot of the episode called for Loads and Loads of Background Characters, and the amount of work for the animators didn't really diminish.
  • The 150th Family Guy episode "Brian & Stewie", which is about Brian and Stewie getting locked into a bank vault.
    • It was more even less than that; the entire episode was free of FG's normal cutaway gags and recurring characters. The whole thing is literally, nothing but Brian and Stewie. There isn't even any music. And it was an extended 40-minute (28 without commercials) episode too!
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic has "Look Before You Sleep", in which polar opposites Applejack and Rarity end up riffing comedically on each other when they're trapped in Twilight's house during a thunderstorm. The episode has only three speaking roles (lacking half the main cast or any supporting characters) and takes place almost entirely in one, pre-established backdrop.
  • Adventure Time has several, with the most notable being "Marceline's Closet", where Finn and Jake spend 90% of the episode trapped in Marceline's closet.
    • "Still" is also one, as evident by the fact that Finn and Jake are frozen the entire episode. One of the workers on the show even called it a Bottle Episode.
  • The Fairly OddParents had an episode where most of it was in darkness, following action mostly by sound-effects and following the characters By the Lights of Their Eyes.

Real Life

  • Staycations, vacations that take place withing driving distance of home, are done for much the same reasons, and can have the same benefits/drawbacks.