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Inside 'Community's Meta Knockout of a Bottle Episode

community-bottleepisode‘Genie in a Bottle’ is a recurring feature where each week a different bottle episode (an episode set entirely in one location, often designed to save money) from a comedy series is examined.

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

Dan Harmon’s seemingly immortal sitcom, Community, is without a doubt the most meta comedy on television (and now the internet). They’ve subverted and indulged in classic tropes like clip shows, Claymation, and musicals, while also perfectly lampooning unexpected pop culture totems like My Dinner With Andre, Hearts of Darkness, and GI Joe. The show has played around with structural insanity so frequently that the term “concept episodes” has been worked into the show’s vernacular. They’ve become as fundamental to the series as The X-Files’ “mythology episodes” were to that show. The long-standing tradition of a bottle episode was an obvious choice for the show to turn to eventually.

Written by Megan Ganz, in what was not only her first script for the series, but her first piece of sitcom writing. It’s easy to see how she would go on to become arguably Community’s strongest writer behind Harmon before ultimately leaving the show. What’s so impressive about “Cooperative Calligraphy” is that it’s a bottle episode about bottle episodes. Which is particularly exciting for a show that is already so preoccupied with the dissection of how sitcoms work and getting deep into their DNA. READ MORE

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How 'Archer' Tackled its Recent Bottle Episode

archervisionquest‘Genie in a Bottle’ is a new recurring feature where each week a different bottle episode (an episode set entirely in one location, often designed to save money) from a comedy series is examined.

“[Bottles episodes are] the sad little stepchild whose allowance is docked in order to buy big brother a new pair of sneaks.” This is what the executive producer and director from The Shield, Scott Brazil, had to say about the restrictive type of television episode that a large amount of shows have adopted at one point or another.

Bottle episodes are an interesting phenomenon, having been present since the early days of television, and are hardly going out of style now. Primarily designed to save on production expenses, they often end up being creative highlights of their respective series, and displays of the handicapped show working even harder to impress you.

The term bottle episode originated on Star Trek, of all places, due to the series often setting episodes entirely on the ship as a means of saving money. The tactic was resorted to so often that the phrase “Ship in a bottle”, referring explicitly to the Enterprise, was adopted into the vernacular. Soon these ship-in-a-bottle episodes became a staple of the sci-fi series and its many spin-offs, with many being fans’ favorites.

While there is a long and storied history of comedies experimenting with bottle episodes, it seems appropriate to kick off with Archer’s “Vision Quest”, considering this might be one of the most recent examples of it happening (the episode only aired on February 5th). So let’s strike while the bottle iron is still hot! READ MORE

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None of the Best Comedies on TV Would Exist Without 'King of the Hill'

kingofthehillWith Parks and Recreation gracefully leaving our television screens this year, showrunner Mike Schur has been getting a lot of attention. Not only for his series coming to a close, but for the sort of careful, respectful character-driven approach that Parks is not only heralding through these final thirteen episodes, but that has strongly been a part of it from the start. Parks and Recreation isn’t the only program with this approach to comedy, however, and with a rather impressive, unifying force of series now out there, it’s worth examining why this breed of comedy is currently in control. It might surprise you that the answer goes all the way back to January of 1997 in a fictional animated suburb in Texas.

King of the Hill debuted on FOX on January 12, 1997, and from it stemmed this integral renaissance where Greg Daniels (along with Mike Judge) spawned this whole line of writers, with people like Mike Schur (and to a lesser extent, Dan Goor, who started on Parks, has gone on to run Brooklyn Nine Nine, and will go on beyond that)becoming protégés that have formed the next breed of writers that you see composing the sharpest comedies on TV right now, like Parks and Recreation, Bob’s Burgers, Brooklyn Nine Nine, Silicon Valley, Modern Family, and American Dad. And if it weren’t for what was instilled on King of the Hill, these writers wouldn’t have gone on to make today’s classics. Not only that, but all of these writers that started on King of the Hill have become fit to be showrunners, leading some of the strongest shows out there, as can be seen with writers like Emily Spivey (showrunner of Up All Night), David Zuckerman (showrunner of Wilfred), Dan Goor, and even in the form of Paul Lieberstein stepping up on The Office when Greg Daniels departed. READ MORE

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NBC’s Journey and Ultimate Failure to Find the Next 'Friends'

friendsFor the past few years it’s been nearly impossible to flip through the channels without stumbling upon a number of the Friends clones that have come and gone. Shows like Perfect Couples, Friends with Benefits, Partners, Friends With Better Lives, Some of My Best Friends, Undateable, and a wealth of other shows with generic titles that have failed to make a name for themselves (as well as other legitimate contenders for the “throne” such as Happy Endings or How I Met Your Mother). Now, with Friends recently added to the Netflix pantheon, and with Lisa Kudrow and Matt LeBlanc being as hot as ever (well maybe that’s not true) with current hit series, The Comeback and Episodes, and Courtney Cox’s Cougar Town ending its run, it seems like now is the best time to analyze the immense problems NBC faced when trying to replace their flagship comedy, and some of the absurd strike-outs they tried to turn into sensations during the transition period.

During the early 2000s, NBC foresaw the end of their comedy cash cow and as Friends began moving into its twilight seasons, the network began planning for the inevitable and developing the next wave of comedies that would hold onto their grip of the market. This effort saw a number of failed sitcoms rise and fall over Friends' final seasons. READ MORE

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'The Heart, She Holler' and PFFR's Insane Trilogy of Ignorance

heartshehollerThe production company PFFR, headlined by the infinitely unconventional Vernon Chatman, John Lee, and Alison Levy, have produced some of the most unique, challenging, (and naturally) hated programs to have graced Adult Swim, a channel already known for different, more absurd programming. In the past, PFFR created such brilliant experiments in television like MTV2’s Sesame Street-skewing, public-enraging Wonder Showzen, the CGI New Age-spouting, low-rated Xavier: Renegade Angel, or the most “mainstream” of their programs, Delocated, a series whose star is wearing a ski mask and has his voice modulated for its entirety.

But their latest entry, the Southern gothic, soap opera-aping, The Heart, She Holler, almost immediately proved that it was going to be PFFR’s weirdest entry yet, what with the David Lynch infused universe it takes place in, where a deceased magnate talking to his kin through an endless supply of VHS tapes is the most grounded aspect of the show. But when it began (or endginned, your call) in 2011, it was far from clear that it would be the final piece of a trilogy that PFFR has been telling nearly since they began. A trilogy of ignorance, racism, and destruction that started with Wonder Showzen, developed through Xavier: Renegade Angel, and is now finally coming into focus and concluded with what the third season of The Heart, She Holler has had to say. READ MORE

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Making Sense of Serializing 'South Park'

southpark-lordeSouth Park has made a name for itself by breaking boundaries and pushing the envelope, with their incredibly streamlined production schedule allowing them near-unrivaled power on commenting on breaking and current events. So it’s a little surprising that the most unpredictable and ambitious thing South Park did this season was experiment with serialized, continuity-heavy storytelling. This season embraced the approach more than ever before, almost distilling the year into a singular storyline that they kept returning to.

While its prevalence has fluctuated throughout the season (some episodes have functioned entirely as standalone entities), it’s worth assessing why South Park has decided to make this shift this late in the game, and if it’s paid off and is something they’ll continue to do. READ MORE

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Bearing Down on 'Community’s Triumphant, Challenging Fifth Season

Community’s return this year was one of the most anticipated comedy events of the season. The theme of redemption (always a deep part of the show) seemed especially prevalent, as this season had the tall task of establishing why this show still needs to exist. That it deserves to return after a lackluster (by previous standards) fourth season, that Dan Harmon and Chris McKenna returning as showrunners would be able to steer the show in the right direction, and that a Pierce and Troy-less Community wouldn’t feel like an imitation of itself; that this wasn’t a Scrubs season 9 sort of situation. Not only did the show stand up to all of these challenges, but it also managed to become even more confident and daring in the places it chose to go, giving it arguably its most ambitious, consistent season to date and the perfect "return" we could have asked for.

While much of this season (and the series as a whole) has been about maturing and moving on, one of the smartest things the fifth season does is also embed the topic of Harmon’s return into the show’s DNA in an organic way that largely provides the first half of the season with the tonal grounding that the show needed after such a confused previous year. Harmon’s return is subtly reflected through each character’s reactions and relationships. To lose your creator (or God, or lover) is traumatic, and to then have them come back to you is a complicated thing to try and process, for them and for us.

Dan Harmon’s other series Rick and Morty has a moment in one of its episodes where there is a television channel (albeit from an alternate reality) with us on it, and not unlike that idea here, we too are students of Greendale; afraid and excited about what it means to get back something we have already mourned. It’s remarkable that the first few episodes of the season don’t fumble more as they try to process this feeling. The only reason it even attempts such a radical thing is because Community understands that every show we let into our homes becomes a part of our family (or study group), like a living entity that can change us. Harmon is Greendale, we are the Save Greendale committee, and each member of the committee represents our emotions, and is calling us to come together and succeed through this year. We have returned to a place where we know we are loved. This Mk-II study room table isn’t just a table; it’s a time machine. READ MORE

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Looking at 'Rick and Morty's Meticulously-Crafted First Season

The inaugural season of Dan Harmon and Justin Roiland’s runaway Cronenbergian monster of a hit, Rick and Morty, wrapped last night, ending a nearly flawless season of ambitious animated television. The scope and complexity of Rick and Morty should be no surprise considering that Harmon is no stranger to ambitious, meticulously-constructed television on his other series, Community. What’s especially worth noting in Harmon and Roiland's collaboration this time around is that Rick and Morty is essentially your only hope to standing up against the unforgiving universe(s) and all of its bleakness.

It’s also a very, very funny show. READ MORE