'All In the Family' Sums Itself Up in a Storeroom

twosacrowd‘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

"And how could any man that loves you tell you anything that's wrong?"

All in the Family is mandatory sitcom viewing. It came at the perfect time, while dealing with the perfect issues, and it was just the best kind of lightning in a television set possible. Norman Lear’s feather-ruffling comedy ran for nine seasons and over 200 episodes, before it transformed into the less fundamental, but still more satisfying than it deserved to be, Archie Bunker’s Place for an additional four seasons.

Lear was no stranger to controversy, with his sitcoms often reflecting the political activism that dominated the rest of his life, with important programs like Sanford and Sons, The Jeffersons, and Maude spilling out of him. All in the Family was often seen as the jewel in this activism crown, as the series depicted curmudgeons Edith and Archie Bunker. Archie being dead-set in his antiquated ways and how these intermingled with the world around him consistently led to cutting edge comedy being produced. Comedy that took it upon itself to inform their audiences and come from a place of racial and societal inequality, all while making us laugh.

All in the Family was very much about understanding and accepting why Archie acted the way in which he did. We never expected the series to “fix” him, or that a proper series finale would depict Archie as a changed man. No, that’s never what this was about, but rather learning why someone is the way that they are, and loving them in spite of that.

If that’s what All in the Family’s mission statement was, then this episode more than works as the answer to that question. It so succinctly captures the point of the series that many viewers have since viewed it as the unofficial series finale to the show (as well as it being O’Connor’s favorite episode of the series). That’s how satisfying and charged these twenty-four minutes of television are. READ MORE


Understanding the Hushed Beauty of Ben Jones’ Duck Stoner Series, 'Stone Quackers'

stonequackers1Ben Jones has been quietly killing it under your noses all year. His animated series, Stone Quackers, was the newest program to hit FXX's ADHD animation block, paired up with the Lucas Bros Moving Co. to create a more than wonderful double dose of absurdity every week. Created alongside Whitmer Thomas and Clay Tatum (Power Violence), who also act as co-execs, writers, and voice the characters of “Whit” and “Clay,” the series is based on the their collective childhoods within the unusual and secluded city of Gulf Shores, Alabama. Stone Quackers (which is all available on Hulu, and should be viewed immediately if you’re unfamiliar) approximates this into the non-adventures of a number of adolescent ducks that are presumably high all the time.

The series opened with a slow start but has become a regular mainstay for bonkers television, containing ambitious installments like an homage to David Lynch's Blue Velvet. There’s also a top-notch voice cast that is more than familiar with the weird, featuring talents like Heather Lawless and John C. Reilly.

It's also goddamn gorgeous to look at.

As Jones' Quackers approaches the end of its freshman season, let's pull back the feathers on the show and examine just why this new comedy is so special. READ MORE


When 'How I Met Your Mother' Got Ambitious with Form

himym-thelimo‘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

“Give it a rest, Ted.”

“Give what a rest?”

“Trying to turn this night into anything more than what it is, which is New Year’s Eve, which is the single biggest letdown of a night every single year.”

“Come on, come on, we can still turn this thing around. We’ve still got ten minutes.”

“Stop trying to chase down some magical, perfect New Years, Ted. It doesn’t exist.”

The public has largely turned their backs on three-camera sitcoms with laugh tracks. The former mainstay have becoming a dying breed, and as the format began to wind down, How I Met Your Mother was one of the few shows that still managed to triumph in the format and rise above it. Whether you were a fan of the CBS heavy hitter or not, there’s no denying that it challenged the medium more than the other content on the network.

Interestingly enough, How I Met Your Mother would experiment with format and structure endlessly (with a rhyming episode, dalliances with alternate timelines and chronology, and anthology installments being just some of what they attempted) and unconventional storytelling almost became a staple of the show. With the series taking such creative leaps, a bottle episode hardly seems like one of the wilder things that the show attempted. That being said, it was still a device that the series surprisingly didn’t resort to often, and with the show turning to this one in its first season, the series’ voice was hardly developed yet and the show was still figuring out what it was. While something like this might not have seemed like the hugest deal by the end of the show’s nine-year run (where their final season even operated as a “bottle season” so to speak), when it initially happened it was one of the show’s first inventive boons. READ MORE


The Frasier and Niles Relationship Gets Crystalized in a Real-Time Dinner Party Meltdown

fraiserdinnerparty‘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

"After an unusually protracted round of dueling datebooks, Niles and I have finally set upon a mutually acceptable evening for our intimate soiree.”

Six seasons in, a series has done most of what it’s wanted to do. They’ve gone past 100 episodes assumedly and most of their hypothetical television bucket list has been checked off. So sixth seasons are a particularly fascinating time for a series to either begin to increasingly phone it in and embrace the laziness that is so easy at this point, or work especially hard to churn out quality and push your product to its limit. Frasier managed to be a little bit of a mixed bag of both of these extremes, with the creeping dominance of romantic storylines in the show not being everyone’s cup of tea at Café Nervosa. But regardless of the larger creative issues going on at Frasier, the sharp, intelligent writing that went into the scripts never fluctuated, and in the case of its sixth season, led to some welcome experimentation, like in this episode, “Dinner Party.”

The plot of “Dinner Party” is almost as mundane and typical as Frasier can get, as it chronicles Frasier and Niles’ attempts to plan and throw a dinner party — an event that happened to a near-parodical degree on the show, happening almost as regularly as Community’s Greendale resorted to dances. The simple, overdone setup is almost essential here though. This isn’t about Frasier and Niles embarking on some new journey, but rather something we’ve seen them do countless times before because what this episode is actually about is the ”special,” “odd” relationship between Frasier and Niles. And as an examination of who they are and how they work together, it’s pretty much flawless. Simple acts like seeing the two of them flip through their calendars trying to coordinate a date for their party (or, “after an unusually protracted round of dueling datebooks, we finally set upon a mutually acceptable evening for our intimate soiree” as Frasier elegantly puts it) or decide upon a caterer is like watching a well-oiled comedy machine at work. And just like Frasier’s verbosity, the episode does a lot with a little. READ MORE


'Inside No. 9' Takes the Bottle Episode to Claustrophobic New Heights

insideno9‘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

“Oh there’s not very much space, is there?”
“That’s what makes it fun, apparently.”

You may not be familiar with talents Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton, who hail from the UK and are some of the sharpest most versatile comedic performers of the nation. The duo have put together some truly impressive programs, such as The League of Gentlemen and Psychoville, but their latest — and current — series, Inside No. 9, is perhaps their most stylistic and daring yet. It’s also the perfect series to focus on here, considering every episode of the show is a bottle episode.

Inside No. 9 is the blackest of comedies, and a virtuoso anthology series, with each episode having an entirely new cast, and that cast trapped in some entirely new setting and situation (which somehow involves the number nine). With the series having just started up its second season overseas, it seems only fitting to look at the series’ pilot episode, “Sardines,” which is perhaps their bottle-iest of all their bottle episodes. And this is achieved by the whole episode nearly taking place entirely inside of a wardrobe. Wisely, an incredibly mundane event is chosen here to base everything around, as the episode watches what happens while people wait to be found in the British equivalent of hide-and-seek. READ MORE


'Sealab 2021's Super Stripped-Down Bottle Episode Is a Masterclass in Minimalist TV

sealabfusebox‘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

“The power’s out, Debbie.”
“I know!”

Adam Reed is a very talented comedy writer. He’s currently doing standout work on Archer, but before that, he was slowly refining his voice and building a style on cruder programs, like his first effort, Sealab 2021.The series was basically a re-appropriation of the outlandish series from the ‘70s with a crew stationed underwater.

The episode features the simplest of plots: the power has gone out and the fusebox must be found. This is the sort of thing that works perfectly in a ten-minute slot and almost can’t be done with a full 22-minute show. It’d be too much. It’d start to anger you, even, and this is the perfect in between.

“Fusebox” is absolutely an instance where the bottle episode was being used out of necessity and time crunch limitations. The conceit of this episode wasn’t some brilliant inspiration that Adam Reed and Matt Thompson had wanted to do for years, but merely a quick way to burn out an episode. The fact that it is an impressive achievement is a testament to their ability and evidence of how they could move on to something like Archer down the road. READ MORE


The One Where 'Friends' First Attempted a Bottle Episode

friends-bottleep‘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.

“Eh, so we’re a little late…”

Friends is a show that gets picked on a lot (and is even gaining steam on the insult train with LeBlanc’s Episodes still mining the sitcom for deprecating material). For as many rabid fans that started frothing at the mouth when the show was recently added to Netflix, there are even more people that vehemently hate the program. Accordingly, Friends is guilty of being generalized on constantly and lumped in with other lazy fodder from the nineties. While a lot of this criticism is accurate, Friends also did try more ambitious episodes of television and occasionally experimented with structure when they had earned the leeway that comes with success and power. Although they never went overboard here or necessarily challenged their audience, bottle episodes were something that Friends was no stranger to, and their obsession with them began early in their third season.

It was long-time director of the series Kevin S. Bright’s idea to resort to a bottle episode, as it would save them money that would allow them to get fancy during the rest of the season. This bottle episode (which, besides the tag, is set entirely in Monica and Rachel’s living room) would hopefully allow them deeper focus by eliminating other distractions like guest stars and just focusing on the core cast. And sure enough, besides our six cast members, only three other speaking roles occur in this episode. READ MORE


How 'Seinfeld' Boiled Down the Human Condition to its Essence in a Parking Garage

seinfeld-the-parking-garage‘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.

"This was a complete waste of time."

Seinfeld was always a show about nothing, and characters that loved tearing open the carcasses of nothing and bathing in nothing’s blood. But there were particular episodes, “The Parking Garage” being one of them, that highlighted all of this as they were built around literal slices of life rather than just certain conversations or set pieces.

“The Parking Garage” is truly an episode about nothing though, as the gang talks and walks in circles for the entire span of the episode (which impressively also passes over in real-time), epitomizing realism and monotony even better than the previous attempt at this sort of thing in season two’s “The Chinese Restaurant” (which, you might forget, does not include Kramer). The plot of this episode is absolutely the perfect context and use of a bottle episode, with the results even ditching Jerry’s famous apartment set for the episode (something that only happened in four episodes out of the 180 that were produced). Instead, things are set in the parking garage of a mall — the hub of nothing and meaninglessness — what’s more “nothing” than that? READ MORE


'Fish in the Dark' is 'Seinfeld' on Stage and Vintage Larry David

fishinthedarkThere's a moment in Fish in the Dark where Larry responds to a question about how grabbing a breast was and he answers with, "Pretty good. Prettayyyyy, prettayyyyy, prettayyyyy good.” The audience erupts into applause and you’re just like what is going on? This man has no business on stage. But you simultaneously know exactly what is going on. You’re getting precisely what you want. You’re not only seeing Larry David acting on Broadway, but him totally serving it up to the audience and they couldn’t be happier with it.

Imagine if there were a Seinfeld episode set entirely in the waiting room during Susan’s diagnosis. That’s pretty much the first half of Fish in the Dark, as hospital minutiae and etiquette is dug into, like whether you tip a doctor or if you should bring a date to the hospital. The play explores the idea of Larry’s character’s father passing away, and his dying words getting garbled up and possible misconstrued. What follows is Larry trying to figure out and navigate around this boulder and the severe consequences of either direction he goes in. Then this idea doubles down on itself in typical Larry David fashion.

None of this feels out of Larry’s comfort zone, with the play largely just being scenes of people talking and mini bottle episodes, something that Seinfeld was well versed in. The show opens on Larry in a suit jacket and shirt. He’s again not so much acting as he is just complaining and talking on stage. But you’d have it no other way. I was almost hoping for a Curb-esque moment where he forgot his lines and just spitballed with the audience. READ MORE


How 'Mad About You' Made One of the Boldest Bottle Episodes Ever

madaboutyou-theconversation‘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.

“This whole scene is one shot. The camera hasn’t moved in twenty minutes.”

“What’s the big deal?”

The quote up above appears in the episode’s tag where Paul and Jamie Buchman are watching a movie together and Jamie is unimpressed by the film’s one-take approach. “The Conversation” is arguably an unpopular episode (and if you check out IMDB, a lot of users are quick to accuse it as being “boring”). It’s smart for the series to at least address this side of the argument in the episode’s closing moments, but in spite of this not being for everyone, it’s an incredible effort and a very atypical piece of television.

When Mad About Youentered its sixth season, the show introduced the idea of relative newlyweds, Paul and Jamie Buchman, giving birth to a baby daughter named Mabel. Stories were now heavily revolving around having a newborn, rather than the previous material focusing purely on their marriage. This evolution of their relationship opened a lot of doors for them, and allowed an episode like this to be attempted in the first place. Here Paul and Jamie have an uninterrupted 20-minute conversation in front of Mabel’s bedroom door, trying to train Mabel to learn how to sleep on her own. It’s an idea that Reiser and Hunt had wanted to attempt since the series’ conception, apparently.

When this episode was originally broadcast on NBC, it was even aired uninterrupted, with commercials airing only after the theme song and before the end credits (a move that felt like it was being implemented in Archer’s recent “Vision Quest” foray into the genre, but wasn’t, surely due to the increasing dominance of advertisers now versus then). The 20-minute conversation between Paul and Jamie outside the baby's room, filmed in one take, is shown straight through. There are absolutely no hidden cuts here like shows often have to resort to when attempting this idea. They did this all as one take, with the entire thing memorized, and if nothing else, that’s an incredible feat that just isn’t seen anymore. Murray the dog is even added briefly as an impressive piece to this Rube Goldberg-like machine that could break at any moment. READ MORE


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


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


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


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