There's not a lot to do in the era of self-isolation, as more and more people around the globe take part in the practice in order to slow down the spread of coronavirus. That means a lot of them are turning to streaming services to help pass the time while they're stuck inside.
It's a practice that isn't new to the world TV, either. In fact, there's a whole trope based around the idea: the bottle episode. It's rumored that the phrase was originally coined by writers of the original Star Trek series, who had to come up with low-concept episodes in order to stretch the show's budget for a full season, which they called "ship in a bottle" episodes.
What makes a TV episode a bottle episode boils down to having it take place entirely (or almost entirely) in one confined setting. If the show usually employs a lot of visual effects or grand locations, those are typically stripped away for a more intimate experience of actors playing off one another. It's also common that only a few of the show's characters will take part, although that isn't always the case.
With that in mind, here's a list of 10 of TV's best bottle episodes for you to stream in solidarity from the comfort of your home.
The Office, "Dinner Party"
In the show's fourth season, Michael Scott (Steve Carell) was in a relationship with his former boss, Jan Levinson (Melora Hardin). Their relationship was never portrayed as remotely healthy, and that was confirmed when they decided to hold a couples-only dinner party for some of Michael's co-workers.
While the offices of Dunder Mifflin weren't exactly spacious, "Dinner Party" takes a handful of the show's main characters and puts them in the narrow confines of Michael's condo, and as things get more and more heated between him and Jan, the walls start closing in. There's not even a subplot to distract viewers from the slow, uncomfortable trainwreck that eventually unfolds.
The Office is currently streaming on Netflix (for now).
Star Trek, "Balance of Terror"
Naturally, the show that (allegedly) came up with the term would land a spot. In Star Trek's first season, the show employed its stripped-down technique to pit Captain James T. Kirk (William Shatner) against his Romulan counterpart (Mark Lenard).
"Balance of Terror" showed that there was more to the space drama than dazzling effects and pointy-eared aliens, and relied on mood and performance to create a claustrophobic hour of science fiction. The episode marked Lenard's debut, who would go on to play Sarek, the father of Spock (Leonard Nimoy), a role he played until 1991's Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.
Star Trek is available to stream on CBS All Access.
Seinfeld, "The Chinese Restaurant"
The show about nothing was already testing the limits of what that meant by the second season, which includes the episode "The Chinese Restaurant." Told in real-time, Seinfeld's quartet of characters spend the entirety of the episode waiting for a table at a Chinese restaurant on their way to catch a screening of Plan 9 from Outer Space.
As they keep getting told "five to 10 minutes" by the restaurant's host, their individual anxieties start to creep in as their plans slowly fall apart in the lobby.
Seinfeld is available to stream on Hulu.
Grey's Anatomy, "In the Air Tonight"
Typically set in and around Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital, Grey's Anatomy took to the skies in its Season 13 episode, "In the Air Tonight." Set entirely on a plane, the episode forced Meredith (Ellen Pompeo) and Nathan (Martin Henderson) to reconcile with their feelings for one another while stuck sitting next to each other during the flight.
Along with the shows usual dose of medical-themed drama, it also featured a number of lighthearted moments. Not to mention all the irritants that typically come with air travel.
Grey's Anatomy Seasons 1-15 are available to stream on Netflix. Season 16 is currently available on Hulu.
Friends, "The One Where No One Is Ready"
In the third season of Friends, the NBC sitcom stripped down its already minimal sets to the confines of Monica's (Courteney Cox) apartment. After Ross (David Schwimmer) shows up, he discovers that at Joey (Matt LeBlanc), Chandler (Matthew Perry) and Rachel (Jennifer Aniston) haven't gotten ready for their big evening out.
The gang's usual antics follow, resulting in stained dresses, stolen underwear and arguments galore. It was the first of a handful of bottle episodes that the show put out during its 10-season run, which helped save them money on all those A-list guest stars that popped up throughout.
Friends will be available to stream on HBOMax when it launches this spring. While it was set to launch with the much-hyped Friends reunion, coronavirus precautions pushed back the production to a later date.
Donald Glover's FX series Atlanta made a habit of breaking the mold of TV conventions, and its Season 2 bottle episode is no different. Set entirely on a mock interview show on the 'Black American Network,' where rapper Paperboy (Brian Tyree Henry) defends comments he'd made about Caitlyn Jenner.
The show never deviates from the sparse talk show set, and Glover's own character, Earn, is only mentioned in passing. However, his fingerprints are found all over the episode, right down to the fake commercials.
Atlanta is available to stream on Hulu.
Breaking Bad, "Fly"
Director Rian Johnson slowed down the typically kinetic pacing of Breaking Bad's third season to showcase a long night between Walt (Bryan Cranston) and Jesse (Aaron Paul) as they try to eradicate a fly from their superlab. As Walt grows more and more obsessed with stopping their insect infestation of one, he reveals an unguarded, and unexpected, show of sympathy for Jesse over the loss of his girlfriend, Jane (Kristen Ritter).
It also laid the groundwork for one of the show's most devastating moments in the Season 5 episode "Ozymandias," which Johnson also directed.
Breaking Bad is available to stream on Netflix.
Community, "Cooperative Calligraphy"
NBC's cult-favorite, self-aware sitcom took the same irreverent approach to its bottle episode as it did to every TV trope it lovingly skewered. In Season 2 of Community, the ragtag study group have gathered together to complete a group project. As everyone is set to leave, Annie (Alison Brie) notices her pen is missing.
Until the pen is found, no one is allowed to leave, and the rest of the study group end up learning more about each other -- and revealing more about themselves -- than they would have expected.
Starting April 1, Community will be available to stream on Netflix.