Tuned In

TV Tonight: Message in a Bottle

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Very mild spoilers for tonight’s Community follow:

Do you know what a bottle episode is? You will by the time tonight’s Community episode, “Cooperative Calligraphy,” is done. The term describes an episode of a series done in a limited setting—say, the classic trapped-in-a-freezer scenario—to save money. (Example: Breaking Bad’s superlative “The Fly,” which Alan Sepinwall called possibly the best bottle episode ever.) In “Calligraphy,” Annie’s beloved pen goes missing after a study session, and the group barricades themselves in the study room to find out who the culprit is. Observes Abed (of course, and more than once): “It’s a bottle episode.”

Community’s bottle episode, frankly, engages in a lot of the things I like least about the show—the constant calling attention to the TV-showness of it—but I accept, at this point, that this is simply what Community is, and nothing is going to change that. But it also shows off what I like most about Community: the interaction of well-drawn characters, acting out believably in an absurd situation, as the episode both parodies the suspicious-people-in-a-room trope and puts the characters’ relationships to the test.

Watch it, then come write down your thoughts. But use your own pen.