A “bottle episode” is a TV standard that all long-running shows get to eventually: It involves a bunch of characters stuck in a small space for some reason, forced to deal with each other and themselves.  As you may have guessed, this week’s installment is “Community‘s” bottle episode; the small space is the study room, and the reason is a symbolic purple pen.  If that last detail confused you a little, read on (and even if it didn’t you can read on anyway.)

The Players:

Episode Title: “Cooperative Calligraphy”

When Annie loses her eighth consecutive pen, she puts her foot down and refuses to let the group go until whoever stole the pen returns it.  They are understandably unwilling – Jeff has a date, Troy and Abed are going to a puppy parade, and everyone else thinks the whole thing is ridiculous – but eventually they become so caught up in the hunt for the thief that they cancel all their engagements.  The methods used to find out the pen-snatcher become more and more invasive, starting with questioning and ending with a strip-search.

The Good:

  • Charting the Red Tide: Abed was used pretty sparsely this episode – as he pointed out himself, bottle episodes are primarily about facial features and emotion, not two of his strong points – but the one gag he had was pretty inspired.  The idea of accidentally stumbling onto Britta, Annie, and Shirley’s menstrual cycles while looking for ways to avoid annoying them is pretty good, but it becomes a quintessential Abed moment when he hands Annie a chocolate and we figure everything out.  Now Annie’s freakout makes total sense… although Jeff and Britta’s nuttiness is still unexplained.
  • Don’t Have a Baby: In one of the most subtle bits of humor “Community” has ever done, it turns out Shirley may be pregnant with Chang’s kid.  Thing is, it’s never explicitly said; Abed just reveals that she couldn’t have gotten pregnant when her ex-husband visited her on Labor Day weekend, since according to his chart she was ovulating on Halloween.  But on Halloween, she hooked up with Senor Chang… and thanks to the memory erasure at the end of that episode, the only person who remembers this is Troy, who is properly shocked, while Shirley is just confused.  All this takes place within roughly 5 seconds, and yet it’s an incredibly intricate and brilliant piece of plot development nonetheless.
  • Ghost Writer: The scene at the end, where Jeff and Troy explain that it’s more likely that a ghost stole the pen than any one of them, sounds like a terrible ending on paper.  But we’ll be damned if they don’t make it work, and work well; it’s one of the most inspiring speeches anyone’s made on the show, ever.  Troy’s added story of why the ghost wanted the pen (to write a love letter to his girlfriend) was pretty sweet, and showed a side of him we’ve never seen before.  Character development and real emotion from a seemingly silly situation: That’s Community in a nutshell.

The Bad:

  • Just Bottle it Up: Look, here’s the thing: Bottle episodes, as a rule, are pretty boring.  It’s all dialogue and no plot, and no amount of self-referencing can change that (although Abed did make it pretty funny, as usual.)  The big problem is that the writers have to keep coming up with more and more outlandish reasons to keep their character stuck in this limited environment, and eventually it just becomes ridiculous.  That’s pretty much exactly what happens, and while the results are amusingly absurd, it seems like everyone on the show is starting to be as meta-aware as Abed is that they’re on a TV show – and that’s not a good thing.

The Quotable:

  • “The local shelter is having a puppy parade this afternoon.” “Awwwww… I want to lick it.”
  • “I wanna see if those weiner dogs were born that way, or if they start out normal and then become weiner.”
  • “Accidents don’t just happen over and over and over.  This isn’t budget daycare.”
  • “Sometimes I think I lost something really important to me and it turns out I already ate it.”
  • “If it’s so important to you, here.  Have my pen.” “…That’s my pen.”
  • “Do they find thoughts in our butts?  I knew I should have read that book!”
  • “Better come quick!  Every passing moment these puppies grow older and less deserving of our attention.”
  • “I’ll make your ass linear.” “That doesn’t even make sense.” “I’ll make your ass sense.”
  • “Side effects: Verbal Dysphasia and Octopus Loss.  I don’t see anything in this scroll about memory.”
  • “Well well well, Harvey Keitel.” “Well whaddya know, Henry David Thoreau.” “My oh my, Mike Ty…son.”
  • “You wanna go there?  I was born there!  There’s a placard there commemorating me!”


The jokes were good, the tensions ran high, and there was some excellent character development.  This is pretty much as good as a bottle episode ever gets; and while that isn’t necessarily saying much, this is a good way to spend a half hour.  It’s not zombies or paintball, but it is pretty funny.

Rating: 8/10

New episodes air Thursdays on NBC!