From Mav: I was recently listening to our friends over at the Protagonist Podcast and they gave us a shout out of sorts. They mentioned that a great idea for a podcast episode might be to spend a show talking about fill-in and bottle episodes. Then, Joe mentioned that maybe instead of doing the show they might gift it as an idea for us and the complimented us. Obviously this was just a blatant ploy to get the episode made without having to do any work. But I like the idea so… I guess it worked. Basically, they were asking what some of the best filler episodes were. That is to say, name some of the best episodes of a serialized TV show with an overarching story, where there’s just an occasional weird episode with not much continuity or stakes that gets inserted into a season — usually to pad out a commitment to a certain number of episodes in a season.
My key example here is “Fly”, the tenth episode of the third season of Breaking Bad. The episode is actually super divisive. Apparently, a lot of people just don’t like it, mostly because it really does break up the heavy serialized storytelling that is the hallmark of modern prestige television. Those people are wrong. I love it! That’s how life is. Some days I work on things that are me continuing the day to day plot of my life. And some days are just one-offs. The one-offs help to keep like interesting. The great thing about “Fly” is that it really could have happened basically at any time during that season of Breaking Bad. It’s just about a weird day.
Television critic, Alan Sepinwall makes some great points about one-off episodes like this this that Joe actually mentioned when he suggested the show:
He’s right of course. Sometimes these eps do turn into something else, but a lot of times I think they’re just as strong, if not better, when they really are self-contained and just really work on building character. The best episode of Battlestar Galactica is season 3, episode 9, “Unfinished Business” where the Tyrol, Adama, Helo, Starbuck and Apollo beat the living fuck out of each other in a boxing ring because “rank is not an issue.” It’s amazing. If you’ve never seen any other episode of the show, I’d argue it’s the one that best stands alone for the entire series. You don’t need to know anything and you can still enjoy it.
This is not limited to television. It can happen in all serialized media. To this day, my single favorite Spider-man story is Amazing Spider-man vol. 1, #267, “When Cometh the Commuter…” Spider-man is pursuing a petty criminal and he ends up chasing the robber from Manhattan, through the Bronx and out into the suburbs. There he struggles to catch the crook because it turns out a lot of Spider-man’s main things (sticking to buildings, and swinging from stuff) really requires being in a big city with skyscrapers. And Spider-man hates it and can’t wait to get back home, because he’s a New York City boy at heart. That’s the whole story! It’s brilliant. It’s a single one off bottle issue written in 1985 by Peter David and drawn by Bob McLeod, neither of who were on the regular creative team at the time. The book is 38 years old and if you dropped it between two random issues of Amazing Spider-man in 2023, it would fit just fine and no one would notice. It’s that perfect.
But these don’t really happen anymore and I want to talk about why. So, give us your best examples of filler issues and bottle episodes from serialized media. Why do you think they don’t happen anymore (or do they and I’m just missing them (I actually have an argument that they maybe sort of do). Do you miss these? Should there be more of them? Are you glad that they’re gone because they’re fluff? Let us know your thoughts.