In television, a filler is essentially an episode that doesn’t have much to do with the overarching story plot, tends to focus on character development without actually amounting to much and is used to ‘pad’ out the series for quota/money reasons. In other words, fillers are non-canon episodes of a TV series. These episodes can be watched without much information on the overall story, but they do keep in line with the tone of the show. Fillers can be done really badly (I’m looking at you Supernatural) and are often met to the chagrin of devoted viewers. But sometimes there is a break in the clouds and a beautiful ray of a filler episode shines through.
Here’s a roundup of spectacular fillers that have in their own right become essential viewing for each respective show, and yes, this contains spoilers.
Community, ‘Paradigms of Human Memory’
The clip show format is possibly the biggest indicator of a filler episode. Community, as Community does best, decided to parody this format and what we got was a hilarious clip show of entirely new flashbacks. What this filler episode defies is the frugality of fillers, the flashbacks sends us to spaghetti western towns, camping trips, a skipping rope competition, and the Dean’s array of costumes is displayed. This cleverly designed episode follows a rehashed sentiment amongst the study group: are they good together? And once again Jeff saves the day with a heartfelt speech. But because the episode unashamedly pokes fun at this, Paradigms of Human Memory goes up as one of the better (if not best) meta-ful episodes of Community.
Most memorable moment? The shipping of Jeff/Annie and Abed/Pierce to the frankly legendary Sara Bareilles song ‘Gravity’.
Battlestar Galactica, ‘Scar’
Battlestar Galactica’s previous episode ‘Black Market’ is a great example of when filler episodes go BAD. A weak storyline for Apollo and a random hooker with a heart of gold – ‘Black Market’ is universally seen as one of the worst BG episodes. ‘Scar’, on the other hand, is a touching and fulfilling insight into the world of Viper pilot Starbuck. She’s been slowly going insane for a while, but here the stress has finally hit. Like a good thriller, it’s claustrophobic and tense, with Katee Sackhoff pushing Starbuck through a rollercoaster of emotions.
Most memorable moment? A uncharacteristically sombre Starbuck reciting a list of the Battlerstar’s dead Viper pilots.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer, ‘The Zeppo’
Monster of the week shows are usually made up of filler episodes so choosing just one from Buffy the Vampire Slayer wasn’t easy. There are a lot of good’uns, but it’s the ‘The Zeppo’ I’ve gone for. The title refers to Zeppo Marx, the often neglected Marx brother and similarly this episode addresses Xander’s issues of inadequacy, which stems mainly from his physical weakness amongst the Scooby Gang.
Most memorable moment? Well, Xander losing his virginity to Faith was a biggee, but the best part was Xander’s confident walk away from Cordelia’s bullying.
Friends, ‘The One Where No One’s Ready’
This is Friend’s most successful bottle episode. The premise is simple: Ross has an important reception to get to, but a series of events prevents everyone from getting ready. It’s also a fantastic filler episode – you don’t really need any previous information to understand who’s who and why’s why, it doesn’t make a huge impact on the show itself and it is greatly entertaining. Where else will you see Joey wearing all of Chandler’s clothes (“could I be wearing anymore clothes?”) and doing lunges?
Most memorable moment? Joey and Chandler aside, Ross is golden as he gets more and more frustrated.
Doctor Who, ‘Girl in the Fireplace’
Way back when, David Tennant had the tough job of filling the Doctor’s shoes – season 2 had bumpy start but, come the fourth episode ‘Girl in the Fireplace’, it became clear that Tennant was going to be much loved. Not only was chemistry between Tennant and Sophia Myles (who plays Madame de Pompadour) actually electric, but the grand 18th Century French halls and fancy costumes carried a truly sophisticated tone to this poignant episode. It didn’t affect the series much at all, but it did make us fall for the David Tennant charm, as his Doctor fell for the Madame.
Most memorable moment? It has to be the Doctor on horseback smashing through a gigantic mirror in order to save Madame de Pompadour.
Stargate SG1, ‘Window of Opportunity’
For me, the truest filler episode is season 4’s ‘Window of Opportunity’. The story goes, the SG1 team meets an alien archaeologist but the planet they’re on experiences a geomagnetic disturbance, and lightning hits the archaeologist and team members Colonel O’Neill and Teal’c. The latter two find themselves back in time, to the morning just before they departed. O’Neill and Teal’c soon realise they’re in a time loop – before arriving at the planet they are immediately brought back again, but everyone else at the Command is oblivious. Scientist Daniel then jokes that they could do anything within the time loop without consequences, and in true Groundhog Day fashion, O’Neill and Teal’c go on a indulgence spree before eventually having to face reality. It’s a silly, irrelevant episode but it’s ridiculously enjoyable and remains a fan favourite because the acting’s impeccable and the time travel is fun.
Most memorable moment? During their antics, O’Neill and Teal’c hit golf balls into the Stargate, and O’Neill resigns in order to finally kiss Major Carter.
Written by Carmen Hoang