Like most holiday-centric episodes, Thanksgiving shows are a roll of the dice. Turkey Day isn't as big a minefield as, say, Valentine's Day...but things can get sappy pretty quickly, and you can only do so many jokes about the "breast side up vs. breast side down" roasting argument.
Fortunately, some shows do a great job with the occasion, whether it's mining the material for jokes and slapstick, turning holiday stress into literal demons, or examining worst-case scenarios with combustible mixtures of parents, exes, and punch.
We've made a short list of our favorites over the years; make them into a playlist while you stuff your own bird, or let us know in the comments about episodes we missed. And now, in no particular order...
"Friends," "The One with All the Thanksgivings"
"Friends" did consistently well with Thanksgiving episodes; highlights include Season 2's "The One with the List" (early Ross/Rachel shenanigans) and the eighth-season guest shot by the then Mr. Aniston, Brad Pitt, as the president of the I Hate Rachel Green Club. But Season 5's offering is our favorite, just for fastidious Monica's appearance with a turkey on her head, in the service of getting Chandler to forgive her for a past slight (and the turkey is wearing huge novelty sunglasses) (and a fez! We forgot about the fez). Extra points for being the rare flashback episode that doesn't feel lazy. Watch Chandler's reaction to Turkey Head in the clip below:
Friends, 'The One with All the Thanksgivings' -- Nick At Nite
"Seinfeld," "The Mom and Pop Store"
Probably better known as "the episode where George buys a car that Jon Voight used to own…except it's really periodontist Jon Voight." "The Mom and Pop Store" also features Kramer trying to save a local family-owned shoe store, and taking every pair of Jerry's shoes in for repair except a pair of cowboy boots; Elaine accidentally turning down a date with Tim Whatley (Bryan "Breaking Bad" Cranston) because a Dixieland band deafened her; and of course Elaine winning a radio contest for her boss, Mr. Pitt, that will let him hold the Woody Woodpecker balloon in the Thanksgiving Day parade. Oh, and Jerry pops the balloon with an Empire State Building paperweight. And Jon Voight bites Kramer. And there's a "Midnight Cowboy" parody. Watch Jerry battle the boots right here:
"Felicity," "The Last Thanksgiving" (pictured above)
If it's awkward you're looking for, any Thanksgiving episode of "Felicity" has it in spades. Freshman year, "dormsgiving" turns uncomfortable when Noel's real girlfriend Hannah shows up and Noel throws his budding thing with Felicity under the bus. Sophomore year is even worse; Felicity is dating David, her snitty art professor's son, but Felicity's mom's nuclear punch leads to a makeout session between Felicity and Noel -- that Snitty Art Prof walks in on. Elsewhere, Ben is catering an event for his married lover's husband, then choking down tofurkey back at the loft. The third season switched the wretchedness to Christmas instead (the shooting at the holiday party), but the final "Felicity" season brought us back to the turkey table for a horrendously discomfiting meal at Felicity and Elena's; Ben, still angry at Felicity for cheating on him with Noel, brings Lauren as his date to dinner and proceeds to ignore Felicity even when she's asking him to pass the potatoes. (The only saving grace: Megan's customary glorious rudeness.) Noel doesn't even get to eat; depressed and acting out, he ends up handcuffed to a hotel bedframe by a girl he met in a bar and gets read the riot act by his brother. The show's fourth season has its pitfalls, but this is a strong hour.
"The Brady Bunch," "The Un-Underground Movie"
As kids, we just assumed thanks to this episode that every high-school history class got to make movies. Imagine our cross-disciplinary disappointment when our own history teachers went the tedious testing route. "The Un-Underground Movie" is still fun to watch, though; you can actually pick up a few no-budget-filmmaking tips from the sea-voyage section, and because it's a silent movie, Florence Henderson and Robert Reed overact their own overacting. (Carol even comments on it.) But does it seem to anyone else like Alice is always in drag for these things? Check out Greg's auteurist vision of the first Thanksgiving, served on '70s Fiestaware plates (?), below:
Buffy the Vampire Slayer, "Pangs"
Buffy decides to host the Scoobs at her house for Thanksgiving -- but the Hellmouth tries its best to ruin her plans, as usual. Native American spirits, freed by Xander during the construction of a new building at UC Sunnydale, make him seriously sick; Spike fails to elude Riley and the Initiative; and Angel, warned by one of Doyle's visions, comes back to Sunnydale to make sure Buffy isn't in danger, then slips out of town without telling her he's come. "Pangs" has a little of everything -- Buffy stabs a bear, Xander's illness gets a reprise in a duet with Anya in the sixth-season musical episode, Angel is back to cast a regretfully broody pall over Buffy's budding relationship with Riley, and you can't beat Giles and Spike snarking at each other…or Anya's nutshell description of the celebration: "To commemorate a past event, you kill and eat an animal. It's a ritual sacrifice. With pie."
- "The Sopranos," "He Is Risen": Featuring Janice's narcoleptic born-again boyfriend Aaron
- "Cheers," "Thanksgiving Orphans": Norm's wife Vera makes an "appearance," but thanks to a food fight, her face is obscured by a wad of mashed potatoes
- "WKRP in Cincinnati," "Turkeys Away": A helicopter turkey drop goes predictably wrong
- "How I Met Your Mother," "Slapsgiving": The slap-free-zone perimeter is violated
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- Jon Voight