A Cornucopia of Thanksgiving Television

This week, Emily gives you some pointers for enjoying Thanksgiving television over a lazy and food-filled weekend with family and friends.

It’s almost Thanksgiving (huzzah!). It’s almost time for watching Charlie Brown holiday specials, and getting third helpings of pie, and becoming way too invested in the aesthetic merits of hand-turkeys. This Thursday we (here in the States, at least) can all get to arguing about whether we’d rather watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade or football. We’ll join together with family and friends and enjoy togetherness and camaraderie — whether we decide to be serious, giving thanks for our blessings, or silly, arguing about who was more embarrassingly bad at Pictionary at the LAST get-together.

Thanksgiving is a particularly comfortable holiday. It’s tinged with nostalgia, but not with all of the heightened expectations of Christmas. It’s tinged with Americana, but not with the fireworky patriotism of Independence Day. It’s a day about gathering together with those you love and taking a moment to eat well and to ignore the seemingly thousands of things on your to-do list. It’s a cozy and warm — and not particularly edgy.

Perhaps that’s why, when I think about Thanksgiving television, it mostly fits in the realm of feel-good tv. Of course, that’s not to say that only optimistic shows have Thanksgiving specials. Mad Men had a bunch of Thanksgiving episodes — and I can’t say that I find the existential ennui of Mad Men very Thanksgiving-y. But when I think about Thanksgiving television, I think about that television that you go back to every year. Sometimes, maybe, you rewatch it with family and friends; other times, you quote it back and forth with your dad while your grandmother watches her Eagles game on tv. Truly iconic Thanksgiving episodes are the ones that you go back to time and time again, quoting, riffing on, and alluding to, until you and your loved ones have developed your own allusive language around the fictional dinners of favorite characters.

So this year, in honor of Thanksgiving, I’ve assembled a cornucopia of Thanksgiving episodes. Like any good cornucopia, there’s no “best” or “worst” — but there’s hopefully something to everyone’s taste. So whether you’re trying to compile your Thanksgiving tv marathon, or just to brush up on your pop culture allusions before you see your Netflix-obsessed cousins again, please enjoy TTLP’s favorite Thanksgiving episodes. And happy holidays!

“A Deep Fried Korean Thanksgiving” — Gilmore Girls (Season 3, Episode 9)

Lorelai and Rory eat their way through four Thanksgiving dinners; chaos, romance, and drama ensue, and Lorelai gets to use her Visigoth material, for once.

“The One with All the Thanksgivings” — Friends (Season 5, Episode 8)

In the same vein of the plurality of Thanksgivings that the Gilmores experience, Monica, Chandler, and the rest of the gang recount their worst Thanksgivings. Joey once got his head stuck in a turkey, Chandler once had a flock-of-seagulls haircut, and Phoebe was once a Civil War battlefield nurse. Also Monica and Chandler say that they love each other (!!).

“The One Where Underdog Gets Away” — Friends (Season 1, Episode 9)

Monica, Chandler, Rachel, Ross, Phoebe, and Joey celebrate their first friendsgiving together, after none of them end up able to go home to their families for the holiday. After an escaped balloon, a missed flight, and a burned turkey, they have a lovely night dining on a lavish meal of grilled cheese. “So I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’m very thankful that all of your Thanksgivings sucked.”

“Pangs” — Buffy the Vampire Slayer (Season 4, Episode 8)

When a building project accidentally disturbs an ancient Native American site, a vengeful spirit comes after the Scooby Gang. Buffy fights supernatural foes, negotiates the complicated politics of Thanksgiving’s relationship to the genocide of Native Americans, and triumphs against the chaos of planning a *proper* Thanksgiving dinner.

“Wasn’t exactly a perfect Thanksgiving.”

“I don’t know, seemed kind of right to me. A bunch of anticipation, a big fight, and now we’re all sleepy.”

“Indians in the Lobby” — The West Wing (Season 3, Episode 7)

Sam and Toby deal with the possible political ramifications of a new way of calculating the poverty line, and C.J. tries to get her head around the systematic oppression of Native Americans. But really, this is the episode where President Bartlet calls the Butterball Hotline.

“The One with Chandler in a Box” — Friends (Season 4, Episode 8)

Monica invites her ex’s hunky son to Thanksgiving (“It’s like inviting a Greek tragedy over for dinner!”), while Chandler spends Thanksgiving in a box to atone for kissing Joey’s then-girlfriend (Joey had reasons. They were three-fold). Paget Brewster (of Thrilling Adventure Hour and five hundred other things) and Michael Vartan (of Alias) guest star.

“Shibboleth” — The West Wing (Season 2, Episode 8)

In which President Bartlet talks about faith, the boys put turkeys in C.J.’s office, and everyone learns what “shibboleth” means.

“Turkeys Away” — WKRP In Cincinnati (Season 1, Episode 7)

“As God as my witness, I thought turkeys could fly.”

Happy Thanksgiving!


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