Every year around this time, with Halloween in the rearview mirror and Thanksgiving approaching, I watch some of my favorite episodes of various TV shows surrounding the holiday. Thanksgiving-related TV episodes have become somewhat of a staple.
Here are my top five, in no particular order:
• “Friends”: The one where Ross got high
A favorite for many reasons, “Friends” was the epitome of a good comedy, each episode not really needing an explanation of what it is in order to find the humor. As such, Thanksgiving episodes of “Friends” really don’t need much backstory, if at all, and this one offers some funny history while also offering hilarious pieces of comedic gold. Rachel is tasked with making the dessert and messes it up in a hilarious way. Ross and Monica’s parents are over for dinner, during which sibling rivalry comes out at its finest in a spitfire round of tattletale. It’s one of the best episodes of the show and happens to center around Thanksgiving.
• “Cheers”: Thanksgiving Orphans
While I may not have been the biggest fan of “Cheers” as a whole series, the Thanksgiving episode is one of my favorite tales of everyone making the best out of a Thanksgiving that went very wrong. As plans fall through for the various characters, “orphaned” for the holiday, they decide to get together and make the most of it with a potluck style meal. But between conflicting personalities; warring desires for the holiday, and a meal that didn’t go as planned, the take on Thanksgiving was, while amplified, sometimes true to life, and hilariously so. Maybe I’m the only one who has wanted to have a food fight with Thanksgiving food after this episode, but I doubt it.
• “The West Wing”: Shibboleth
A favorite among “West Wing” fans and new viewers alike, this Thanksgiving-themed episode brings out the funnies just as much as the drama. The episode opens with the discovery of hundreds of Chinese Christian refugees who escaped persecution by huddling in a container on a ship which lands in San Diego. President Bartlett is now faced with a tough choice: either cause harm to the country’s relationship with China by allowing the illegal immigrants their freedom in America, or send them back to China to face more likely persecution. White House communications director Toby Ziegler pushes for a particular candidate for assistant secretary of education, which would ignite the debate over prayer in schools. Meanwhile, Press Secretary C.J. Craig must choose one of two turkeys to be pardoned, and the president’s personal aid Charlie Young must find the perfect turkey carving knife for President Bartlett, who is quite particular about the item; this particular saga ends on a very touching note. It’s the perfect touch of comedy and drama.
• “Gilmore Girls”: A deep-fried Korean Thanksgiving
For those who love the fast-paced talking and witty sharp dialogue of “Gilmore Girls,” this is a favorite, but there’s more in the Thanksgiving episode than a typical Gilmore Girls gab fest. Most other “Thanksgiving-gone-wrong” episodes wind up with people not getting their food or not having a place to go. This one proves the exact opposite problem for mother-daughter duo Lorelai and Rory Gilmore. A typically busy Thanksgiving, which already includes deep-fried turkey with Jackson and Sooki, a Korean Thanksgiving with the Kim family, and dinner with Luke at his diner, now Emily Gilmore, Lorelai’s mother, demands that Thanksgiving should be spent with her, as well. How will the two Gilmore girls eat their way through that much food and have four Thanksgivings on the same day? Not easily, but it can be done. It’s hilarious, it’s sweet, and while maybe stuffing four Thanksgiving meals into a single day may be a struggle, so is the tension between families on Thanksgiving, or between friends or others surrounding traditions.
• “The West Wing”: The Indians in the Lobby
While I know I already included an episode from “The West Wing” earlier, the only other Thanksgiving episode for the show is still on my list of favorites. On the day before Thanksgiving, press secretary C.J. Cregg is ready to leave when she must take care of two Stockbridge-Munsee Indians who won’t leave the lobby because they were stood up for meetings scheduled with others. President Bartlett is angered over a question in a recent poll about where others should think they should have Thanksgiving, and learns why his wife Abby wants it at Camp David. And in one of the most iconic hilarious conversations to ever take place on television, President Bartlett realizes there is a hotline by Butterball to assist in the cooking of turkeys, and he places an anonymous call to the hotline to put to bed a conflict between he and Toby over the cooking of stuffing. Thematically, it’s really thought-provoking and true to many tensions in relationships, but the episode is also grounded in a lot of humor.