Thanksgiving always seems to be a bit of a no-man’s land holiday. Wedged between the “cool kids’” Halloween and the consumer-palooza that is Christmas, Thanksgiving in the United States is usually just a day to eat food and get a preview for how uncomfortable Christmas dinner with these same people will be in three weeks. At least once upon a time my family had a “let’s just get Chinese food” tradition, but lamentably that too seems to be a faded memory…
Because of this rather nebulous state, Thanksgiving doesn’t tend to have big holiday specials or events. Even the Thanksgiving Day Parade, once a staple of the holiday, has become a reason for celebrities to hock their latest projects and it has mostly been taken over by Christmas as well, after all everyone waits to see Santa at the end of it.
Despite this, some great Thanksgiving episodes of TV shows have been made. I took a moment to list a few of my very favorites:
Seinfeld: The Mom and Pop Store
Following the Seinfeld rules of “no learning and no hugging” this episode takes place with Thanksgiving as kind of a backdrop, without the episode being about anyone being thankful or hitting anyone in the feels. Elaine wins her boss, Mr. Pitt, the opportunity to hold one of the ropes of the Woody Woodpecker balloon in the Macy’s Parade. The gang goes to Tim Whatley’s party to view the parade and the trophy she won along with the tickets falls out the window and pops the balloon. This episode also contains the Jon Voight car and Jerry sneaking into Whatley’s party to get dental advice (he wasn’t invited because he’s an instigator). The namesake comes from Kramer’s business with a shoe repair shop he accidentally gets shut down for code violations. The episode ends with a great Midnight Cowboy.
Frasier: A Very Lilith Thanksgiving
One of my favorite episodes of this venerable show. Frasier and his ex-wife Lilith are desperate to get their son Frederick accepted into the prestigious Marbury Academy. The dean of admissions can only interview them briefly just before Thanksgiving and hilarity ensues. Frasier was always at its best when it was played as a stage farce and this is that quality perfected. Frasier and Lilith obsess over what they said in the interview, make multiple, increasingly cringe-worthy visits to the dean (one of which includes mention of Golda Meir’s little known relative “Oscar”), steal the Crane family turkey, and cause a huge fight in the Dean’s family. In typical sitcom fashion everything works out of course, though in typical Frasier fashion not like anyone expects.
Frasier: The Apparent Trap
Yes there are TWO episodes of Frasier and yes they both have Lilith in them, and it has nothing to do with my celebrity crush on Bebe Neuwirth. In this episode Lilith and Frederick end up stuck in Seattle for Thanksgiving and Frederick seems to be trying to maneuver his parents to get back together. Through more excellent farce setup, Frederick puts the seeds of this concept into each of his parents’ minds, and both Frasier and Lilith seek council (Frasier from Martin, Lilith from Niles) about what to do. The absolute discomfort the two of them feel just before they discover that Frederick has been setting them up is gloriously funny. This episode also has some of my favorite all-time Frasier quotes: Frasier (upon hearing Lilith’s date caught something from lab rats): “Now, nobody ever got anything from a rat that wasn’t resolved in a day or two;” Martin (Instructed to find a subtle way to tell Frasier if he think Lilith is coming on to him): “Run for your life!” and Niles (after hearing from Frederick that Frasier and Lilith are getting remarried, in an absolutely flawless strained line reading): “What’s this joyous news I hear?” It is family holiday anxiety to the extreme.
Spin City: The Competition
The fun starts at 4:00 in…
The City Council challenges Mike and the Mayor’s office to a competition to see who can feed the most homeless people turkey dinners (Mike: “Did she just question….my stones?”). The loser has to perform a song at a press event. During some great, typical sitcom setup Mike and crew are Daffy Duck’d into picking the worse shelter, have to improvise their cooking, and deal with personal issues, including James’ girlfriend (played by Jennifer Garner) coming to visit him from home. The absolute payoff of this episode comes after the credits, when Mike and the Mayor’s office have to sing “So Long Farewell” from The Sound of Music at a press event, having lost the bet. Their deadpan delivery of this song is one of the funniest events in the show’s run.
Aqua Teen Hunger Force: The Dressing
Yes this absurdist show had a Thanksgiving episode, and it’s a great one. The Cybernetic Ghost of Christmas Past from the Future returns in a new “sleek turkey body” interrupting the Aqua Teens’ Thanksgiving dinner with Carl (he stayed outside for fear of catching “some disease,” though his roll was wet…). During typical Aqua Teens nonsense the story told by TCGoCPftF’s story is disassembled and he’s discovered to be a malfunctioning “Hustlin’ Tom Turkey.” Though apparently his old sock is still laser-guided… The story ends as dozens of Tom Turkey descend on the Aqua Teens’ home only to be sent next door to Carl’s where they unleash laser-guided sock vengeance upon him for eating a turkey leg. It’s ridiculous, hilarious, and contains a burned taco pie. What else could we want?
BONUS! Addams Family Values
As a bonus I have to bring up Addams Family Values. Not only is this one of the rare sequels superior to the original film, but it also has one of my favorite Thanksgiving moments in media history. Sure a lot of people point to other movies as “Thanksgiving Movies” (Sorry, I don’t like Planes, Trains, and Automobiles…) but how many of those have an original Thanksgiving play including a song?! Not just any song but a great song. Yes, a turkey just yells at the audience to “Eat ME!”