TV’s Best Thanksgiving Episodes from ‘Friends’ to ‘Master of None’
From ‘Seinfeld’s’ parade sabotage to the ‘Peanuts’ football fakeout and ‘How I Met Your Mother’s’ ‘Slapsgiving,’ The Daily Beast serves up some favorite Turkey Day TV moments.
Boy Meets World: Turkey Day
Aiming to share the stuffing they won in a contest, Corey and Shawn try to orchestrate the first ever Hunter-Matthews Thanksgiving dinner—but their parents are less than pleased. The trailer park–dwelling Hunter family has concerns about “mixing the classes,” as the Matthews have more money. But after watching their kids share a Thanksgiving meal without prejudice over who’s got more money, Shawn and Corey’s parents are inspired to give their cross-class-boundaries Turkey Day dinner another go.
Roseanne: Home Is Where the Afghan Is
Caterers, a silent dishwasher, and the kind of fridge you see on The Price Is Right?! The Conner family steps it up for this ninth season Thanksgiving episode after Roseanne wins the lottery, but that doesn’t stop the drama. Roseanne and Jackie’s mother, Bev, is outraged at the idea of a gay couple adopting children and, in the middle of a dinnertime diatribe, accidentally outs her own attraction to women.
Friends: The One With All the Thanksgivings
One of the things we most miss about the late 1990s are the Friends Thanksgiving episodes. From Chandler in the box to the epic touch football game, it’s hard to pick a favorite, but “The One With All the Thanksgivings” has the sheer delight of watching Joey and Monica with turkeys on their heads.
How I Met Your Mother: Slapsgiving
One of How I Met Your Mother's best running gags is the slap bet, where nice guy Marshall gets to slap womanizer Barney across the face five times over the course of, well, eternity—to be doled out at Marshall’s discretion. Unfortunately, Marshall’s wife declares Thanksgiving a slap-free zone in order to keep the peace among their friends. It works until Barney’s taunting goes too far. But the slap is nothing compared to the hilarious tune Marshall penned for the occasion.
WKRP: Turkeys Away
In WKRP in Cincinnati’s 1978 Thanksgiving episode, a holiday promotion to give away turkeys from a helicopter has gone horribly awry—described aptly in this clip by Richard Sanders as Les Nessman.
A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving
If you thought Lucy was going to get into the Thanksgiving spirit and finally let Charlie Brown punt that football, think again. Since 1973, this animated special, based on the Charles Schulz comic strip, has aired on television either on Thanksgiving or the Monday before.
Master of None: Thanksgiving
This funny, heartfelt episode hailed as one of the best coming-out stories on television follows Denise (Lena Waithe) and Dev (series co-creator Aziz Ansari) through 30 years of Thanksgivings. Waithe became the first black woman to win an Emmy for writing in a comedy series for penning this semi-autobiographical episode and it's rightfully earned its place among the classics.
The Bob Newhart Show: Over the River and Through the Woods
This classic 1975 episode of The Bob Newhart Show imparts a very wise lesson: Don’t drink on an empty stomach. It also imparts a second very important lesson: If you drank on an empty stomach and are attempting to rectify that mistake, try to order something a little easier to pronounce than “moo goo gai pan.”
Gilmore Girls: A Deep Fried Korean Thanksgiving
One of the quirkier character traits of fast-talking mother-daughter duo Lorelai and Rory Gilmore was their ability to eat a ton of food and still find room for dessert. True to form, they tackled not one but four separate Thanksgiving meals in this episode. Though Lorelai was most unnerved by the Tofurkey served up at Mrs. Kim’s shindig, Gilmore pal and finicky chef Sookie was most upset by her husband’s turkey cooking tactic—deep-frying the sucker on their front lawn. Hey, at least he didn’t stuff it with a duck and a chicken.
The Simpsons: Bart vs. Thanksgiving
Bridging the gap between Cosby’s earnestness and Seinfeld’s cynicism is America’s favorite nuclear family, the Simpsons. In this second-season episode, Bart runs away and spends Thanksgiving in a soup kitchen after ruining the family meal with his antics.
Seinfeld: The Mom & Pop Store
While most sitcoms seem tempted to delve into the land of saccharine-sweet platitudes for their holiday episodes, Seinfeld stuck to its cynical guns in 1994, serving up an episode full of awkward hilarity, including Jerry accidentally taking out one of the beloved Macy's Parade floats. No turkey for you!
Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Pangs
It’s hard to find a more succinct description of this holiday than the one offered up by ex-demon Anya in Buffy the Vampire Slayer: “To commemorate a past event, you kill and eat an animal. It’s a ritual sacrifice. With pie.”
Cheers: Thanksgiving Orphans
All the classic sitcom tropes—cranky guests whining over a delayed meal, said cranky guests starting a food fight—are deployed in this 1986 episode of Cheers. It didn’t reinvent the wheel, but who cares. It’s still a treat to watch the star-studded cast let loose—mashed potatoes and all.
South Park: Starvin' Marvin
What do a pack of genetically-modified murderous turkeys, a Bravehart parody, Sally Struthers, and a starving Ethiopian child have in common? They’re all part of South Park’s deliciously wicked Thanksgiving episode, which became an instant classic for the subversive series.
The O.C.: The Homecoming
The O.C.'s first 10 episodes featured a plethora of fistfights, a drug overdose in Tijuana, a Cotillion Ball, and breakups and makeups among the show’s nascent pairings. So it’s no surprise that the Thanksgiving episode was stuffed with more drama than, well, stuffing, from mom Kirsten’s boozy botched cooking to Seth’s girl troubles.
The Cosby Show: Cliff's Wet Adventure
In this sixth season episode of The Cosby Show, long-suffering Cliff gets sent out repeatedly in the pouring rain to pick up last-minute groceries for their Thanksgiving meal. Oddly missing from the list? Jell-O Pudding Pops.
Bewitched: Samantha's Thanksgiving to Remember
Celebrating Thanksgiving with the original pilgrims sounds like a great idea, unless you're a witch, like Bewitched’s Samantha. That’s when you have to worry less about overcooking the turkey and more about getting burned at the stake for consorting with the devil.
Full House: The Miracle of Thanksgiving
In Full House’s season-one Thanksgiving episode, the girls—still reeling from the loss of their mother—try to cook Thanksgiving dinner, without much success. After some chaos and holiday drama, everyone comes together under the thoughtful strains of the music that says Warning: Life Lesson Ahead! Would that every bit of Thanksgiving family drama could end with some words of wisdom and a hug from one of the all-time best TV dads, Danny Tanner.
Felicity: Family Affairs
There are no Danny Tanner hugs, alas, in this Felicity episode, just some classic WB-era teen drama, as Felicity tries to balance her new boyfriend David with her old flame Noel, and all their combined families and friends. The 200-proof holiday punch certainly doesn’t help matters. We don’t recommend getting your guests smashed at your own celebrations, but it sure makes for good TV.
Family Ties: No Nukes Is Good Nukes
The first season of Family Ties featured a Thanksgiving episode that neatly laid out the series’ raison d’être, as hippie holdover parents Steven and Elyse get arrested at an anti-nuclear weapons rally and may have to spend turkey day in the slammer, much to the chagrin of their Reagan-acolyte son Alex.
Charlie Brown and his cohorts aren’t the only cartoon characters to star in a beloved Thanksgiving show. In 1989, Garfield got his own half-hour primetime special. It’s only fitting that the food fanatic feline would do something for the day devoted to all things edible.
Bonus: Saturday Night Live: The Thanksgiving Song
While he’s probably best known for his other holiday staple, “The Chanukah Song,” Adam Sandler’s “The Thanksgiving Song,” first performed on Saturday Night Live in 1992, deserves credit for bringing the hilarity to turkey time with non sequitur lyrics like “Turkey and sweet potato pie / Sammy Davis Jr. only had one eye.”