Our Favorite Thanksgiving Specials, From Friends to Succession

The Simpsons  has been on the air since the first-ever Thanksgiving, so it makes sense that the show would have a good Thanksgiving episode.
The Simpsons has been on the air since the first-ever Thanksgiving, so it makes sense that the show would have a good Thanksgiving episode. Amy Sussman/Getty
Everyone has a favorite Christmas movie, whether it's It’s A Wonderful Life or Die Hard, and the holiday season promises a ton of seasonal classics that you’ve probably already seen a thousand times. While too much Christmas spirit can get a little obnoxious, it’s a nice reprieve from all the horror movies you had to binge during Halloween. You’ll have to determine for yourself if The Nightmare Before Christmas is a Halloween movie or a Christmas movie.

That said, you may have a little more trouble picking out a favorite movie centered on Thanksgiving. Who wants to see a full-length feature about the most awkward holiday of the year? If you count Planes, Trains, and Automobiles or Hannah and Her Sisters as Thanksgiving films, that expands your options a bit. You probably don’t want to watch anything that deals with the real history of the holiday and the genocide of indigenous people, which is certain to dampen your enjoyment of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

Your cinematic options also might be limited this Thanksgiving season (unless you’re just going to see Black Panther: Wakanda Forever again), but television offers a solution. Many of our favorite shows have examined what their characters do to celebrate coming together in the fourth week of November. Here are some of our favorite Thanksgiving television episodes.

“The Mom & Pop Store,” Seinfeld

Leave it to George Costanza to turn Thanksgiving into a disastrous celebrity encounter. After mistakenly buying a car that he thought was once owned by Jon Voight, George realizes that his social life hasn’t really improved at all. It gets even worse when he meets the real Jon Voight, who pops up in one of Seinfeld’s funnier celebrity cameos. You also get Bryan Cranston as the dentist who throws “Thanksgiving Eve” parties — Who on Earth has those? Nice cover there, Heisenberg.

“The One With the Football,” Friends

Friends had a great Thanksgiving episode nearly every year, from the flashback episode in Season 5 to the fun Brad Pitt cameo in Season 6. It’s tough to narrow down just one favorite, but “The One With The Football” does a great job of showing how competitive a simple game can be. In the aftermath of their breakup, Ross and Rachel get particularly irritated with one another during a football game.

“Pangs,” Buffy the Vampire Slayer

How do you reckon with the real legacy of Thanksgiving? In Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the members of the Scooby Gang spend their first Thanksgiving in college stressing out about accidentally offending someone with their celebration. That’s all before the demons show up! This is also the amusing period of the show when the vampire Spike is tied up in the home of Buffy’s watcher, Rupert Giles.

“He Is Risen,” The Sopranos

This Season 3 installment of The Sopranos gives you just another reason to hate Ralphie Cifaretto. In the wake of Ralphie’s violent outburst, Tony and Carmela decide to disinvite him to their Thanksgiving dinner. He’s missing out, because we know that Carmela is an awesome cook.

“Thanksgiving,” That '70s Show

Remember how perfect the first season of That ‘70s Show was? While it is usually Laurie who is bothering Eric, this time he gets to disrupt his sister’s social life when he falls in love with one of her college friends.

“Bart vs. Thanksgiving,” The Simpsons

While The Simpsons managed to look at all the arguments that families have on Thanksgiving, “Bart vs. Thanksgiving” is one of the most heartfelt episodes of the series. After burning Lisa’s cornucopia in the fireplace, Bart offers his sincere apologies and invites his sister back to dinner. It doesn’t even matter that she doesn’t eat turkey.

“The Wheel,” Mad Men

It’s a lonely Thanksgiving for Don Draper. While he displays a heartfelt reflection of love for his family early in the episode as he pitches Kodak, Don returns to his luxurious home to find that his wife and children have already departed. It’s a melancholy ending to the first season.

“Shibboleth,” The West Wing

We’re not entirely sure why the President of the United States is supposed to pardon a turkey, but Jed Bartlett has fun with the tradition in this classic installment of The West Wing. C.J. gets a little too close to her poultry friends after discovering that one of the turkeys presented to the president is someone’s Thanksgiving dinner.

“I Went To Market,” Succession

No matter how uncomfortable your Thanksgiving dinner conversations are with your family, they can’t come even close to getting as bad as the Roys'. The squabbling media empire family finds many ways to argue after Logan’s brother Ewan gets invited to the celebration. No one can stop conspiring, and Kendall begins working on his plan to replace his father in the family business.

“Cooperative Escapism in Familial Relations,” Community

We can’t get enough of Community’s movie tributes, and Season 4 features one of the best. In this homage to The Shawshank Redemption, the study group members finds themselves imprisoned when Shirley’s Thanksgiving family reunion gets a little grim. It also marks the first appearance by Jeff’s father (played by James Garner), because everyone seems to have daddy issues on Thanksgiving.

“The Gang Squashes Their Beefs,” It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia

The gang tries to turn Thanksgiving into a time of forgiveness and personal redemption, but all goes awry when word gets around Philadelphia that they’re looking to squash beef. This prompts all of their rivals, enemies, and twice-removed relatives to come in and hold them accountable for their misdeeds. It wouldn’t be an It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia holiday episode if something didn’t catch on fire.

A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving

You can never go wrong with Peanuts. A Charlie Brown Christmas and It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown are both classics in their own right, but who hasn’t wanted to have a Thanksgiving dinner with popcorn, toast, pretzels, and jelly beans? This classic special provides one of the most heartfelt moments when Charlie Brown makes amends with Peppermint Patty. But it also features more than enough shenanigans when Snoopy gets into a fight with a haunted chair.
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Liam Gaughan has been covering film and television since before he had a driver's license, and in addition to the Observer has been published in, Schmoes Know, Taste of Cinema and The Dallas Morning News. He enjoys checking classic films off of his watchlist and working on spec scripts.

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