Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Top 10 TV Thanksgiving Episodes

"What are you, an animal?"

Honorable Mention. Barney Miller, "Thanksgiving Story," November 24, 1977. Mental patients have escaped from a private hospital, and are loose in an automat. Yes, they still had automats in New York, even as recently as 1992.

10. Home Improvement, "Thanksgiving," November 25, 1997. The Taylors are invited to watch the Detroit Lions' annual Thanksgiving Day game from a luxury box at the Silverdome. Tim is given a tour of the stadium, and, being himself, he manages to black out the building. Rodney Dangerfield has a cameo as another guest of the Taylors' skybox patron.

9. Bewitched, "Samantha's Thanksgiving to Remember," November 23, 1967. Aunt Clara accidentally transports the family back to Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1621, to observe the first Thanksgiving.

Except that it's the period where anyone in Massachusetts who behaved improperly was considered a witch. So who goes on trial for witchcraft? Not Samantha, who actually is a witch, but Darren. And Samantha ends up using her witch powers to prove him innocent.

8. Full House, "The Miracle of Thanksgiving," November 20, 1987. It's Danny's 1st Thanksgiving without his wife, and his daughters' 1st without their mother. He wants to make it extra special.

But Grandma Tanner can't make it. So Danny, Joey and Jesse want to make a reservation at a restaurant. Older daughters D.J. and Stephanie insist that they all make the dinner together at home. Hilarity ensues -- until they realize that baby Michelle finally realizes that Mommy is not coming back.

7. Happy Days, "The First Thanksgiving," November 21, 1978. Marion is unhappy that the rest of the Cunningham family would rather watch football on television than help with the dinner, so she tells them her version of the story of how the Pilgrims and the Indians came together for the first Thanksgiving in Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1621.

The various actors play period-specific versions of themselves, including Henry Winkler playing "the odd one," who seems to already be in good with the Natives. Because, even in the era of King James I, the Fonz is just that cool.

6. Cheers, "Thanksgiving Orphans," November 27, 1986. Everybody's got some reason or another to not spent the holiday with their families. So Diane invites them all to dinner -- at Carla's. Norm brings a huge frozen turkey, and when it takes forever to cook, Carla calls it "Birdzilla."

Bored and hungry, a food fight starts, which ends with Diane throwing a pie at Sam. He ducks, and it hits Norm's late-arriving wife Vera instead. As a result, Vera, making her 1st onscreen appearance after all her mentions, still doesn't show her face. She is played, uncredited, by Bernadette Birkett, the real-life wife of Norm's portrayer George Wendt.

5. ER, "Great Expectations," November 25, 1999. Carol goes into labor on Thanksgiving Day, and it gets complicated. This is the debut episode of Maura Tierney as Abby Lockhart.

4. The West Wing, "The Indians In the Lobby," November 21, 2001. For reasons of political correctness, this episode is sometimes referred to as "The Butterball Hotline." Two Native Americans refuse to leave the West Wing lobby until the President (or someone high up in the federal government) hears their grievance.

Josh has to both get to Florida, where his widowed mother is after moving from Connecticut, and convince a Georgia prosecutor not to seek the death penalty for a 13-year-old boy who killed his teacher.

President Bartlet tells everyone who will listen (and when your boss is the President, you will listen) how his family turkey is cooked, but is reminded that an improperly cooked turkey might kill his guests. "I'm not saying that's necessarily a dealbreaker." So Charlie tells him that the Butterball company has a hotline for answering cooking questions, and he calls it, pretending to be a private citizen. He is also very annoyed that Bruno has taken a poll on where the First Family should spend Thanksgiving.

The previous season's Thanksgiving episode, "Shibboleth," is often held up as one of the best Thanksgiving episodes any TV series has ever had. I like this one better.

3. WKRP in Cincinnati, "Turkeys Away," October 30, 1978. Why did this air right before Halloween, instead of right before Thanksgiving? Anyway, Mr. Carlson thinks dropping turkeys out of a helicopter is a great Thanksgiving promotion. Live turkeys.

"As God is my witness," the Big Guy says, "I thought turkeys could fly!" Spoiler alert: Wild turkeys can, but domesticated, farm-produced turkeys, bred for human consumption, can't.

2. Friends, "The One Where Underdog Gets Away," November 17, 1994. Ross and Monica's parents are going on a cruise for Thanksgiving, so instead of going to Long Island for the dinner, Monica decides to do it herself, at her apartment in Greenwich Village.

Joey can't spend Thanksgiving with his family on Staten Island, because an acting job he got goes awry. Chandler hates Thanksgiving because of something that happened as a boy.

In the middle of preparations, the Underdog balloon breaks away from the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, and they all go up to the roof to see it. When they get back, they discover that they're locked out.

Later Thanksgiving episodes would show Ross and Monica renewing their football rivalry (the Geller Bowl, competing for the Geller Cup), a confrontation between a pregnant Rachel and a high school rival (played by Jennifer Aniston's then-real-life-husband Brad Pitt), and a flashback episode that showed why Chandler hates Thanksgiving, how Chandler inspired Monica to lose 100 pounds, and how Monica's revenge for Chandler calling her fat inadvertently cost Chandler a toe.

1. Mad About You, "Giblets for Murray," November 17, 1994. One of my very favorite episodes of any TV series, on any subject. It also aired right before "The One Where Underdog Gets Away," and an hour before the Seinfeld episode "The Mom & Pop Store," so that was one great night of television comedy.

Paul and Jamie are hosting Thanksgiving for the first time. Their families are driving them nuts. They admonish the Buchmans and the Stemples for their behavior, and remind them that they're adults and that they know what they're doing. Then they discover that Murray the dog has eaten the turkey.

So they have to get a replacement turkey. The one they actually serve is the 5th try. With each try, more family members learn the truth, until Paul's mother is the last to know -- and, normally a shrew who treats Paul like dirt and hates Jamie, she comes through in the end: "What? I never had a mother-in-law?"

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