When the Pilgrims arrived in New England, USA, from Plymouth in the 1620s, they brought with them the traditions of Christian England (and smallpox, as the Native Americans would soon find out…) What they didn’t bring with them was a TV guide.
What follows here is a list of the 10 best Thanksgiving-themed TV episodes of all time, which will entertain your eyes and ears while your gullet bubbles with gravy and mash. Praise be for television! Give thanks for telly binging!
Master Of None – ‘Thanksgiving’ (2017)
Though this episode hangs around Dev (played by series creator Aziz Ansari) joining his childhood friends’ family for Thanksgiving, it’s really Denise’s episode, here played by episode co-writer Lena Waithe. A pseudo-biopic of Waithe’s own lived experience, it follows the character’s understanding and acceptance of her sexuality from childhood through adulthood. As the turkey piles up, so do the years. It deservedly won the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series, making Waithe the first African-American woman ever to win the award.
Tastiest dish: During a tense scene late in the episode, Dev confirms that “Grandma’s yams turned out real nice this year…”
Orange Is The New Black – ‘Fucksgiving’ (2013)
It’s easy to forget, after a few seasons that not only jumped the shark but cleared a few whales and dolphins too, just how powerful Netflix’s prison-based comedy drama was in its prime. This episode, in which fiancé Larry (Jason Biggs) comes to visit Piper (Taylor Shilling) on November 26, is one such moment. The sadness of Piper missing out after being confined to solitary with a plate of mouldy bologna is palpable.
Tastiest dish: Sorry, commissary is closed.
The Simpsons – ‘Bart vs. Thanksgiving’ (1990)
Despite being around for over 30 years, we’ve only caught up with the Simpson family on Thanksgiving a handful of times. Best of the bunch is this episode from season two, in which Bart runs away from home – with his dog Santa’s Little Helper – after being reprimanded for destroying Lisa’s centrepiece for the dinner table. After some japes involving Edgar Allan Poe, Mr Burns’ hounds and Bart selling his blood to survive, the episode ends with Lisa and Bart on the roof, hugging it out. It’s a lovely end to an excellent episode.
Tastiest dish: Mr Burns’ pie looks delicious resting on the windowsill. It probably contains minced up orphans, mind.
Friends – ‘The One With All The Thanksgivings’ (1998)
You might think the episode in which Chandler loses a toe, or where Monica tells him she loves him for the first time, would be the defining moment in this season five joint. But no, it’s the one where Monica terrifies Joey by wearing a turkey on her head. The plot hangs around the friends recalling terrible Thanksgivings from years past. Some of the gags-cum-body-shaming have aged terribly, but elsewhere it fizzles with the energy of the show at its peak.
Tastiest dish: We’ll have seconds of Monica’s macaroni and cheese, please.
The West Wing – ‘Shibboleth’ (2000)
It’s been tempting to dip back into Aaron Sorkin’s ever-hopeful political drama this year, such is the misery of real-world events (it’s also just arrived free to stream on All4). The show delivered a host of Thanksgiving episodes with nuanced comment and tonnes of grace over its seven seasons. Best of the bunch is this episode from the dawn of the millennium which marries sociopolitical comment (what to do with a boatload of Chinese immigrants) with the farce of Martin Sheen’s President Bartlett being sent two turkeys for the day’s traditional pardoning. Says Press Secretary C.J: “They sent me two turkeys. The more photo-friendly of the two gets a presidential pardon and a full life at a children’s zoo. The runner-up gets eaten…” Bartlett: “If the Oscars were like that I’d watch.”
Tastiest dish: Not an actual meal, but we had to mention this delicious quote from Josh on being invited to spend Thanksgiving with the president’s family. “I’m just sayin’, we’ve been working hard and we’d prefer to watch football rather than listen to a history of the yam in Latin…”
The Office (US) – ‘WUPHF.com’ (2010)
Episodes that hang around the hugely ambitious but deeply flawed Ryan Howard (played by the genius B.J. Novak) weren’t anywhere near plentiful enough in The Office’s nine-season run. This, though, which concerns Ryan’s rubbish Internet set-up WHPHF.com, is one of the best of these rare outings. The Thanksgiving theme is minimal and merely involves some kooky stuff with Dwight and his Thanksgiving Hay Festival. But it sure is funny shit.
Tastiest dish: In fitting with this being an atypical Thanksgiving episode, there’s little food on display here. So we’ll say ‘beets’, just to keep Dwight happy.
‘A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving’ (1973)
All the ‘Peanuts’ TV specials are worthy of being described as magical, and while this Thanksgiving tale isn’t quite of the same quality as 1966’s seminal ‘It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown’, it’s still very, very good. The brilliance of Charles M. Shulz’s long-running series is in capturing both childhood wonder and melancholy, and here that is captured most fully. Not only that, but we get to see Snoopy and Woodstock dressed as pilgrims!
Tastiest dish: How good does Snoopy’s pan-fried popcorn look? Better than it should!
Brooklyn Nine-Nine – ‘Mr. Santiago’ (2016)
A particularly animal-heavy, Thanksgiving-themed episode of Dan Goor and Michael Schur’s procedural sitcom. Holt (Andre Braugher) bets money on a televised dog show and Boyle (Joe Lo Truglio) gets savaged by a wild turkey. Gina (Chelsea Peretti) steals the show though. “How was I supposed to know there’d be consequences for my actions?” is a snort-out-loud moment.
Tastiest dish: Is it wrong to covert the gouda Boyle feeds the turkey?
This Is Us – ‘So Long, Marianne’ (2019)
NBC’s time-hopping family drama is more emo than a My Chemical Romance fan chopping onions, and yet still manages to find new regions of gooey emotion to mine when Thanksgiving swings around. The dinner with the Pearsons is stuffed with emotional manipulation, but the twist is worth sucking it all up for…
Tastiest dish: That roast turkey looks fire, even if it’s likely seasoned with salty tears.
Cheers – ‘Thanksgiving Orphans’ (1986)
Cheers is unquestionably one of mankind’s greatest triumphs, let alone its greatest ever sitcom, and this episode’s food-fight climax is a thing of comic wonder. Set in Carla’s flat, with barely a glimpse of the bar, the episode unites the Cheers family over (cold) turkey and all the trimmings. And yet the episode aired to a glut of viewer complaints. “At the time, Cheers got a lot of flack for that episode because there was a big ‘stop world hunger’ campaign and the show was criticised for wasting food,” notes writer Ken Levine.
Tastiest dish: Y’know, little makes mashed potato more off-putting than seeing it droop down Norm’s chin…