Thanksgiving, along with Independence Day, is the quintessential American holiday. It’s a time for family and friends to eat turkey, watch and play football, and pray to God a fist fight over politics doesn’t erupt. Sure, it’s come to the point where these are clichés, but many of these traditions nevertheless hold a special place in our hearts.
Another tradition that some people have is watching TV episodes and specials dedicated to the holiday. Not all shows have a Thanksgiving episode, but the ones that do often give us something memorable.
So, with that said, here are Our Favorite Thanksgiving Episodes/Specials.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer, “Pangs”
Season 4 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer brings us the show’s first Thanksgiving episode, entitled “Pangs.” Buffy’s mother, Joyce, will be out of town for the holiday, so Buffy decides to cook Thanksgiving dinner for her chosen family, her friends. Meanwhile, Xander and his construction company have been hired to break ground on Sunnydale’s new Cultural Center. While digging, the ground gives way and Xander falls into an old Native American mission building, the new open hole unleashing the spirits of the old Chumash Indians that lived in Sunnydale before.
Angel, having been told of a vision where Buffy was in trouble, returns to Sunnydale in secret to watch over Buffy. All of Buffy’s attempts to make Thanksgiving great for her friends are gradually spoiled as Riley is leaving town, Xander shows up with malaria, smallpox and syphilis, newly fang-castrated Spike shows up with nowhere to go and the party is attacked by Native American ghosts.
“Pangs” is great holiday fun because it addresses both the bloody history of Thanksgiving and the extreme pain of having your entire family together for the holidays. When that family happens to consist of the Scooby Gang and Spike, you know it’s going to be filled with some of the best quips and one-liners that Buffy can deliver. One of my favorites from the episode comes from one of the funniest characters on the show, Anya:
Xander: I think he thought we were crazy.
Willow: Maybe if Anya hadn’t opened the conversation with “Everybody got both ears?”
Anya: I liked his wife. She gave me pie.
I would explain the ear thing, but you really should watch the episode. Besides, it just isn’t Thanksgiving until Xander gets syphilis.
Mad Men, “In Care Of”
Break out the Benson. Though Mad Men usually doesn’t celebrate holidays per se (see my response on the Season 5 Christmas episode, “Christmas Waltz,” where they barely talk about Christmas and skip over the whole thing—but that scene between Don and Joan…), “In Care Of,” the Thanksgiving rounding out the sixth season, is the holiday special it never wanted. I mean, they’ve had Valentine’s Day, Christmas, etc. (Easter, even), but this one works. And in this least commercial of the holidays, and least seen on prestige television shows, it counts.
Don does good, after a year of doing bad(ly), Joan gets Bob Benson over for some turkey dinner (and one of the funniest parting shots in series history, Benson splayed out like a homemaker, in front of the oven), and there is the warmth of Season 6, without all the clumsiness (unless you count Don’s own). Ted’s great confession to Peggy (“I have to hold onto them, or I’ll get lost in the chaos,” about his family); Don’s many confessions to his family, work or otherwise (“It’s gotten out of control” he says, in a dark kitchen with Megan, “I’ve gotten out of control”); Bud Campbell, musing poetic about his mother’s death: “She’s in the water. With father.” This episode is one of the last true great episodes of the series, proving even this late on, Mad Men had some of the best dialogue in the sphere of prestige television. And it’s the perfect holiday for this series: contemplative and character-based, not all tinsel and mistletoe.
Friends, “The One Where Ross Got High”
For me, Thanksgiving’s not complete without watching “The One Where Ross Got High.” It’s stuck with me from the first time I saw as a child, although not for the eponymous reason. This Friends episode is better remembered for the shepherd’s pie/trifle combination.
While no sane person would enjoy Rachel’s culinary abomination consisting of bananas, cream, and beef, Joey is Joey and will eat anything. Ross described the dish as tasting like feet, but Joey wasn’t having it. In Joey’s head, “What’s not to like? Custard, good. Jam, good. Beef, GOOD!” He then went on to eat everyone’s serving of the disgusting dish.
Aqua Teen Hunger Force, “The Dressing”
Every Thanksgiving somebody is always bound to break the golden dinner table rules of religion and politics. It’s practically tradition. We all have an uncle that will always have too much to drink and whose table-wide uncomfortable silences are a staple of the holiday as much as the turkey. Aqua Teen Hunger Force’s beloved, rambling cybernetic bird, Turkatron, is that drunk uncle you love to hate.
Ironically, the Season 2 episode, “The Dressing,” premiered on December 14, 2003, long after Thanksgiving. Turkatron, the robotic turkey from the year 9595 sent to save his ancestor Goblox from the Aqua Teens’ dinner table, is technically a series repeat. Having first appeared in the Season 1 Christmas episode “Cybernetic Ghost of Christmas Past from the Future,” Turkatron was then a more anthropomorphic Terminator parody sporting a mohawk. While on a wine fueled rant about the rise of radioactive chickens as the master race, anti-taco legislation, and disestablishmentarianism, Master Shake even asks, “Is this the same guy?”
“The Dressing” is not only a Thanksgiving must-watch because we all have an incoherent Turkatron or a Carl in our families, but it’s the perfect opportunity to be the cool older sibling or cousin and open the floodgates of Adult Swim’s late night cartoons and madness to the younger generation. While the rest of the family and yourself fall into a tryptophan induced coma, Aqua Teen Hunger Force’s 15-minute or less episodes are the prime digestible, bite-sized entertainment.
The Middle, “Thanksgiving IX”
If I had to choose again, I would say The Middle, from this year (“Thanksgiving IX”). This last, great season of the television show (which people might confuse with Malcolm in the Middle, and for good reason; it’s just as good, if not much better) gets the supreme holiday treatment this year with an epic car ride (you know, those episodes), except it ends up being about family, gratitude, and the toxic way America has become so unfriendly to anyone not in our immediate circle—and then, with an epic dinner on the road, literally, it shows us why America might still be the best place to spend time with your family on November 24th (or 23rd, or whatever it may be), even if you’re not with your family. Look this up, and watch it, even if you’ve never seen the show. It’s worth doing, and really gets you in the spirit of the holiday, in a year, and a decade, and an era, where we sorely need it.
Survivor Series & Starrcade
Listen, these aren’t your traditional Thanksgiving TV specials, but for us wrestling fans they are OUR Thanksgiving traditions.
Back in the 1980s the NWA/Jim Crockett Promotions started a big time closed circuit/pay per event called Starrcade, and it aired on Thanksgiving night. The event was designed to feature the biggest and best matches the promotion had to offer. Names likes Ric Flair, Dusty Rhodes, Tully Blanchard, Magnum T.A., Nikita Koloff, The Freebirds, The Legion of Doom, and more did battle. And frankly, these shows were awesome. It was pure hard-hitting old school wrestling.
Not to be outdone, the WWE did a bit of counter-programming and produced the Survivor Series. This event was (and remains) one of the most unique shows in wrestling history — a show that was nothing but team elimination matches. As cool as Starrcade was, nothing beat Survivor Series. The elimination concept was so unique. And it featured literally every wrestler in WWE. And during the ’80s — that was a lot. Everyone from the main event to the opening card competed, and were given a spotlight, which was super cool.
With JCP/WCW gone and Survivor Series no longer on Thanksgiving, the luster is a gone — but they live on WWE Network, so I highly recommend you check both shows out.