As Halloween passes, many of us feel the urge to defrost our inner Mariah Careys and prepare for Christmas. But then, we tend to gloss over the quintessential November holiday that always gets overshadowed: Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is a day of appreciation and coming together with family, whatever that term means for you. Naturally, it is also a day that can bring up a lot of messy and unstable emotions. The one thing that you can count on to get you through the day is television. Thankfully, the Thanksgiving episodes of all of our favorite shows are here to remind you: Yours is not the only dysfunctional family out there. Here, I have compiled a list of a few of my favorite Thanksgiving TV specials.
1. “The Office,” Season 7 Episode 9: “WUPHF.com”
Although this episode centers more around Ryan’s ambitious but flawed shenanigans, it also portrays Dwight’s attempts to capitalize on Thanksgiving by creating a “Hay Maze” in the Dunder Mifflin parking lot. The festival is reminiscent of the one created by his family; when Dwight and his cousin Mose were children, their parents made them compete for the royal title of “Hay King.” Dwight gets carried away in his attempt to recover from his childhood trauma and ends up missing a date with Angela, who meets a new prospective love interest, Robert Lipton, as he is bringing his daughter to the hay maze. At the end of the episode, Dwight crowns himself “Hay King” rather than any of the children competing to compensate for never winning the position as a child.
The episode’s Thanksgiving theme is minimal, I’ll admit, but the humor is unmatched, and it offers more insight into “The Office” characters. We see more into Dwight’s odd childhood, more of Michael sucking up to the young and cool Ryan and, of course, more of Kevin being Kevin by getting lost in the hay maze.
2. “Master of None,” Season 2 Episode 8: “Thanksgiving”
This episode, co-written by Aziz Ansari and Lena Waithe, follows their respective characters through the Thanksgivings they have shared together since the ‘90s. It is a mosaic of touching moments over the years that allow us to watch as Denise (Waithe) grows into her own, sexuality- and confidence-wise, and faces the challenge of coming out to her family. Over the course of the episode, Denise, and eventually the people around her, accept her for who she is.
This episode is unlike any other on this list: It is not as humorous, but it is full of heart and acts as a true examination of race, sexuality and friendship … all in under 30 minutes. Deservedly, it won the 2017 Emmy for outstanding writing for a comedy series, making Waithe the first African American woman to win that category.
3. “Gossip Girl,” Season 3 Episode 11: “The Treasure of Serena Madre”
If you really need to feel normal during a dramatic Thanksgiving, look no further than this episode of “Gossip Girl.” We see a range of plotlines culminate at different ends of the Thanksgiving dinner table: On one end, Serena is confronted about her affair with married congressman Tripp Vanderbilt; on the other, Vanessa fights with her usually-absent mother for acting as if she is present in her life. And in the middle, Blair tries to get her mom to admit that she is pregnant — she’s not— Dan and Vanessa face trouble after their threesome and Jenny and Eric make snarky remarks to each other after Jenny learns that Eric ruined her cotillion.
All of this occurs as Lily sips on wine upstairs. The best part of this scene: These events unfold to the tune of “Whatcha Say” by Jason Derulo. By the end of the song, half the table has left their chairs, ending with CeCe sitting back, raising a toast to the drama.
In typical holiday fashion, everything falls apart during this scene. All of the tensions are fully fleshed and all of the storylines are memorable as each character leaves the table. This episode reminds us why we love “Gossip Girl” so much. While I would like to say that each fight was resolved by the end of the episode, audiences know the characters are not wise enough for that, so the drama just gets juicier afterward.
4. “Gilmore Girls,” Season 3 Episode 9: “A Deep-Fried Korean Thanksgiving”
In this episode, Rory and Lorelai bounce between four different Stars Hollow families to celebrate Thanksgiving. The Kims sing hymnals and serve tofurky as Dave continues to attempt winning over Mrs. Kim so he can date Lane (side-note: Dave and Lane’s first kiss in this episode is absolutely swoon-worthy). Over at the Independence Inn, Sookie laments after a few too many margaritas about relinquishing Thanksgiving dinner duties to her husband, who tries to deep-fry a turkey on their front lawn. The third dinner is at Luke’s Diner, where Lorelai awkwardly critiques Rory’s kiss with Jess, claiming that Rory and Dean seem to have more passion for each other. The fourth and final meal at Richard and Emily’s reveals that Rory wants to go to Yale, to Lorelai’s dismay (another side-note: Does Lorelai know how the college application process works?).
Overall, it is a cute episode that offers us a charming insight into the lives of some of the supporting characters in the show, and it reveals more about the dynamics of Stars Hollow. It also has a few iconic moments, from drunk Sookie’s slurred speech to fights between human Kirk and cat Kirk.
5. “Community,” Season 4 Episode 5: “Cooperative Escapism in Familial Relations”
During this fifth and final episode recommendation of mine, Jeff finally meets his newly-discovered father and brother, and Britta follows him to dinner for moral support. Meanwhile, the rest of the study group tries to escape from Shirley’s family’s Thanksgiving dinner.
As with any “Community” episode, we get tons of callbacks and Abed’s attempts to relate their experiences to pop culture. He quickly turns to “Prison Break,” even drawing the blueprint of Shirley’s house on his stomach. This episode also reminds us how great of a pair Jeff and Britta are as they navigate Jeff’s weird half-brother and scummy father, who fakes a heart attack to get out of an emotional moment.
More than anything, this episode warms us because it reminds us that the characters are humans. Jeff reveals to his family how he faked having surgery so he could get “Get Well Soon” cards from his classmates and feel like someone cared about him. Shirley reveals to the group that she invited them as buffers because her husband’s family always makes her the butt of every joke. Even Abed, after learning this, knows to save his “Prison Break” moment for another time, electing to go back inside and support his friend. These moments are endearing and well-executed.
Of course, Thanksgiving is a time to spend with your loved ones, so do not keep your eyes glued to the screen for the whole long weekend. But if you need a breather from a hectic dinner, I think these episodes are some great options!