Thanksgiving is upon us, and it’s high time to enjoy all of our favorite yearly traditions: the turkey, the stuffing, the pumpkin pie, the awkward family encounters, pretending to care about football… and, most of all, that venerable standby of episodic television, the Thanksgiving show. As best as we can determine, the first weekly series to do a Thanksgiving-centered episode was The Burns and Allen Show, back in 1951; Ozzie and Harriet, Father Knows Best, Make Room for Daddy, and Mr. Peepers quickly followed suit, realizing that a Thanksgiving show offered plenty of fodder for conflict, resolution, and warm holiday cheer. We’ve selected ten of our favorite Thanksgiving episodes — and in the culinary spirit of the holiday, we present them in the ever-popular Zagat’s dining guide format, because why not? Check ’em out after the jump and add your own in the comments.
“Slapsgiving,” How I Met Your Mother Food: 24 Décor: 22 Service: 21
This “third season” episode of the “clever and popular” CBS sitcom finds the gang (and Robin’s old boyfriend Bob) gathering for a “Thanksgiving feast” — Lily and Marshall’s first as a married couple, so she’s “a little uptight.” Hanging over the day is the promised third of five payments for Marshall and Barney’s “slap bet”; Marshall has gone so far as to put a countdown clock on the Internet, until “Slap Bet Commissioner” Lily declares a moratorium on the slapping — a decision that is later revised with a “masterful comic payoff.”
“Thanksgiving,” Felicity Food: 20 Décor: 28 Service: 22
Though some may dismiss J.J. Abrams and Matt Reeves’s mid-’90s drama as “sappy” or “maudlin” or “not something most grown men watch,” the show was frequently “smart” and “relatable,” particularly in its first season. Of particular note was its Thanksgiving episode, in which most of the college dorm’s residents, unable or unwilling to travel home for the holidays, put together a Thanksgiving dinner of their own. This is a “fairly common occurrence, but one seldom seen in popular culture,” and this episode “poignantly and sensitively” captures the “delicate transition” of letting go of one’s family ties in order to create a new family within one’s circle of friends.
“Cliff’s Wet Adventure,” The Cosby Show Food: 21 Décor: 27 Service: 29
Many consider the later seasons of Bill Cosby’s “groundbreaking sitcom” to be “somewhat lesser in quality,” even charging that the show was “past its prime” by this point. There is “some truth to those accusations,” but this season six episode, not only focuses on a “recognizable element” of the holiday (Cosby’s Cliff keeps having to go out into a Thanksgiving storm to fetch forgotten items from the grocery store), but gives Cosby the “welcome opportunity” to do some “good, old-fashioned physical comedy.”
“A Deep-Fried Korean Thanksgiving,” Gilmore Girls Food: 26 Décor: 25 Service: 26
Another “common experience” of the Thanksgiving holiday is dramatized with “spark and wit” in this third season episode of the “fast and funny” comedy/drama. Mother-and-daughter Lorelai and Rory have been invited to no less than four Thanksgivings: the Kims’, Sookie’s, Luke’s, and Richard and Emily’s, each expecting them to attend, each with a “markedly different menu” (Sookie’s husband Jackson is deep-frying their turkey, for example). The titular women are “more than up to the challenge,” and the results are “expectedly droll and entertaining.”
“The One with Chandler in a Box,” Friends Food: 27 Décor: 26 Service: 27
Despite the insistences of some that Friends was “not a good show,” that “went on for too long, exhausting its one-note characters,” it is still a program that has its “faithful and steadfast defenders.” (Including “this author.”) The show’s Thanksgiving episodes became a “beloved tradition” among its fans, who would have “a hard time picking a favorite,” but most would point to this fourth-season episode, in which Chandler is punished for kissing Joey’s ex-girlfriend by being forced to spend the holiday inside a “shipping crate.” With the show’s comic characters “well established” by this point in the run, the resultant hijinks are “charmingly enjoyable.”
“Pangs,” Buffy the Vampire Slayer Food: 21 Décor: 27 Service: 28
This fourth season episode of the “cult classic” Buffy the Vampire Slayer finds the Scooby Gang battling a Native American spirit and having a “small, intimate Thanksgiving gathering,” made “only slightly awkward” by the fact that one of its participants (Spike) is “tied to a chair” throughout. In “true Buffy form,” the episode “delivers action and laughs in equal proportion.”
“Thanksgiving Orphans,” Cheers Food: 18 Décor: 28 Service: 27
This “beloved sitcom” tackled the Thanksgiving holiday in “memorably irreverent fashion” with a fifth-season episode that finds the bar gang gathering at Carla’s for “bad food but good company.” “Numerous memorable elements” (Diane dressed as a pilgrim, a food fight, and a rare appearance by Norm’s wife Vera) combine with the show’s “typically snappy patter” to make for one of this “classic show”‘s most iconic episodes.
“We Gather Together,” Roseanne Food: 25 Décor: 29 Service: 16
Like Friends, the “working class sitcom” Roseanne made its Thanksgiving episodes a memorable tradition throughout the show’s nine-season run. The yearly parade of “dysfunctional parenting” and “poorly-kept secrets” was already “firmly in place” for the show’s first Thanksgiving show, in season two, which finds Roseanne “riotously insisting” that the visiting parents stay at a motel, and sister Jackie continuing to hide her new job as a policewoman from her folks. The show’s guest stars, including Ned Beatty and Estelle Parsons, “add hilarity to the proceedings.”
“Shibboleth,” The West Wing Food: 26 Décor: 28 Service: 29
Aaron Sorkin’s presidential drama was “firing on all cylinders” by this early second-season episode, which “deftly mixes wit, thought, and poignancy” with a plethora of intermingling storylines: the choice of the turkey for presidential pardoning (the two contestants are stored in C.J.’s office), a policy dilemma involving the separation of church and state, an immigration crisis with a group of Chinese Christians fleeing persecution, and President Bartlett’s continuing (and “frustrating”) insistence that Charlie find him the “perfect” Thanksgiving carving knife. The latter, which seems a “throwaway plotline designed for easy laughs,” ultimately culminates in one of the show’s “most moving and powerful moments.”
“Turkeys Away,” WKRP in Cincinnati Food: 21 Décor: 28 Service: 29
Quite simply put, “there is every other Thanksgiving episode, and then there is ‘Turkeys Away’.” This first-season episode of the “critically acclaimed rock sitcom” finds the “ratings-challenged” WKRP coming up with an ingenious holiday promotional idea: dropping live turkeys out of a helicopter at a shopping center. “As God as my witness, I thought turkeys could fly,” says general manger Arthur Carlson, after the domestic turkeys fall to their deaths, terrifying the shoppers — all of it described on-air by newsman Les Nessman in a manner “hilariously reminiscent” of Herb Morrion’s famed radio report of the Hindenburg disaster. It sounds “dark” and “even a bit distasteful,” and perhaps it is, but it’s also “one of the funniest half-hours in television history.”