There’s an embarrassment of riches at Thanksgiving — on your television as well as on your plate!
Let's get real: Thanksgiving meals are AMAZING, but there comes a point where you just can't eat anymore without severe pain, and you lose the ability to do much of anything but lay on the couch, rubbing your stomach, and praying for the ability to house your internal organs somewhere on the outside of your body. But there's another way! "How?!" — You. It's easy! Keep your mind occupied with some of the greatest Thanksgiving-themed television episodes ever to air! Laugh (or cry) out some of that indigestion. After all, why learn a lesson about overeating when you don't have to?
Seinfeld S6E8: The Mom & Pop Store
To paraphrase the dearly missed Stefon, this episode has it ALL — which, for a show about nothing, is somewhat amusing. George buys a car that may or may not have belonged to Jon Voight, Kramer gets some elderly shopkeepers in trouble, Elaine's romantic life is impeded by Mr. Pitt's whims, and Jerry agonizes over whether he was invited to a Thanksgiving party hosted by one Tim Whatley, DDS (played by Breaking Bad's Bryan Cranston). Perhaps no other show has so fully captured the feeling of obligation that comes with what is ostensibly one of our most beloved holidays.
King of the Hill S4E7: The Hank's Giving Episode
I'm an unabashed, unapologetic King of the Hill fanatic, but I suspect that even if I weren't, I'd still be charmed by the mix of cynicism and earnestness in this episode. Traveling for this most American of holidays is generally a nightmare, but getting delayed due to weather (which is perfect at your destination) is heartbreaking. Getting your perfectly-smoked turkey blown up on the tarmac because it's a suspected bomb is... what's beyond heartbreaking? Heartdisolving? No, the Hills never make it to Montana, but they do spend a night at an airport foodcourt with their closest friends... and the Souphanousinphones.
WKRP in Cincinnati S1E7: Turkeys Away
"As God as my witness, I thought turkeys could fly." This is the episode that saved this quirky 70s sitcom from cancellation, and quite frankly, set the standard by which all sitcoms' Thanksgiving episodes should be judged. Premise: WKRP's hapless management devises a fantastic publicity stunt: a free turkey giveaway! Except, uh, these turkeys are alive, and the delivery method is a real... high wire act. Dropping birds out of an airplane? What could go wrong?
Grey's Anatomy S2E9: Thanks for the Memories
Season 2 of Grey's Anatomy gave its characters some much-needed breathing room after the frenetic rocket launch that was its debut. That being said, it wasn't until 9 episodes in and this Thanksgiving-centered episode that we truly saw the characters solidifying into the multi-dimensional people we came to love, hate, and mourn. Notably, Izzy's obsessive streak is fully revealed for the first time, and we're given a glimpse into George's very un-Georgelike family of hunting nuts.
Gilmore Girls S3E9: A Deep-Fried Korean Thanksgiving
Expectations of attendance at four different Thanksgiving celebrations actually sounds like the perfect thing for those speed-talking, junk food-loving titular girls, and yet, as it happens, not so much! After some endearing machinations, the most popular girls in Stars Hollow please everyone — and one even gets a kiss! And that little girl who got kissed is now engaged to the guy who plays Pete Campbell.
There was a time, children, that ER was a very big deal, and during that long-ago era, Juliana Margulies' Nurse Carol Hathaway (and her romance with George Clooney's Dr. Doug Ross) was the heart of the show (which is ironic, because she was supposed to have committed suicide in the pilot). And it is in this very special Thanksgiving episode that she gives birth to the Hathaway-Ross twins, Tess and Kate — and also brings into the show Maura Tierney's Abby Lockhart, who would eventually fill the gap created by Margulies' exit from the show. Oh, children, it was truly an age of wonder.
Despite my documented dislike of Friends, I have to give it the recognition it deserves: it really did produce excellent Thanksgiving episodes. This is the one that started it all, with the twin amusements of Joey as the face of an anti-STD campaign, and Chandler's plan to boycott the holiday (for reasons that would continue to be explored years into the show's run). But the episode's centerpiece, namely the escape of the Underdog balloon from the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, that sets the plot — and the show's winning streak — into motion.
A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving Special
No, it's not an "episode" per se, but not including it on this list would be an act of television critic sacrilege for which I'm unprepared. Since its premiere in 1973, this heartwarming Peanuts special has aired every single year. It features Snoopy in a Pilgrim costume and opens with Charlie Brown still unable to kick that elusive football down the field. Right, like I really need to tell you what happens here.