1 of 26
26. A COLBERT CHRISTMAS
Yes, Stephen Colbert puts current events into proper perspective on his Emmy-winning Colbert Report, but the dude can also sing. On this new classic special, he gets into tune with the holiday spirit with help from Willie Nelson, John Legend, Feist, and — a Christmas miracle! — Jon Stewart.
2 of 26
25. HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER
Admittedly, Slapsgiving is better conceptually than in execution. But what a concept! After waiting 115 days (according to the CBS Slap Countdown) to receive the third of five slaps from Marshall as a result of the first Slap Bet, Barney finally gets what's coming to him. And while it was nice that he begged, lost his mind, and composed a song for the event, the slap really was more about the anticipation. Still, HIMYM gets cruelty points for holiday violence; Slapsgiving certainly gave us a reason to be thankful.
3 of 26
24. MARRIED... WITH CHILDREN
''Hot off the Grill'' (1989)
Why include this Labor Day episode? One simple, never-to-be-repeated TV stunt: Marcy's dead aunt's ashes end up in the barbecue. Not to cook the burgers — in the burgers. Yeah. Moving on...
4 of 26
''Return of the King'' (2007)
Send Ari (Jeremy Piven) back to Hebrew school! The Day of Atonement does not mean you scheme to woo your cash-cow ex-client by fronting as his agent and for the movie he isn't even in. It does not mean you manipulate everything so that by the end of the night, ex-client's lost his new agent/girlfriend, not to mention the movie. And holy of holies, it does not mean that ''As long as you apologize by sundown, it doesn't matter what you do.'' Unless you're in L.A., then all's fair.
5 of 26
GOB BLUTH (WILL ARNETT)
from Arrested Development
We can't help feeling a certain something for Gob, and it's not envy, or even hungry. No, we love the dysfunctional Bluth family's oldest-son illusionist because he is so cluelessly moronic: Among many, many other things, he managed to kill a dove simply by walking into a door and to fire the Bluth Company's entire staff after a not-so-successful Christmas party. But why should we be insulting the guy in the $3,000-dollar suit? Come on!
6 of 26
21. FAMILY GUY
''A Very Special Family Guy Freakin' Christmas'' (2001)
Peter donates all of the family's presents to charity, Brian accidentally burns the house down, and Lois snaps. Only Stewie, starring as baby Jesus in the nativity, has any real idea what Christmas is all about: appeasing the omnipotent god Santa, so that he might judge him worthy and bestow gifts upon him — in this case, plutonium.
7 of 26
20. NORTHERN EXPOSURE
''Fish Story'' (1994)
Give this one credit for thinking big. When Maggie wants to make a Passover Seder for Joel, he balks. Later, while fishing, he hooks local Cicely legend, Goony, a sturgeon said to weigh half a ton. While following the fish in a rowboat, Joel has a dream in which he and his rabbi from New York have a serious chat inside the belly of the beast. By the time his Jonah moment is over, Joel realizes he's been pushing Maggie away. In a lesser show's hands, a mid-stream biblical allegory might've sent fans fleeing.
8 of 26
19. MY SO-CALLED LIFE
''So-Called Angels'' (1994)
So-called, because while Patty (Bess Armstrong) seems like a nice mom, what with her always struggling to do the right thing, she often has trouble figuring out what that is. Enter singer Juliana Hatfield as an angel who brings Patty toward her faith, and away from her Scroogey ways. By the time the angel gets through with her, Patty's taking Angela (Claire Danes) up on her plea to help her bruised, homeless friend Rickey (Wilson Cruz), and seriously counting her blessings.
9 of 26
''A Roswell Christmas Carol'' (2000)
For Max (Jason Behr), the holidays mean coming face to face with a moral conundrum: when to bust out the superpowers. While Christmas shopping, he sees a father sacrifice his life to save his daughter from a car accident. Dead Dad then haunts Max, Dickens style, demanding to know why he didn't use his alien skills to help him. In the end, Max does use his gifts — at a children's hospital ward. It's all sweet and touching...and would almost be cloying if Katherine Heigl weren't spinning around in a holiday dervish as Isabel, the ''Christmas Nazi.''
10 of 26
17. CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM
''Mary, Joseph and Larry'' (2002)
It's bad enough that Larry eats the Christmas cookies meant for Cheryl's family's Nativity scene. But since when is ''bad enough'' ever good enough for Larry, who's made a career out of adding insult to injury? To atone for confusing baby Jesus with an animal cookie, he hires actors to do a live Nativity — then makes one of his usual tasteless remarks about the Virgin Mary. Stay classy, Larry.
11 of 26
16. THE O.C.
''The Best Chrismukkah Ever'' (2003)
It's probably best to ignore the drama, i.e. Marissa's (Mischa Barton) drinking and Caleb's (Alan Dale) shady land deals, and just focus on the interfaith holy alliance that is Chrismukkah. How powerful are the heavenly forces of good when they combine to form one delightfully long-lasting, present-laden holiday? Put it this way: For one brief moment, Seth Cohen (Adam Brody) has two hot chicks after his scrawny bod.
12 of 26
15. ALLY McBEAL
''Blue Christmas'' (1999)
The whole series was practically a musical, so it's no surprise that they boogied through the holidays. The best? Season 3, when Ally (Calista Flockhart) and Renee (Lisa Nicole Carson) put up $1,000 that they can ''out-sex'' each other at the office Christmas party. Ally, naturally, picks the flirtiest of carols, ''Santa Baby,'' outfitted with a Santa suit and her trademark itty-bitty skirt.
13 of 26
14. WILL & GRACE
''Lows in the Mid-80s'' (2000)
Flashback: Columbia University, 1985. An unfortunately coiffed Grace (Debra Messing) wonders why her boyfriend Will (Eric McCormack) seems so reluctant to take their relationship to the next level, i.e., see her naked. Of course, that annoying little gnat of a new kid named Jack (Sean Hayes) thinks it couldn't be more obvious: Will's queer as folk. It all comes out when Will does — at Grace's parents house over Thanksgiving break. Oh well. At least he really did want to just be friends.
14 of 26
Behold, a Thanksgiving miracle built on disappointment! Noel (Scott Foley) breaks up with long-distance girlfriend Hannah (Jennifer Garner), who's headed off to art school. Meanwhile, all of Felicity's friends realize that their own families are giant emotional voids, so they all end up back in the dorms to eat a hastily procured turkey with their new college family. Awww.
15 of 26
12. SOUTH PARK
''Mr. Hankey the Xmas Poo'' (1997)
The kind version is that Mr. Hankey is the modern equivalent of Charlie Brown's Christmas tree, helping to bring the town's Jews and Christians together to realize the true meaning of the season. The gross version is that Kyle is besties with a talking piece of crap who likes smearing himself on people, and taking baths in their coffee.
16 of 26
11. BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER
Sure, the costume shopkeeper seems creepy now. But when Buffy (Sarah Michelle Geller), Willow (Alyson Hannigan), and Xander (Nicholas Brendon) got their Halloween togs, no one had any idea that he was plotting a spell to fuse everyone's identities with their costume. Thus, Buffy becomes a 19th century lass, Willow disappears into her ghost sheet, and Xander morphs into a general, which — clever show! — serves him well later in the series when the united slayers need a field commander. It's so much fun, we don't even need all the gooey love stuff between Buffy and Angel (David Boreanaz) at the end...but we'll take it.
17 of 26
''Xmas Story'' (1999)
''Xmas Story'' feels so right because it is so very wrong. Christmas is now officially Xmas, palm trees replace firs (which have been extinct for centuries), and the list-checking is done by Robot Santa. Only this Santa thinks everybody's guilty and deserves the death penalty — which means that all the good little boys and girls who value their lives stay home and pack heat. Sure, there are probably less trigger-happy ways to unite families, but isn't forced togetherness what Xmas is really about?
18 of 26
''The One with Chandler in a Box'' (1999)
Chandler's string of crappy Thanksgivings (see: comically painful childhood) hits a peak after he's caught kissing the woman Joey's crushing on, Kathy (guest Paget Brewster), and Joey makes him stay in a wooden crate in the living room as punishment. Cringeworthy enough? No, that requires Kathy coming by and dumping Chandler...while he's still in the box. It's funnier to pretend it ended there, and not with Joey letting Chandler out and Kathy taking him back.
19 of 26
8. THE OFFICE (U.K.)
Christmas special (2003)
It's almost unbearable in the beginning: David Brent (Ricky Gervais) whores his D-list ''celebrity'' judging contests in clubs, while Tim (Martin Freeman) pines for Dawn (Lucy Davis), who's living most unhappily in the U.S. — and still not married to her jerky boyfriend. But all it takes is a reunion Christmas party in Slough to bring everyone together: David with his promising new date, Dawn with her self-esteem, and Tim (at long last) with Dawn. Series finales are rarely this satisfying.
20 of 26
7. THE COSBY SHOW
''Cliff's Wet Adventure'' (1989)
Ostensibly, Thanksgiving is about families coming together, like Denise (Lisa Bonet) inviting her husband's stranded ex (guest Victoria Rowell) to dinner. But this one is really about watching Cliff (Bill Cosby) brave a massive rainstorm every time he forgets something at the grocery store.
21 of 26
Roseanne's Halloweens, with their outrageous gags and elaborate stunts, are so beloved, there's even a special DVD of them. Might as well start with the first one, featuring a showdown between Roseanne (Roseanne BarrThomasArnoldWhatever), Dan (John Goodman), and Darlene (Sara Gilbert) over who can come up with the scariest costume. The Conner ''House of Horror'' is better than any real haunted house we've ever screamed through.
22 of 26
5. THE WEST WING
''In Excelsis Deo'' (1999)
Wing's first White House Christmas set the mark for the series, in an episode that won Emmys for writing and for Richard Schiff, as Toby Ziegler. After getting a phone call asking him to identify a body, Toby learns that the deceased is wearing a coat he'd given to charity, with his business card still in the pocket. When he finds that the man was a homeless Korean War vet, he arranges for him to be buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery. It's patriotism at its most subtle.
23 of 26
''Thanksgiving Orphans'' (1986)
As far as we know, Norm's (George Wendt) wife Vera has pastry for a face, since that's all we ever saw of her. With the whole gang (including Shelley Long's Diane, dressed as a pilgrim) at Carla's (Rhea Pearlman), the evening takes a slapsticky (or just plain sticky) turn when Norm's turkey, ''Birdzilla,'' takes so long to cook that everyone gets loopy and starts flinging food. As Diane aims a pie at Sam (Ted Danson), he ducks, and she accidentally creams the surprise arrival, Norm's mystery missus, square in the kisser.
24 of 26
''I'll be Home for Christmas'' (1987)
Jewish Michael (Ken Olin) happily celebrated Christmas with Hope's (Mel Harris) family before they had a kid. But now what? Break out a tree or light candles? Or, true to the series, just stress about it? Fortunately for him, while he didn't marry a nice Jewish girl, he did land an understanding shiksa. With snow falling outside, Michael comes home to discover Hope, cousin Melissa (Melanie Mayron) and the baby lighting a Menorah. Michael gets teary, Melissa gets huggy, and The O.C. comes along, invents Chrismukkah, and saves inter-faith couples from ever having to kvetch about the holidays again.
25 of 26
2. THE SIMPSONS
''I Love Lisa'' (1993)
We choo-choo-choose this fourth-season gem for three reasons: 1) It perfectly illustrates why kids' Valentine's Day cards are secretly evil, when Lisa's pity post to Ralph Wiggum makes him all twitterpated. 2) We nevertheless gain new respect for Ralph when he turns out to be emotionally manipulative and willing to abuse his position as a police chief's son. 3) It proves that art comes from suffering as Ralph turns out to be one heck of a George Washington in the school play — opposite Lisa's Martha. Act on, developmentally stunted thespian!
26 of 26
''The Strike'' (1993)
It's called ''The Strike'' because Kramer (Michael Richards) finally ends his 12-year walkout from a job at H&H Bagels, but it's better known as the episode that gave us Festivus, ''the holiday for the rest of us.'' Feats of Strength, the Airing of Grievances, the ceremonial aluminum pole — they're all there. What's not? George (Jason Alexander), as he flees from the room every time anyone brings up the un-holiday — not that we're judging him. If we had to wrestle Papa Costanza (Jerry Stiller), we'd run too.