In general, I’m not a fan of holidays. As a certified grump who does not like other people to decide when I’m not going to work and is not particularly interested in travel when everybody else in the universe is traveling, and any sort of gathering of people I do not see on a regular basis tends to lead to some combination of rage and alienation for all involved. Thanksgiving may be my least favorite of all, as it takes those two inevitabilities and then adds indigestion to its parade of suffering.
But I do love a Thanksgiving episode of television, and I have found that not only do the Thanksgiving entries tend to be my favorites of series I love, but I also love a Turkey Day story from shows I don’t care about. (I never really watched Felicity, but have seen the first season’s “Thanksgiving” probably a dozen times.) So before we get to this week’s The Grinder (a show I do care about, and which presented a pretty solid Thanksgiving entry), here are my five favorite Thanksgiving specials. These aren’t definitive, but I will be watching them this week.
As previously mentioned, I was never really a regular watcher of Felicity, probably because I was actually a student at New York University while it was on the air. (As a rule, everybody I went to school with pretty much hated Felicity, mostly because NYU was replaced with the fictional University of New York, which for some reason drove people crazy.) But “Thanksgiving” is great, because it’s about the families we create when we’re on our own, be it in a college dorm or the wilds of adulthood. It drives home the idea that you are rarely put in a position to choose the people you can depend on, but you depend on them anyway. Few shows — particularly teen shows — have managed to capture that essence on screen.
Dawson’s Creek, “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?”
On the other hand, Dawson’s Creek remains one of my favorite shows of all time. Admittedly, this probably wouldn’t land in my all-time top 25 episodes of Creek, but it’s still an excellent Turkey Day ep. It’s one of the show’s soapiest hours, with Jen’s mother randomly popping up for the big holiday dinner to reveal that Eve, the strange blonde in town toying with Dawson’s emotions, is actually Jen’s half-sister. It also features a solid use of Alanis Morissette’s “That I Would Be Good.”
The Sopranos, “He Is Risen”
One of the best mini-arcs The Sopranos presented was the head butting between Tony and Ralph, with much of their tension stemming from a dead stripper (and an invitation for a drink). This is a great hour of television if only for the appearance of Janice’s narcoleptic boyfriend Aaron, who gets a dinner roll tossed at his head for his trouble.
Mad Men, “Public Relations”
This is the episode wherein Sally Draper gags her way through her first Thanksgiving with stepdad Henry’s overbearing family. Sally Draper is the greatest television character of the 21st century. Come at me.
Buffy, the Vampire Slayer, “Pangs”
The main story of this episode is sort of boring, with the Scooby Gang holed up at Giles’ house for Thanksgiving while a vengeful Native American spirit attacks them. It excels because it begins the fourth season saga of Spike, who has escaped from the militant Initiative, living with Giles. Their Odd Couple shtick is one of the comedic highlights of the series. Also, “Pangs” was a crossover event with Angel, which really boosted that show’s opening season.
“Giving Thanks, Getting Justice” won’t take the place of any of the above, but The Grinder passed yet another freshman year test with a solid holiday episode that also gives us a little more insight into how Dean Sanderson ended up back home. It opens, as it always does, with a scene from The Grinder, except instead of the Sanderson family watching at home, we’re actually on set for the shooting of an episode directed by Cliff Bemis (a delightfully oily Jason Alexander). The script calls for Dean to take his shirt off, but Dean waffles. He wants to get back to making shows that were about edgy ideas, but Bemis is mostly into the ratings draw that is Dean’s bare chest.
NEXT: A Thanksgiving surprise