Let’s face it: While you might share some chuckles with your family and friends across the dinner table, Thanksgiving isn’t a laugh-out-loud sort of holiday. It's mostly parades and football and televised dog shows (that is, if NBC succeeds in making that the tradition it desperately wants it to be). But if you watch your share of classic TV, you'll find plenty of television sitcoms that have embraced the holiday over the years. So here are the ten best sitcoms that you can watch in advance of the holiday to whet your appetite — or watch onTurkey Day if you're alone and need some companionship. Most of these are just clips, but a couple — including the #1 slot! — offer up a delicious platter of the whole classic show, beginning to end. So prop up your laptop, eat your deli turkey sandwich and two slices of the pie of your choice, and enjoy the nostalgia.
10. How I Met Your Mother, “Slapsgiving”
One bet, five slaps. That's the conceit of this 2007 holiday episode that spawned a series of slap-tastic sequels on the legend — wait for it — dary sitcom. Yes, this is less about the spirit of the holiday and more about the sheer joy in seeing Barney Stinson (the sublime Neil Patrick Harris, who at this point has completely put Doogie Howser behind him) work to avoid, and finally fail, at dodging a well-deserved (and resounding) slap. Is it in keeping with the season to enjoy violence, however minor? Sure, why not? As Mel Brooks said: "Tragedy is when I cut my finger. Comedy is when you fall in an open sewer and die."
9. Family Ties, “No Nukes Is Good Nukes”
The Keaton clan is planning a traditional and homespun Thanksgiving dinner...but then Steven and Elyse get arrested at an anti-nuke rally and are put in jail for the holiday. Just typing that summary, it's clear how sitcommy this show could sometimes be, but this 1982 episode still retains its effective sentiment and considerable charm. Even when the morality hammer that it's hitting you over the head with tends to hurt a little.
8. Roseanne, “We Gather Together”
The ur-family from Illinois had a lot of Thanksgiving episodes, but this one from 1989 was the first. It was probably also the best, what with all the traditions of the holiday on full display: families bound only through marriage coming together despite not really knowing or liking each other, casual insults being tossed around like the football on the TV in the living room, and a deep dissatisfaction with the drudgery of cooking such a huge meal. As Roseanne puts it: “Here I am, five in the morning, stuffing breadcrumbs up a dead bird’s butt.”
7. Ed, “Something Old, Something New”
Okay, so Ed wasn't your traditional comedy — which is one of the reasons that it lasted a criminally short four years on NBC. It was smart, it was sentimental, it was at times absurd, and it was an hour long — which meant that the network didn't know what to do with it. This episode, from season 1, in 2000, shows the titular lawyer hosting his first Thanksgiving back in his home town at the Stuckeybowl, along with one of his ongoing $10 bets with his best friend, Mike, who this time has to ask for lettuce at the grocery store, but has to pronounce it "let-OOOSE" It's funnier than it sounds, much like this charming and big-hearted show itself.
6. Cheers, “Thanksgiving Orphans”
When members of the Cheers gang all find themselves alone on Thanksgiving, they decide to leave the bar for once and meet up at Carla's new house to spend the holiday together...which leads to sarcasm, mutual dissatisfaction and a massive food fight. This 1986 episode — which notably aired on Thanksgiving night itself — also marks the only time on the show when we actually see Norm’s long-suffering wife, Vera…obscured by the pumpkin pie she's just taken to the face, natch.
Keep reading for five more Thankgiving sitcom episodes.
5. The Brady Bunch, “The Un-Underground Movie”
If you grew up in the ’70s or ’80s (maybe even more recently), chances are good that you've seen this 1970 episode of The Brady Bunch. Yes, it's saccharine, and, yes, the portrayals of Native Americans are, shall we say, very "Make America Great Again." But there's an innocence here along with the casual racism — and as a picture of an America just waking up to how broad the civil-rights movement will become, it shows there's room for both some learning and some reminiscing.
4. Seinfeld, “The Mom and Pop Store”
It was a sitcom famously known for no hugging and no learning, so it makes sense that this 1989 Thanksgiving episode would focus on the fringe elements of the holiday — no turkey, no togetherness, no very-special-sentiment. Just resentment toward Jerry's dentist Tim Whatley for having an apartment overlooking the Macy's Parade route, anxiety over whether or not George's newly purchased used Volvo was in fact once owned by Jon Voight, and Elaine's boss, Mr. Pitt, being trapped under the deflated remains of a Woody Woodpecker parade balloon. Festive, right?
3. Friends, “The One With All the Thanksgivings”
It’s tough to pick just one episode of the now-classic sitcom Friends, since the show made it an annual tradition to have a show devoted to Turkey Day, but this episode from 1998 is pretty hard to top. Utilizing one of the show's other favorite tropes — the flashback to earlier points in the gang's unbelievably intertwined lives — this time it's Monica and Chandler's turn to go through the "What? How dare you? I'm sad. But your apologetic gesture makes it all okay. Let's kiss!" routine. But audiences ate that routine up with a proverbial spoon, didn't we?
2.. The Bob Newhart Show, “Over the River and Through the Woods”
If watching any episode of The Bob Newhart Show doesn’t make you want to live in a high-rise Chicago apartment in the 1970s, then there’s no hope for you. This 1975 episode features the age-old sitcom tradition of a bunch of people thrown together for the holidays...who just want to order some Chinese food. Seventies leisure-suit-style hilarity ensues.
1. WKRP in Cincinnati, “Turkeys Away”
This is it: The best Thanksgiving TV episode of all time, from the fall of 1978. If you don't understand why, click the link above, and you will understand, grasshopper. As God is my witness, you will understand.
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