Why are these the Big Three?
It's a matter of recognition. Ask anyone to name five Charlie Brown specials (there were 44 made over about thirty-five years, and that doesn't include the 1980s Saturday morning cartoons or the animated miniseries in the late 80s) and these three will probably be in there. It's not because they were the first three produced, which is a common misconception, probably because Christmas was first. But Great Pumpkin was actually third in line (right after the seldom-replayed Charlie Brown's All-Stars), and Thanksgiving was actually tenth.
After ten episodes over six years, maybe the production team was running out of steam. And it's fair to say that even though there were 34 more specials still yet to come post-1973, none of them have had the staying power of the first few. None are rerun on network television anymore; most are available on DVD, and that's where they'll languish, most likely. But A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving comes back every year. And as much a Peanuts fan as I am, I have to wonder why.
Perhaps it's the fact that the show is heavy on Peppermint Patty. (There's probably a Marcie joke here, but I trust you can do that for yourself.) I never liked Patty as a character, and here, its her presumptuous and rude nature that prompts the reason for the whole show: she invites herself, Marcie, and Franklin over for Thanksgiving dinner at Charlie Brown's. Charlie Brown, of course, can't bring himself to say no, so he ends up making a sad kids-can't-cook version of Thanksgiving dinner.
The dinner is supposed to be the "classic" part of this show, and indeed, I had friends in college who made this exact dinner one Thanksgiving. And it was as bad as you might think. Toast, popcorn, pretzels, and jelly beans. Okay, I get the joke. But even this makes no sense. Toast I get. Pretzels, fine. But what kid gets to make his own popcorn (especially in 1973)? And where in the hell does one find jelly beans in November? Were these left over from the Easter Beagle?
My least favorite part of A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving is the moral. This bugs especially because the moral is my favorite part of the Christmas and Halloween specials. But in Thanksgiving, the moral, basically, is that Peppermint Patty is an obtrusive bitch. This is the way the problem is solved: Marcie tells Patty that she's out of line. And then she says "but that's why I love you," and kisses her hard on the mouth. (No, I made that last part up, though that may have saved this show. Seriously.)
The best part of A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving comes, of course, courtesy of the inimitable Linus van Pelt. In his Thanksgiving prayer, Linus quotes Elder William Brewster, a Pilgrim minister, who said: We thank God for our homes and our food and our safety in a new land. We thank God for the opportunity to create a new world for freedom and justice.
Lovely sentiment, even if you have to endure Peppermint Patty to get there. -- Teague Bohlen