We’ve all had to accept that this year’s Thanksgiving is going to suck. We’re closing in on 9 months in various degrees of quarantine, and it’s that “various” part that ensures we stay in quarantine. Because of that, we’re not traveling, we’re not gathering, it feels like we don’t have a lot to be thankful for. Because all of our traditions are on pause, there’s some comfort to be found in knowing that all our favorite TV shows are still there to make us laugh or, at the very least, distract us.
That’s where this list comes in—a list that serves a different purpose from the usual “Best Thanksgiving Episodes Ever” ones. This list is filled with nothing but all-time great episodes, but it’s specifically focused on the Thanksgiving episodes that will make you feel like you’re part of a big, rowdy, loving, fraught, awkward family gathering. We’re talking visiting relatives, battling in-laws, botched dinners, flying turkeys, and episodes stuffed with general mayhem.
If you need all the family feels this year, let these episodes tickle your funny bone in between Zooms with your loved ones. And stay safe, readers.
Table of Contents
‘That Girl,’ “Thanksgiving Comes But Once A Year, Hopefully” (1967)
Even though this classic is over 50 years old, couples of all ages will be able to relate to this episode of That Girl—the first of many Thanksgiving episodes on this list to feature overbearing parents. When Ann (Marlo Thomas) and Donald decide to host their own Thanksgiving with both his and her parents on the guest list, things quickly spiral out of control. We’ve got multiple birds stuffed with various foods roasting in multiple ovens—but there’s only one Marlo Thomas to keep it all running smoothly!
‘The Bob Newhart Show,’ “An American Family” (1974)
While everyone rightfully singles out The Bob Newhart Show’s Season 4 Thanksgiving episode, the one where Dur Bob Hartley gets drunk and orders too much Chinese food, the Season 3 one actually feels way more appropriate for this lonely year. The Hartley’s Thanksgiving dinner keeps growing as more parents show up; there’s even a deep cut reference in this episode to the above That Girl episode. Can Bob and Emily make room for their feuding families, and—perhaps more importantly—can Carol trash the creepy retainer brooch Jerry made for her without him noticing?
‘Cheers,’ “Thanksgiving Orphans” (1986)
Of course you should stream the best Thanksgiving sitcom episode of all time this year and every year. But this year, the themes stuffed inside this episode—found family, making the best out of a tense situation—matter even more. Cheers‘ greatest strength was its cast, a ragtag group of people who all didn’t belong anywhere else, in one way or another. That’s what this episode highlights, and you’ll feel like part of the gang by the time the food starts flying.
‘Roseanne,’ “We Gather Together” (1989)
Things are so different this year that we’re gonna even miss all the family infighting that comes along with the holiday. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Roseanne did Thanksgiving showdowns better than any other sitcom—and sometimes those fights got too physical. That’s not the case with this one, Season 2’s “We Gather Together.” This is just good ol’ fashioned passive aggressive behavior that boils over into big declarations, like Jackie finally telling her uptight mom that she’s a cop. If you miss the sound of a parent’s disappointed groans on Thanksgiving, put this one on.
‘The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,’ “Talking Turkey” (1990)
A visit from Will’s mom puts the entire upper crust Banks family on blast. Why are these kids always relying on a gardener or butler to do everything for them? To teach her kids and nephew a thing about self-reliance, Aunt Viv tasks the teens with preparing the Thanksgiving meal. Believe it or not, Hilary and Carlton barely know how to use a can opener! If you’ve ever had to prove a point to your family during Thanksgiving, then this one will hit close to home.
‘Mad About You,’ “Giblets for Murray” (1994)
Mad About You’s signature, naturalistic style really plays into the strengths of the Thanksgiving sitcom episode. Paul and Jamie’s anxiety simmers as more and more relatives arrive with increasingly specific demands (veggie lasagna, cranberries in a can, so many different potatoes). That incredibly believable anxiety boils over when they find their dog, Murray, housing the turkey. From that moment forward, “Giblets for Murray” becomes one of the most madcap Thanksgiving episodes ever.
‘Friends,’ “The One Where Ross Got High” (1999)
Let’s be honest: you can pretty much put on any Friends Thanksgiving episode and be thankful (except for the one where Chandler suddenly hates dogs—what was with that?). But of all of them, Season 6’s “The One Where Ross Got High” is exactly the right one to watch this year. Not only does it have stellar guest turns from Ross and Monica’s parents (“It did not taste good”), but it features a bunch of hilarious plots that culminate in one of the series’ best rapid-fire joke chains (“I love Jacques Cousteau!”). This episode is so good, it almost makes Rachel’s beef/pudding thing look tasty.
‘New Girl,’ “Parents” (2012)
Like Friends, New Girl also knew how to take Thanksgiving episodes up a notch with their annual disasters. This year, you should check out Season 2’s “Parents” if you’re really missing the quality time with your parents. Jamie Lee Curtis and Rob Reiner guest star as Jess’ incredibly lovable—but totally estranged—parents. These two legends fit right in with the loft gang. The same can’t be said for Schmidt’s extremely macho cousin, played by a sometimes shirtless Rob Riggle. But that’s beside the point! The point is—can Jess pull off a Thanksgiving miracle and get her parents back together?
‘Bob’s Burgers,’ “Turkey in a Can” (2013)
Like Friends and New Girl, Bob’s Burgers is another show that takes the holidays very seriously—which is appropriate, since Turkey Day is Bob’s favorite day. Of all of this show’s annual winner winner turkey dinner episodes, “Turkey in a Can” is the one that’s going to give you that feeling of being stuck in a house with too many people trying to do too many things. Tina’s trying to sit at the adults’ table! Linda’s trying to write a Thanksgiving jam! Gayle’s making out with Mort and the deli guy is hitting on Bob! Cats are running around and Louise is making allegations and Bob is just trying to keep someone from dunking every turkey into the toilet!!
‘Brooklyn Nine-Nine,’ “Mr. Santiago” (2016)
It’s totally understandable if you’re nostalgic for the most awkward of Thanksgiving events—meeting your significant other’s parents for the first time. That’s what Jake has to deal with in this episode when he comes face to face with the titular Mr. Santiago (Jimmy Smits!). The real star of this episode—no, not Jason Mantzoukas—is the killer turkey that gets set loose in the apartment. Yeah, a real, live turkey with ferocious talons and velociraptor instincts. Steer clear of that bird!