Enjoy one of our favorites from the Paste Vault, originally published 11/26/2015.
Holidays often bring out the best in sitcoms, but Thanksgiving is uniquely qualified to inspire special episodes. It’s non-religious, so networks won’t have any fear about offending anybody, and it’s entirely about hanging out with family, whether it’s real flesh and blood or the makeshift kind that pops up in so many sitcoms. A list of great Christmas episodes, for instance, wouldn’t have been as easy to put together as this one. Here are 10 of the funniest Thanksgiving sitcom episodes we’ve ever seen.
Bob Newhart’s stand-up career was built on deadpan, playing a one-man straight man trying to contain his composure during one-sided phone calls and while dealing with unseen annoyances. He remained the straight man on his sitcoms, although he cut loose in this classic Thanksgiving episode from The Bob Newhart Show. Newhart, his neighbor Bill Daily, his office mate Peter Bonerz and his patient Jack Riley get to act drunk while watching a football game on the holiday, and their fast-paced patter is hilarious today even if you don’t know anything about the show or the characters. It also pulls off the neat trick of putting four characters who didn’t interact that often as a group together and having three of them grow progressively less reserved; Riley’s Mr. Carlin barely changes as he drinks, but as the others become drunker he goes from the least reality-based member of the group into the most grounded and level-headed, despite not changing at all.—Garrett Martin
All in the Family can be as uncomfortable to watch today as it was 40 years ago. It’s sad that you can still hear the same type of arguments that Archie Bunker would espouse on certain “news” stations today. It’s also still funny, though, especially this episode where Archie and his son-in-law Mike argue whether Mike’s child will be raised as a Christian or not. We’re all used to having to put up with relatives we disagree with politically at the Thanksgiving table; unfortunately for Mike, he had to live with his.—GM
As God was his witness, the Big Guy thought turkeys could fly. And, well, in real life they can, at least for short periods of time. Of course if we let facts get in the way we wouldn’t be able to enjoy one of the greatest holiday episodes of any television show, when the beleaguered radio station WKRP tossed live turkeys out of a helicopter as a holiday promotion. Les Nessman quoted Herbert Morrison’s radio broadcast of the Hindenburg disaster as turkeys crashed through windshields and splattered on the ground. WKRP was always a bit more outlandish than its MTM brethren (fitting for a show about a rock station trying really hard to be “wild and crazy” during the glory days of FM radio), but the show’s great cast reacted perfectly in character to this plot twist. WKRP was only a few months old at the time, but this episode proves it already knew exactly what kind of show it wanted to be, which is rare for such a young sitcom.—GM
Cheers was rarely a story-driven show. Its greatest strengths were the chemistry of its cast and a relaxed pace that, by today’s standards, feels amiably lazy. This memorable Thanksgiving episode fully exploits both. Sitcoms are almost always about family, whether it be the nuclear kind or the ersatz ones that form between friends and coworkers. “Thanksgiving Orphans” moves the whole Cheers family from the bar to Carla’s house, where whatever tensions exist in the bar are magnified considerably. After a day of boredly watching TV and sniping at each other, they all fail to cook a worthwhile meal, and wind up having what might be the longest food fight in sitcom history. This cathartic mess brings them together, reminding this group of underdogs why they like each other’s company in the first place. It’s the only episode where Norm’s wife Vera appears, and of course she gets hit with a pie that completely obscures her face before we can get a glimpse of her.—GM
This is the time of year where we pause and give thanks, and there is so much to be grateful for in Seinfeld’s “The Mom and Pop Store”: I’m thankful for the scene where Kramer gets bitten by Jon Voight. I’m thankful for the fact that Elaine accidentally turned down a date with Tim Whatley because she couldn’t hear and thought he was offering her nuts. I’m thankful for the way Kramer grins and says “he’s a troublemaker” after George asks if Woody the Woodpecker is supposed to be “some sort of an instigator.” I’m thankful for the way Jerry accidentally pierces a balloon in the Macy’s parade, and yes, I’m thankful for the Midnight Cowboy send-up that closes one of the best Thanksgiving episodes of all time.—Bonnie Stiernberg
Friends consistently brought its A game when it came to Thanksgiving episodes, from runaway parade balloons, to Brad Pitt dinner guests and disgusting trifles. But one of its strangest episodes ever was “The One With Chandler in a Box,” where as the title explains, Chandler has to spend all of Thanksgiving in a box to apologize for kissing Joey’s girlfriend, with only an air hole to speak through and occasionally poke a finger out of. It’s an incredibly odd choice for a show like Friends, but the conceit is brilliantly executed and even makes its audience forget the Chandler is the bad guy in the situation. Friends was never shy about trying a crazy idea, despite its popularity, and by putting one of its main characters in a box for an episode that should be about togetherness, Friends created a great comedic conceit that was different from how other shows would handle such a situation.Ross Bonaime
Like every episode of How I Met Your Mother episode, there’s plenty of nonsense in “Slapsgiving” about the constantly shifting relationship between Ted and Robin and, honestly, who cares? The real stars of “Slapsgiving” end up being Marshall and Barney, who is dreading an upcoming slap to the face from Marshall on Thanksgiving day. The episode was the beginning of a Slapsgiving trilogy of episodes, but the first delivers one of the best slaps and moments of the entire series. If Marshall slapping the always-douchey Barney in the face isn’t enough to celebrate, he follows it up with HIMYM’s greatest song “You Just Got Slapped,” a perfect dessert for the holiday.—RB
The criminally underwatched Ed—which followed a disgraced lawyer opening up a new office at a bowling alley—was always about making a new family out of friends and loved ones. Ed had recently found out that his wife had been cheating on him with their mailman, which prompted him to move back to his hometown of Stuckeyville, Ohio. The show’s first Thanksgiving episode “Something Old, Something New” dealt with getting over someone and starting again and creating your own family. Ed was a charming, sweet show, filled with incredibly weird comedy, which was on display in this episode. Ed’s best friend bets him to find out where a grocery store keeps its lettuce, but can only call it “Le Tuce,” while Michael Ian Black’s scheming Phil Stubbs attempted to sell regular turkeys for hundreds of dollars by calling them “fine Corinthian turkeys.” Ed was a weird show, but the heartwarming tone underneath blossomed beautifully on holidays like Thanksgiving. Although not fully a traditional sitcom—it was an hour-long, after all—Ed’s comedy always overshadowed its dramatic moments, and this was one of its funniest episodes.—RB
Leave it to the perverse but big-hearted Bob’s Burgers to pay homage to Indecent Proposal in the form of a Thanksgiving special. “An Indecent Thanksgiving Proposal,” in which the Belchers minus Bob agree to pose as Mr. Fischoeder’s family for a holiday dinner in exchange for five months off their rent, is already something of a modern classic. Linda’s “Thanksgiving Song,” which segues abruptly and hilariously between lyrics about food and gratitude for her family’s affection, inspired a mournful cover by The National. But the real highlight of this episode comes when an absinthe-drunk Bob—consigned to the kitchen so that Mr. Fischoeder can use Linda to make a potential lover jealous—has a beautiful hallucination of Lance the Turkey, who, for some reason, looks a lot like Totoro.—May Saunders
With the ninth season finale of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, The Gang finally had the realization that hey, maybe they’re complete assholes. As always in these moments of personal understanding, though, it starts off with their best intentions to get better and ends with them becoming even worse than they started. “The Gang Squashes Their Beefs” has The Gang inviting people over for Thanksgiving that they have beef with in order to squash said beefs, however it would take an entire stadium to fill up all the beef-owners. Instead we get the best of the best, bringing together Gail the Snail, the McPoyles and Rickety Cricket, who by episode’s end, have even more reasons to hate The Gang, especially when they lock them in a burning apartment. But as Frank (sort of) sweetly puts, as their enemies wait to burn to death on Thanksgiving, “we don’t need anyone else, we’ve got each other!”—RB