Thanksgiving is the holiday best suited for TV watching. The whole family is gathered in and around the kitchen, dozens of dishes are being prepared, and everyone wants to save any substantial conversation for the dinner table. Or maybe you’re putting off talking to some especially prying relatives. Whatever the case, TV is there to rescue. And the best choice of show is clear: The National Dog Show.
The variety of options for Thanksgiving TV is lacking. The most popular is football, with three professional games on the day to fill the hours. There’s also usually a college game as well. But even though watching football on Thanksgiving is an American tradition, if you happen to not be particularly interested in sports (or the teams playing), then it becomes boring pretty fast.
There’s also the abhorrent spectacle that is the Macy Thanksgiving Day Parade. If I can be frank, the Macy Thanksgiving Day Parade sucks. It’s miserable on TV and even more so in person. The singers are all lip syncing, and most of them are visibly suffering through the cold. You spend the whole time just wanting to see the Snoopy balloon, and once he leaves there’s no reason to care anymore. The best parts are when there are technical malfunctions and you get an out of body experience as you realize how the whole event is hanging on by a thread. Yes, it’s an American tradition, but it’s also bad TV.
Luckily, once the parade ends we are greeted with the best Thanksgiving Day programming around: the National Dog Show. Produced by the American Kennel Club, The National Dog Show is a pure holiday delight wrapped in two short hours. Airing on NBC since 2002, this is now the 20th anniversary of the show that saved Thanksgiving TV.
One element that sets the National Dog Show apart from other dog shows is how casual it is. It doesn’t have the stuffy prestige of the Westminster Dog Show, so it actually looks like the people and puppies are having fun! Especially since the show is technically open to anyone with a dog in a qualifying breed to enter. There are average dogs with average owners. And yes, those dogs often don’t end up winning, but it’s so delightful to see a convention center filled with 52 different golden retrievers.
Having amaetur dogs in the competition also means that some of the dogs are not as… refined as others. This leads to the best moments of the show, when an excited pup starts jumping and playing around during its walk, mistaking the occasion for a game of chase. You know they won’t win anymore, but the dog looks like they’re having so much fun. It’s enough to bring a smile to anyone’s face, which is the best positive reaction possible from a Thanksgiving Day TV program.
The National Dog Show hosts are perfectly suited for the occasion as well, helping to maintain the fun and casual atmosphere throughout. Actor and TV presenter John O’Hurley is joined by American Kennel Club Judge David Frei. Frei is able to display actual knowledge about the dogs being shown, while O’Hurley fawns over just how cute they are. The two have developed a great rapport with each other. Their discussions and playful observations make it clear that they’re having fun being there (it’s reminiscent of Nintendogs contest announcers Archie and Ted). It’s easy for dog shows to be silly and pretentious, but O’Hurley and Frei make the show entertaining for viewers first without losing the heart of it all: the dogs.
So let’s talk about the dogs. Obviously, they’re adorable. But Thanksgiving TV is a communal experience first, and nothing brings people together like looking at dozens of dogs. Your mom points out which ones she wants to have. Your aunt points out which ones have stupid haircuts (they always do the poodles so dirty). Every year you’re reminded of a dog breed you’ve never even heard of.
But suddenly, watching the show evolves. Everyone starts telling stories about a particularly adorable Golden Retriever that lived next to them growing up. You start talking about your own family and dog and how well they would do during the show. You speculate how one even becomes a dog show judge. The National Dog Show quickly becomes the epicenter of a multitude of discussions about the safest conversation piece possible: dogs.
The National Dog Show also fosters a lighter breed of competitiveness. People find their favorites and root for them until the very end. You hope the Pekingese makes it far; he always looks so stupid with his fluffy haircut that bobbles as he walks like a living Swiffer duster. You start to form grudges against other dogs, wishing for the downfall of the prestigious Scottish Deerhound and hope the underdog—the humble labrador retriever—can make it to the final selection.
Since the National Dog Show is pre-recorded and edited into two hours, that means we only watch the best of the best. The show never lags, there’s always another dog ready to take the stage. The best thing a Thanksgiving show can be is easy to pop in and out of without ever coming in at a “bad time.” If you come in from the kitchen to take a break, there will be at least one adorable dog on screen.
Thanksgiving TV doesn’t need to be anything spectacular. But in the limited options available, the National Dog Show is an absolute crowd pleaser. It’s cute, it’s fun, and it will guarantee no one in the family will start talking about politics or when you’re getting married. The problems only start when those two hours are over… and I guess football works then. Just don’t make me watch the re-airing of the Macy Thanksgiving Day Parade. Please.
The National Dog Show airs Thursday, November 24th from 12-2 p.m. ET on NBC. An encore plays November 26th at 8 p.m. ET
Leila Jordan is a writer and former jigsaw puzzle world record holder. To talk about all things movies, TV, and useless trivia you can find her @galaxyleila
For all the latest TV news, reviews, lists and features, follow @Paste_TV.