I am not going to lie, you guys, I love me a holiday-themed television episode. You know why? Because TV people are my friends. Oh, I've got real-life friends, but TV friends are the friends who are more attractive than normal and have really interesting lives and will hang out with me from 11:00 p.m. to 5:00 a.m. when my husband is asleep because he has a job in the morning and I just feel like gulping down glass after glass of vodka and lemonade. BUT ENOUGH ABOUT ME. A few years ago, I tried to gather up all the Thanksgiving episodes I could find (I own a lot of TV on DVD, okay?) to watch with friends on the Day of the Turkey. I was marginally successful. I've since consulted the Internet Oracle of Useless Information (Wikipedia) and done some successful rewatching to bring you a list of Very Special Thanksgiving Episodes that should keep you busy--at least until someone decides to cash in big time by releasing Sarah Vowell favorite's sitcom Thanks on DVD. I've added helpful all-caps mood descriptions because I wanted to.
"Shibboleth": Season 2, Episode 8 of The West Wing
ODDLY PATRIOTIC AND CHARMINGLY ABSURD
The kind of main storyline about Chinese Christian refugees is blahblahblah pilgrims Bible freedom nonsense. The real winners in this episode are C.J. and her new turkey buddies and Charlie, with his unending patience, who is having trouble finding a carving knife that will satisfy the President, which is a detail that he apparently takes very, very seriously. You will laugh and your heart will be warmed. And there will be clever dialogue, walking and talking, aspirational politics, and fucking Allison fucking Janney becoming attached to turkeys.
Special bonus WW: Season 3, Episode 8, "The Indians in the Lobby" -Depressing reminders of Native American genocide (wah-WAH), but features President Bartlet being adorably finicky about how the turkey should be prepared.
"Thespis": Season 1, Episode 8 of Sports Night
SORKIN IN A 22-MINUTE DOSE
If you're a Sorkin fan and you haven't seen Sports Night, you are dead to me. Sure, some eerily similar plots show up in all his shows, but this is good stuff. Also: not really about sports at all. Anyway, the week of Thanksgiving, the various characters have complex interpersonal issues with family and friends, but Joshua Malina is at his adorably nerdiest and it is funny and sweet and there is a turkey thawing debacle, all taking place during a one-hour live television show taping.
"Thanksgiving": Season 4, Episode 8 of Northern Exposure
SWEET AND WEIRD AND FAKE ALASKAN
Indians throw tomatoes at whites. Joel tries to claim he is not white because he's Jewish. Joel whines. Marilyn says little, but what she says is important. Chris is hot. This is all you need to know.
"Happy Thanksgiving": Season 2, Episode 10 of Parenthood
THE MOTHERFUCKING HEARTWARMINGEST
Parenthood is my kinder, more attractive TV family, okay?* This show never fails to make me feel feelings. The delightful Braverman family is all themselves for this holiday gathering and Billy Baldwin makes dinner and football awkward. And your heart will be warmed by how much these characters genuinely care for each other. Shut up, DON'T LOOK AT ME. I've just been cutting onions.
"A Deep Fried Korean Thanksgiving": Season 3, Episode of Gilmore Girls
THE SHOW ENCAPSULATED
Rory and Lorelai have four different Thanksgiving dinners to show up for. The Kims, Jackson and Sookie, Luke, and The Gilmores all expect them to make an appearance. They eat a lot (as per usual), and run into everybody important. I consider season three kind of the high point of the show (bratty college Rory and Christopher nonsense in the later seasons dampens some of my enthusiasm), though not just because it features Jess. Other notable guest stars: Adam Brody being adorable and the guy who plays Badger on Breaking Bad as an extra at Jackson and Sookie's deep-friend turkey shenanigans.
Two facts: 1. GG clips are apparently highly guarded by the copyright powers that be and 2. I found Grey Gardens painful to watch. We shut it off about halfway through.
"The Leap Home (Part 1)": Season 3, Episode 1 of Quantum Leap
BABY BOOMER NOSTALGIA PORN
Do-gooding time traveler Sam Beckett (the hunky Scott Bakula--yes, I called him "hunky") leaps back into his own body as a high-schooler in 1969. He gets to spend one more Thanksgiving with his family and struggles to try to change their tragic fates, but Al is like, "I'm pretty sure you're just here to play basketball." This preview quality is low, but the period (1990) commercials are definitely worth the watch:
"Slapsgiving": Season 3, Episode 9 of How I Met Your Mother
OH MY GOD SO FUNNY
You should probably make sure you've seen the "Slap Bet" episode so you've got the background (this show is really good about rewarding fans with long-running jokes). Next, enjoy Lily trying to make a good Thanksgiving for her and Marshall and their friends. Robin is dating an old guy! Barney's afraid of Marshall slapping him! Ted is as useless as ever! No one will help Lily! Jason Segel is adorable and sings a song. Happy Turkey Day, friends.
"Thanksgiving": Season 3, Episode 8 of The League
HORRIFYING AND WONDERFUL
If you're looking for family-friendly fare, look nowhere near The League. But if you want icky (but hilarious) family/sex/dead pet/bro comedy, this is the right place. Jenny and Kevin are hosting Thanksgiving for their friends this year. Their daughter Ellie brings home the class guinea pig, Andre brings his slutty sister (played by Sarah Silverman, who I actually find charming in this appearance), Taco brings a rare truffle, and Ruxin brings his dad, played pitch-perfectly by Jeff Goldblum at his smarmiest. Beautiful. Laugh, cringe, and accept that you like this show. It's okay to go bro sometimes. Video REALLY NSFW or NSFYourSoul, really.
"Thanksgiving": Season 5, Episode 18 of Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist
YOUR ABS WILL GET A WORKOUT FROM LAUGHING SO HARD AND YOUR FACE WILL HURT FROM SMILING
Oh, this show. Somehow Roz, Dr. Katz's estranged ex-wife and Ben's mom, ends up getting invited to eat Thanksgiving with them this year. She is voiced by the always delightful Carrie Fisher. When Jonathan's receptionist Laura finds out how awkward it's going to be, she jumps at the chance to relish in someone else's family tension. Also, Ben, one of the world's least competent adults, insists on making dinner himself. Because this episode exists, I believe the Sexy Gay Jesus has blessed us all.
HONORABLE MENTIONS- Not actually Thanksgiving episodes, but thematically relevant.
"Psycho Therapy": Season 4, Episode 8 of Daria
The Morgendorffers get analyzed and Daria goads her dad into becoming a tryptophan freak.
"Hunting Trip": Season 2, Episode 10 of Parks & Recreation
Leslie puts on her lady blinders to help bail out Tom in this hilarious episode. Also: guns and nature.
"Harvest Festival": Season 3, Episode 7 of Parks & Recreation
A local Native American tribe protests the Pawnee Harvest Festival's location on the site of a historical massacre and puts a "curse" on the event. Everybody freaks out, but negotiations, Adam Scott's adorable face, and Li'l Sebastian** help heal the wounds.
*It's not insulting if my sister feels the same way.
**He's not a pony, he's a MINI-HORSE.