How I Met Your Mother ‘Slapsgiving’
The continuance of a Slapsgiving—I mean, Thanksgiving—tradition: Ted (Josh Radnor) and Marshall (Jason Segel) placed a bet in Season 2 of How I Met Your Mother that ended up with Marshall owing Barney (Neil Patrick Harris) two slaps (look, it's a long story), and Marshall has basically terrorized Barney with the possibility that he might slap him for quite a while now. Lily (Alyson Hannigan), the slap bet commissioner, declares that no slap may take place on Thanksgiving—thus giving Barney something to be seriously thankful for—until she changes her mind, leading to a song composed by Marshall to commemorate the occasion. It's a good song, and it gets set to music in—you guessed it—Slapsgiving 2.
The Sopranos ‘He Is Risen’
Like Mad Men, the Thanksgiving episode of The Sopranos takes place on the series' own calendar, so it aired in April. But in the true spirit of Thanksgiving, it is about infidelity, familial squabbling, stealing cars and disinviting friends from family dinners. Wait, no, that's some other holiday. The best thing about this show was the ease with which it illustrated how much of the blood-feud violence in the mob was born out of silly, penny-ante offenses given and taken by people whose feelings get hurt too easily. Tony hates Ralphie, so he gets Carmella to tell Ralphie and Ro that Carmella's dad is too sick to come—it's a story that most families have some variation on, except that nobody was eventually murdered because of it.
Bewitched ‘Samantha’s Thanksgiving to Remember’
Oh, Bewitched. If there was ever a show predisposed to disliking the Puritan settlers of America, it was this one. Or possibly Buffy the Vampire Slayer. So it's no surprise—well, relatively speaking—when Clara accidentally sends Darrin and Samantha (among others) back to 1620's Plymouth. Darrin, of course, is the one who ends up on trial for witchcraft.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer ‘Pangs’
The fourth season of Buffy was a good one, despite all odds—the characters begin the show's run as sophomores in high school, after all, so the idea that some of them (not Xander, ha!) would end up in college and others would have to find new roles was a little like telling the Happy Days regulars that the diner had burned down between seasons. "Pangs" is one of those weird episodes of television that's trying to grow up, culturally speaking, but hasn't quite gotten there yet—the green smoke that turns into a big Native American man who steals ears is a bit much—but Alyson Hannigan continues to charm, the show's talent for undercutting its seriousness is maintained (English librarian Giles, played by the wonderful Anthony Head, hosts Thanksgiving), and the writers' transparent love of Spike (James Marsters) continues to work itself out in new and surprising ways. He attends Thanksgiving dinner, even. He's tied to a chair, but he gets to hang out.
Roseanne ‘Home Is Where the Afghan Is’
Of all the Thanksgiving surprises, Estelle Parsons may give us the best one in this watershed episode of Roseanne: her character—family matriarch Bev—comes out of the closet. Roseanne was never a show that shied away from controversy or took the easy road; its writers list includes CBS comedy svengali Chuck Lorre, SNL vet Norm MacDonald, and Avengers writer/director—not to mention Buffy creator—Joss Whedon.
Friends ‘The One With the Rumor’
One of the advantages to marrying Brad Pitt (and it can be assumed that there are several) is that he'll show up on your TV show from time to time. The titular rumor—worked out while Monica (Courtney Cox) cooks a 19 lb. turkey—was spread about Rachel (Jennifer Aniston) in high school by Will (Pitt) and Ross (David Schwimmer), and it's a doozy: The teenaged not-yet-Friends told their classmates that Rachel had both girl parts and boy parts. Turns out it's just one of a few rumors, and the moral of the story is that there are more important things than high school.
‘A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving’
You never realize how adult and sad the Peanuts characters really were until you read a synopsis of any given holiday special. In this one—tied for second place behind the amazing Christmas special with It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown—Charlie Brown tries his absolute hardest to cook Thanksgiving dinner for friends who've just invited themselves over, which results in a meal made up of pretzels, popcorn, toast, jelly beans and what looks like a Jell-O sundae. Peppermint Patty gets so upset at Charlie Brown (who's already been humiliated by Lucy with the football gag) that he leaves the table and goes home. Patty apologizes, everybody eats a real Thanksgiving dinner with the Brown family, and they all live happily ever after. Still, children's comedy, everybody!
Seinfeld ‘The Mom and Pop Store’
There have been comedies of errors for as long as there have been comedies, but Seinfeld was always a comedy of errors yet to be made. Does Jerry go to his dentist's Thanksgiving party, to which he may or may not have been invited? Is Jerry's dentist asking Elaine out or just offering her some nuts? And the consequences! Broken teeth, broken parade balloons (well, punctured, but you get the idea), biting…nothing goes right. Kramer's nosebleeds are the least of the problems in this episode, and let's be honest, with all this nonsense going on, thankfulness just doesn't look right on these characters. Better the annual Festivus airing of the grievances.
The Simpsons ‘Bart vs. Thanksgiving’
Bart Simpson was, once upon a time, the most controversial character on television. Where Dennis the Menace was a well-intentioned scamp who annoyed only the crabbiest adults around, Bart was a much more accurate portrayal of a little hellion who just likes breaking things and getting his sister's goat. So when he breaks Lisa's Thanksgiving centerpiece in this episode of The Simpsons' second season, it's no wonder everybody gets angry at him. When Bart runs away (and ends up getting interviewed at a homeless shelter by Kent Brockman), it's another of those surprising plot twists that the show's viewers weren't prepared to see in a cartoon that began more or less as a riff on The Flintstones. The episode also marks the first appearance of Marge's mom, Jackie, who gets one of the show's best lines: "I have laryngitis and it hurts to talk, so I'll just say one thing—you never do anything right." There's a reason mother-in-law jokes predate the birth of Christ.
Mad Men ‘Dark Shadows’
Another episode about the holidays that reflects just how poisonous family get-togethers can be, Mad Men's "Dark Shadows" features a bitter ex-wife telling her husband's secrets in an effort to sow discord, a child of divorced parents used as a weapon, and quite a bit of good, old-fashioned jealousy. In the middle of this, Don has to wine and dine executives from Manischewitz, and Roger continues to think with…well, not his brain. It's not Mad Men at its best, necessarily, but it does show how the series can keep all the balls in the air even when it's not firing on all cylinders. And when the writers could have more or less left Betty by the side of the road, they decided to make sure we get a good look at what's happening to her, post-Don, and it ain't pretty.