In 2015, Julio and I were newly married and decided that, because we lived across the country from our families, we could only afford the airfare, PTO, and energy to travel home for Christmas. We haven’t been home for Thanksgiving since. In 2020, many people are staying home, away from their families for the holiday, and I want to tell you, as a veteran of spending Thanksgiving away from my family—it’s going to be okay. I will admit, I am strongly biased toward Christmas, but there are plenty of ways you can enjoy Thanksgiving with your own household. As blissful vegetarians, Julio and I have made a tradition of having a feast comprised of all the side dishes (my favorite recipes are here) and watching Thanksgiving TV episodes. That first year, on a short-lived blog we ran, we held a tournament to determine the greatest Thanksgiving episode of all time. For your Thanksgiving enjoyment, I present here a rerun of how that tournament went down, in reverse chronological order (for clarity’s sake, I think). Let me know in the comments: what is your favorite Thanksgiving episode of all time?
Before we begin, a quick note about the process. Each matchup was posted with a survey in the blog post and participants voted on the episodes they thought should win each round. Julio and I generated the seeding for the tournament based on the IMDB rating for each individual episode. At the time, each episode was available on Netflix unless otherwise noted, but what is available for streaming and where has changed significantly since then.
The winner is: “Indians in the Lobby”
I never would have guessed that this would be the result. Honestly, I thought it would go to “Slapsgiving” or Friends. I’m delighted that it went to The West Wing, a show that I love and which produced a few outstanding holiday episodes. As I discussed with our friend Keaton on Facebook, though, I think the better West Wing episode was “Shibboleth,” which lost to HIMYM back in the quarterfinals. (2020 edit: If you rewatch “Sbibboleth” this year, it hits all the harder. Oi.) Although “Indians in the Lobby” raises interesting points about how the poverty line is calculated and the ramifications of that, the relationship between the federal government and tribal governments, and, weirdly, extradition and capital punishment, “Sibboleth” is more focused and resonant than “Indians in the Lobby,” and packs several earned emotional punches, well balanced by some wonderful humor. If you have never seen it, it is worth a watch this holiday.
Final Round: The West Wing, “Indians in the Lobby” vs How I Met Your Mother “Slapsgiving”
The semi-finals were a 5-0, 5-0 blowout. The West Wing,“Indians in the Lobby” shut-out top-seeded WKRP and How I Met Your Mother, “Slapsgiving” did the same to Friends. So our final match is between our 21st and 7th seeds. Will it be The West Wing with the frustrating, moving plot about the treatment of American Indians and a fun subplot about the president’s stuffing or How I Met Your Mother with its friendsgiving antics and jovial violence? Let’s find out.
After a brutal weekend of competition, the field has been narrowed to a final four! Welcome to the semifinals of Kasey and Julio’s Ultimate Thanksgiving Episode Showdown. I was sad to say goodbye to “Shibboleth” and “It’s a Miracle” and with Friends and How I Met Your Mother facing off against each other, it could be anyone’s game in the finals. To refresh our audience on the episodes, I’m including an exemplary clip from each episode in this post, where possible. The first round features WKRP in Cincinnati, “Turkeys Away” against The West Wing, “Indians in the Lobby.” I think this is an interesting pairing because it has a pretty simple show against a pretty complicated one. As I mentioned before, one of the elements of WKRP that impressed me was how its comedy is built into the characters as there isn’t much in terms of location, sets, or even visuals, really. In a way it mirrors how comedy is built on the radio; you don’t have to see it to laugh at the images. I think that comes through in the clip here:
In contrast, The West Wing is a show in which most episodes have many moving parts, with complicated A, B, and sometimes C plots involving politics, personal lives, and sometimes international relations. My favorite parts, however, are usually the small bits built into the gears. In “Indians in the Lobby,” my favorite part is the scene in which President Bartlet calls the Butterball Hotline, because he’s been told that cooking stuffing inside his turkey could make his family sick, and he doesn’t like being wrong:
Our second pairing is interesting because of all the comparisons made between Friends and How I Met Your Mother. Plus, these are two solid holiday sitcom episodes. “Slapsgiving” is perhaps one of the best episodes of HIMYM in general and it sets up the seasons-long arc of Marshall administering the slaps he won in the slap bet on Thanksgiving, initially to Lily’s chagrin. This video is not from the episode itself, as CBS is pretty tight with copyright:
Finally, there’s Friends, “The One with All the Thanksgivings” which features a flashback to Fat Monica (a gag that doesn’t age well) and 80’s Chandler’s worst Thanksgivings, but more importantly, features this hilarious bit of Joey reacting to the turkey on Monica’s head.
Today is a big day for the Ultimate Thanksgiving Episode Showdown. The field will be cut in half, narrowing eight excellent episodes down to four.
First up is WKRP in Cincinnati, ‘Turkeys Away” vs The Wonder Years, “Ties That Bind” and Don’t Trust the B– in Apartment 23, “Its a Miracle” against The West Wing, “Indians in the Lobby.” An interesting contrast in this bunch is Don’t Trust the B– vs The West Wing. There’s “It’s a Miracle,” in which June pretends to need a wheelchair in order to serve as Chloe’s “emotional Sacajawea” to keep her from sabotaging Thanksgiving with her family. The whole ruse serves as a way for June to help someone (she wanted to help the less fortunate, instead she helped those in need of a conscience) and distract her from not being home in Indiana with her own family. It’s a hilarious hot mess. Then there’s “Indians in the Lobby” in which CJ tries to help some actual Native Americans get the government to listen to them after over a decade of getting put on hold. I’d be interested to hear how you all are measuring up such different tones against each other.
The other branch features a really difficult match-up, The West Wing‘s “Shibboleth” against How I Met Your Mother, “Slapsgiving.” Plus, Friends, “The One with All the Thanksgivings” against Gilmore Girls, “Deep Fried Korean Thanksgiving.” These are, I think, four of the best episodes in the entire bracket, and it bums me out that only half of them will be going forward.
Initially, my bet for the final was that it would be Friends, “The One with the Football” against Gilmore Girls, “Deep Fried Korean Thanksgiving.” Some episodes that I thought would get knocked out early on, like Don’t Trust the B– are still around, so I honestly have no idea what could happen, and that’s really exciting.
Thanksgiving Episode Showdown Round 2 Day 4: Friends, Bewitched, FNL, Gilmore Girls
It’s the last day of Round 2! Today’s match-ups include some heavy-hitters.
First up is Friends, “The One with All the Thanksgivings” against Bewitched, “Samantha’s Thanksgiving to Remember.” I was so surprised on Monday when the Friends episode that I thought a chance to take the whole thing was voted out in favor of The West Wing. This episode of Friends is the one that features Monica and Chandler’s worst Thanksgivings ever and the whole head-in-a-turkey gag. Of course, it’s up against Bewitched, which is a classic, so I’m not going to hazard a guess this time.
The second pairing has a moving, but depressing episode of Friday Night Lights, “Thanksgiving” against Gilmore Girls, “Deep Fried Korean Thanksgiving,” a funny holiday episode in which Lorelai and Rory are obligated to attend four different Thanksgiving dinners in one day. When we watched it during round one, Julio and I were both struck by how hard it is to relate to Lorelai’s outrage over Rory applying to Yale. The scenes with Sookie and Jackson’s deep-fried turkey, however, are comedy gold.
Thanksgiving Episode Showdown Round 2, Day 3: Roseanne, West Wing, HIMYM, Malcolm
Day 3 of 4 for Round 2 is here! Today’s episodes are pulled in part from a round one upset I was really surprised by. Last week, Roseanne beat Dexter. That means the second-from-the-top seed was knocked out by the second-to-last seed. In a way, I understand that because Roseanne has the nostalgia factor and in some ways is more palatable for the holidays than a show about a serial killer, but, violent though it was, Dexter‘s “Hungry Man” episode also features a poignant reflection on how it can be hard for us to tell if our family is really happy or really loves us, then ends with Dexter’s step-son’s wholehearted gratitude for him. It’s one of the most moving moments for the self-proclaimed monster, I think, and an important part in the exploration of whether or not he is as monstrous and incapable of love as he believes himself to be.
But, this week we have Roseanne: “Home is Where the Afghan Is” up against The West Wing: “Shibboleth.” Julio and I rewatched this episode of The West Wing a couple of nights ago, just because we love it. Between the plot line about the president’s carving knife and the plot about the refugees and the plot about school prayer, there are so many beautiful moving pieces reflecting on what Thanksgiving means and on the relationship between religion and the nation–thinking not so much about political power as about a collective body of diverse individuals. Plus, I love the bit with CJ and the turkeys. While “Indians in the Lobby” is generally more light-hearted, this episode makes me cry three times, then gives me some well-earned laughs. Even if you’ve never seen the series, I really recommend the episode. It really felt more important in the context of the current, preposterous idea that we should only let in Christian refugees from Syria.
The second round has the classic How I Met Your Mother episode, “Slapsgiving” up against Malcolm in the Middle: Thanksgiving.
Thanksgiving Episode Showdown Round 2, Episode 2: Don’t Trust the B–, Parenthood, West Wing, Friends
Today is a tough day for me. Our match-ups feature so many episodes and shows that are personal favorites of mine. In the first pairing, Don’t Trust the B– in Apartment 23: It’s a Miracle is up against Parenthood: Happy Thanksgiving. I think this pairing is really fun because it has perhaps the most irreverent show on the bracket up against one of the more sincere.
In the second pairing, The West Wing’s “Indians in the Lobby” is up against Friends: “The One with the Football.” Both of these series tended to really knock it out of the park with their holiday episodes. While Shibboleth is my personal favorite West Wing Thanksgiving, this episode is really good too. This episode of Friends really has a shot at winning the whole thing, though.
Ultimate Thanksgiving Episode Showdown Round 2, Day 1: WKRP, Scrubs, Wonder Years, House
Round 1 has wrapped up, and I was honestly pretty surprised by the results. That makes it more exciting for me as things go forward. My guess for the finals is still possible, but with some of the upsets from round one, things could change pretty quickly! For Round 2, we will again do two match-ups a day, this time for four days. The updated bracket is pasted below, then the polls for today.
Today’s first pairing is WKRP in Cincinnati, “Turkeys Away,” our top seed, against Scrubs, “My Day Off.” WKRP was one of the big surprises for me in this tournament. Like I said before, I had never seen the show, and I really enjoyed this episode. One aspect that stood out to me was how compact the whole production was and, compared to a lot of shows, especially current ones, it had to have been pretty simple and affordable to produce. Pretty much it all took place in one location, with a limited cast of characters. Yet, the description of what happens in the episode, at the hands of a stressed out, square reporter, was probably a lot funnier than if the disaster had been shown on camera. In contrast, while I enjoyed Scrubs, especially how hard my husband laughs at it, I was not as impressed by “My Day Off” as a holiday episode. That begs some questions about how Thanksgiving-y an episode has to be a good Thanksgiving episode. What do you think?
The second pairing is The Wonder Years, “Ties That Bind” vs. House, M.D. “Ignorance is Bliss.” In this pairing, I also think there is an issue of putting an episode that is very holiday centered against a sleeker, perhaps smarter show that is not so focused on the holiday. The Wonder Years in this episode is perhaps not at its best. Julio and I, who both like the series, were both kind of surprised by how not into the episode we were. It felt too easy and too dated. In contrast, I just can’t stand House. Give me an anti-hero who is corrupt or a serial killer, or whatever, as long as he is a compelling character. To me, House is just an asshole. I had never seen the show before, which could be part of the problem, but I was so turned off by House as a character. I’m really interested to see how this round ends with your votes!
Finally, I’d like to note that, as the number of shows narrows down, if at all possible I recommend watching the shows so that you can compare the individual episodes to each other. Doing so really changed my mind in a couple of rounds in the first phase. And it’s more fun!
Thanksgiving Episode Showdown Round 1 Day 8: FNL, 70’s Show, Gilmore Girls, Buffy
It’s the last day of Round One! Today is another tough day, featuring Friday Night Lights, That 70’s Show, Gilmore Girls, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
Round 1O includes Friday Night Lights 4.13 “Thanksgiving” –a season finale– against That 70’s Show 1.9 “Thanksgiving.” Two episodes, one title.
Round 1P is a really hard match-up. Gilmore Girls 3.9 “A Deep Fried Korean Thanksgiving” against Buffy the Vampire Slayer 4.8 “Pangs.” I’m just excited that my husband will have to watch Gilmore Girls with me!
Thanksgiving Episode Showdown Round 1 Day 7: Friends, Ally McBeal, Bewitched, Seinfeld
Today’s rounds include three comedies and a dramatic episode of a comedy.
Round 1M puts Friends 5.8 “The One with All The Thanksgivings” against Ally McBeal 3.5 “Troubled Water.”
Round 1N has Seinfeld 6.8 “The Mom & Pop Store” against Bewitched 4.12 “Samantha’s Thanksgiving to Remember”
Thanksgiving Episode Showdown Round 1 Day 6: HIMYM, BMW, The League, Malcolm in the Middle
Welcome back! Day 6 is an all-comedy day, pairing off new and old favorites.
Round 1L features The League 3.8 “Thanksgiving” against Malcolm in the Middle 5.4 “Thanksgiving.” I’ve never seen The League, but I remember how popular Malcolm was for a while there in the Midwest. That will be a trip down memory lane.
Thanksgiving Episode Showdown Round 1 Day 5: Dexter, Roseanne, West Wing, Cheers
We’re half way through the opening round! Another surprise for me in how the seeds worked out was how highly Dexter ranked. I should have figured because it’s a great episode of a great show, but to see such a brutal episode seeded so highly was a little strange to me.
Today’s match-ups pit critically acclaimed shows and fan favorites against each other. Round 1I has Dexter 4.9 “Hungry Man” against Roseanne 9.10 “Home is Where the Afghan Is.” Trigger warning: Dexter is a graphically violent show.
Round 1J pits The West Wing 2.8 “Shibboleth” against Cheers 5.9 “Thanksgiving Orphans.”
Thanksgiving Episode Showdown Round 1 Day 4: Mad Men, Friends, Raymond, West Wing
Today is a brutal day in our tournament. Mad Men vs Friends. Raymond vs The West Wing. It also has two rounds that are comedies against dramas. Watch, evaluate, vote. We are excited to see who comes out on top in these match-ups.
1G has a depressing, but iconic episode of Mad Men, 1.13 “The Wheel” against a hilarious episode of Friends, 3.9 “The One with the Football.”
1H features Everybody Loves Raymond 8.9 “The Bird” against The West Wing 3.8 “Indians in the Lobby.”
How are you evaluating comedy vs drama? Let us know in the comments!
Thanksgiving Episode Showdown Round 1 Day 3: Munsters, Don’t Trust the B–, Parenthood, Bob’s Burgers
Today is a hard day for me, as it features one of my favorite episodes ever. I won’t say which, so as not to bias the competition.
Anyway, round 1E features The Munsters 1.6 “Low-Cal Munster” against Don’t Trust the B– in Apartment 23 2.4 “It’s a Miracle.”
1F pits Parenthood 2.10 “Happy Thanksgiving” against Bob’s Burgers 3.5 “An Indecent Thanksgiving Proposal.”
Thanksgiving Episode Showdown Round 1 Day 2: Wonder Years, New Girl, House MD, Glee
Today’s contests feature a coming-of-age classic, a teen musical, a grumpy doctor, and an adorkable mess. How will you choose? Watch, enjoy, and vote!
Round 1C pits The Wonder Years 4.7 “The Ties That Bind” against New Girl 1.6 “Thanksgiving”.
Round 1D sees House M.D. 6.8 “Ignorance Is Bliss” against Glee 4.8 “Thanksgiving” in what I think is one of the more tonally disjointed match-ups.
One thing I noticed when we calculated the seeds is that if an episode was just titled “Thanksgiving,” it tended to have a much lower seed.
Thanksgiving Episode Showdown Round 1 Day 1: WKRP, Bernie Mac, Scrubs, Frasier
One of the biggest surprises for me in how the numbers worked out was that WKRP in Cincinnati’s “Turkey’s Away” episode was the top seed. I’ve never seen the show, but I knew that would make my DJ father happy.
Today’s match-ups include our top seed, WKRP in Cincinnati 1.7 “Turkey’s Away” vs our bottom seed The Bernie Mac Show 2.7 “Tryptophan-tasy” (on Netflix).
And in match-up 1B: Scrubs 1.9 “My Day Off” vs Frasier 4.7 “A Lilith Thanksgiving” (Both on Netflix).
As all of the episodes today are comedies, the criteria for judging them is pretty straightforward. Things will get more complicated when comedies and dramas duke it out!