It’s hard to see it right now, but this time next week, we’ll all be on break. It’ll be the morning of Thanksgiving, and you’ll wake to the sounds of the Macy’s Day Parade or the smell of turkey in the oven. The leaves outside will be colorful and the weather will be beautiful (don’t ask me how, but I’m telling you the weather will shape up come Thanksgiving), and whether you’re a football fan or not, you’ll feel compelled to participate in the age-old American tradition of watching the game.
But when the football game is over and you come inside for those few hours in between the morning festivities and dinner time, all you’ll want to do is curl up on your couch and watch some feel-good family television. And lucky for you, there’s plenty out there.
Here’s a definitive ranking of the best Thanksgiving TV episodes of all time.
- “Blair Waldorf Must Pie,” Gossip Girl (Season 1, Episode 9)
Say what you will about Gossip Girl’s later seasons, but it’s hard to deny that Gossip Girl’s pilot season came out swinging. So accurately portraying the zeitgeist of 2007 teenage life, the drama and glamour of the Upper East Side has never been so deliciously intriguing. And it all came to an emotional tipping point with the show’s first Thanksgiving episode, which featured rich-girl Serena’s family uncomfortably dining at her new Brooklyn beau’s family loft. Back on the Upper East Side, Serena’s entitled friends are reeling from the aftermath of family disentanglement and dangerous secrets. It’s oh-so-wonderfully juicy.
- “Happy Thanksgiving,” Parenthood (Season 2, Episode 10)
There’s nothing like watching a feel-good family TV show on a chilly Thanksgiving morning, but Parenthood’s distinct ability to make you laugh, cry, and totally relate makes it one of the best family-driven dramas of recent television. This episode features patriarch Adam struggling with his career, his outspoken sister Sarah insisting on bringing her boyfriend (and son’s teacher) to Thanksgiving dinner, and their younger brother Crosby desperately trying to impress his fiancee’s mother. The episode has a heartwarming resolution–but it’s the Parenthood classic moments of sincerity and family devotion that make this a Thanksgiving must.
- “A Deep Fried Korean Thanksgiving,” Gilmore Girls (Season 3, Episode 9)
Despite its seven-year run, Gilmore Girls only aired one Thanksgiving episode–and it’s definitely worth the watch. The episode features mother-daughter duo Lorelai and Rory trying to navigate four different Thanksgiving feasts, culminating in their annual (and dreaded) trip to the grandparents’ house. The episode ends with a revelation that fuels the rest of the season, but (save for the last five minutes) it’s an episode that you can watch on its own if you’re looking to vicariously join the rituals of a small town’s favorite holiday.
- “Thespis,” Sports Night (Season 1, Episode 8)
Aaron Sorkin’s first show only ran for two seasons, but it marked fame’s beginning for not only Sorkin, but actors like Joshua Malina, Josh Charles, and Peter Krause (who would later go on to star in The West Wing, The Good Wife, and Parenthood, respectively).This particular episode highlights their unique talents. Malina’s character insists that a Greek ghost is haunting the sports-news studio and the other characters shoot him down–all while trying to prepare for Thanksgiving dinner later that night that indeed seems to be haunted by some ghostly presence. The episode is cute and fresh, and provides a nice comic relief from the more serious shows above.
- “The One With The Rumor,” Friends (Season 8, Episode 9)
Speaking of comedic Thanksgiving episodes, no show did it better than Friends. Known for their plethora of Thanksgiving specials, watching Friends has become a staple of my Thanksgiving weekend (as it should for you). If you’re wondering which one to watch first, start with “The One With The Rumor,” which features Brad Pitt as an ex-enemy of Rachel’s arriving just in time to shake up her relationship with Ross. Meanwhile, Joey promises to eat an entire turkey, and everyone just has a ball of a time.
- “My First Thanksgiving with Josh,” Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (Season 1, Episode 6)
Back when Crazy Ex-Girlfriend still served up delightfully-concocted spoofy musical numbers every episode and we were still rooting for protagonist Rebecca to win over her ex Josh, creator Rachel Bloom gave us a gem of a Thanksgiving episode. In this episode, Rebecca meets Josh’s parents (much to his dismay), and goes on to imagine herself becoming a part of the family. Their friend Gregg, meanwhile, sings a cliched song about his future, and Rebecca really has to pee. Don’t ask; just watch it.
- “Thanksgiving Orphans,” Cheers (Season 5, Episode 9)
Still one of the greatest sitcoms of all time, Cheers aired its fair share of Thanksgiving episodes, but only one featured an elaborate food-fight and Diane in a pilgrim costume. In this episode, the gang of co-workers gathers at the ever-grumpy Carla’s for Thanksgiving dinner, and of course everything goes wrong. Suffice it to say, womanizer Sam ends up with a much-deserved pie in his face. Oh, and one of the show’s best running jokes reaches its height when we get the only glimpse of couch potato Norm’s infamous wife we’ll see throughout all eleven seasons.
- “Slapsgiving,” How I Met Your Mother (Season 3, Episode 9)
“Slapsgiving” was arguably the best How I Met Your Mother episode of all time, probably because it became the impetus for so many of the jokes that would consistently resurface throughout the series. Marshall and Barney’s “slap-bet” (a bet Marshall won that gives him the power to slap Barney as hard as he wants) comes to a head in this episode, and it isn’t addressed again until the following year, in an episode aptly titled “Slapsgiving 2: Revenge of the Slap.” Robin and Ted introduce the “Major” joke that remains one of the most quoted jokes from the show, and the episode’s heartfelt ending helps catapult the season forward. It’s a masterpiece.
- “Shibboleth” The West Wing (Season 2, Episode 8)
So you already know that every Thanksgiving, the President pardons a turkey. But did you know that the Press Secretary has to decide between two turkeys, essentially condemning one to die and setting the other free? Well, at least, that’s what happens in this wonderfully delightful episode of The West Wing, where Press Secretary CJ Cregg has to decide the fate of two turkeys as they run amok in the White House. Meanwhile, the President himself hazes the newbie on staff into finding him an appropriate carving knife, and the senior staff gathers to watch football. Add in some crises with immigration and education policies, some nepotism, and a hell of a lot of political maneuvering, and you’ve got one of the greatest episodes of Aaron Sorkin’s masterful show.
- “The One With All The Thanksgivings,” Friends (Season 5, Episode 8)
Like I said before, Friends did Thanksgiving right, and it’s earned itself two episodes on this list. Although it’s hard for me to delegate any episode of The West Wing to the second slot, the clear winner of Thanksgiving episodes is this flashback-driven episode of Friends. Framed by cuts to Thanksgivings of the past, when the gang was awkward and stupid, this episode has everything. It will make you laugh, cry, long for sweet potato pie, and dream of a 2020 Friends reunion. The flashback focus makes this an easy episode to watch even if you’ve never seen the show (although who’s never seen Friends?) and the image of Joey’s head stuck in a turkey will definitely make it worth your while. In fact, I love this episode so much, I named my column after it.