Did you arrive here today hoping to find a list of Thanksgiving TV episodes ranked by quality of storytelling? Well, move on, you won’t find that here. You know why? Because Thanksgiving isn’t about good storytelling. (Sometimes it is definitely about bad storytelling, like when drunk Uncle Joe won’t shut up about that time he gave the Heimlich to a woman on his singles cruise and they almost got married in Cozumel, but I digress.) Thanksgiving is about good food. Sorry, no — it’s about great food. Forget all of those episodes about kitchen mishaps and Thanksgiving disasters and — dear Lord, I hate to even type it — tofurkey. Thanksgiving is a time for food to be celebrated. To be cherished. To be eaten! That’s why below you’ll find a list of Thanksgiving TV episodes that don’t have to be that good (I mean, some are great — Happy Endings for everything) and whose plots matter not, as long as there is some top-notch Thanksgiving dinner on display.
So which fictional family has the best Thanksgiving Day spread? The juiciest turkey? The pie to end all pies? Put on your Joey Tribbiani maternity-slash-eating pants, because it’s time to dig in.
18. The OC, “The Homecoming”
I know, I know, I just got done railing against the TV tradition of Thanksgiving mishaps, and here we are starting with an entry that involves BURNING THE TURKEY. The gravest of Thanksgiving sins. But still, that disaster — no one wanted Kirsten Cohen cooking, let’s be honest — leads us to a winning combo of Chinese takeout and so, so many pies. Look at those pies! That might possibly be my personal favorite meal of all time.
17. Felicity, “Thanksgiving”
Would I ever willingly choose to attend a Thanksgiving dinner in a dorm common room in which most of the food arrives in Tupperware containers and Lord only knows how it was actually cooked? Oh, hell no. That being said, Javier does bring a great-looking turkey (he’s an adult, so he gets it), and the items in those Tupperware containers don’t look completely inedible. There’s even a salad, which for college kids is a big deal. I’m just a really proud Thanksgiving Mom right now.
16. Gilmore Girls, “A Deep-Fried Korean Thanksgiving”
This episode features four separate Thanksgiving meals, but we are only here for one of them. No offense to Luke, but I do not want a diner Thanksgiving. Okay, so maybe offense to Luke. Also, don’t get me started on Mrs. Kim serving tofurkey. No, we’re here for Sookie’s dinner. As a chef it is abhorrent to her, but to a layperson, a deep-fried turkey and a pitcher of margaritas sounds like the perfect low-key Thanksgiving. Simple, juicy, and will get you so, so drunk.
15. Mad Men, “Public Relations”
Perhaps this is a controversial choice since Sally Draper barfs up the sweet-potato casserole, which is usually a sign of a bad meal (or a great party), but honestly, who likes sweet-potato casserole? What wins over my stomach here is not the fresh cranberry sauce, nor the pillowy globs of mashed potatoes, it’s those unreal-looking popovers. Imagine sopping up some gravy with those babies.
14. Brooklyn Nine-Nine, “Thanksgiving”
It’s amateur hour at the 99 when Amy runs out of salt while cooking Thanksgiving dinner and instead uses baking powder. Very un-Amy-like, but I will accept it since it leads to Boyle saving the day with his “multiethnic, nontraditional Thanksgiving” meal he put together by calling for takeout from a variety of places. Honestly, why even eat traditional turkey and stuffing when you could have Peking duck with a veggie samosa stuffing? Okay, sorry, just read that back and that’s blasphemy. Still, the spread, aside from the Jell-O cups from Hitchcock’s colonoscopy, is pretty mouth-watering.
13. Everwood, “A Thanksgiving Tale”
I regret to inform you that this is not the last “dead parent looms over the Thanksgiving table” meal on this list, even though, frankly, sadness ruins my appetite. Although sometimes it makes me hungrier? Sadness is weird. Here, Teen Ephram stops being a dick for like 34 seconds and re-creates Thanksgiving the way his late mother made it to make his younger sister happy. It has stuffing with apricots in it, which, like, hard pass, but it also has glorious cheese biscuits and a turkey that doesn’t look half bad for coming from a moody teenager.
12. Jane the Virgin, “Chapter Twenty-Eight”
Gather around the Villanueva table for Mateo’s first Thanksgiving, in which Rogelio gives thanks for health and hair. Gaze upon the best-looking sweet-potato casserole on this list, hands down. Feast upon turkey so good it makes Jane say yes to Rafael when he asks her out on a date. Ugh, just like a turkey to be #TeamJafael.
11. Happy Endings, “More Like Stanksgiving”
Ah, Brad and Jane, true Thanksgiving heroes. Alex may think she has Thanksgiving covered with her fully popped and locked turkey, but Brad and Jane know better. They arrive, take one look at her turkey, can tell it is bone dry, poorly seasoned, and that she’s been making it dance all morning. They whip out their own perfectly cooked bird to replace it and toss that original turkey in the river, where it belongs. Thank you for your service.
10. This Is Us, “Pilgrim Rick”
Normally having hot dogs wrapped in Kraft singles and dipped in saltines will automatically disqualify you from contention for best TV Thanksgiving dinner, but since those precious weiners keep the memory of someone’s dead dad alive, I will allow it. Begrudgingly. Elsewhere, Randall puts apples in his stuffing, which is alarming at first because it takes away room for additional bread, but sounds intriguing. Also, there are multiple pies and one even has a lattice crust, which is both beautiful to look at and great for catching the tears that will inevitably fall off people’s faces at that house.
9. Ugly Betty, “Four Thanksgivings and a Funeral”
The Suarezes are dealing with a lot, what with Hilda getting swindled by a woman pretending to be an immigration lawyer and Betty being overworked at Mode, but gosh dang if they don’t pull off a great-looking meal. I mean, turkey and tamales? Stuffing and rice and beans? Where do you even begin?! That’s not rhetorical, I am actually stressed out about it.
8. Brothers & Sisters, “Just a Sliver”
Okay, sure, this dinner takes place in a hospital waiting room and that seems highly unsanitary. And, yes, it features a dish that consists of lime Jell-O, bananas, and walnuts — also, unsanitary. Instead, focus on the fact that the Walker matriarch made this dinner from scratch — like “scooping the innards of a pumpkin out to make pumpkin pie” scratch — and then brings it to the hospital where her granddaughter is receiving a liver transplant from her uncle/sperm donor (Thanksgiving is nothing if not complicated). Also on the hospital menu is a gorgeous pecan pie and a beautiful bird stuffed with stuffing, which is the best kind of stuffing, and I will hear no arguments otherwise.
7. How I Met Your Mother, “Slapsgiving”
We gather together for this first Slapsgiving, even if Ted and Robin’s breakup and subsequent slide-back sex is making it intensely awkward, not only to watch Marshall torture Barney with the countdown of an impending slap from their bet, but also to revel at Lily’s first Thanksgiving meal as an “adult” (they’re using their wedding china). She has all the basics, and gosh darn does that turkey leg she stuffs in her face to drown her sorrows look tremendous, but what puts this meal over the top are definitely those stuffed mushroom appetizers and Jell-O shots courtesy of Robin’s date. Now that’s a party.
6. Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, “Thanksgiving”
Not only are Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash in attendance, not only is that giant-ass turkey fresh AF (they hunted it right before, so very fresh), NOT ONLY did everyone just survive a stage coach robbery, but hello, we get to gaze upon Sully’s locks throughout the entire meal. Good hair on rugged men, truly the greatest Thanksgiving side dish.
5. Succession, “I Went to Market”
The best thing about the Roy family Thanksgiving is definitely Marcia informing everyone that they’ll be eating “family style” as if they’re cosplaying being normal. The worst thing is definitely Logan smacking his grandson. In between those two things, we have passed hors d’oeuvre, all your typical fixins for sure prepared by a professional chef, and booze. So much booze! Is this why the Roys are so successful? Or is it their ruthlessness and lack of ethics? You decide, but I’m going with Thanksgiving.
4. Friends, “The One With the Rumor”
As Joey Tribbiani, patron saint of Thanksgiving, so astutely puts it: “Thanksgiving without turkey is like Fourth of July with no apple pie, or Friday with no two pizzas.” And right he is. That’s why he does America a favor and persuades Monica to cook not just a roast chicken for Chandler, who hates Thanksgiving food, but also a 19-pound turkey, mainly for himself. Honestly, the only thing better than one type of poultry is two types of poultry, and that’s just basic science. Furthermore, even after eating the weight of a small child in turkey meat, Joey still wants a piece of pie, because that’s how good it is. Now that’s a feast, my friends (and Friends).
3. Grey’s Anatomy, “Thanks for the Memories”
Who wants food cooked with love? I want food cooked with the precision and care of a cardio thoracic god and his surgical protégé, okay? Give me a turkey basted as if it were a human heart open on an operating table. Give me a table of all side dishes, as plentiful and organized as a table full of surgical instruments. And give it all to me served by a handsome man who has the power to make turtlenecks sexy. Cooking with love is for nerds.
2. Gossip Girl, “The Gift of Serena Madre”
They may be straight-up disaster zones, but the Upper East Siders know how to do Thanksgiving right. This feast is partly cooked by Rufus, but some of it is definitely catered. Look at that spread — there’s hardly any room on the table. Rufus may be a hot dad, but he is not a magic one. There’s the perfectly crispy-looking turkey that is garnished with whole pears, which I’m assuming is a rich-person thing, some sorely underrated Brussels sprouts, and there’s even an entire wheel of Camembert set out so Blair can accuse her mother of being pregnant. And, you guys, the dessert portion of the evening — pies, cakes, so! many! cookies! — rivals even the drama going on at that table, which is saying a lot, because Serena gets outed for having an affair with a married senator by his wife, and that’s, like, not even half of it. Everything going on at this table is truly juicy.
1. Parenthood, “Happy Thanksgiving”
Now this is what I’m talking about! Camille Braverman takes Thanksgiving dinner deadly serious. There is a posted oven schedule. There is a strict list of who is in charge of bringing what, and no one may stray lest they face her wrath. It doesn’t sound like any fun to cook Camille’s dinner, but Thanksgiving isn’t about fun is it? It’s about making the best meal you can. The Braverman feast has it all: We got bomb stuffing, we got fluffy-ass mashed potatoes, we got meatballs as appetizers (just like the Pilgrims), we even got salad for the losers. But most important, we have an insane selection of pies: Apple! Rum raisin! Sweet potato! Fuckin’ mincemeat, y’all. I don’t even know what that is, but I know I want it in my mouth on Thanksgiving.