It’s that time of year when we give thanks. Granted, we should do that all year long, but I don’t make the rules. Anyways, we give thanks for our family. Our friends. Our job. Our health. Our blah, blah, blah. Sure, I’m thankful for all that, but I don’t write about those things. I write about movies and, sometimes, TV. So for this Thanksgiving, here’s my list of my favorite Thanksgiving themed films and television episodes, listed in alphabetical order.
The Birds (1963)
The Birds you ask. Sure, the film itself has nothing to do with Thanksgiving. Then why did I list the Alfred Hitchcock classic? As a child, I swear I remember watching this on TV every year. Why it would air on Thanksgiving, I have no idea. I assume it was some network programmer’s idea of a joke. Turkeys, birds. Get it? Anyways, whenever I think about this movie, I always get a craving for oyster dressing.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer – “Pangs” (1999)
The writing for this show was always top-notch. The subtext for Buffy was always deeper than critics liked to give it credit for. And James Marsters’ Spike was always my favorite character. Marsters gives a hilarious, poignant and sobering speech about the massacre of Native Americans while the spirit of an Indian chief is out to exact revenge for those long ago travesties. This is one of those episodes, along with “Hush,” that reminds you how Buffy was always more than the simple genre show no matter how many people, who never watched it apparently, were led to believe.
Cheers – “Orphans” (1986)
I’ve always preferred the Kirstie Alley episodes of Cheers over the Shelley Long episodes. If all Shelley Long episodes were as funny as this, then that might not be the case. The Cheers gang all end up with nowhere to go so Carla decides to have everyone over. If Carla is hosting an event, you know it won’t end well. Diane tries to keep the party civil in her pilgrim outfit, but, well, things get uncivil quickly with one of the funniest food fights on TV. Sure food fights are always funny, unless they’re happening in your kitchen, but this one is a classic. This episode is a classic for another reason too. This is the first, and only, time we (almost) see Vera’s face. As she walks in, she’s greeted with mashed potato facial.
Friends – “The One Where Ross Got High” (1999)
Chandler learns the reason that Monica’s parents don’t like him is because Ross blamed Chandler for his room smelling like marijuana at one time. Rachel tries to cook a British trifle but mixes together the recipes for a trifle and shepherd’s pie. Hilarity ensues when secrets are learned. Some of the best Friends episodes involves the friends telling secrets about each other. When Ross spills the beans about Monica breaking the porch swing, Jack Gellar replies, “and we kind of figured about the porch swing.” Classic.
How I Met Your Mother – “Slap Bet” (2006)
This isn’t just one of the best Thanksgiving episodes ever. And this isn’t just one of the best HIMYM episodes ever. Robin has a secret. Marshall thinks she’s married. Barney thinks she was a porn star. From this, the recurring slap bet was created. And Robin’s secret? She was a teenage pop star in Canada “living on Wetzel’s Pretzels and Orange Juliuses for a year” during her national mall tour. “Let’s Go to the Mall” is hilarious in its send-up of teenage one hit wonders. When asked why the video was very 80s when it happened in the 90s, Robin replies, “the 80s didn’t hit Canada until the 90s.” This is one of the best episodes of television ever. Period.
The Ice Storm (1997)
Ang Lee’s follow-up to his 7-time Oscar-nominated Sense and Sensibility was this fatalistic study of unhappy 1970s Connecticut suburbanites. Katie Holmes might give her best performance. Elijah Wood shows us a glimpse of why he was about to become a big star. Joan Allen, Kevin Kline and Sigourney Weaver all give award-worthy subtle, understated performances that were too subtle and understated to grab awards attention. And don’t even get me started on Sigourney. How she wasn’t nominated for an Academy Award remains one of Oscar’s big mysteries.
Planes, Trains and Automobiles (1987)
This classic comedy features Steve Martin at the top of his game and John Candy’s best performance. Writer/director John Hughes veered away from his teen angst comedies. Kevin Bacon starts his trend of appearing in bit roles. Was he already making plans for Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon? And that pillow scene? I dare you not to laugh. Planes isn’t just a Thanksgiving classic. Or just a comedy classic. It’s just a classic.
South Park – “Helen Keller! The Musical” (2000)
The title of the episode alone gives you an idea of the irreverence of the plot. As if any episode of South Park is not irreverent. The fourth season of South Park was part of the renaissance period of the height of Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s powers. Cartman is tasked with adapting The Miracle Worker into a musical. Tasking Cartman with anything usually isn’t a good idea. As South Park viewers know, satirical musicals are Parker and Stone’s forte. Hello Book of Mormon. If you rewatch the episode, you might be able spot the references to The Phantom of the Opera, Les Miserables, The Right Stuff and Soylent Green, among others.
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