Retro Sitcoms – The Thanksgiving Edition
It should come as no surprise that I’m a huge fan of sitcoms from the 80’s and 90’s. These were the shows that I grew up with, and despite their absurdity at times, sitting down and watching an outlandish take on life is a relaxing and comforting way for me to spend time. I tend to watch TV shows like Roseanne, Home Improvement, Seinfeld, and The Golden Girls all year round, but I pay special attention during the holidays. That feeling of nostalgia that these type of shows produce really take me back to the simpler days when holidays were exciting and simple.
I have a go-to list of Christmas and Halloween specials that I like to watch, but I don’t have a set of Thanksgiving episodes… yet. Thanksgiving is the bastard child of holiday specials in that most shows didn’t/don’t bother with them. The shows that did have Thanksgiving episodes rarely focused on Thanksgiving, but were just set at Thanksgiving-time. I decided to seek out a handful of Thanksgiving episodes that I could find streaming and rate them for their Thanksgiving theme and re-watchability. I tend to avoid spoilers in most reviews that I write, but not this time around. If you don’t want the plot spoiled just scroll down to the bold sections to see the recommendation.
Full House “The Miracle of Thanksgiving”
Season One, Episode Nine
Full House is one of those shows that to many people did not age well, and to others is timeless. I stand in the middle. I watched a ton of Full House growing up and I recognize how cheesy it can be. It’s so chock full of wholesomeness that shows went out of their way (Seinfeld, comes to mind) to be the anti-Full House. That’s fine and all, but I do think that one of the most important segments in entertainment that is missing is television that both young children and adults can watch together. Full House, and now Fuller House, fills that gap nicely.
The first season of Full House was a little different from the rest. The show featured a few storylines where the family had to process the loss of Pam, Danny’s wife and the girl’s mom. The Thanksgiving episode is one of these shows.
The show begins with Danny finding out that his mother is snowed in and would not be making it to San Francisco to make Thanksgiving dinner. Danny wakes up Jesse and Joey so that they can tackle the Thanksgiving feast, but quickly realize they are out of their element. The next logical step is to find a reservation for a Thanksgiving dinner at a restaurant, but the girls, DJ specifically, does not react well to that idea. Thanksgiving was a big deal for her mom and she felt like not having a home cooked Thanksgiving would be a disgrace to her memory. She offers to make her mother’s Picture Perfect Pumpkin Pie, along with the turkey. I’m sure you can see where this is going, letting a ten year old cook a turkey is never a good idea, especially when you do a dance montage to The Temptations.
Needless to say, the turkey is still frozen and the guys have to stall in order to spare DJ the embarrassment of her failed turkey dinner. Just in the nick of time, two strangers who are lost show up with a cooked turkey that Danny attempts to buy off them. Joey’s inability to pull a bottle off his tongue ruins that plan and finally the guys have to come clean to DJ.
This is Full House, so everything works out in the end, but it’s worth noting that this episode always stood out at actually channeling some real emotions. You get to see DJ and Stephanie both try and deal with their mother’s death along with Danny, which was not too uncommon during the first season. The big shocker is Jesse, who is forced to confront his sadness by Danny. The show walks that fine line and comes across quite genuine and it’s hard not to feel a little knot come up in your throat. Then they go and ruin it by “eating” the blackened turkey and pumpkin pie they dropped on the floor.
This episode is centered completely around Thanksgiving dinner and family, which is what I’m looking for when trying to assemble my Thanksgiving Watch List. However, the overarching sadness in this episode is a major bummer. This show does a great job of presenting Thanksgiving, but it’s not something I’d want to watch every year.
Thanksgiving Theme: A
Seinfeld, “The Mom and Pop Store”
Season Six, Episode Eight
Seinfeld is credited with one Thanksgiving episode and in typical Seinfeld fashion, the show isn’t really about the holiday. The show has three plotlines that converge towards the end that takes place at a Thanksgiving Party hosted by none other than Mr. Bryan Cranston.
The show starts off with George needing to buy a new car. He heads out to buy a Volvo, but the used car salesman presents him with a LeBaron that was owned by actor Jon Voight. George, being George, buys the LeBaron, but spends the remainder of the episode trying to determine its authenticity.
Kramer has taken up a crusade to save a local mom and pop shoe repair business, and involves Jerry by giving them all of his tennis shoes so that they can clean them and stay in business.
Jerry is caught between dealing with both George and Kramer’s insanity, along with the hurt he is feeling by not being invited to a dentist friend’s Thanksgiving party.
Of course, all sorts of insanity breaks out. George kicks Jerry out of his car for inferring that it is not actor Jon Voigt’s car, and Jerry is forced to run way from muggers in cowboy boots since all of his shoes are missing (The mom and pop who owned the shoe business took off after Kramer inadvertently pointed out a major electrical issue) and cracks a tooth. George finds a chewed on pencil inside the car that could match the bite marks on Kramer’s arm that he received after hounding Jon Voight earlier in the day. Needless to say, everyone needs to see a dentist so they all end up at the dentist party where a Woody The Wood Pecker balloon in the Macy Thanksgiving Day Parade is popped by Jerry when he accidently bumps an Empire State Building statue out the window.
Wow… it’s difficult to sum up a Seinfeld episode and I even left out quite a bit.
The show featured a Thanksgiving party and a small plotline around a Macy’s balloon, but there really wasn’t much Thanksgiving going on. Of course, Seinfeld is not the type of show to do any heartfelt tribute to the holiday, family, or friendship, so that’s to be expected.
This is actually a very good episode of Seinfeld, but a disappointing Thanksgiving special episode. I could watch this episode every year, but it just doesn’t have that Thanksgiving vibe that I’m looking for.
Thanksgiving Theme: D
Just Shoot Me, “The First Thanksgiving”
Season Five, Episode Seven
Just Shoot Me was one of those shows that seemed to be on all the time between 2000-2005. It was re-run a lot in syndication, and they even made a reference to that in Six Feet Under of all things. Sadly, Just Shoot Me is mostly forgotten about now. This year the complete series was finally released on DVD, but it’s not streaming anywhere nor is it being broadcast on any channel that I know of. It’s one of those shows that everyone forgot about, which is sad because it’s actually quite good.
A couple of years ago, I set out to watch all of Just Shoot Me and I’ll never forget reaching this episode. I watched it with my wife and I turned to her in the middle of it and said, “Now, this is a damn good Thanksgiving episode.” After my revisit, I still feel the same. I’m going to be less vague on the plot of this episode because unraveling the chaos will take away all the fun.
Jack has a house in The Hamptons and has put Maya in charge of organizing a Thanksgiving dinner for Nina, Finch, Elliott, and Elliott’s mom. Prior to the dinner, Nina is convinced that Jack is going to replace her with a younger, hipper fashion consultant that Finch is trying to get into the pants of. Finch unexpectedly shows up with the model in tow, and Nina brings some random guy she met at a rave in an attempt to convince Jack that she is still hip.
With all these destructive personalities under one roof things are obviously going to get out of control. That catalyst isn’t the emotionally distraught Nina nor the sexually frustrated Finch, but Jack who ends up sleeping with Rhoda, Elliott’s mom. The rest of the episode is brilliantly written as Jack and Rhode attempt to keep the affair quiet.
The First Thanksgiving doesn’t feature a heartwarming dinner scene, but it does perfectly capture the chaos that comes when a family gets together for a holiday, much in the same way that National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation does. This is one of my favorite episodes of Just Shoot Me and it holds up well. It’s got some laugh out loud moments in and it can definitely be watched yearly.
Thanksgiving Theme: B
Sabrina The Teenage Witch, “Love Means Having to Say You’re Sorry”
Season Four, Episode Nine
I’ll never forget the first night Sabrina debuted. I was excited out of my mind. I loved Clarissa Explains It All and could not wait for Melissa Joan Hart to make her primetime network debut. Then the show aired and I determined that it was not for me. I was a thirteen year old boy, and my crush on Melissa Joan Hart could only take me so far. I wasn’t into the whimsical magic nor the poorly animated cat puppet. That was the last time I watched Sabrina until two years ago.
Two years ago, I was sitting on the couch and feeling a little down. I was mindlessly flipping through things to watch on Amazon Prime when I saw Sabrina’s smiling face. I decided I was in the mood for a good laugh, so I’d watch the first episode of Sabrina again, for the first time in almost twenty years. Three hours later, I’d watched the first eight episodes and was feeling much better.
Sabrina is not a great show, but it’s lighthearted and relaxing. Melissa Joan Hart, Caroline Rhea, Beth Broderick, and Nick Bakay do a wonderful job brining these over-the-top characters to life. The rest of the casting, props, and sets are very hit and miss, but the core group are good and that’s enough to keep me watching. I’ve slowly worked my way through the first three seasons over the past two years, and I’d say about every three or four months I turn on a couple hours of Sabrina to help me unwind or to use as background noise.
In season four, a Thanksgiving episode occurs (if it can really be called that.) Harvey and Sabrina have broken up after Harvey witnesses Sabrina kissing another guy. Sabrina feels really bad for hurting Harvey and spends all of her time thinking about him and hoping for forgiveness. When Harvey rebukes her, Sabrina resorts to spells to try and make Harvey love her again. Sabrina learns the same lesson she learns in many of the episodes that magic is not always the answer to your problems. She just needed to take a moment and apologize for hurting Harvey.
So, you may be asking, where does Thanksgiving come into play? Well, Sabrina spends most Thanksgivings at Harvey’s since her aunts don’t celebrate Thanksgiving. The Pilgrims weren’t accepting of witches, so they refuse to participate in a holiday honoring them. With Sabrina and Harvey being on the outs, Hilda and Zelda decide to put away their bias and make Thanksgiving dinner for Sabrina. When things don’t work out, they summon two pilgrims to create an authentic Thanksgiving dinner for them.
The show was dominated by Sabrina’s futile attempts to win Harvey back and Thanksgiving wasn’t much more than a prop. I enjoyed the interactions between the pilgrims and Hilda/Zelda, but it didn’t really channel Thanksgiving all that well. I would argue that it’s not a particularly strong episode of Sabrina and will not be making my Thanksgiving watch list.
Thanksgiving Theme: C
Home Improvement, “A Frozen Moment”
Season Three, Episode Ten
I love Home Improvement. It’s a show that never gets old to me and as soon as the weather turns a little bit cold, I immediately want to watch it. Home Improvement plays a prominent role in my Halloween/Christmas sitcom watch lists, but I haven’t approached the series from the Thanksgiving angle until now. I picked the first Thanksgiving episode and gave it a watch. I was floored to realize that one of the best, and one of my favorite Home Improvement episodes was in fact a Thanksgiving episode.
In a Frozen Moment, Tim constructs a massive North Pole set in the backyard so the family can take an epic Christmas card photo. Jill wants Tim to not go overboard, but of course, he does. Everything comes to a boil when Jill is put into a skimpy Mrs. Claus outfit, the boys are stuck in uncomfortable elfs outfits, and Tim insists on having real snow while dressed as a Mountie. The snow machine ends up busting through the glass door, and while Jill cleans up the glass, her pies burn.
Tim, of course, needs Wilson’s advice to help make things right and realize that he went out a little overboard. He was so obsessed with presenting this perfect family holiday image, he forgot all about enjoying time with his family. The show ends with a touching moment where everyone at the table shares something they are grateful for.
Home Improvement is praised often for its excellent holiday episodes, and this is no exception. It hit all the points I wanted in a Thanksgiving episode and then some. I didn’t even mention that this is the episode that featured the awesome Man’s Bathroom. The Man’s Bathroom was a bathroom created on the set of Tool Time to fill all the needs of a man. It was complete with television, phone, bright lights for nose hair picking, massive multi-spray shower, and a refrigerator.
This episode of Home Improvement feels like both a Thanksgiving story and a Christmas story, and Christmas seems to taken precedent. However, the final minutes are all Thanksgiving and out of all the shows I watched, it was the only one that featured an edible Thanksgiving dinner that was actually eaten. I know we’ve seen people go around the time table and say what they are grateful for in dozens of shows/movies, but that really is what Thanksgiving is all about. It doesn’t matter how cheesy or cliché that it comes across.
This is a great episode of Home Improvement that has a Thanksgiving theme. It’ll definitely make my Thanksgiving watch list for next year.
Thanksgiving Theme: B
After watching this series of shows, I’ve only added two episodes to my Thanksgiving Watch List:
-Just Shoot Me “The First Thanksgiving”
-Home Improvement “A Frozen Moment”
These two shows will join Planes, Trains, and Automobiles as part of my Thanksgiving Watch List. Next year, I’ll give another set of shows a shot and will hopefully build up my list more and more as the years go on.