We Need More Thanksgiving TV—Especially Sitcom EpisodesImages courtesy of Fox Comedy Features Thanksgiving
No Peanuts special embodies the spirit of the holiday it celebrates better than A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving. Just like the actual November feast, it is overshadowed on both sides by its Halloween and Christmas counterparts. Despite all its charm, and despite essentially giving us the green light to gorge ourselves on carbs and sweets, Thanksgiving gets completely lost in the shuffle. It’s truly the Charlie Brown of holidays
If you’ve ever been on the internet—or lived in a town where the traffic lines are painted red, white, and blue—you’ve witnessed the rude phenomenon of people leapfrogging the rest of fall in favor of some winter wonderland festivities on November 1. The inflatable lawn ghosts become inflatable snowmen, and despite having 56 days and a whole ass federal holiday in between, there’s nary a turkey in sight.
Why is that? Sure, Thanksgiving isn’t a holiday in which you get the kind of free shit that makes a kid feel like Richie Rich. And yes, there is that argument that Thanksgiving is a celebration of the European genocide of indigenous people. But it’s also lackluster in another sense. Thanksgiving suffers from a lack of unique traits. A decent amount of the traditional Thanksgiving day foods come back around just a few weeks later for Christmas, or even just a routine sunday dinner. Meanwhile its red, orange, leafy, pumpkiny-y fall motif also passes for a Halloween aesthetic. Thanksgiving a pair of khaki slacks at The Gap: it simply does not stand out enough.
So how do we fix this? The same way we solve all our family holiday problems, by turning on the TV.
Thanksgiving’s pop culture footprint is relatively small. The other holiday seasons, both Winter and Spooky, have their own movie genre with enough films to fulfill a month of marathons. It’s even become a regular thing in our TV programming to have holiday themed episodes year after year. While Thanksgiving isn’t likely to produce a robust genre of sorts around it as far as movies go, it’s weirdly ignored on TV as well.There’s even more Halloween-centric cooking shows than Thanksgiving, which makes zero sense. Hollywood can really make up for lost time and rectify this problem with one of its most venerable products: the sitcom.
Comedy feels especially primed for Thanksgiving episodes as opposed to Halloween or Christmas specials. The former can lean too creepy (Family Matters), while the latter can be too sentimental or downright depressing (looking at you, Doug). Thanksgiving’s lack of specificity gives writers more room to be creative, but despite this only a fews shows seem to have made an effort to acknowledge this holiday—most notably Friends and Bob’s Burgers.
While they are not the only programs to have created a Thanksgiving-themed episode—Cheers, WKRP in Cincinnati and The Bob Newhart Show all produced classics—those tend to be lone wolves rather than recurring features. Friends and Bob’s Burgers set out to make Thanksgiving an annual staple of their runs. For Friends, it was the one consistent holiday offering with only one or two episodes created for the other guys, and even then the holidays were not so much used as a plot device but more so just sprinkled in for flavor. And these were top-notch episodes, with “The One with the Football,” “The One with Chandler in a Box,” and “The One with All the Thanksgiving” being overall series favorites and warranting big-name cameos from folks like Christina Applegate and Brad Pitt. Thanksgiving did for Friends what Halloween did for The Simpsons and Christmas did for The Office.
Bob’s Burgers was a prime candidate to take up the Thanksgiving special mantle as the restaurant setting made them a perfect fit for a Turkey Day theme. It makes complete sense that patriarch Bob Belcher would be obsessed with the holiday so centered around cooking. Their holiday episodes gave us bisexual Bob Belcher, the world’s first Thanksgiving carol, the family portrait featuring the crest of 10 schlongs, a less-problematic school play, and the running of the birds. More often than not, these episodes also give us Drunk Bob, who, just like Bisexual Bob, is a very good Bob.
Nine specials and counting, Bob’s Burgers is doing what more sitcoms should do, reinvent the holiday and bring the fervor normally associated with Christmas and Halloween to it. If we had more Thanksgiving programming, more instant classics, then cable would have to spread that stuff out to capitalize on that festive feeling rather than trying to get us to watch the cringy Jim Carrey Grinch movie every weekend in November.
Look, it feels weird to champion for the accelerated commercialization of a holiday, but I do my part by only paying for two out of six streaming services I use. It’s pitch black at 5 freaking p.m., and the outside is unpleasantly chilly. TV is a source of serotonin and holidays are a distraction. Let us have this.
Right now, Thanksgiving programming consists of a parade, a dog show, and football. This clearly isn’t good enough, as the general population doesn’t care much for high school bands from Missouri, the Dallas Cowboys, or the Detroit Lions. (Hell, this year the Washington Football Team is playing on Thanksgiving—against the Cowboys, no less.) Thanksgiving TV can easily occupy one 24 hour span, and the fact that it doesn’t is a shame. You have a month to fill, let your leads burn some pies.
The promise of leftover turkey sandwiches cannot fuel me for 20-some odd days alone, so let’s spruce up our November TV offerings. Give us more fictional turkey chaos, more repressed family beef, more grocery-based bisexual awakenings. We need more from every show, every season. Most new sitcom pilots are just Friends ripoffs anyway so why not lean in and do some Thanksgiving specials? Have at it.
Olivia Cathcart is a comedian and writer.