Comedy

10 of the Funniest Thanksgiving Sitcom Episodes

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10 of the Funniest Thanksgiving Sitcom Episodes

Holidays often bring out the best in sitcoms, but Thanksgiving is uniquely qualified to inspire special episodes. It’s non-religious, so networks won’t have any fear about offending anybody, and it’s entirely about hanging out with family, whether it’s real flesh and blood or the makeshift kind that pops up in so many sitcoms. A list of great Christmas episodes, for instance, wouldn’t have been as easy to put together as this one. Here are ten of the funniest Thanksgiving episodes from sitcoms and other TV comedies, from 1975 all the way through a year or two ago.

1. The Bob Newhart Show
“Over the River and Through the Woods”

Bob Newhart’s stand-up career was built on deadpan, playing a one-man straight man trying to contain his composure during one-sided phone calls and while dealing with unseen annoyances. He remained the straight man on his sitcoms, although he cut loose in this classic Thanksgiving episode from The Bob Newhart Show. Newhart, his neighbor Bill Daily, his office mate Peter Bonerz and his patient Jack Riley get to act drunk while watching a football game on the holiday, and their fast-paced patter is hilarious today even if you don’t know anything about the show or the characters. It also pulls off the neat trick of putting four characters who didn’t interact that often as a group together and having three of them grow progressively less reserved; Riley’s Mr. Carlin barely changes as he drinks, but as the others become drunker he goes from the least reality-based member of the group into the most grounded and level-headed, despite not changing at all.—Garrett Martin

2. All in the Family
“The Little Atheist”

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All in the Family can be as uncomfortable to watch today as it was 40 years ago. It’s sad that you can still hear the same type of arguments that Archie Bunker would espouse on certain “news” stations today. It’s also still funny, though, especially this episode where Archie and his son-in-law Mike argue whether Mike’s child will be raised as a Christian or not. We’re all used to having to put up with relatives we disagree with politically at the Thanksgiving table; unfortunately for Mike, he had to live with his.—GM

3. WKRP in Cincinnati
“Turkeys Away”

As God was his witness, the Big Guy thought turkeys could fly. And, well, in real life they can, at least for short periods of time. Of course if we let facts get in the way we wouldn’t be able to enjoy one of the greatest holiday episodes of any television show, when the beleaguered radio station WKRP tossed live turkeys out of a helicopter as a holiday promotion. Les Nessman quoted Herbert Morrison’s radio broadcast of the Hindenburg disaster as turkeys crashed through windshields and splattered on the ground. WKRP was always a bit more outlandish than its MTM brethren (fitting for a show about a rock station trying really hard to be “wild and crazy” during the glory days of FM radio), but the show’s great cast reacted perfectly in character to this plot twist. WKRP was only a few months old at the time, but this episode proves it already knew exactly what kind of show it wanted to be, which is rare for such a young sitcom.—GM

4. Cheers
“Thanksgiving Orphans”

Cheers was rarely a story-driven show. Its greatest strengths were the chemistry of its cast and a relaxed pace that, by today’s standards, feels amiably lazy. This memorable Thanksgiving episode fully exploits both. Sitcoms are almost always about family, whether it be the nuclear kind or the ersatz ones that form between friends and coworkers. “Thanksgiving Orphans” moves the whole Cheers family from the bar to Carla’s house, where whatever tensions exist in the bar are magnified considerably. After a day of boredly watching TV and sniping at each other, they all fail to cook a worthwhile meal, and wind up having what might be the longest food fight in sitcom history. This cathartic mess brings them together, reminding this group of underdogs why they like each other’s company in the first place. It’s the only episode where Norm’s wife Vera appears, and of course she gets hit with a pie that completely obscures her face before we can get a glimpse of her.—GM

5. Seinfeld
“The Mom and Pop Store”

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This is the time of year where we pause and give thanks, and there is so much to be grateful for in Seinfeld’s “The Mom and Pop Store”: I’m thankful for the scene where Kramer gets bitten by Jon Voight. I’m thankful for the fact that Elaine accidentally turned down a date with Tim Whatley because she couldn’t hear and thought he was offering her nuts. I’m thankful for the way Kramer grins and says “he’s a troublemaker” after George asks if Woody the Woodpecker is supposed to be “some sort of an instigator.” I’m thankful for the way Jerry accidentally pierces a balloon in the Macy’s parade, and yes, I’m thankful for the Midnight Cowboy send-up that closes one of the best Thanksgiving episodes of all time.—Bonnie Stiernberg

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