Sunday, November 24, 2013

I hate Thanksgiving episodes

Thanksgiving is right around the corner. I look forward to the holiday, never writing about it. Every sitcom I’ve ever worked on, we’ve had the obligatory Thanksgiving episode. How many variations can you have on the big family dinner going awry? I think I’ve written the “turkey gets burned”, “relatives clash”, “nutty friends invited”, “can’t find a restaurant”, “kids break something”, “Guess who’s Coming to Dinner variation, “Meet the Parents variation”,“football gambler loses big”, “tofu turkey substitute”, “someone accidentally gets dragged seven blocks by the Mr. Potato Head balloon”, “mom’s a terrible cook”, “relative accidentally not invited”, “someone is allergic to something in the stuffing and has a funny seizure”, “power outage”, “thawing frozen turkey last minute”, “food fight”, and “the pilgrim re-enactment” episode fifteen times.

As a director, bird day is also a bitch.  There are always big crowd scenes and a thousand props.  Usually something explodes. 

For my money there's only been one truly great Thanksgiving episode.  And that was the flying turkey episode of WKRP IN CINCINNATI. 


Hopefully, none of the standard sitcom mishaps will happen to you this turkey day. And if they do, at least you’ll have your MODERN FAMILY spec script halfway written.

44 comments:

Gary said...

There was definitely one other great Thanksgiving episode -- the Cheers food fight!

Howard Hoffman said...

Lorre/Prady obviously agree. It took them seven seasons before they did BIG BANG THEORY's first Thanksgiving show.

Eduardo Jencarelli said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Eduardo Jencarelli said...

Truth be told, some of the best FRIENDS episodes were the Thanksgiving ones, if only because it forced the 6 actors into the same room for 22 minutes, letting the sparks fly between them.

Phillip B said...

I have a real fondness for the Thanksgiving episode of the Bob Newhart show. He was outstanding playing a drunk unintentionally ordering hundreds of dollars of Chinese food.

More goo!

Bob Timmermann said...

I would second the sentiment on the Bob Newhart show Thanksgiving episode. I laugh every time my father-in-law orders Chinese food. Because his favorite dish is, sincerely, moo goo gai pan.

AJS said...

"Oh the humanity"

"As God is my witness, I thought turkeys could fly"

Great lines well delivered.

Shilley Shillington said...

"The Neighbors" just did a send up of just this thing. The aliens even had the community act as their laugh track.

http://watchabc.go.com/the-neighbors/SH55199654/VDKA0_uobojwif/thanksgiving-is-no-schmuck-bait

I know the critics savaged this show when it premiered but many of them actually retracted their condemnation because the show has gotten better and has a chance if ABC just gives it time.

Scooter Schechtman said...

How about Marie Barone's tofu turkey? "Kinda starts out with an aftertaste."

Hamid said...

Frasier had a great Thanksgiving episode where Frasier and Lilith try to get Frederick into a top school and end up annoying him beyond belief. I always loved it whenever Frasier's obsequious behavior only pissed people off rather than impress them.

Hamid said...

Sorry, I didn't clarify that they annoyed the school principal!

Anonymous said...

Taking a dig at Modern Family? Best family sitcom in years. Oh well, it's all relative...

Anonymous said...

Bart vs. Thanksgiving is a classic Thanksgiving episode:

"I have laryngitis and it hurts to talk, so I'll just say one thing — you never do anything right."

sanford said...

I feel the same way about Christmas episodes. Why do they feel they have to do these types of episodes?

Jeff Greenstein said...

Two writing Emmy nominations, both for Thanksgiving episodes. BOOM.

Mike in Seattle said...

BROADWAY DANNY ROSE.

An (is my actual name) said...

Blasphemy, because Cheers' Thanksgiving Orphans. I'm gonna click away and pretend I never read this post.

Ken Levine said...

Jeff,

And I was not nominated for the "Thanksgiving '53" episode of AfterMASH and I'm still bitter.

LinGin said...

Leaving WKRP IN CINCINNATI out of it (because that is THE gold standard), I agree with Eduardo Jencarelli. The Thanksgiving episodes of FRIENDS were among the best of that series (particularly the one with Mr. Jennifer Aniston at that time). And while FRASIER is my favorite comedy of all time, that Thanksgiving episode is one of my least favorites. Although you can never go wrong with Paxton Whitehead.

ETA: interesting word verification: phkgramp (sound it out)

BigTed said...

There's one more overused Thanksgiving episode trope: "Group of friends and/or coworkers all have their holiday plans canceled at once, forcing the core cast to celebrate together without having to pay for any guest stars or off-site locations."

unkystan said...

A definite thumbs up for this past week's episode of The Neighbors. BTW Here is a show which started off terrible but was given the chance by the network to find it's footing and is now one of my favorites. Neighbors and Raising Hope are two very underappreciated gems!

DwWashburn said...

Sitcoms that have done Thanksgiving right --

WKRP
Friends
Big Bang Theory
Bob Newhart
Mad about You
Cosby Show
Beverly Hillbillies
Home Improvement (partially)
Huckleberry Hound

Brian Drake said...

Holiday episodes have been a staple going back to the Golden Age of Radio, where everybody from Jack Benny to The Great Gildersleeve did such an episode, and they weren't any different than today, with the exception of enough sentimental slop piled on to make you gag.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

I also liked the FRIENDS Thanksgiving episodes, but I really loathe the increasing FRIENDSification of THE BIG BANG THEORY - for which last week's episode provided further evidence. I will say, though, it didn't use any of the plots Ken listed above.

wg

Greg Ehrbar said...

Actually, Jack Benny did a classic Thanksgiving episode where he dreamed he was on trial for killing a turkey. The cast all had to "gobble" their lines and it was insane.

Can't recall another sitcom with that storyline.

Pizzagod said...

Totally agree Ken, but have to say that this years Big Bang was a pretty stellar episode.

David Whitham said...

WKRP in Cincinnati is definitely the gold standard, but I'm surprised no one has mentioned the episode of Mad About You that featured 5 turkeys.

Mike Schryver said...

Yes, Jack Benny did some really good Thanksgiving episodes. Most of them were on radio, and are accessible online.

There's a moment in the FRASIER ep. with Paxton Whitehead that's one of my favorites anywhere. When Frasier and Lilith hand him a check thinking he's looking for a bribe, he says something like "This is the most offensive thing I've ever seen, in every possible way." In the middle of the line, he opens the check to see the amount, and closes it at exactly the right moment while saying "In every possible way".

That bit of business, and Whitehead's perfect timing, slay me every time.

dlgood said...

The "Buffy" thanksgiving features the cast being attacked by angry spirits of dead Native Americans...

marie said...

I right away thought of Last Man Standings episode last Friday night. dealt with the legalization of pot in Colorado, how their family deals with the Grandpas new business venture. very unique compared to your above said burning the turkey, etc episodes. interesting to see the dialogue on their facebook page, seems that some people heard the word pot and zoned out, not listening to the message, just hating right away. it was unique and I thought very well written.

Dale said...

Spike's take on it was great. And so true.

Spike: I just can't take all this mamby-pamby boo-hooing about the bloody Indians.
Willow: Uh, the preferred term is...Spike
: You won. All right? You came in and you killed them and you took their land. That's what conquering nations do. It's what Caesar did, and he's not goin' around saying, "I came, I conquered, I felt really bad about it." The history of the world is not people making friends. You had better weapons, and you massacred them. End of story.
Buffy: Well, I think the Spaniards actually did a lot of - Not that I don't like Spaniards.
Spike: Listen to you. How you gonna fight anyone with that attitude?
Willow: We don't wanna fight anyone.
Buffy: I just wanna have Thanksgiving.
Spike: Heh heh. Yeah... Good luck.
Willow: Well, if we could talk to him...
Spike: You exterminated his race. What could you possibly say that would make him feel better? It's kill or be killed here. Take your bloody pick.

Mike said...

"Is this a burnt turkey I see before me?"
"No, it's a chicken in blackface."

DBenson said...

The Cheers episode just got a long and laudatory writeup at The Onion AV Club.

Mark said...

Dale's excerpt left out one of my all-time favorite lines:

Spike: You exterminated his race. What could you possibly say that would make him feel better? It's kill or be killed here. Take your bloody pick.
Xander: Maybe it's the syphilis talking, but, some of that made sense.

Michael Stoffel said...

I second the comment about the Neighbors. It gets better and better every week.
And as someone who lives in the woods, yes, turkeys can fly.

stephanie roberts said...

You're absolutely right - WKRP is #1...but as a family, we still use the line "dinner and a show" from a Drew Carey Thanksgiving episode that featured his character's transvestite brother

McAlvie said...

OMG, I still remember that episode of WKRP ... shows like that were so great because they included "white space," allowing for a collaboration between the show and the viewer's imagination. Today we would have had the scene pushed into our faces in grotesque living color, and it would be instantly forgettable ... at least you would try very hard to forget it.

The Neighbors - I'm one of those people who thought it was stupid. I still do, but I have to admit it also has charm.

cpcathy said...

AVClub.com has posted a lovely review of the Cheers Thanksgiving episode. They are doing the Bob Newhart Thanksgiving episode on Thursday.

Joseph Scarbrough said...

Why do holiday episodes have to be obligatory now anyway? You look back at some shows, and they may have had a holiday episode every once in a while, or in some cases, a lot of shows never had a holiday episode of any kind.

Anonymous said...

On the drama side - West Wing had some great Thanksgiving episodes with Shibboleth and Indians in the Lobby.

Stephen Robinson said...

I enjoyed all the FRIENDS Thanksgiving episodes. I especially liked that they continued doing them -- often series will have 1 holiday-themed episode per run that airs each year.

DyHrdMET said...

so what are the best Thanksgiving episodes? WKRP is up there. The Cheers food fight should be too.

Storm said...

Thanks for reminding me about Bob Newhart and "More goo!" I hadn't seen or even thought of that episode in years, so I checked and yes indeed, MeTV played it tonight! Got it on the DVR along with "Turkeys Away"; I hope we don't choke from laughing as we eat.

Cheers, the lot of you,

Storm

mike said...

The Simpsons Thanksgiving ep was great, but one I always liked was the All in the Family show where Mike Stivic's draft dodging friend was over to supper.