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Best Thanksgiving episodes to stream: ‘Friends,’ ‘Succession’ and more


Preparing for the big binge? Whether you call the upcoming holiday Friendsgiving, Slapsgiving, the Feast of Feasts — or just, you know, Thanksgiving — this year, you can be thankful that there is plenty of TV to keep you company.

Join these fictional families and friend groups while they break bread or break each other’s spirits, depending on which feels more comforting as you cook, eat and fade away on the couch. Yes, you may have seconds.

‘Friends’: Matthew Perry, who died last month at 54, was the king of many a “Friends” Thanksgiving episode. Or as his character Chandler put it, the king of bad Thanksgivings. Or, as Monica’s mother put it, the Boy Who Hates Thanksgiving. (His disdain for the holiday stemmed from learning about his parents’ divorce one Thanksgiving as a child and vomiting in response.) Gradually, though, Chandler conquered his aversion, bailing out the gang with cheese sandwiches at the first Friendsgiving and later helping to prepare a batch of cranberry sauce (made, in his parlance, of tasty Chanberries). Fans with only enough room for one episode should seek out “The One With the Thanksgiving Flashbacks,” from Season 5. (Streaming on Max.)

‘Rick and Morty’: For mad scientist Rick Sanchez (Justin Roiland), Thanksgiving is an ideal time to break into the National Archives and try to steal the Constitution. So what if some other national treasures are destroyed in the process? “Rick and Morty’s Thanksploitation Spectacular,” from Season 5, finds Rick on the outs with federal authorities and fomenting an elaborate scheme to score a presidential pardon. Pretty soon people start turning into turkeys while turkeys turn into humans. Your job, if you choose to accept this episode, is to make sense of all the gobbledygook. (Streaming on Max.)

‘Master of None’: This series’s Thanksgiving episode is one of its very best. Shifting the focus from our indecisive hero, Dev (Aziz Ansari), to his lifelong friend Denise (Lena Waithe), it presents a sequence of vignettes following her through two decades of Thanksgiving dinners as she struggles to come out to her mother as a lesbian. Every element of this touching half-hour feels carefully crafted, from Angela Bassett’s emotional guest performance as Denise’s mother to the nostalgic 1990s R&B soundtrack. Waithe won an Emmy for the script — which was inspired by her own family history — becoming the first Black woman to win the award for writing in a comedy. (Streaming on Netflix.)

‘Chilling Adventures of Sabrina’: For mere mortals, Thanksgiving is a harvest festival. For witches, however, the equivalent Feast of Feasts is a very different celebration, with a very different main course — human rather than avian. In “Feast of Feasts,” from Season 1, the young witch Sabrina Spellman (Kiernan Shipka) is shocked to learn about this barbaric holiday ritual. (“Are we seriously taking about cannibalism?” she asks in horror.) Her rejection of this ancient tradition puts a damper on any festive feelings. (Streaming on Netflix.)

‘Bob’s Burgers’: A Season 3 episode is titled “An Indecent Thanksgiving Proposal,” but don’t worry — Bob and Linda Belcher’s marriage is safe. The proposal in question comes from the rich landlord, Mr. Fischoeder, who offers the Belchers five months’ free rent for a chaste evening with Linda and the family’s three children, with Bob on hand to cook. Like other schemes on the show, this one is a disaster. But Studio Ghibli fans should look out for a lovely dream sequence that pays tribute to “My Neighbor Totoro.” (Streaming on Hulu.)

‘The Sopranos’: Most of the episodes on this list are somewhat uplifting and work well as stand-alones. This one, titled “He Is Risen,” won’t make sense if you’ve never seen “The Sopranos,” and it is no more uplifting than any other hour of the show. But if you’re already a Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini) fan, you probably don’t mind a dark holiday tale. This Season 3 episode features a car wreck, a funeral and the beginning of an extramarital relationship, along with a Soprano family Thanksgiving dinner that is surprisingly pleasant, thanks to the conspicuous absence of Tony’s most reprehensible associate, Ralph Cifaretto (Joe Pantoliano). (Streaming on Max.)

‘Succession’: The Roys serve up the usual feast of familial animosity at their Thanksgiving bash. Logan Roy (Brian Cox), the patriarch, is especially disruptive, culminating with his lashing out at an innocent child. In “I Went to Market,” from Season 1, party chat includes touchy but relatable topics such as political ideologies and movie selections, but business concerns naturally trump everything. Cousin Greg (Nicholas Braun) has to skip most of the festivities — it seems there are some sensitive documents at the office in need of shredding. (Streaming on Max.)

‘black-ish’: It’s always fun to watch Laurence Fishburne and Jenifer Lewis on “black-ish,” picking at each other as the divorced grandparents Pops and Ruby. The Season 3 Thanksgiving episode, “Auntsgiving,” threw a third veteran actor into the fray, casting Lorraine Toussaint (“Orange Is the New Black”) as Pops’ older sister, Aunt A.V. — whom Ruby hates. (Streaming on Hulu.)

‘Gilmore Girls’: Lorelai Gilmore (Lauren Graham) and her teenage daughter, Rory (Alexis Bledel), can barely boil water, but they do love to eat. In “A Deep-Fried Korean Thanksgiving,” from Season 3, they make cameos at no fewer than four dinners. Rory’s friend Lane (Keiko Agena) offers a meal featuring Tofurky and a budding relationship. The perfectionist chef Sookie (Melissa McCarthy) watches in horror as her husband deep-fries a turkey. Romantic tensions for both mother and daughter are on the menu at the local diner. Lorelai’s parents serve up the usual stew of guilt and resentment. Just like Thanksgiving dinner itself, the episode is a plate piled high with sweet, salty and deliciously tart moments. (Streaming on Netflix.)

‘Happy Endings’: Midway through the third and final season of this zany hangout comedy, in an episode called “More Like Stanksgiving,” we finally learn how the crew’s resident married couple got together. It turns out that Jane (Eliza Coupe) and Brad (Damon Wayans Jr.) met when he and her friend Max (Adam Pally) were castmates on an unaired season of MTV’s “The Real World” in 2002. A decade later, Max still has the scrapped footage. In just over 20 minutes, the reliably lightning-paced “Happy Endings” pulls off a perfect reality-TV parody and sheds new light on a few long-standing relationships. (Streaming on Hulu.)

‘Big Mouth’: Nothing says love more warmly than a perfectly roasted turkey (or even tofurkey). Such is the lesson learned by Andrew (John Mulaney) in this Season 5 episode. Andrew’s father (Richard Kind) has anger-management issues related to prepping poultry — he believes insulting the bird is the key to keeping its juices inside. Andrew decries this “turkey tyranny” and refuses to eat. In the end, though, he and his father have a heart-to-heart about their troubled family history. Despite the usual gross-out humor, there is a genuine attempt to address issues of generational trauma — and of course the power of sharing food. (Streaming on Netflix.)

‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’: Many Thanksgiving episodes sprinkle in references to the holiday’s complicated history. “Buffy” takes the reckoning to an extreme in “Pangs,” from Season 4, in which the bumbling Xander (Nicholas Brendon) inadvertently unleashes the spirit of an Indigenous warrior. As the ghost starts murdering people who disrupted his sacred burial ground, the Slayer (Sarah Michelle Gellar) and her friends debate whether it’s right to kill a “vengeance demon” whose grievances are legitimate. The result is a reasonably nuanced debate about whether Americans are responsible for the sins of their ancestors. (Streaming on Hulu.)

‘Gossip Girl’: Forget, for a moment, the way “Gossip Girl” fell apart at the end. Its first season was a sublime confection sweetened with glamorous costumes and forbidden love, and tempered by heated conflict. All of those elements come together in the Thanksgiving episode, “Blair Waldorf Must Pie!,” which jumps back in time to compare the previous year’s festivities with those of the present. In the past, the beautiful and troubled Serena van der Woodsen (Blake Lively) got wasted before a dinner with the family of her best friend, Blair Waldorf (Leighton Meester). A year later, Serena has cleaned up and Blair is struggling with bulimia. Although the girls are often framed as frenemies, this unusually sentimental episode is a tribute to the way they take care of each other. (Streaming on Max.)

‘South Park’: If a long weekend of family togetherness makes you desperate for a triple dose of irreverence, Season 17 of “South Park” has you covered. In a trilogy of episodes that begins with “Black Friday,” a local mall braces for the yearly blood bath that begins as soon as the plates are in the dishwasher. For Cartman, that means assembling an army of pint-size gamers to procure the new Xbox at a deep discount. When a pro-Playstation faction splinters off, South Park’s own “Game of Thrones” breaks out, complete with Kenny as Daenerys and a Red Robin Wedding. (Streaming on Max.)

‘How I Met Your Mother’: It is a holiday of firsts in “Slapsgiving,” the Thanksgiving episode from the third season of this beloved CBS sitcom. Lily (Alyson Hannigan) and Marshall (Jason Segel) are hosting their first Thanksgiving as a married couple. Ted (Josh Radnor) and Robin (Cobie Smulders) have just broken up and are figuring out how to be friends for the first time. This is the first of three Slapsgivings (the others are in Seasons 5 and 9), named for a bet in which Marshall wins the right to slap his obnoxious pal Barney (Neil Patrick Harris) that culminates in the glorious original song “You Just Got Slapped.” Be sure to read Entertainment Weekly’s oral history of the episode after watching. (Streaming on Hulu.)

‘Family Ties’: This quintessential 1980s family sitcom outdid itself with “No Nukes Is Good Nukes” from Season 1. As the Keaton kids endure their grandmother’s awful cooking, Elyse (Meredith Baxter) and Steven (Michael Gross) relive their hippie youth at a festive Thanksgiving Day nuclear disarmament protest. Of course, the boomer parents end up in jail and their Gen-X children couldn’t be more mortified. It’s a dated story line, but the episode’s message about standing up for your beliefs never gets old. (Streaming on Paramount+.)

‘Adam Ruins Everything’: Need some ammunition for semi-friendly arguments around the Thanksgiving table? This animated episode, called “The First Factsgiving,” helps dispel many of the beloved myths that have grown around the holiday, including the role of the Native warrior Tisquantum — commonly known as Squanto — in the original Thanksgiving feast in 1621. And about that date: The celebration of Thanksgiving as a fixed, nationwide holiday didn’t come about until the Civil War — a day of mourning for turkeys everywhere. (Streaming on Max.)

c.2023 The New York Times Company


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