There may be more movies and TV episodes centered around Christmas than any other holiday. But if you’re planning a Thanksgiving-themed binge-watch, your options aren’t confined to just A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving and Planes, Trains and Automobiles. Here are 12 top-notch television installments that capture the spirit (and stress) of Turkey Day.
1. Seinfeld // “The Mom & Pop Store” (Season 6, Episode 8)
Is there anything that evokes Thanksgiving more than getting bitten by Jon Voight while you’re trying to ask him if he used to own your friend’s Chrysler LeBaron? Yes, many things—like winning a radio contest so your boss can hold one of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade balloons. Both occur in this episode of Seinfeld (the first to Kramer, the second to Elaine).
According to Voight, the episode was actually based on a true story. One of the Seinfeld writers bought a Chrysler LeBaron that he thought had once belonged to Voight, only to find out later that it was a different Jon Voight. In real life, the Midnight Cowboy star never owned a Chrysler LeBaron, but his mother did. “She said ‘Jon, if you are going to do that show, you get them to buy the car from me,’ which I didn’t have the guts to ask them, but they probably would have done it!” Voight told DC Life Magazine.
Watch it: Netflix
2. The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air // “Talking Turkey” (Season 1, Episode 12)
When Will’s mother, Viola, visits for Thanksgiving, she takes issue with how pampered the kids seem. Rather than having them start out with some basic chores, matriarch Vivian tasks them with cooking the entire Thanksgiving dinner. It goes about as well as you’d expect. What the episode lacks in edible food, it makes up for in spirit—not to mention some lively dancing to The Temptations’s “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg,” a song that also makes a memorable reappearance in the season 5 Fresh Prince episode “To Thine Own Self Be Blue … And Gold.”
Watch it: Hulu; Max; Paramount Plus
3. The Sopranos // “He Is Risen” (Season 3, Episode 8)
Part of the genius of The Sopranos is how it juxtaposes Tony’s violence-heavy mob life with his pretty normal home life. In “He Is Risen,” the Sopranos host Thanksgiving dinner, which involves uninviting a couple of guests (relatable) because of mafia tensions (not relatable). The episode features unexpected comic relief in the form of Janice's narcoleptic, Jesus-loving boyfriend (whose repeating of the phrase “He is risen“ gives the episode its title), one of Tony’s most entertaining malapropisms—he calls The Prince by Machiavelli “Prince Matchabelli,” which is a perfume—and also a Mercedes-Benz commercial voiced by Joe Mantegna, unbeknownst to him. “The only way I found out I was even in this was that I got a residual check in the mail that said ‘for The Sopranos,’ and I said, ‘I never did a Sopranos,’” Mantegna told PeopleTV in 2020. He earns about $10 a year for his unwitting role in the show.
Watch it: Max
4. It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia // “The Gang Squashes Their Beefs” (Season 9, Episode 10)
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia’s season 9 finale is a lot like a real Thanksgiving gathering in that if you haven’t been around for much that came before it, most of the people will mean nothing to you and their inside jokes will go over your head. But if you’ve followed Charlie, Mac, Dennis, Dee, and the rest of the gang for a while, it’s 20 minutes of pure hilarity. Basically, they realize their bad blood with certain other Philadelphians is really starting to interfere with their daily lives (e.g. renting the director’s cut of Thunder Gun Express, buying hoagies, etc.). So they invite their enemies to a Thanksgiving feast, hoping to bury the hatchet. There’s squash, there’s beef, and there are squashed beefs. There’s also an apartment fire.
Watch it: Hulu
5. Fresh Off the Boat // “Huangsgiving” (Season 2, Episode 8)
“Huangsgiving” earned its spot on this list by including two of the wittiest culinary one-liners of all time: Evan nicknames mayonnaise “Pearl Jam,” and Louis calls Cornish hens “the personal pizzas of the bird world.” It’s also a quintessential Thanksgiving story—it’s finally Jessica’s turn to host the holiday, and she pulls out all the stops to make it unforgettable. It is unforgettable … just not in the way she intended.
Watch it: Hulu
6. Mad Men // “The Wheel” (Season 1, Episode 13)
Mad Men’s first season finale is a master class in how to worm your way out of spending Thanksgiving with your in-laws. Lesson one: Be Don Draper. The brooding ad man simply tells Betty that he has to work. For what it’s worth, he does end up feeling somewhat bad about it—inner turmoil that he wastes no time in exploiting to inspire what may be his best pitch in Mad Men history: Repositioning Kodak’s new slide projector as The Carousel, rather than The Wheel. The scene was so memorable that it prompted a Saturday Night Live parody sketch, in which Jon Hamm proves that he can pitch a hula hoop with suspenders just as well.
Watch it: AMC+
7. WKRP in Cincinnati // “Turkeys Away” (Season 1, Episode 7)
CBS sitcom WKRP in Cincinnati may not have the cultural staying power of Cheers or Happy Days, but it does have what is arguably the most iconic Thanksgiving episode of all time. In “Turkeys Away,” a radio station turkey giveaway goes awry, owing to the fact that the turkeys are less given away and more dropped from a helicopter to land “like sacks of wet cement.” The disaster unfolds in Hindenburgian horror through the eyes of broadcaster Les Nessman. If you’re finding the premise a little too implausible, you should know that the story was based on a publicity stunt that actually happened (though no doubt in a less dramatic fashion).
Watch it: Apple TV+
8. New Girl // “Parents” (Season 2, Episode 8)
It’s hard to compete with Rob Reiner and Jamie Lee Curtis as Jess’s divorced parents, whom their daughter tries to “parent-trap” back into a relationship (without the help of a twin, though Nick tries his darnedest to fill the void). But Rob Riggle as Schmidt’s cousin, also named Schmidt, manages to make an already laugh-out-loud funny episode even funnier: The two hold a ludicrous contest to decide who’s manlier. Curtis didn’t just play her part perfectly— showrunner Elizabeth Meriwether told The Hollywood Reporter that the Halloween star actually helped write many of the jokes.
Watch it: Hulu; Peacock Premium
9. Friends // “The One Where Ross Got High” (Season 6, Episode 9)
While Friends didn’t literally coin the term Friendsgiving, it’s hard to deny that the sitcom’s history of quality Thanksgiving episodes—in which the focus is on friends, rather than families, spending the holiday together—helped popularize the practice. Brad Pitt is in one episode (“The One With the Rumor”), Christina Applegate is in another (“The One With Rachel’s Other Sister”), and you could easily justify having a mini marathon with all 10. But if you only had time for one, you might go with “The One Where Ross Got High,” in which Ross and Monica both try to avoid confessing certain personal secrets to their parents by spilling each other’s instead. The episode could also be called “The One Where Rachel Puts Beef Sautéed With Peas and Onions in the Trifle.”
Watch it: Max
10. Gilmore Girls // “A Deep-Fried Korean Thanksgiving” (Season 3, Episode 9)
In season 3, Gilmore Girls leaned into its reputation as a cozy hub for all things autumnal by giving viewers the ultimate Thanksgiving episode, complete with not one, not two, but four Thanksgiving dinners: Emily and Richard’s, Sookie and Jackson’s, Luke’s, and Lane’s family’s. Considering the sheer volume of (mostly junk) food that Lorelai and Rory consume on a regular basis, back-to-back turkey spreads should be no problem. Navigating the social side of the endeavor is a little more complicated.
Watch it: Netflix
11. The West Wing // “Shibboleth” (Season 2, Episode 8)
In keeping with The West Wing tradition, creator Aaron Sorkin used Thanksgiving as an opportunity to let President Bartlet make a thinly veiled (OK, fully unveiled) point about America’s founding values—in this case, freedom from religious persecution, which is what a group of Chinese Christians are hoping for when they alight on the shores of California with a plea for asylum. Meanwhile, C.J. Cregg plays handler—at the expense of her office and possibly her mental wellbeing—to two turkeys vying for presidential pardon. “[The turkeys are] a lot easier to work with than some other actors on this set,” Bradley Whitford later joked.
Watch it: Max
12. Modern Family // “Three Turkeys” (Season 6, Episode 8)
Watching Phil Dunphy spearhead Thanksgiving dinner preparations (with help from Luke) would be funny enough in a working kitchen. Alas, the power goes out—through no fault of Phil’s—forcing him to relocate operations to the home of Jay and Gloria, who everyone believes are away on vacation. They aren’t, but they’re determined to prevent the rest of the Modern Family family from finding out for as long as possible—and they’re not the only ones keeping a Thanksgiving-related secret.
Watch it: Hulu; Peacock Premium
A version of this story ran in 2021; it has been updated for 2023.