The holiday season is a time for family, friends, and celebrations, and this is especially true when it comes to ringing in a new year. Even if you’re staying home this December 31, what better way to get yourself into the spirit of the event than indulging in some of the very best New Year-themed television episodes?
To that end, here are 18 of the finest, listed in alphabetical order by series titles. From emotional cliffhangers to bittersweet encounters, these memorable TV moments offer something for everyone. Most importantly, they each capture that unique end-of-year magic, while also acknowledging the stress, anxieties, resolutions, and, of course, laughter this time can bring.
1. 30 Rock // “Klaus and Greta” (2010)
Tina Fey created this series, which was inspired by her own experiences as a head writer for Saturday Night Live (30 Rock refers to the location of NBC Studios). In this New Year’s episode, network executive Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin) regrets leaving a drunken message on the answering machine of his high school crush, Nancy (Julianne Moore). He hatches a scheme with page Kenneth Parcell (Jack McBrayer) to break into Nancy’s home and erase the message. Meanwhile, TGS head writer/showrunner Liz Lemon (Fey) has her own faux pas when she accidentally outs her cousin to their family, which results in him coming to live with her in New York City. Overall, there’s a bittersweet payoff to this one, making it perfect for a heartwarming New Year’s Eve watch.
2. Everybody Hates Chris // “Everybody Hates New Year” (2008)
This episode of Everybody Loves Chris, a show inspired by comedian Chris Rock’s own teenage memories, focuses on New Year’s Eve as Chris (Tyler James Williams) searches desperately for a responsible adult to accompany him to the Times Square ball drop. Meanwhile, his father Julius (Terry Crews) has a life-changing encounter with a man and becomes a local hero. Rock, who narrates the show, helps set the tone for this fast-paced episode. It’s not hard to see why the series was critically acclaimed, with some reviewers attributing its edge to the fact that this teen-centered show didn’t revolve solely around adolescent angst, unlike many other young adult shows of its era.
3. Frasier // “RDWRER” (2000)
This beloved Cheers spin-off has delivered countless memorable episodes of its own over the years, but this one belongs near the top of the list. When Niles (David Hyde Pierce) brings his brother, radio psychiatrist Frasier Crane (Kelsey Grammer), the devastating news that Chez Henri—their planned party venue for the holiday—has burnt down due to a freak accident with a caramelizing torch, the brothers’ last chance for a sophisticated New Year’s Eve lies 650 miles away from their native Seattle, in Sun Valley, Idaho.
With airlines fully booked, the only option is to take their father Martin (John Mahoney) up on his offer to drive them there in his prized new Winnebago, which sports custom plates (they say Road Warrior, or RDWRER for short). Of course things don’t go according to plan, and what starts out as an opportunity for family bonding ends in a mess of police chases and mistaken identities. As the clock ticks down and the RV slurps its last few drops of fuel, the trio manage to snatch success (of sorts) out from the jaws of failure, coasting over the line into the Mountain Time Zone and toasting in the new century under the stars.
4. Friends // “The One with the Routine” (1999)
As one of the most successful sitcoms of recent times, we couldn’t not include Friends in this list, and this episode in particular is a real fun one, as it covers both Christmas and New Year’s Eve. We see possibly the shortest-lived romance in the series start to bloom, as Joey (Matt LeBlanc) and his roommate Janine (Elle Macpherson) kiss for the first time (only to break up in the following episode). Back at the apartment, Rachel (Jennifer Aniston) and Phoebe (Lisa Kudrow) take advantage of Monica’s absence to hunt for the gifts; cut to Chandler (Matthew Perry) catching them and delivering a heartfelt speech about the true meaning of Christmas (followed by, of course, a comedic stinger).
The real highlight, though, is when siblings Ross (David Schwimmer) and Monica (Courteney Cox) perform an astonishing dance routine, which the pair hopes will gain the attention of the camera crew during Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve. Bonus fact: In the uncut DVD version of this episode, we actually get to see Rachel flirt with an overwhelmed Gunther (James Michael Tyler), who promptly faints.
5. The Golden Girls // “Dateline Miami” (1991)
If you’ve somehow managed to miss out on the adventures of Rose (Betty White), Dorothy (Bea Arthur), Sophia (Estelle Getty), and Blanche (Rue McClanahan) over all these years, then this New Year-themed TV episode is a great starting point. As Dorothy prepares for a New Year’s Eve date, the rest of the women reminisce about some of their worst holiday dates over the years; ex-priests, not-so-grieving widowers, and all-round jerks make the list. But the biggest surprise of the episode comes from Sophia, who drops a bombshell about Dorothy.
6. Good Times // “A Place to Die” (1975)
Good Times occupies an important place in the history of television, being one of the first Black, two-parent, family sitcoms. In this particular episode, the youngest son in the Evans clan, Michael (Ralph Carter) befriends a lonely old man and invites him to the family’s apartment for New Year’s Eve. Believing that he will soon die, the old man decides that their loving home would be the best place for him to pass on—even though this would surely put a damper on the holiday festivities. Though it’s an ostensibly bleak premise, this episode is anything but, as the show does its usual trick of perfectly balancing pathos with uplifting humor.
7. King of the Hill // “Hillennium” (1999)
This New Year-themed episode of King of the Hill—an animated comedy co-created by Mike Judge (who had previously enjoyed success with Beavis and Butt-Head) and Greg Daniels (who would go on to co-create Parks and Recreation)—explores the fear and paranoia which accompanied the year 2000, albeit with a suitably upbeat ending. As Y2K mania hits Arlen, Texas, where propane dealer Hank Hill (voiced by Judge) lives with his wife Peggy (Kathy Najimy), and son Bobby (Pamela Adlon), the Hills begin to worry that they might not be prepared enough for the impending “crisis.” When he learns of a propane shortage, even the normally levelheaded Hank succumbs to the madness, but the family recovers just in time to salvage the holidays.
8. The Lucy Show // “Chris’s New Year’s Eve Party” (1962)
For many people, Lucille Ball ranks among the most beloved American comedians of all time, and this follow-up series to her groundbreaking sitcom I Love Lucy is just as good as the former. In “Chris’s New Year’s Eve Party,” Ball’s on-screen daughter Chris (Candy Moore) exacts a promise from her mom—that she can throw a New Year’s Eve party without Lucy’s interference. When things go awry, Lucy rushes home to “help out” in the ways only Lucy can. The wonderful Vivian Vance (who also co-starred on I Love Lucy) appears as Lucy’s divorced friend Vivian Bagley, and serves as a strong comedic foil here. Also be on the lookout for Ball’s mesmerizing Charlie Chaplin impersonation in this episode.
9. Mad Men // “The Doorway” (2013)
Matthew Weiner’s gripping series, which focuses on the advertising industry in 1960s America, made excellent use of that creative and tumultuous period of history. Jon Hamm’s star turn as charismatic creative director Don Draper is something to behold, and that’s particularly true in The Doorway, a two-part tale which kickstarted the show’s sixth season.
In the episode—which spans from late December 1967 to early morning on January 1, 1968—Don spearheads a new campaign and takes a trip to Hawaii while one of the firm’s senior partners, Roger Sterling (John Slattery), receives upsetting news about a family member. Meanwhile, Don’s ex-wife Betty (January Jones) makes a trip to Greenwich Village with some unexpected results. Literature fans will delight in the overt parallels in this episode to Dante’s Inferno, while sci-fi lovers should watch out for an obscure nod to Robert A. Heinlein’s classic novel, Stranger in a Strange Land. These are just two of many books featured in the series.
10. M.A.S.H. // “A War for All Seasons” (1980)
Anchored by a career-defining performance from Alan Alda as Captain Benjamin Franklin 'Hawkeye' Pierce, M.A.S.H. hit some amazing heights and broke new ground for television, particularly in this special, which manages to cram an entire year into a half-hour runtime. As 1950 comes to a close, the staff of the 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital hope the next year will be “a damn sight better.” As the next few months whip by, gardens are planted and scarves are knit, among other resolutions. And as 1952 dawns, the 4077th express hope that the coming year will once again be “a damn sight better” than the last, which, more than 40 years later, is still a relatable New Year sentiment.
11. Mr. Bean // “Do It Yourself, Mr. Bean” (1994)
Could there be anything more English than Mr. Bean? Rowan Atkinson devised his iconic character while studying for his master’s degree at Oxford University. “Do It Yourself, Mr. Bean” spans New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day; on the former, Bean invites pals over for a decidedly Bean-like party, with hats made out of newspaper, indigestible food, and nothing but a radio for entertainment. The following day, we see Bean driving back from the store in a way only he would—controlling the car from a sofa perched on the vehicle’s roof. The plot is almost irrelevant, however, as it’s Atkinson’s exquisite comedic timing and Bean’s childlike solutions to various problems that help make this a year-end episode to remember.
12. My So-Called Life // “Resolutions” (1995)
My So-Called Life—which was prematurely canceled after a single season despite lavish critical acclaim and numerous awards (including a Golden Globe for Best Actress for Claire Danes, who starred as protagonist Angela Chase)—still holds up well as a realistic and nuanced commentary on adolescence. In this episode, New Year’s Eve provides the perfect backdrop as the students of the fictional Liberty High School (located in a fictional suburb near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania), muse deeply (or not so deeply) on their lives and how they would like them to change over the coming months.
A number of issues come to a head here as high school students Rayanne Graff (A.J. Langer) and Sharon Cherski (Devon Odessa) bond over their disappointing love lives (and possibly something more), and Rickie Vasquez (Wilson Cruz) turns to English teacher Mr. Katimski (Jeff Perry) for some much-needed help. Meanwhile, Angela’s mother Patty (Bess Armstrong) comes to a new understanding about Angela’s father Graham (Tom Irwin).
13. The Office // “Ultimatum” (2011)
With The Office, you can always expect plenty of hapless hijinks, but there’s also a lot of heart in this New Year-themed episode, enough to warm up a winter evening. The episode kicks off with Michael Scott (Steve Carell), regional manager of the Dunder Mifflin Paper Company’s Scranton branch, nervously awaiting the results of ex-girlfriend Holly’s (Amy Ryan) ultimatum to her current boyfriend A.J. (Rob Huebel).
Apart from Michael and Holly, much of the episode revolves around office manager Pam’s (Jenna Fischer) New Year’s Resolutions board, which includes office temp Ryan (B.J. Novak) determined to “live life like it’s an art project.” Meanwhile, salesman Dwight (Rainn Wilson) heads into town with co-workers Darryl (Craig Robinson) and Andy (Ed Helms) in order to fulfill his own pledge for the new year. For trivia fans: If you take a close look at the shelf in the bookstore scene, you’ll spot a surprise easter egg. Salesman Jim Halpert’s notable absence in the episode was due to actor John Krasinski being away at that time filming Big Miracle in Alaska.
14. Peep Show // “New Year’s Eve” (2010)
Succession creator Jesse Armstrong also co-created this enduring series, which features memorable turns by David Mitchell and Robert Webb as Mark and Jeremy, respectively—roommates of opposing temperaments who are both equally hapless when it comes to life and romance. There’s a fantastic supporting cast, with a pre-movie-fame Olivia Colman as Mark’s on-again, off-again love interest Sophie.
This superb episode features the usual mix of mishaps, seriously unwise life choices, and unbalanced egos as the duo attend a New Year’s Eve party hosted by Jeremy’s ex-girlfriend Big Suze (Sophie Winkleman). Mark puts his foot squarely in his mouth while Jeremy acquires some new bruises. As an added bonus, this episode is the only one to feature all nine of the most-recurring characters from the series.
15. Seinfeld // “The Millennium” (1997)
At the heart of Seinfeld’s charm is the ability to conjure humor out of pretty much nothing, and “Millennium” is a great example of that. In the episode, comedian Jerry Seinfeld (a fictionalized version of the real Jerry Seinfeld) attempts to climb higher up in his girlfriend’s speed-dial rankings, while his ex-girlfriend/pal Elaine (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) has a bone to pick with a local clothing store. Neighbors Kramer (Michael Richards) and Newman (Wayne Knight) host competing New Year’s Eve parties, while Jerry’s best friend George (Jason Alexander) tries to switch jobs. Be sure to watch out for the fans who cavort with the bodysuit-wearing George in this episode—they’re played by Steve Koren, Gregg Kavet, Andy Robin, and Spike Feresten, all of whom were writers on the show.
16. The Simpsons // “Treehouse of Horror X” (1999)
Matt Groening’s wildly successful series The Simpsons is arguably the most seminal animated show in history, and this New Year-themed episode is one of its best installments. The episode is split into three self-contained stories: In the opening section, “I Know What You Diddily-Iddily-Did,” the eponymous family accidentally runs over their neighbor, Ned Flanders (Harry Shearer), and believes they’ve killed him. “Desperately Xeeking Xena,” the second segment, sees siblings Bart (Nancy Cartwright) and Lisa (Yeardley Smith) transformed into superheroes. In the finale, “Life’s a Glitch, Then You Die,” Dick Clark moves his New Year’s Eve party to the Simpsons's hometown of Springfield, but Homer’s (Dan Castellaneta) incompetence as the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant’s Y2K compliance officer may spell trouble for the rest of the world.
17. The Steve Harvey Show // “Y2K” (1999)
The coming of a new millennium fueled a slew of New Year-themed TV episodes. Not all of them lived up to the hype, but “Y2K” fully deserves a place on this list. In this episode, Steve Hightower (Steve Harvey)—a former ’70s funk legend-turned-music teacher at a high school on Chicago’s West Side—makes plans to attend a celebrity-packed party, while school principal Regina (Wendy Raquel Robinson) excitedly looks forward to flying to New Zealand with some friends. Meanwhile, coach Cedric Robinson (Cedric the Entertainer) isn’t in the party mood and instead focuses on Y2K preparedness, while high school student Romeo (Merlin Santana) ends up at a party that doesn’t go exactly as expected. It’s all a little over-the-top, but that’s half the fun, and watching how the various characters deal with mismatched relationships, unforeseen complications, and millennium angst is a rollercoaster worth riding.
18. The X-Files // “Millennium” (1999)
The chemistry between The X-Files stars David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson—who co-star as FBI special agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully, respectively—helps to make this New Year-themed TV episode stand out. It works as more than just a monster-of-the-week special, too, as this episode functions as a crossover with Millennium, another TV series by The X-Files creator Chris Carter. In this episode, Frank Black (the protagonist of Millennium, played by Lance Henriksen) joins Mulder and Scully as they investigate a shadowy group that plans to resurrect the dead and bring about the apocalypse as the dawn of a new century arrives. For those of a certain age, the names Mulder and Scully will always bring up a fond smile, and this episode especially stands out for fans, as it (sort of) answers the “Will they or won’t they?” question that fans had been asking for years.