Potatoes are Ruined, Potatoes are Ruined, Potatoes are Ruined!
So, for various reasons, I was home in Cleveland this Thanskgiving while my family partied up in Michigan. This was not too big of a deal—I’ve been working really hard and I have a sick dog and am basically exhausted, and in that mood, four hours by freeway is pretty easily given up, even if it also means missing out on turkey and pumpkin pie.
But I wanted to get into the holiday spirit—and no more TV service means no parades—so I decided that I would watch Thanksgiving episodes of some of my favorite shows, making use of DVD, Hulu, and Netflix Instant streaming.
Here’s what I watched:
Roseanne, “We Gather Together,” “Thanksgiving 1991,” “Thanksgiving 1993,” “Thanksgiving 1994,” “The Last Thursday in November,” and “Home is Where the Afghan Is”
Roseanne is mostly known for their over-the-top Halloween episodes, but, as a dysfunctional family show, they did some great Thanksgivings, too. The first is mostly typical Turkey Day jokes: “my parents don’t like your parents!” “you have to get up really early to cook a turkey!” But it’s still a great show. Later seasons show the family dynamic changing: the kids are growing up, Becky’s gone, then she’s back (but she’s a new person), this year Jackie is pregnant, and so on. Most episodes of Roseanne are classic, but some, especially in the later seasons, can feel super-dated. “The Last Thursday in November” is the epitome of this: D.J.’s middle school class puts on a school play that portrays the pilgrims slaughtering the Indians, Pulp Fiction-style. Then everybody has a long talk about whether Columbus was a hero or a villain, and finally the Conners invite a Native American family to their house to share their wisdom. Mid-90s political correctness galore! The best moment: a prissy mom who hated the play tells Roseanne, “We came to America for freedom,” just as Roseanne’s black friend Annemarie is walking by. She stops. “Excuse me?” The last episode, “Home is Where the Afghan Is,” also has a whiff of PC-ness–the family, hating their new rich, catered Thanksgiving, decides to cook dinner for the homeless–but it’s a bit more heartfelt. Also, the cook-for-the-homeless thing is made a bit more plausible by the fact that they actually own a restaurant.
To come: Friends, Seinfeld, and more!
Friends, “The One Where Underdog Gets Away,” “The One With the Football,” “The One With Chandler in a Box,” “The One With All the Thanksgivings,” “The One Where Ross Got High,” “The One Where Chandler Hates Dogs,” “The One With the Rumor,” “The One With Rachel’s Other Sister,” and “The One With the Late Thanksgiving”
Of course, Thanksgiving and Friends go together like turkey and pumpkin pie. I only have six of the ten seasons on DVD, but Fancast did me a solid by streaming Thanksgiving episodes from all ten (actually nine; they skipped Turkey Day during the second season).
What was especially pleasing was how the episodes seemed to go full circle: the first one, “The One Where Underdog Gets Away,” features a classic Monica meltdown when things go wrong. (That’s where the title of my post comes from!) She asks why she has to do everything for everybody, why she has to be the mom of the group, basically. And she cooks the dinner every season up until the final one, “The One With the Late Thanksgiving,” when she tells everybody she’s been really busy and she would prefer not to cook this year. And they all piss and moan and manipulate her into doing it, and then everyone except her (by that point) faithful husband Chandler is an hour late. The entirety of season ten is about the Friends gang evolving into new phases in their lives, and this episode manages to both reinforce the close ties the gang has with each other, as well as indicating how necessary it is for them to move on. Monica’s anger with the rest of the group dissipates when she and Chandler get the call that their adoption has gone through and they’re getting a baby. They all have new lives and the goofy stuff doesn’t matter anymore.
There are some great ones that pop up in the middle, as well. The gang plays football and the 50 States game. They air long-held secrets (“You cut off my toe because I called you fat?”) (“I love Jacques Cousteau!”) (“Ross doesn’t like ice cream!” “It’s too cold!”) and reinforce their friendships (“Chandler’s showing Joey how much he means to him.” “By being in a box?” “Joey had reasons.” “They were threefold.”). They have guest stars (Brad Pitt, Christina Applegate). In one Joey eats a whole turkey; in another he puts the uncooked carcass of one on his head. They are all quite entertaining.
How I Met Your Mother, “Slapsgiving”
Hope everyone brought their slappetites! This episode calls back to “Slap Bet,” where Barney loses a bet to Marshall and the penalty is that Marshall gets to slap Barney in the face, any time he wants, up to five times. Marshall has warned Barney via a web-based countdown that Thanksgiving is the day of Slap # 3, so for the whole day Barney cowers in fear while Marshall does hand exercises and inserts “slap” into everyday words as a means of psyching him out. The eventual slap is accompanied by a song Marshall has written for the occasion—Jason Segel can really sing, by the way, and Neil Patrick Harris, who also can sing, does backup via moans of pain.
Seinfeld, “The Mom and Pop Store”
Like most New York City-based shows, Seinfeld’s Thanksgiving episode heavily features the Macy’s parade. (See Friends and Underdog, above.) In this episode, Elaine’s finicky boss Mr. Pitt leverages her knowledge of big band music to get a spot holding one of the ropes on the Woody Woodpecker balloon. The gang of four manages to ruin Mr. Pitt’s big opportunity, of course; in that patented Seinfeld way, plotlines involving Elaine’s big band-induced hearing loss, George’s conviction that he has, in fact, bought Jon Voight’s car, and Jerry’s toothache all culminate in a disaster at Tim Whatley’s night before Thanksgiving party. Woody the Woodpecker is the casualty. Also in keeping with Seinfeld‘s usual means of operation, no one celebrates togetherness, and no one is thankful for anything.
The West Wing, “The Indians in the Lobby”
A solid episode from the third season , notable mostly for the short scene mid-episode where President Bartlet decides to masquerade as a common citizen and call the Butterball hotline. He charms his Butterball service rep, tells her his name is Joe Bethensenten–“That’s with a T, and there’s an H in there,” and that he’s from Fargo. Immediately knowing where this is going, Toby picks up a phone and tells Bartlet’s assistant Charlie, “Zip code, Fargo, North Dakota right now.” The main plot involves two Native Americans—an old guy and a young woman—who are making a passive protest in the White House lobby. CJ: “This is gonna have something to do with us screwing you out of all of your land, isn’t it?” The young woman: “Yes.”
Mad Men, “The Wheel”
Nothing like ending the day on a severely downbeat holiday note! This is the finale of the first season, and Don Draper has skipped out on his family’s Thanksgiving because he has work to do on a Kodak campaign. However, his careless treatment of people has started to catch up with him. He finds out that his brother has committed suicide, and suddenly hick Dick Whitman’s masquerade as dapper Don Draper has a death count. Don soldiers on, creating an ad campaign based around photos of Betty and the kids and presents it to the Kodak guys, ruminating on past and present and how memory is the carousel that brings it all together in a never-ending circle. Then he goes home to be with his family before they leave for Betty’s brothers’ place. He finds them, they kiss and hug and celebrate his newfound commitment to fatherhood / husbandhood. Except that was a dream sequence, and they don’t. Don sits on the stairs, disappointment and regret playing across his face, as the Draper family bonds grow more brittle, with nothing Don can do to fix it. (Well, except drive down there on his own, maybe. But Don Draper’s not going to do that.)
So that was my Thanksgiving! And I spent my Black Friday watching films noirs. Never let it be said that I don’t know how to schedule a Theme Day.