There will be turkey
Thanksgiving. That end of November holiday plies us with an abundance of hearty grub and a string of dedicated TV specials. For many shows, this annual episode diverges from the typical plot lines to gather characters around the dinner table. It's a perfect opportunity to dredge up old story skeletons and hash things out, just like the real world.
It doesn't matter if you're a gangster, a demon hunter or a regular joe, food and family are the cornerstones of any good Thanksgiving TV special. So if you're looking to survive the inevitable food coma brought on by having one too many helpings of your aunt's candied yams, click play on any of these to ride it out.
15. The Vampire Diaries, "Fade Into You"
For the Salvatore brothers and their assembly of supernatural buddies, their season six Thanksgiving episode is no simple, sit-down affair. While the boys journey to find a way of retrieving Bonnie -- probably stopping off for a blood-soaked roadside turkey sub -- the girls gather at Caroline's gaff. There's numerous dishes set out, which everyone ignores due to the massive bomb shell Jo drops.
Lifting the veil on an old secret is certainly one way to perk up the stodginess of over-consumption. Telling your party of friends that you're actually related to some of them takes that idea up a notch or two. Pass the pie? More like pass the pinot...
14. Supernatural, "How to Win Friends and Influence Monsters"
Considering all the places they've traveled and beasts they've fought, it was only a matter of time before monster hunters supreme Sam and Dean tackled kitchen devils. No, not that elaborate range of kitchen appliances. Food. It's an apt villain for the show, seeing as Dean rarely goes a day without tucking into a juicy burger.
Although there's no festive feast at the heart of this episode, the show takes a few jabs at the turkey holiday in its own special way. Together with Bobby, the boys venture to a small New Jersey 'burg where the town's residents are turning up dead under suspicious circumstances. Eager to satiate his constant hunger Dean samples a local sandwich -- Bigger's Pepperjack Turducken Slammer. Which, it transpires, is crammed with a questionable ooze that turns people into low-energy stoners. Including Dean.
13. Supergirl, "Livewire"
Aliens are not exempt from the same familial squabbles as the rest of us. Kara's recent "outing" as Supergirl draws her adoptive mom into the mix, who flies to National City to spend the holiday with her daughters. Quality family time lasts for oh, about five minutes. Alex glugs away at the wine seething over her frustrations; Mama Danvers is concerned for her kids, and Kara's buddy Winn is literally stuck in the middle.
Not quite Meet the Parents levels of awkwardness, but still. If Winn wanted to make a good impression with the Danvers -- and it's highly likely that's the case -- Thanksgiving was the worst occasion. Things turned out much better for Supergirl. She got the opportunity to tussle with a shapeshifting electro-villain and bond with her wonderfully frank boss, Cat.
12. American Dad, "There Will Be Bad Blood"
Trust Stan Smith to derail a warm-hearted holiday into a contest. In the spirit of family he invites his brother to celebrate Thanksgiving with the Smiths. Stan believes that he's being a good samaritan, due to Rusty's dire straits. Stan being Stan, it also gives him the chance to boast and show off his wealth.
Turns out for poor ole Stan, that Rusty Smith is minted. The remainder of the episode piles on the jokes surrounding the staggering wealth the wiser Smith has accumulated. It teaches the old "be thankful for what you have" moral, with Seth MacFarlane's usual chicanery. A Lamborghini lawnmower is awe-inspiring, but as per usual, Roger steals the day when he takes a miniature train for a tour of the house and discovers Rusty's bar.
11. How I Met Your Mother, "Slapsgiving"
A stand-out episode of slap-happy shenanigans which proved such a success it spawned two subsequent sequel-sodes. The brilliant gag between Barney and Marshall was sparked in season three's Thanksgiving special. As the gang strive to enjoy a normal day of festivities, Lily steps in to prevent a squabble between the pair and revokes Marshall's desire to slap Barney... which backfires as soon as Barney starts to act all high and mighty.
Eventually getting his way, Marshall's never-ending slap antics reach their peak when he makes a paper daisy chain of hands. "See what I got going on here? They're turkeys, but they're also hands. Because later we're gonna eat turkey, and then I'm gonna slap you in your face."
10. South Park, "Helen Keller! The Musical"
The pint-sized and precocious South Park crew plot to outshine the kindergarten class in the school's Thanksgiving Extravaganza. Informed by Butters that the younger group's play is "the greatest show" he's ever seen, Cartman and Kyle opt to bring in a live turkey to spruce up their recital of "The Miracle Worker."
Helen Keller's story gets revamped into a Thanksgiving-themed musical, wherein she is the owner of two pet turkeys. One, a prima donna Broadway star who can perform many "feats", and the other a disabled bird selected by Timmy called Gobbles. The silliness of the show reaches its apex when after all that kerfuffle, and Gobbles' near-death experience, the rival performance turns out to be rather ordinary.
9. The West Wing, "Shibboleth"
Aaron Sorkin's sprawling politico dramedy hammered out seven seasons in total, the goings-on behind the White House doors a winning mix of intrigue, compulsion and oft-times the driest comedy on the small screen. Out of its two episodes dedicated to Thanksgiving, "Shibboleth" is the stand out, and ranks up there with some of the best episodes of the entire series.
The seasonal merriment is too much for CJ, who discovers two live turkeys stashed in her office: one is destined to be cooked while the other will be pardoned by President Bartlet. It's up to her to choose which deserves to survive. Meanwhile, it's Bartlet himself who steals the show with a sweet closing sentiment praising his country for his job. And he also ends up drafting a turkey into the military.
8. The Simpsons, "Bart vs. Thanksgiving"
A classic episode from way back in the show's early years focuses on the scamp that is Bart Simpson. The skateboarding tyrant bickers with Lisa over her intricate Thanksgiving centrepiece, claiming that it takes up too much prime real estate on the table. They fight and the centrepiece gets tossed into the fireplace and burns.
Like most of The Simpsons' fledgling seasons there's a lesson to be learned. Bart sneaks out and hits the streets, refusing to apologise, and finally realises that he'd really upset his sister's feelings. Everything's all good, and the family tucks into leftovers. It goes right for the feels and packs in a smattering of festive gags that showcase El Barto in his prime.
7. Smallville, "Rage"
Fighting, romance, nostalgia. There's a little bit of everything in this episode, with the added bonus of watching Tom Welling hack away at a bird.
While there's all the typical masked heroism antics that signifies it's business as usual, "Rage" tends to an emotional sorepoint for Clark. The loss of his dad. The annual turkey carving was a honor reserved for Jonathan, whose absence offsets the action surrounding Oliver and Lois' troubles. You'd think on Thanksgiving of all days, he'd 'fess up and lob his Green Arrow costume across the table while necking a shot, no?
6. Orange is the New Black, "Fucksgiving"
As the title insinuates, no-one's that fussed by the holiday. Red's painstaking attempts at fashioning a true Thanksgiving dinner for the inmates go to pot when Mendez pees in the gravy. Which doesn't seem to bother the rest of the women. Everyone's too busy getting jiggy with it. It's just another day of zany antics for the ladies of Litchfield.
After getting caught by Healy "dancing sexy" with Alex, Piper gets chucked in the SHU along with a '"holiday meal" indicative of her revoked privileges. She's not got a lot to be thankful for in that squalid pit. Once she's out, though, she's very thankful for the privacy of the chapel. And Alex.
5. Modern Family, "Punkin Chunkin"
There are food fights and then there are food fights. The competitive nature of the entire Dunphy-Pritchett clan rears its head when the family is split in two on Thanksgiving. The "dreamers" - Gloria, Phil and Cam - and the "doers" - Jay, Claire and Mitchell. This is what Modern Family does best. Making fun of the differences between the couples brings out the show's strongest gags.
Via a series of plot turns and character assassinations (on Cam's part) the whole crew descend upon a local field to see if Cam's "punkin chunkin" record is actually true. It is: Cam rocks the socks off the "doers." His jerry-built catapult holds and that pumpkin flies the length of a football field.
4. Dexter, "Hungry Man"
This one raises the stakes. Not content with having one cunning sociopathic serial killer at the table, this Thanksgiving special has two. Dexter's mentor and object of bizarre hatred Arthur Mitchell.
Unlike other, warmer offerings on this list, this episode remains steadfast to the series at large. It's both bleak and macabre and a compelling instance where Dexter puts another brood ahead of his own. Temporarily at least. The thing is, no-one expects a bloody Floridian romp like this to dish out a heart-warming holiday bit. And, it doesn't. The obligatory 'family gathered at the table' scene is present - even including Masuka - but the shining gem of this piece is the slip of Dexter's mask. Even he is truly abhorred by Arthur's monstrous self.
3. The Sopranos, "He Is Risen"
Tony Soprano's Thanksgiving is just like any other day for the New Jersey mobster. There are messes to clean up, wives to be soothed and employees who need to be taught a lesson. HBO's gangster drama hits all the marks in its debut episode for the autumnal holiday, which strangely enough, aired over Easter weekend.
Wherever it lands and whatever the occasion, the big man comes out on top in the end. Of all of the turkeys the gang steal, he snags the biggest bird. He gets to chew out Ralphie with the killer one-liner "you disrespected the Bing!" It wouldn't be a regular day for Tony if he didn't embark on an affair too. All's well and good but the real sting in the tail comes when he drops off leftovers for his Uncle Junior. The once all-powerful mafioso leader, now a frail old man reliant on others. Tony's got a lot to be thankful for.
2. Friends, "The One Where Ross Got High"
The one with the massive amount of Thanksgiving episodes. Over the years Friends consistently delivered some of its best ever stories over this holiday. The underdog balloon, football shenanigans, the one with Brad Pitt, and Chandler stuck in a box, all rank highly. It's the one with the pot-smokin' Ross steals the number one spot on the list.
Things unfold when the Gellers' dislike of Chandler comes to light: Ross blamed his alleged drug use at college on Chandler. And continues to do so now. There's a surprising amount of heart and warmth to the whole escapade. Monica's desire for the truth is because she really really loves Chandler, and she's helped in her quest for culinary excellence by Rachel. Yeah, this is the one where Rachel makes a beef trifle from scratch. While the rest of the gang turn their noses up, it's Joey who is most thankful for her dinner-dessert hybrid. "What's not to like? Custard? Good. Jam? Good. Meat? Gooooood!"
1. Buffy The Vampire Slayer, "Pangs"
The angered spirit of a Native American descends upon Buffy and the crew for Thanksgiving. Even on the grateful holiday, the gang are never free from battling the supernatural. Angel returns to Sunnydale to mope and saunter in the shadows, Willow's steeped in guilt, and Xander contracts an ancient form of syphilis. As for Buffy, taking over dinner duties from her mom has her belting out out-of-character one-liners like "I need to baste!" However, it's Spike's droll charm that completely steals the episode. He delivers this corker of a monologue while tied to a chair:
"I just can't take all this namby-pamby boo-hooing about the bloody Indians... 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 going around saying, 'I came, I conquered, I felt really bad about it.' The history of the world isn't people making friends. You had better weapons, and you massacred them. End of story."