Best Thanksgiving TV Specials and Where to Stream Them

Halloween and Christmas might be the two holidays that perhaps receive the most attention, but let's not take anything away from Thanksgiving, arguably the most underrated holiday out there. Who doesn't love sitting around, cramming your face with heaping plates of turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, and pie? It's a holiday dedicated solely to the purpose of eating (and I guess spending time with your family and loved ones, as well).

It's a wonderful time of year where the food is delicious, the weather is crisp, and NFL is always on TV, giving everyone something to look forward to.

As part of the holiday season, we also get to see some of our favorite TV shows release Thanksgiving specials set during or around the holiday. In the intermediate periods between NFL games, we recommend checking out these must-watch Thanksgiving-themed TV specials to watch when you're too stuffed to do anything else.

1. A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving

Charlie Brown

For over 50 years, Charlie Brown has managed to stay relevant through its various holiday-themed specials–none more so than the three-month trifecta: It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, and A Charlie Brown Christmas. All three remain classic TV programs to enjoy with the family, offering lighthearted stories that focus on the beloved Peanuts characters gathering to celebrate the holidays.

The third holiday special after the Peanuts‘ Halloween and Christmas specials of the 1960s', 1973's A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving follows Charlie as he hastily throws together a Thanksgiving dinner after Peppermint Patty invites herself and a few friends over to celebrate. In true Charlie Brown fashion, he struggles making a meal that will impress his friends, with his loyal companions, Linus and Snoopy, both trying to help him any way they can.

A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving may lack the charm or sentimentality of the Peanuts' Halloween or Christmas specials–you can't help but feel bad seeing Linus alone in the pumpkin patch waiting for the Great Pumpkin or Charlie alone with his middling, wilted Christmas tree–but it remains a well-deserved classic TV special perfect for all ages.

It has charm, wit, and like all of the Peanuts' holiday specials, it manages to showcase the strengths and personalities of each individual character, from Charlie's unsuccessful but wholehearted attempts to throw a decent party, to Linus assisting him, to Patty's being unimpressed by the whole affair.

At the end of the episode, too, it even has a nice lesson about Thanksgiving (similar in fact to the Peanuts' Christmas special): it doesn't matter how you celebrate or how great your party is; as long as you are with others you care about and are able to set aside all your pre-existing problems for just one day, you'll be able to get the most out of your Thanksgiving gatherings.

Streaming on Apple TV+

Image Credit: PBS. 

2. Friends: “The One With All the Thanksgivings” — Season 5: Episode 8

Friends

Friends has a ton of memorable Thanksgiving episodes out there, any one of which could've debatably appeared on this list as the best the series had to offer. While we enjoyed specials like “The One Where Ross Got High” it's their classic episode, “The One with the Rumor,” that takes the cake for Friends' best Thanksgiving episode.

As the gang readies for Thanksgiving, Monica announces an old high school friend, Will (played by Brad Pitt, fresh off the success of Snatch and Fight Club, and then-husband to star Jennifer Aniston), will be joining the group for dinner. Things take a turn for the worst, though, when it's revealed Will cannot stand Rachel, having formed an “I Hate Rachel Club” with Ross that was responsible for putting out an embarrassing rumor about Rachel when they were younger.

There's a lot going in “The One with the Rumor,” and true to Friends' style of humor, all of it seems to spill over into one chaotic, hilarious mess with overarching storylines and things always unfolding in the background. Much of the action revolves around Rachel, Ross, and Will's storyline, but numerous gags from the episode's B-plots–including Phoebe and Chandler try to get out of helping prepare dinner by pretending to watch an NFL game, or Joey taking on a huge Thanksgiving turkey by himself–make for hearty chuckles as well.

It's a fun, amusing episode, full of twists and turns, with Pitt playing one of the most memorable celebrity guest characters as the formerly overweight high school outcast who is unable to let his hatred for Rachel go.

Streaming on HBO Max

Image Credit: Warner Bros. 

3. How I Met Your Mother: “Slapsgiving”— Season 3: Episode 9

HIMYM scaled

How I Met Your Mother‘s recurring “slap” gag–due to a bet made in the show's early run, Marshall is able to slap Barney five times whenever he wants (he later receives three more in “Disaster Averted”)–was one of the best running jokes in the entire series. Later, the bet would even be featured as an integral part of several HIMYM Thanksgiving-themed episodes: “Slapsgiving,” “Slapsgiving 2: Revenge of the Slap​​​​​​ Disaster Averted,” and “Slapsgiving 3: Slappointment in Slapmarra.” Like most trilogies, though, it's the original that stands apart as the best entry.

Shortly after Robin and Ted have broken up, the gang prepares for their first “grownup” Thanksgiving together as a group, with Lily going to extreme lengths to make everything perfect. Things take a dramatic turn when Robin invites her new boyfriend to the dinner, and both she and Ted address the tense nature of their now-uneasy friendship. Meanwhile, Marshall prepares to deliver his third slap to Barney, eagerly labeling the holiday as “Slapsgiving,” creating a website that counts down to the big event.

“Slapsgiving” follows a very similar to nearly every Thanksgiving special on this list–it starts with the characters trying to have the perfect Thanksgiving, facing some kind of crisis that nearly ruins it, and finally dealing with their issues for the sake of the holiday.

There's plenty of comedic moments, but also plenty of drama, namely around the Robin and Ted storyline, which perfectly manages to capture the awkwardness two people feel when they try to remain close friends after a meaningful relationship. It also manages to rekindle the feeling said people have towards each other: their relationship might not have worked out, but of course they still care for each other.

For that reason alone, it's why “Slapsgiving” remains the best Thanksgiving episode How I Met Your Mother ever produced–along with seeing Barney get slapped and Marshall sing a specially written song about it, too.

Streaming on Hulu

Image Credit: CBS. 

4. Bob’s Burgers: “Turkey in a Can” —Season 4: Episode 5

Bobs Burgers

Nobody makes specials like Bob's Burgers. Whether it's Halloween, Christmas, or Thanksgiving, the show has managed to pull off numerous entertaining episodes that never fail to disappoint. Though Bob's Burgers has its fair share of memorable Thanksgiving episodes, it's hard to beat the series' best, “Turkey in a Can,” one of the funniest animated TV specials out there.

As the Belchers prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving, Bob readies a delicious brine for his turkey to marinate in before the big day arrives. His big plans, however, are interrupted when someone throws his turkey into the toilet, prompting him to go out and buy another one–only to find each turkey ends up in the toilet.

In essence, “Turkey in a Can” offers a classic whodunnit scenario, complete with an investigation launched by Louise into who keeps throwing the turkeys away. The ingenious nature of the episode, though, actually revolves around its more sentimental side–with Bob overcoming his unease at the idea of Tina growing up and becoming an adult.

It's a surprisingly touching episode for something that features turkeys stuffed into toilets so prominently, but one that is equally funny as it is emotional.

Streaming on Hulu

Image Credit: 20th Television. 

5. The Simpsons: “Bart vs. Thanksgiving” — Season 2: Episode 7

The Simpsons 1

In the course of 30+ years, it's somewhat surprising seeing a show as long-running as The Simpsons having produced only four Thanksgiving-themed episodes (the most recent of which, “Thanksgiving of Horror,” nearly made the list). In the end, we decided to go with one of the show's earliest and easily best Thanksgiving episodes, “Bart vs. Thanksgiving.”

In this episode, Marge prepares a beautiful Thanksgiving dinner for Homer, the kids, Patty and Selma, and her mother to enjoy, only for everything to awry when Bart accidentally destroys a centerpiece that Lisa had taken a lot of time making. After being sent up to his room, Bart–feeling unjustly punished–escapes with Santa's Little Helper, spending time in a nearby soup kitchen and realizing the gravity of what exactly he's done wrong.

It's hard to find a better, more entertaining show than the early Simpsons episodes, especially from Season 2 onwards, when the series was really beginning to find the tone and style of humor it would maintain throughout the following few decades.

The episode has plenty of heart and early character development for everyone involved–most especially Bart, the mischievous troublemaker of the family, who begins to realize the consequences his actions have on others.

It's an important life lesson to learn, and seeing the episode end with the family able to set aside their differences, forgive each other, and come together, again hammers in the point of Thanksgiving: it's not about the pomp and circumstance–it's about the general thankfulness you feel spending time with the people you care about most.

Streaming on Disney+

Image Credit: FOX. 

6. Modern Family: “Three Turkeys” — Season 6: Episode 8

Modern Family

If there's one thing you can count on in this world, it's that Modern Family‘s holiday specials will always be touching, affectionate, and extremely clever in their basic story and plotting. Case in point with the series' Thanksgiving special, “Three Turkeys,” an amazingly well-done episode that utilizes every story and character without wasting a single minute to deliver some kind of joke or to move the plot forward.

Looking to have a quiet Thanksgiving by themselves, Jay and Gloria lie to the rest of the family and say they're going on vacation. Now in charge of Thanksgiving, Phil sets to work with Luke tirelessly making the perfect turkey for the occasion, while Claire–worried that Phil will somehow mess up–makes a backup turkey. Meanwhile, Mitchell–tired of being “the mean parent”–encourages Cam to put his foot down to Lily's increasing rebelliousness. All of these culminate into one gigantic, hilarious holiday mess at Gloria and Jay's house.

Out of all the shows on this list, it's hard to find one that is able to balance comedy and chaotic plotlines with legitimate sentimentality quite as well as Modern Family‘s. There are conflicts left and right, with even the B-stories having some kind of problem mixed in, but amazingly, Modern Family manages to balance them out and then combine them all extremely well, producing a wonderfully enjoyable holiday special perfect for the whole family.

Streaming on Hulu

Image Credit: ABC. 

7. Brooklyn Nine-Nine: “Thanksgiving” — Season 1: Episode 10

Brooklyn 99

In 2013, the critically acclaimed police procedural comedy Brooklyn Nine-Nine pulled off a successful hat trick in its first season, delivering a Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas special, all three of which managed to be funny, entertaining, and a wonderful blend between comedy and crime.

In the series' first Thanksgiving-themed episode, Amy invites her colleagues over to dinner, hoping to impress Holt and establish a mentorship between the two of them. Everyone appears reluctant to go, especially Jake, who is busying himself with work in order to get out of attending, including tracking down $10,000 cash stolen from the precinct.

Like all the best holiday-themed episodes, Brooklyn Nine-Nine‘s “Thanksgiving” perfectly showcases every characters' strengths and personalities—from the always-intense Terry becoming “hangry” and who needs a minimum of 10,000 calories to maintain muscle mass, or Amy going above and beyond with her Thanksgiving efforts, including writing an eight-page toast about what she's thankful for to impress Holt.

It's a raucous, all-over-the place Thanksgiving special, and unlike other shows on this list that shows the bonds between family members or friends during the holiday, it illustrates the close relationships that begin to form between work colleagues, and how, eventually, your colleagues become your friends before you even know it.

Streaming on Peacock

Image Credit: NBC Universal. 

8. The Office: “WUPHF.com” — Season 7: Episode 9

The Office

Like many shows on this list, The Office probably has a lot more memorable Christmas and Halloween episodes than they do Thanksgiving ones—mostly due to the fact that the series never made an entirely Thanksgiving-centric episode.

About the closest the show did get to making a Thanksgiving special was season 7's “WUPHF.com,” an incredibly entertaining episode that built upon numerous pre-existing storylines and also established a few new ones that would take center stage in later seasons (namely, Angela's relationship with the Senator).

In the episode, Ryan struggles to make a decision on whether or not to sell his online startup—WUPHF.com—even as he faces mounting pressure from everyone in the office who has invested in it to sell (including Darryl, Stanley, Andy, and Pam). The only one who stands by Ryan is Michael, who owns 50% of the company, and whose devotion and love for Ryan puts him at odds with all the other investors. As that happens, Dwight throws a hay-themed Thanksgiving festival in the parking lot, and Jim grows unmotivated to work when he learns of a new limit on sales commissions.

The episode has barely anything to do with Thanksgiving, but it does resolve three important, long-standing arcs The Office had previously built upon: Ryan's WUPHF.com project, Dwight and Angela's contract to have a baby, and Michael's complicated relationship with Ryan.

As Michael faces increasing pressure from everyone else to talk Ryan into selling, he begins to see Ryan not as the protege/close friend he always regarded him as, but instead as the flawed, insecure, and lazy.

It's a painful moment for Michael's character, but in the end, through his heartfelt speech where he says he believes in everyone in the office—including Ryan—you can't help but admire him as a man who trusts all of his employees to do the right thing. It's what makes Michael Scott such a great character, and what makes this such a great episode.

Streaming on Peacock

Image Credit: NBC Universal. 

9. Seinfeld: “The Mom and Pop Store” — Season 6, Episode 8

Seinfeld

Okay, admittedly, this episode barely has anything to do with Thanksgiving—it just sort of incidentally is set around the end of November, loosely tying in the Macy's Day Parade, which Elaine's boss, the eccentric Mr. Pitt, has always wanted to participate in (a minor plot point in the episode).

The main action of the episode revolves around George, who has bought a 1980s LeBaron under the assumption the previous owner was Jon Voight. Jerry tries to figure out if he has been invited to his friend Tim Whatley's annual Thanksgiving party, which everyone else seems to be attending (including George, Elaine, and Kramer). Meanwhile, Elaine tries to help Mr. Pitt win a place holding the Woody Woodpecker balloon during the Thanksgiving Day Parade, and Kramer tries supporting a struggling local mom and pop store on the verge of going out of business.

Like most Seinfeld episodes, “The Mom and Pop Store” will have you laughing throughout, namely at the numerous misunderstandings that take place (Elaine, unable to hear, turning down a date without Whatley, who she has a massive crush on, for example), as well as Jon Voight's hilariously strange cameo that sees him bite Kramer's arm.

In true Seinfeld fashion, the episode also contains numerous nods to pre-existing films, including an ending that directly parodies Midnight Cowboy, a movie referenced multiple times throughout due to the episode's focus on Jon Voight.

Streaming on Netflix

Image Credit: NBC. 

10. Cheers: “Thanksgiving Orphans” — Season 5, Episode 9

Thanksgiving TV Specials

Cheers remains one of those shows that refuses to drift into obscurity. Like Seinfeld, it’s consistently ranked as one of the most popular, influential sitcoms of all time, and with good reason.

Throughout its 11 season run, critics and viewers fell in love with the numerous, fan-favorite characters who inhabited the show, from serial leads like the charismatic Sam or the academic Diane, to supporting players like the no-nonsense Carla or the clear-headed Woody. With a series that spanned 11 years, it's a given the show would produce more than a few holiday specials, with perhaps none more famous and well-loved as Season 5's “Thanksgiving Orphans.”

With Thanksgiving approaching, the Cheers characters all attempt to sort out their plans to figure out who will be coming to Carla's Thanksgiving dinner (since many of them lack families or other friends to spend the holiday with, they all end up attending—some more reluctantly than others). As everyone settles in, they find problems when the turkey Norm has brought takes hours to cook, prompting tensions to run increasingly high among the party guests.

Out of all the specials on this list, “Thanksgiving Orphans” may just include the most chaotic portrayal of a holiday celebration gone wrong, all ending in a fantastic, messy food fight between all the dinner guests. It's a funny, awkward episode that ultimately sends a touching message—even if you lack other close friends or family nearby to celebrate the holidays with, you always have people around who still care about you, whether you realize it or not.

It's episodes like these that made Cheers the definitive sitcom of the '80s, and why the show continues to remain influential to this day.

Streaming on Hulu and Peacock

Image Credit: NBC. 

Honorable Mentions

fresh prince of bel aire

There's no better time of year than Thanksgiving. Even for those who don’t go in for scream-heavy Halloween or hate the pressure of buying gifts for December holidays, you can't deny how great Thanksgiving can be–a holiday dedicated strictly to eating good food and hanging around with people you care about.

This holiday season, we encourage you to check out these Thanksgiving-themed specials, all of which make for great viewing material while basting your turkey or digesting your dessert before going out Black Friday shopping. For other Thanksgiving specials, we highly recommend watching, we suggest The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air‘s “Talking Turkey,” That ’70s Show‘s “Thanksgiving,” and Malcolm in the Middle’s “Thanksgiving.”

Image Credit: NBC. 

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This article has been produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.

Feature Image Credit: Warner Bros. 


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Richard Chachowski is a freelance writer based in New Jersey. He loves reading, his dog Tootsie, and pretty much every movie to ever exist (especially Star Wars).