Episodes: All hail Thanksgiving, the best TV holiday



Thanksgiving is the best TV holiday.

I should make a caveat to that point. It's not the holiday with the best TV specials (that would still be Christmas). It's just the best holiday around which to center an episode of an ongoing TV show. Precisely the things that make it so hard to do a Thanksgiving special (the utter lack of major mythology; the fact that most of the traditions are ultimately pretty low impact; gratitude being a lousy emotion for dramatic purposes) make it the perfect holiday to gather with your favorite TV characters when one of them has a turkey stuck on his head.

Yes, I will always love seeing TV characters put on goofy costumes for Halloween, or navigate fraught romantic entanglements for Valentine's Day, or express the deepest notions of sentimentality for Christmas (those are really the four holidays all TV characters celebrate). But it's also so easy to fall into gimmickry when it comes to these holidays, because they have so many outward trappings that they essentially force any given show to become about them. This isn't always true, of course, but the temptation is always there.

Thanksgiving, on the other hand, is a holiday that practically functions as its own bottle episode. At its center is the idea of all of the characters sitting around the same table, eating the same food. Before that happens, they'll hang out in the other room, watching football on TV. You can (and often should) be more ambitious than this, but it's possible to imagine a great Thanksgiving episode that never leaves the table. The characters snipe. Others sneer. It all ends with reconciliation and a hug, or maybe not.

What's more, Thanksgiving doesn't force sentimentality on the proceedings like Christmas does, a genre on the proceedings like Halloween does, or a central emotion on the proceedings like Valentine's does. Yeah, being thankful is certainly a thing that's interesting to consider via the lens of your favorite character, but it's not really the go-to lens. And it's also not like "being grateful" is an endless font of stories, which forces writers to look further afield.

But return to that dinner table, and you'll see how much conflict can be crammed into one gathering with most of the regulars there. Any simmering tensions will burst forth (because it's also November sweeps), and any rude insults will be expressed. Thanksgiving, like bottle episodes, forces a kind of emotional honesty that just can't arrive when everybody's in a Santa suit and spreading good cheer.

That said, Thanksgiving is also the best holiday for the TV you get to watch during the day. I suppose this is different if you are British and have that awesome tradition of all of your favorite shows, past and present, gathering to give you a little holiday treat, but if you're British, you don't even know what a Thanksgiving is. No, in the States, having the Macy's parade drift into the dog show into the football games into whatever movies are being shown that year is the best.

Maybe Thanksgiving is the best TV holiday because literally everything about it seems designed to funnel you toward your television, belly bloated, barely able to keep your eyes awake. In my book, that's worth celebrating.

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Episodes is published daily, Monday through Friday, unless I don't feel like it. It is mostly about television, except when it's not. Suggest topics for future installments via email or on Twitter. Read more of my work at Vox Dot Com.