The Best Thanksgiving TV Show Episodes of All Time

Written by:
November 16, 2017

The Best Thanksgiving TV Show Episodes of All Time

While Thanksgiving is always a great time to gather with loved ones and eat to your heart's content, it can also make for some truly unique television. The unwritten tradition for hit TV shows to feature a special Thanksgiving episode whenever the holiday comes around has resulted in countless classics on almost every series that's made it into multiple seasons.

Being that the holiday season is itself a relaxed departure from the norm, Thanksgiving TV episodes sometimes represent a slight drop in quality (or a bit of a stretch), but every now and then an episode will come along that simply knocks it out of the park. To identify these winners, Stacker used IMDB data to rank the all-time top TV episodes centered around Thanksgiving. The criteria for each episode (aside from it needing to be about Thanksgiving) is that it was part of a running series, and had a minimum of 100 votes on IMDB. We went first by rating, and then by votes, meaning if there was a tie, the episode with more votes was ranked higher on the list. May you binge-watch them all this holiday season--just don't forget about that turkey roasting in the oven.

#31. Everybody Loves Raymond - The Bird

IMDB Rating: 8.6

Number of Votes: 182

Release Date: November 24, 2003

Dysfunctional families and Thanksgiving go together like gravy and mashed potatoes, so it’s only natural that hit sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond would have a top-ranked Thanksgiving episode. In “The Bird,” Ray and the clan spend Thanksgiving with his sister-in-law, Amy, and her family. The gathering is going as well as it can until Amy’s mother kills an injured bird. After that, all bets are off between the two families. They say love is war, and in this episode they definitely mean it.

#30. The O.C. - The Homecoming

IMDB Rating: 8.6

Number of Votes: 374

Release Date: November 19, 2003

Fox’s The O.C. told the story of Ryan Atwood, a troubled boy who was raised in a broken home before being adopted by wealthy parents. Given that the show was a soap opera at heart, The O.C.’s Thanksgiving episode kept the serialized narrative going strong, simultaneously using the holiday setting to heighten themes of loyalty and family. Dubbed “The Homecoming”, the episode saw Ryan and his girlfriend Marissa stealing a car in order to pay off a debt on behalf of Ryan’s imprisoned brother. It’s all exactly as dramatic as it sounds, and essential holiday viewing, naturally. 

#29. Gilmore Girls - A Deep Fried Korean Thanksgiving

IMDB Rating: 8.6

Number of Votes: 406

Release Date: November 26, 2002

As a sentimental show about a single mother raising a teenage girl, one might say that every episode of WB’s Gilmore Girls was rife with themes of love and family. However, “A Deep Fried Korean Thanksgiving” didn’t just double down on those themes, it quadrupled down. The episode featured mother and daughter zipping to four separate family dinners. Suffice to say, the two protagonists weren’t very hungry for at least a few of those meals. 


#28. Chuck - Chuck Versus the Gravitron

IMDB Rating: 8.6

Number of Votes: 838

Release Date: November 24, 2008

A show about a whiz-kid turned unlikely spy, Chuck kept the action going strong even in its holiday episodes, and “Chuck Versus the Gravitron” was no exception. In the episode, Chuck finds out that his girlfriend is a secret agent with plans to kill one of his friends. A series of interrogations, betrayals, and chases follow, with Chuck making it home just in time for Thanksgiving dinner

#27. Chuck - Chuck Versus the Nemesis

IMDB Rating: 8.6

Number of Votes: 990

Release Date: November 26, 2007

Most Thanksgiving episodes are self-contained, but in its first season, Chuck made the inspired choice to drop some major plot developments in its holiday-themed special. That is, “Chuck Versus the Nemesis” introduced Fulcrum for the first time, wrapped up several loose storylines, and marked the first episode to bring back an antagonist. Pair that with a Black Friday subplot and a gut-busting Thanksgiving dinner sequence, and you have all the ingredients for an instant classic.

#26. Orange in the New Black - F****giving

IMDB Rating: 8.6

Number of Votes: 1,984

Release Date: July 11, 2013

The story about life in an all-female prison might not seem like essential Thanksgiving viewing, but that didn’t stop Orange is the New Black from using the holiday to deliver one of its best episodes. In the first season’s “F*****giving”, the show’s protagonist, Piper, eagerly awaits a visit from her former fiance. However, her plans get derailed after she’s thrown into solitary confinement after dancing in a crude manner. Once isolated, Piper’s Thanksgiving feast is a single slice of old, moldy bologna. How’s that for a theme?

#25. One Tree Hill - Between Raising Hell and Amazing Grace

IMDB Rating: 8.7

Number of Votes: 150

Release Date: November 16, 2010

More than anything else, One Tree Hill was about family. Accordingly, the show’s Thanksgiving episode, “Between Raising Hell and Amazing Grace,” is like being invited into someone’s home to help them celebrate and feast. Everything from last second food preparation to dealing with smoke alarms to breaking the wishbone takes center stage, making the episode a poignant snapshot of the American holiday to say the least. To put it another way, this isn’t just a Thanksgiving episode--this is Thanksgiving.   

#24. ER - Great Expectations

IMDB Rating: 8.7

Number of Votes: 187

Release Date: November 25, 1999

Life threatening injuries don’t take the day off, and neither do the people who treat them. Honoring those men and women was NBC’s ER. It wasn’t the first hospital show, but it was probably the most influential. In its sixth season Thanksgiving episode, “Great Expectations,” a woman comes into the emergency room with birth complications. That forces one doctor to skip out on Thanksgiving dinner, leaving his girlfriend (later his wife) alone with his irritable father. Of course, it all becomes worth it as soon as the woman gives birth to two healthy twin babies.

#23. Will & Grace - Lows in the Mid-Eighties: Part 1

IMDB Rating: 8.7

Number of Votes: 225

Release Date: November 23, 2000

Part one of a two-parter, “Lows in the Mid-Eighties” is one of Will & Grace’s most important, and unconventional, episodes. An origin story of sorts, the episode flashes back to 1985, when Will and Grace are dating as college students. Grace brings Will home to meet her family for Thanksgiving and then tries to seduce him that night. Things come to a head when Will proposes to Grace out of pressure, only to come out as a homosexual the very next day. The wildly acclaimed, iconic episode ended up scoring an Emmy Award for lead actor Eric McCormack.

#22. Grey’s Anatomy - Thanks for the Memories

IMDB Rating: 8.7

Number of Votes: 687

Release Date: November 20, 2005

Thanksgiving is supposed to bring folks together, but in “Thanks for the Memories,” it threatens to pull them apart. The highly rated Grey’s Anatomy episode saw the various doctors of Grey-Sloan Memorial Hospital dealing with the holiday in their own special way. It all seemed destined for desolation until the final act, where friends unite to make their Thanksgiving a memorable one.

#21. Mad Men - Public Relations

IMDB Rating: 8.7

Number of Votes: 1,267

Release Date: July 25, 2010

AMC’s Mad Men was at the height of its power by the time the fourth season rolled around. Being a show as much about alienation as it was about family, a Thanksgiving-themed premiere episode was certainly a poignant way to kick things off. Consequently, it’s business as usual in “Public Relations,” with the firm making desperate bids in order to stay afloat. Meanwhile, Don Draper eschews dinner with family and friends alike, opting instead to engage in kinky sexual acts with a frisky neighbor. 

#20. ER - Freefall

IMDB Rating: 8.8

Number of Votes: 166

Release Date: November 20, 2003

On ER, the doctors and nurses are never too far away from disaster, though “Freefall” takes that concept to some truly extreme places. In the tenth season Thanksgiving episode, a helicopter crashes on the roof of the hospital, sending a short-handed staff on a mad scramble to save lives and treat injuries. That’s how you do the holidays, ER style.

#19. This is Us - Pilgrim Rick

IMDB Rating: 8.8

Number of Votes: 1,472

Release Date: November 22, 2016

It was a show already pulling at the heartstrings of America with impeccable precision, and This is Us had no reason to let up for Thanksgiving. Alternating between two separate timelines, “Pilgrim Rick” dealt with archetypal themes like food preparation, family-based anxiety, disastrous get-togethers and successful ones, too. To help cope with a holiday built around overeating, Kate, an overweight character, attends a support group. The episode also dropped a huge revelation, having Randall discover that Rebecca knew more about his family than she previously let on. 

#18. Friends - The One with Rachel’s Other Sister

IMDB Rating: 8.8

Number of Votes: 2,061

Release Date: November 21, 2002

It’s Thanksgiving day on Friends, which means watching the parade, setting the table, eating food and arguing over all sorts of petty subjects to hilarious effect. This time around, the gang gets an unexpected visitor when Rachel’s sister, Amy (played by Christina Applegate), shows up looking for a hair-dryer. That’s followed by endless shenanigans and razor-sharp writing, as usual, making “The One with Rachel’s Other Sister” a compulsively watchable episode.  

#17. Bewitched - Samantha’s Thanksgiving to Remember

IMDB Rating: 8.9

Number of Votes: 148

Release Date: November 23, 1967

Following the exploits of a modern-day witch and her family, Bewitched came around long before Internet ratings were even a thing. That means the show’s Thanksgiving episode had to be really good in order to rank decades later. Indeed, “Samantha’s Thanksgiving to Remember” is one for the ages. Literally. More to the point, Aunt Clara accidentally sends everyone back in time to spend Thanksgiving with the pilgrims in 1620. This is classic television that’s stayed classic after fifty years.

#16. The Originals - Out of the Easy

IMDB Rating: 8.9

Number of Votes: 538

Release Date: November 19, 2015

Who would know more about Thanksgiving than immortal vampire-werewolf hybrids who’ve been around for centuries? We’re speaking, of course, of The Originals, a spin-off of the Vampire Diaries. Unfortunately, there’s not necessarily much time to reminisce in “Out of the Easy,” the show’s Thanksgiving episode. In the episode, a prophecy is looming, and there’s only so much time for protagonists’ Klaus and Elijah to negotiate a truce with a trio of vampires.

#15. Beauty and the Beast - Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?

IMDB Rating: 8.9

Number of Votes: 582

Release Date: November 18, 2013

CW’s Beauty and the Beast took a no-holds-barred approach to the classic fairy tale, duly updating it as a romantic crime saga. As such, the Thanksgiving episode “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?” is brimming with life-threatening danger and ulterior motives. What starts as a relatively straightforward dinner gets complicated when unexpected guests arrive. It all makes for great holiday TV straight out of a teenager’s wildest fantasies.

#14. Friends - The One with the Late Thanksgiving

IMDB Rating: 8.9

Number of Votes: 2,076

Release Date: November 20, 2003

Another season of Friends means another Thanksgiving episode filled with outrageous exploits. In “The One with the Late Thanksgiving,” Monica decides that she’s no longer going to make a holiday dinner for the group. She stands her ground until Phoebe denigrates the dinners from holidays past. Too proud to let Phoebe’s comment go, Monica whips up a feast of epic proportion… only to have everybody show up an hour late. A series of typical disasters ensue, however it all ends on a high note with the gang finally sitting down for a late Thanksgiving feast.

#13. The Big Bang Theory - The Thanksgiving Decoupling

IMDB Rating: 8.9

Number of Votes: 2,582

Release Date: November 21, 2013

Legendary sitcom The Big Bang Theory took the holiday celebration to Mrs. Wolowitz’s house in the seventh season episode “The Thanksgiving Decoupling.” Howard’s outspoken (but never seen) mother keeps it loud and discomforting the whole way through, while Howard tries to bond with his father in law. It’s all preceded by mathematical discussions on the impossibility of cow tipping, of course.

#12. Mad Men - The Wheel

IMDB Rating: 9.0

Number of Votes: 1,788

Release Date: October 18, 2007

Apparently, Mad Men’s Don Draper isn’t a very big fan of Thanksgiving. Season one episode “The Wheel” finds the iconic character too busy to join his wife and family at her father’s home for the feast. By contrast, sneaky Pete Campbell takes Thanksgiving as an opportunity to hit his girlfriend’s father up for a business opportunity. The father agrees, on the condition that Pete and his daughter get married. It’s all business as usual and par for the course.

#11. How I Met Your Mother - Slapsgiving

IMDB Rating: 9.0

Number of Votes: 2,534

Release Date: November 19, 2007

How I Met Your Mother was relationship comedy gold in its day, and “Slapsgiving” makes it easy to see why. The episode has Ted and Robin sleeping together, and features Marshall and Lily’s first Thanksgiving as a married couple. However, what really makes the episode shine is a looming slap. Specifically, Marshall and Barney have a “slap bet,” and Marshall has promised to deliver the third and final slap on Thanksgiving day. It makes for playful suspense and solid laughs alike.

#10. Friday Night Lights - Thanksgiving

IMDB Rating: 9.1

Number of Votes: 276

Release Date: February 10, 2010

On a good day, it seemed like the entire town of Dillon, Texas was one big family--at least during football season. However, that didn’t mean Friday Night Lights was short on explosive drama. The fourth season, in particular, was awash with rivalry and struggle, as Coach Taylor switched sides to coach the underfinanced East Dillon football team. In the season’s closing episode, “Thanksgiving,” the East Dillon Lions prove themselves a force on the field by kicking a 46-yard field goal to win the game. It’s a downright triumphant moment in a downright triumphant show.

#9. How I Met Your Mother - Blitzgiving

IMDB Rating: 9.1

Number of Votes: 2,919

Release Date: November 22, 2010

The promise of a slap in the face may have threatened a previous Thanksgiving, but that’s nothing compared to the curse of the blitz. Named for Matt Blitz--who dropped out of Wesleyan right before it went co-ed--the curse applies to anyone who turns in early and thereby misses out on the night’s best moments. On How I Met Your Mother’s “Blitzgiving,” it’s Ted who gets cursed with the blitz, calling it a night before everyone else and then waking up to a ravaged apartment.

#8. Friends - The One with the Football

IMDB Rating: 9.1

Number of Votes: 2,961

Release Date: November 21, 1996

Most of the time, Friends pitted its lovable characters against one another or the world through a series of petty differences. However, on “The One with the Football,” it got physical. The third season’s Thanksgiving episode sees the gang taking their holiday love of football to the yard for a pick-up game. The game ends with Rachel dropping the ball just short of the goal line, prompting Ross and Monica to fight over possession well into the evening. 

#7. Friends - The One Where Ross Got High

IMDB Rating: 9.2

Number of Votes: 2,688

Release Date: November 25, 1999

In case it’s not obvious yet, Friends kept the bar of quality high well throughout the holiday season. Speaking of high, their sixth season Thanksgiving episode, “The One Where Ross Got High,” is another indisputable classic. In the episode, Monica’s parents come over for Thanksgiving, unaware that their daughter is dating Chandler. As it turns out, they don’t like Chandler because they thought he was a pot smoker in college, though in reality, it was Ross stinking up the dorm room with pot and then blaming it on Chandler. Meanwhile, Rachel bakes a cake with beef in it. In other words: another classic episode.

#6. Friends - The One with Chandler in a Box

IMDB Rating: 9.2

Number of Votes: 2,701

Release Date: November 20, 1997

A running theme on Friends Thanksgiving episodes is that Monica gets stuck in the kitchen making dinner with virtually no help. It’s certainly the case in “The One with Chandler in a Box,” where she not only cooks alone but ends up getting ice stuck in her eye. At first, she’s reluctant to reach out to her ophthalmologist because he’s an ex. Then she finds out her ex is away on vacation and gets treated by his son instead. Later, wearing an eyepatch, she kisses the son of her ex, complicating things a bit. Aren’t the holidays grand?

#5. Friends - The One with All the Thanksgivings

IMDB Rating: 9.2

Number of Votes: 2,754

Release Date: November 19, 1998

Considered not just one of the best Thanksgiving episodes, but one of the best Friends episodes in general, “The One with All the Thanksgivings” is as inventive as it is hilarious. Through a flashback style format, the episode has the characters sharing stories of disastrous Thanksgivings from their past, stories that often involve one another. It’s a terrific trip down memory lane, complete with nostalgic sight gags and intimate reveals about each character.

#4. Dexter - Hungry Man

IMDB Rating: 9.4

Number of Votes: 3,570

Release Date: November 22, 2009

Even serial killers celebrate Thanksgiving with loved ones--at least on Showtime’s Dexter they do. In the season four episode “Hungry Man,” Dexter gets up close and personal with The Trinity Killer (John Lithgow) by joining him and his family for a Thanksgiving feast. On the surface of things, everything looks normal enough at first. Underneath that surface is a different story altogether.

#3. Friends - The One with the Rumor

IMDB Rating: 9.4

Number of Votes: 3,632

Release Date: November 22, 2002

The highest rated among all the Friends Thanksgiving episodes, “The One with the Rumor” finds Monica once again left with cooking duties and threatening to hold off, fearing that too much food will be wasted. She’s convinced to throw on the apron only after Joey promises to eat the entire bird if need be (which he does by the end of the episode). Meanwhile, Ross has invited an old friend (played by Brad Pitt) over to celebrate, and the friend stirs up trouble by revealing that Ross used to spread rumors about Rachel in high school. Rachel’s shocked and appalled to the point where it threatens her impending marriage with Ross. However, Monica wastes no time pointing out that Rachel used to spread rumors, too, once saying that teenage Ross made out with a 51-year old librarian--except that one turned out to be true.

#2. WKRP In Cincinnati - Turkeys Away

IMDB Rating: 9.5

Number of Votes: 471

Release Date: October 30, 1978

Cemented in the annals of TV history, “Turkeys Away” is as iconic as Thanksgiving episodes can get. It came to us from WKRP in Cincinnati, a show about a radio station trying to find success by switching to a rock format. Inspired by real-life events, the Thanksgiving episode centered on a promotional event where radio station manager Mr. Carlson dropped live turkeys from a helicopter. The results were expectedly, and hilariously, disastrous. On the heels of the catastrophe, Carlson famously proclaimed: “As God as my witness, I thought turkeys could fly.”

#1. Master of None - Thanksgiving

Master of None offers a touching modern take on Thanksgiving in Season 2, following 30 years of Thanksgiving dinners as Denise reconciles her sexual identity with her family relationships. The vivid episode draws on actress Lena Waithe's real-life coming out experience, with Waithe and Aziz Anzari receiving an Emmy for Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series for their efforts.

Trending Now