The Best Thanksgiving TV Episodes and Movies to Watch As You Nurse Your Food Hangover

Friends, Gossip Girl and This Is Us all made our list, and we’re serving up Planes, Trains and Automobiles and Home For the Holidays to represent the big screen.

By Tierney Bricker Nov 25, 2021 11:00 AMTags
Watch: Tracy Morgan Pays It Forward in His Hometown for Thanksgiving

"Can someone vacuum before they arrive?"

Chances are you've heard one of your parents make that request if you are home for Thanksgiving, a time filled with turkey and stuffing yourself with stuffing, pumpkin pie and a whole lot of awkward small talk with family members you see about as often as you go to the dentist.

"I know, I can't believe it's been so long." "Yes, I'm still single." "No, I haven't watched Yellowstone yet." And let's not even get started on the moment when politics inevitably comes up two or three wine bottles later...

But 2021 might be a little different due to the coronavirus pandemic, which may prevent some people from spending the holidays with their family members. And we won't lie, we are kind of going to miss those uncomfortable convos over Aunt Maureen's runny green bean casserole.

And that's why you need comfort food. No, we're not talking about the feast you're impatiently waiting to dive into, we're talking about comfort food for your soul that only a TV show or movie can provide. 

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Best & Worst Thanksgiving Sides, Ranked

So if you're looking for a cozy distraction right now, we've rounded up some of our favorite Thanksgiving-themed episodes of shows like Friends and Gossip Girl, as well as a few movies about Turkey Day. Yes, there are actually some films made about the Jan Brady of holidays, even if Halloween and Christmas tend to steal the spotlight come fall. 

Friends

The iconic NBC sitcom is infamous for its annual Thanksgiving episodes, delivering 10 near-perfect holiday installments in its decade-long run. It's hard to pick just one (and we've done the ranking to prove it), so we're going to suggest three.

Season five's classic "The One With All the Thanksgivings" is notable for the delightful flashbacks and the first "I love you" between Chandler and Monica (who is wearing a turkey on her head, natch).  We suggest following that up with season six's "The One Where Ross Got High" because it's the group's dynamic at its very best, while season eight's "The One With the Rumor" is, of course, the one where Brad Pitt makes his iconic guest appearance as the co-founder of their high school's "I Hate Rachel Club." (Listen, if he can attend ex Jennifer Aniston's 50th birthday bash post-divorce and they can call each other "hun," we can highlight his ep!) (Where to watch: HBO Max)

How I Met Your Mother

Another sitcom about a close-knit group of friends with a penchant for nailing Thanksgiving episodes, fans could always count on HIMYM to deliver the goods. But the best outing is season three's iconic "Slapsgiving," which gave us the third (and arguably best) slap in Marshall and Barney's ongoing bet. Gather around the piano and sing it with us: "Ya just got slapped"! (Where to watch: Hulu)

Gilmore Girls

What better way to nurse your food coma than by watching Lorelai and Rory go on a Thanksgiving dinner-crawl, hitting four feasts in one day in season three's "A Deep-Fried Korean Thanksgiving"? Oy with the leftovers! (Where to watch: Netflix)

This Is Us

Two words: Pilgrim Rick! Leave it to the NBC hit to hit us right in the feels, especially on Thanksgiving. In this season one episode, we see the origin of the Pearson family's Pilgrim Rick hat, with a flashback revealing the family's holiday unexpectedly spent in a roadside motel. It all ties beautifully together with the present, as we see the Big Three still struggling with the loss of Jack.

Of course, it can't always be warm and fuzzies, as Randall ("Thanksgiving dad is a hot dad!") learns a shocking secret Rebecca had been keeping from him his entire life. C'mon, what's Thanksgiving without a family scandal being unearthed? (Where to watch: Peacock)

Gossip Girl

Another show that loved to make an annual event out of Turkey Day was Gossip Girl, beginning with "Blair Waldorf Must Pie!" The season one standout gave us flashbacks of old Serena, the moment she and Dan realized they could've been siblings, and, most importantly, insight into Blair's struggle with an eating disorder.

Season two's serving is skippable, but season three's offering, "The Treasure of Serena Madre," is a fun one thanks to a classic awkward family dinner from hell when Serena has to pass the butter to Maureen a.k.a. the wife of the man she's hooking up with. (Oh hey, Aaron Tveit as creepy congressman Trip!) Leave it to S to always ruin Thanksgiving. (Where to watch: HBO Max)

New Girl

C'mon, how could we not include "Bangsiving" on our list, the classic episode in which Schmidt forced the loft gang to each bring a date they thought would be compatible for someone else to their holiday dinner? (Where to Watch: Netflix)

Grey's Anatomy

Season two's "Thanks For the Memories" will have you feeling super nostalgic as it centers on the ABC hit's OG interns. George (RIP!) is forced to go turkey hunting, Izzie (somewhere far, far away!) tries to throw the ultimate holiday dinner and Meredith, Cristina (miss you every day!) and Alex (How dare you, sir?) hide out at the hospital. And if that's not enough nostalgia, there's some deliciously torturous Mer-Der drama and that Fall Out Boy song thrown in for good measure. Oh, the 2005 memories. (Where to Watch: Netflix)

Buffy the Vampire Slayer

"It's a sham, but it's a sham with yams. A yam sham."

If you're only going to do one big Thanksgiving episode, you might as well do it right, like BtVS' season four holiday-themed outing, "Pangs." Desperate to give the Scooby gang the perfect Thanksgiving, Buffy goes full-Pilgrimzilla, Slayer duties (and lack of cooking skills) be damned. Alas, everything goes awry when Xander releases a vengeful Native American spirit, resulting in Spike becoming a vampire dart board. Oh, and there's a doozy of a mic drop reveal in the final moment. (Where to watch: Hulu)

The O.C.

Chrismukkah gets all the attention when it comes to the teen drama, but the Orange County crew knew how to do Thanksgiving, too.

In season one's holiday outing, "The Homecoming," Ryan has to return to Chino to help his imprisoned older brother with Marissa in tow. Unfortunately, for many fans, this trip introduced Theresa, she who would go on to break up the couple.

And who doesn't love some love triangle action in between dinner and dessert, which is exactly what Seth was getting into when he invited both Summer and Anna to the house and attempted to keep them from seeing other. Bad plan, Cohen. (Where to Watch: HBO Max)

Master of None

For a more poignant take on the holiday episode, look no further than this Emmy Award-winning outing, which focused on Denise, Dev's BFF. The show relied on flashbacks to her Thanksgiving experiences past to show Lena Waithe's character slowly coming to terms with her sexuality and her relationship with her family. (Where to watch: Netflix)

You've Got Mail

The coz and crisp autumnal vibes of Nora Ephron's swoonworthy version of the Upper East Side should be enough to earn the rom-com a spot on this list. But fun fact: The scene in which Tom Hanks smugly helps Meg Ryan out at the Zabar's checkout line actually takes place on Thanksgiving Day! Remember Sara Ramirez's iconic delivery of "Happy Thanksgiving back"? (Where to Watch: Peacock)

Planes, Trains and Automobiles

C'mon, it's the definitive movie in the limited Thanksgiving movie genre. And it's hilarious, with knockout performances by Steve Martin and John Candy still making us laugh over 30 years later. (Where to watch: Amazon Prime Video)

Home For the Holidays

This underrated gem of a movie will make you wonder why the hell you hadn't heard of it as soon as the end credits roll. Starring Holly Hunter, Robert Downey Jr., Dylan McDermott and a young Claire Danes, the 1995 movie was Jodie Foster's second outing as a director and captures that odd catch-22 you can only understand once you've moved away from your family and return for the holidays, immediately falling back into your old familial patterns and behaviors. (Where to watch: Amazon Prime Video)

Addams Family Values

Wait, before you protest and say the 1993 dark comedy is a Halloween movie, hear us out. We're counting this one because of the play Wednesday and Pugsley Addams are forced to take part in at Camp Chippewa, which is about the first Thanksgiving. Yes, a summer camp is performing a play about Thanksgiving for some reason, but you do you, Gary and Becky Granger!

Playing Pocahontas, Wednesday decides to rewrite the tale to bloody and vengefully hilarious results. Plus, there's also the so-f--ked-up-it's-funny "Turkey Day" song, with Pugsley, dressed as turkey, singing, "Eat us 'cause we're good and dead!" (Where to watch: Netflix)

Pieces of April

So long, Joey Potter! Katie Holmes earned rave reviews for her turn in this 2003 indie movie about a girl who invites her small town family to her apartment in NYC's Lower East Side apartment. As you can imagine, s--t gets messy. Patricia Clarkson delivers a stellar performance as April's mom, which earned her an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress. Also, remember "The Thong Song"? Yeah, Sisqo is in this movie, too. So that happens! (Where to watch: Hulu)

Turkey Drop

Thank you Freeform for answering our prayers and delivering an adorable rom-com-gone-sort-of-wrong. And bonus points for the setting, which has a college freshman (charmingly played by Olivia Holt) returning home for the first time. It's a situation ripe for drama, especially when we learned that a "turkey drop" is when your high school sweetheart dumps you during Thanksgiving break. Enter: Her brother's hot BFF. (Where to Watch: Hulu)

Holidate

Okay, so technically this rom-com starring Emma Roberts and Luke Bracey covers almost every holiday ever created as the leads agree to be each other's platonic plus-ones for a whole calendar year, but two points. 1. It does feature Thanksgiving and 2. It is funny as f--k. (Where to Watch: Netflix)

What's Cooking

What happens when you bring four families with their own traditions and backgrounds—Vietnamese, Latino, Jewish, and African American—together under one roof? All-caps DRAMA but multiplied by four. Kyra Sedgwick and Julianna Margulies star in this 2000 film. (Where to watch: For purchase on iTunes or Amazon)

Friendsgiving

We dare you to name something more millennial than a Netflix movie made in 2020 about a group of messed up friends throwing a dysfunctional Friendsgiving event starring Kat Dennings. You just can't. (Where to Watch: Netflix)

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