Happy Thanksgiving from Germany! This isn't the first Thanksgiving away from home but this is the first abroad. No orphan Thanksgivings this year.
Which is fine. Honestly, I'm glad I can sit this one out. Way too early for me to break bread with my Republican relatives right now. Instead, this Thanksgiving, I'm going to go to work and, afterwards, stop by one of my favorite restaurants. One thing I am missing this year: Friends! There isn't another show that does this holiday like the Central Perk gang. Every year, I rewatch the holiday-themed episodes, usually while decorating for Christmas. There's no way for me to legally watch the show from Germany and I'm not decorating for Christmas at all this year (moving out the week before so it doesn't seem worth it to spend money and time on decorations). To make up for both the lack of festivus and Chanandler Bong, let's revisit these episodes.
ETA: German Netflix just added Friends! Seriously, it just happened. Holiday bonus for me!
For everyone else enjoying the holiday with family or friends, here are my favorite episodes, in order. Cheers!
10. Season 2. The One with the List. This is the only season without a real Thanksgiving-themed episode. The closest we get is a C-plot about Monica creating recipes for fake chocolate. Luckily, when season 3 rolls around, the writers figured out what they had with this holiday and got cracking. This is the episode with Ross's big list, which is an interesting turn in the ongoing saga of Ross and Rachel, but not Thanksgiving related. If we were just talking about episodes, this would be higher. But this is about turkey!
9. Season 9. The One with Rachel's Other Sister. Rachel's other sister (Reese Witherspoon as Jill is the other one), Amy, played by Christina Applegate, shows up for the first time and insults everyone. In other stories: Monica finally lets us use the fancy china from the wedding, Joey forgot an important Days event, and there's drama about Emma's godparents. Applegate is great but it's season nine, this is our second-to-last Thanksgiving episode. Can we just focus on the core six? The godparents story line is enjoyable (Joey asks who has to die for him to get Emma) but also a little unbelievable. Do parents really sit down and make a list like that? It's more complicated than the line of succession for POTUS. And the china bit has Monica at her most shrill. I'm similarly fond of numbers 8 and 9 but this one doesn't have the States game, so it sits here.
8. Season 7. The One Where Chandler Doesn't Like Dogs. Phoebe, staying with Monica and Chandler, has been keeping a dog in the apartment. Chandler doesn't like dogs, so there's a lot of moving the dog back and forth. Rachel's crush on her assistant Tag leads to a kiss and Ross doesn't know all fifty states. Honestly, the dog stuff is too much here. There is a dog and then there isn't. Chandler doesn't like dogs and then he does. And it doesn't go anywhere. The other stories are much more fruitful. Rachel finally takes the next step with Tag. It's not surprising but it's relief to get to the next point. But these are Thanksgiving episodes, episodes I watch once a year while putting up a tree. Continuity is not of interest. Which brings me to my favorite bit of the episode, the thing that is outside of the ongoing plot: the fifty states game. Have a spare five minutes or waiting for someone to show up to a meeting? List all of the states! I'll give you a hint: I try to go alphabetical. The episode isn't that great but I definitely understand the manic fear of being an uninformed American who can't even list all fifty states.
7. Season 10. The One with the Late Thanksgiving. Phoebe convinces Monica to throw a Thanksgiving dinner against her wishes and everyone is late - Phoebe and Rachel put Emma in a baby beauty pageant and Ross and Joey go to a hockey game. But there's good news at the end, as someone picked Monica and Chandler to adopt her baby. For our last Thanksgiving episode, I wish we could have had more time with everyone together. And also more eating of the food. It would have been nice if, with the food destroyed, they had grilled cheese, as a call back to the original Thanksgiving episode. Oh well. As it is, the episode is fine, just not enough for the final Thanksgiving episode.
6. Season 1. The One Where Underdog gets away. - everyone gets locked out; no one wants to be there - Chandler hates the holiday, Rachel wanted to go skiing, Ross's parents bail on him, and Joey's family thinks he has VD. There's a warm envelope of nostalgia around the thing now. I don't ski but I find a way to mimic Rachel's 'shoop shoop shoop' anytime the topic comes up. There's something appealing about how the gang comes to help pay for Rachel's plane ticket (though pre-9/11 flight travel always takes me out of a story) and welcome Joey into the fold when his family abandons him. It's a great introduction to future Thanksgiving stories to come, made more enjoyable by later episodes.
5. Season 4. The One with Chandler in a Box. Main story line is the box - Joey is mad at Chandler for kissing his girlfriend and somehow that leads to Chandler hanging out in a box. Monica dates Richard's son. Finally, Ross finds out that Rachel exchanges gifts but she keeps the things that matter, like egg shells and dinosaur fossils. The Richard son stuff is creepy but the show acknowledges this and a little bit of incest seems fitting for the Thanksgiving holiday. The gift stuff feels forced (we need something for everyone else to do!). The box scenario was clearly forced (we need something fun for Chandler to do) but also I don't mind it as much as the gift stuff? The Chandler/Joey relationship has always felt like one of the more honest and people do dumb stuff for people they care about. It's touching without being cloy. And if you're going to put someone in a box, Chandler is the one to do it. Sarcasm is effective even without facial expression! And my favorite bit of the episode is undoubtedly when Monica takes everyone to task for judging her: married a lesbian, left a guy at the altar, married a gay ice dancer, threw a girl's leg in the fire, lives in a box.
4. Season 8. The One with the Rumor. Brad Pitt shows up for Thanksgiving as a high school friend of Ross's. Turns out, they had an I Hate Rachel club and it was the source of a Rachel rumor that even made its way to Chandler's high school and her yearbook. In other story lines, Rachel is pregnant and Joey has committed himself to eating an entire turkey by himself. This is probably the most famous, because of its guest star, making the episode bittersweet given all the Brad/Angie/Jen drama. As for the episode itself, the return to high school is hilarious (Ross was a romancer of the elderly, who knew) and Brad's Will is a great character (just keep him away from yams). Phoebe's crush on him is fun and appropriate - this is probably my favorite version of Brad Pitt. And Joey's turkey attempt keeps us Thanksgiving-themed.
3. Season 3. The One with the Football. The gang plays football. Everyone is at their most typical here - Rachel is girly and clueless about football, Joey and Chandler fight over a girl, Ross and Monica are competitive, Phoebe is Phoebe. It's nice to see the group out of the apartment and in athletic wear. I enjoy episodes in which we're reminded that Monica and Ross are siblings and a Geller rivalry pops up (see also, the episode where Rachel's boyfriend's relationship leads to them wrestling). While my own relationship with my brother bears no resemblance to the Gellers, there's something honest and comforting here. And putting the gang in a tight situation like this (all six of them, in one room, the whole episode), is a plus and there are few of them the entire series (off the top of my head, I can think of the one after the engagement, where Chandler is scary thin). And Joey and Chandler's friendship remains the series at its best. Finally, I can always commiserate with a hyper-competitive Monica. I just really love this episode.
2. Season 5. The One with All the Thanksgivings. We start the shower actually at the end of the feast. Everyone, in a food coma, shares their worst Thanksgivings. Monica and Chandler are secretly dating at the time. Chandler tells the story about his dad's coming out, Phoebe shares things from past lives, and we find out how Chandler and Monica met and how he lost part of his toe. We end up with Monica with a turkey on her head. First, it's always fun to see Fat Monica and the terrible college outfits of Chandler and Ross. One thing I don't like about this episode: retcon bums me out. The most egregious example is in Boy Meets World, where one season supposes that Topanga has been Shawn and Corey's BFF since day one, despite being treated as an outside/oddball since the pilot. This is the most obvious example of that in the Friends universe, putting Chandler in charge of her weight transformation in a way that feels at odds with every other Chandler/Monica interaction before they get together at the end of season four. That complaint aside, the flashbacks are hilarious, Jack and Judy remain the best, and I love some of the tidbits we get here, like Rachel's nose and her ever-changing major (the Psychology building never had any parking!) and Ross's casual mention of his new girlfriend who plays for both teams. And there's funny bits, with Joey's turkey-on-head schtick and Phoebe's previous lives. But really, this episode is all about Monica and Chandler. The end, where he says he loves her, just the two of them, none of the other gang involved, that's magic. Retcon aside, it's a pretty great episode.
1. Season 6. The One Where Ross Got High. Monica and Chandler are living together but her parents don't even know they're dating because, it turns out, they don't like him. Why? A lie Ross told in college, blaming Chandler for his own marijuana habits. Rachel makes an English trifle, Phoebe has a crush on Jack Geller, and Ross and Joey just want to go hang out with the hot dancers. To be honest: this is my favorite Thanksgiving episode. I'm not a fan of Janine in general, but otherwise, this episode is A+. First, there's the English trifle. I can't think about Rachel's oblivion too much (is it possible to get two pages of a recipe confused?). If I can ignore that bit, her trifle issue is perfect: Joey and Ross's insistence that it's great (I'm not paying for those acting lessons any more), Monica's total apprenticeship to Joey's skills (mmm, good), the absurd excuses everyone uses (I'm going to go eat this in the bedroom so I can phone my friend and tell her how good it is). It's absurd and bananas and I love it. This bit also leads to one of the best, dirtiest jokes in the show: Ross - the pages are stuck together; Joey - Chandler! And if you haven't seen the outtakes with Matt and David, you are missing out. The real story this episode is Chandler, Monica, Ross, and the Gellers. Jack and Judy don't like Chandler because of the pot episode. Gradually, over the course of the episode, Monica and Chandler get Ross to admit to his pot habits (who should I say tricked me into it?). This leads to a dramatic finale, with everyone admitting their deepest secrets of the moment and Judy Geller responding like a pro.
PS, I used this Buzzfeed article to make sure I had episode titles and seasons right. While I don't agree with their ranking, the quotes and fun facts are a nice bonus.