By Elizabeth C. Bunce, Jason McClain and C.J. Bunce
Last week the sixth episode of New Girl aired, and instead of waiting to establish itself the show went head-on into its Thanksgiving day episode. And it could not have been funnier had it been from season 6 and we had spent years getting to know these characters. In fact, unlike any other show this year New Girl hasn’t missed a beat, with every episode just as funny as the last.
A NEW HOLIDAY TRADITION: New Girl, “Thanksgiving.” Air date: November 15, 2011.
THE SETUP: Jess (Zooey Deschanel) asks co-worker Paul (Justin Long, Live Free or Die Hard, MacIntosh ads, Battle for Terra) to Thanksgiving at the loft. The guys are apprehensive about Paul, until they find that he is just like Jess, including the spontaneous singing at any time. Clearly Jess and Paul are made for each other. Jess hasn’t made Thanksgiving dinner before, but Schmidt has, and Schmidt decides to make dinner for everyone so long as they get out of his way and do as he says, and so long as Jess’s girlfriend Cece (the model) is coming along. Nick won’t give Paul a chance, and quickly decides he doesn’t like the guy. Jess finds out and confronts him in the hall and pummels him with a rant about all the things she wants to do with Paul…umm… of the intimate variety, but all this is said in the silly way only Jess could come up with. Until Winston opens the door and announces that everyone inside, including Paul, can hear. Meanwhile, Schmidt has taken command of the kitchen and begins to criticize Cece for double dipping as he is making stuffing. His mean comments to Cece actually make Schmidt attractive to her. He has unlocked the secret to Cece… and Schmidt blows it. Schmidt seems to get this, but she continues to taunt him, and ultimately germ-free cooking wins out over infatuation with his dream girl. A burnt turkey and a dead body later, and it is hard to believe this was only a half hour show.
But that’s new TV.
So we thought about our favorite Thanksgiving TV episodes and want to share them with you to wish you all a happy Thanksgiving.
“As God is my witness, I thought turkeys could fly.”
C.J.’s PICK: WKRP in Cincinnati, “Turkeys Away.” Air date: October 30, 1978.
First off, if you haven’t seen it, take a half hour to watch here:
(YouTube versions change a lot, so feel free to look around for a better version, unless it’s already carried by one of your streaming providers)
THE SETUP: The lovable but slightly dim radio station manager, Mr. Carlson (Gordon Jump), is feeling unwanted. He’s trying to get involved with the radio station, work with the employees, participate somehow. Receptionist Jennifer (Loni Anderson) runs the front office and won’t let Mr. Carlson touch or do anything. News announcer Les Nessman (Richard Sanders) is paranoid when Mr. Carlson asks him what he’s been up to. Sales manager Herb Tarlek (Frank Bonner) is full of his one-liner schtick. DJ Johnny Fever (Howard Hesseman) fakes being asleep. Carlson encounters DJ Venus (Tim Reid) and marketing manager Bailey (Jan Smithers), and he offers to help them, making the decision to give out free Boston T-shirts over Foreigner T-shirts, because he’s worried about the quality of foreign products (if you don’t get that joke, go review your 1970s rock bands).
Andy Travis (Gary Sandy) tries to console Mr. Carlson and it backfires. Mr. Carlson is going to micro-manage the station, and develops a plan for the greatest promotion ever, where everyone has a part: “I just made a deal that is going to make radio history,” he says. They just need to get 20 live turkeys.
By the end of the half hour, we hear Les Nessman reporting from the street, “the big WKRP Thanksgiving turkey giveaway,” “the greatest turkey event in thanksgiving history,” “I think I hear something now,” “it’s a helicopter coming this way,” “something just came out of the back of the helicopter,” “no parachutes yet,” “I can’t tell what they are… Oh, my God, they’re turkeys!” “they’re hitting the ground like bags of wet cement,” “oh, my God, oh, the humanity!” “I can’t watch this anymore!” Les’s reporting sounds just like the footage of the Hindenburg exploding. The line goes dead. Johnny fever announces: “The Pinedale Mall has just been bombed by Thanksgiving turkeys.”
The staff discusses what happened as Jennifer tries to explain what happened to the local humane society, and Mr. Carlson stumbles in with the classic line: “As God is my witness, I thought turkeys could fly.” And you almost see the other actors start to laugh.
Surprisingly, other than Herb and Les’s clothes, the show isn’t that dated, and the office relationships are as real as in any office environment today.
“You made a bear! Undo it! Undo it!”
ELIZABETH’s PICK: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, “Pangs.” Air date: November 23, 1999.
The Thanksgiving TV episode is almost as much of a contemporary American tradition as the holiday gathering itself (or if not that, then certainly equal to Black Friday commercial madness), and over the years we’ve seen some classics. From the alltime fan favorite WKRP episode profiled by our esteemed editor, to the free-range turkey fiasco of Murphy Brown, to the more recent tartar-sauce-in-the-green-bean-casserole incident from Chuck, to the absurdist efforts of Dharma & Greg to combine vegan and traditional dishes—and relatives—into one meal, the Thanksgiving episode always provides an over-the-top look at holiday excess, in this case, the strained efforts of American families everywhere to create the Perfect Family Holiday. In those outrageous examples, we see our own holidays reflected, and for 30-60 minutes, at least, feel relieved that at least we’re not that bad.
My personal favorite Thanksgiving show has to be Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s Season 4 episode “Pangs.”
THE SETUP: Like classic episodes before and since, this one revolves around Buffy’s (Sarah Michelle Gellar, Ringer) attempt to recreate the Norman Rockwell holiday of her childhood. But she’s hampered by absent family, a lack of cooking skills and equipment, ambivalent best friend Willow… and the angry ghost of a wronged Native American warrior seeking vengeance for the destruction of his tribe by white settlers. This conflict reflects a very current, late 1990s concern about how Americans viewed our colonial past, and is particularly well-represented by Willow (Alyson Hannigan, Veronica Mars, How I Met Your Mother), who wants nothing to do with either the holiday meal or the vanquishing of the warrior spirit.
“Pangs” is, first and foremost, hilarious—as every great Thanksgiving episode must be. In a way, it’s almost “Thanksgiving Deconstructed;” we get every piece of the traditional framework—but everything gets a Buffyesque twist. Strange relatives? Check—nobody’s stranger than mystically-syphilis-stricken Xander (Nicholas Brendon, Criminal Minds) and his tactless, ex-demon girlfriend Anya… except possibly down-on-his-luck vampire Spike (who’s already been kicked out by his own ‘family,’ of sorts). Cooking drama? How about confusing the stuffing recipe with a spell for combating the ghost? And in the middle of it all is poor Buffy, as the classic harried hostess trying futilely to please everyone, when everything is falling apart around her.
Funny moments abound, but it’s the social commentary that makes this episode so memorable. Archetypal Others Anya and Spike have never been more on-point in their blunt attacks on cultural sacred cows. “I love a ritual sacrifice,” Anya declares about the traditional Turkey Day meal, and Spike deftly tramps all over the storyline’s key ethical dilemma in a clear but uncomfortable summation: “You won. All right? You came in and you killed them and you took their land. That’s what conquering nations do. End of story.” It’s a shocking, if alarmingly accurate, analysis—and only a show like Buffy could get away with saying it straight out like that.
“Pangs” definitely takes the catastrophic holiday theme to new lows, but it’s a perfect example of how genre fiction, by stretching concepts to their most outrageous limits, so often highlights the essential truths about issues we’re all grappling with—collective guilt, the inability to live up to imagined standards, and, of course, pie. Happy ritual sacrifice, everyone!
“Look Ma, I’m on TV!”
JASON’s PICK: Mike and Molly, “Mike Cheats.” Air date: November 21, 2011.
THE SETUP: Surprisingly, well maybe not because Elizabeth and C.J. took “Buffy” and “WKRP” as those are two of my favorite shows ever and you probably don’t ever have to wonder why we all blog together, my favorite Thanksgiving episode ever just debuted on Monday November 21, 2011. It is Mike and Molly and the episode “Mike Cheats.” How can an episode less than a week old already reach the stratospheric heights that the other entries have?
Simple, I’m in it. Since I’ve never been in a Thanksgiving TV episode, this is a whole new ball game. I mean it has to be a favorite, right?
Early on in the episode, just after the credits, Samuel (Nyambi Nyambi) serves breakfast to Officer Mike Biggs (Billy Gardell) and Officer Carl McMillan (Reno Wilson). Over Officer McMillan’s shoulder is a guy already eating his breakfast and talking to a bearded companion. I’m that guy enjoying eggs and potatoes.
It’s wild being a part of a multi-camera sitcom. You do film in front of a live studio audience. The previous day, you rehearse and get to hear and see the rest of the scenes that take place on the other sets all in a line on the same stage. You get to see how the button on Officer Biggs shirt pops off due to an air compressor. You get to see the actors try different lines as they get new pages of scripts. It’s a cool learning experience about how a show comes together.
It makes it even better when you can see me in the episode. I have no lines, I’m in the background as a good background actor should be and I’m always in profile, but I’m still there. I can point at that episode and say, “Look ma, I’m on TV.” It may not have the same weight as the line, “As God as my witness, I thought turkeys could fly,” but I’ll take it.
A few years ago, I doubt I would have ever thought that I would be able to experience that. Now, I do occasional background work, I’m hoping to get a novel published and I enjoy contributing to various sites on the web with my writing. I’m thankful for the opportunities that allowed me to live in Los Angeles and achieve some creative goals and have a fun time seeing and doing new things. I’m thankful for my friends and family with whom I share my love of writing and entertainment and for all their support. It’s Thanksgiving and this is the perfect Thanksgiving episode to represent those feelings.
From everyone here at borg, Happy Thanksgiving!