When I think about holiday episodes, I tend to think about Christmas. It’s Christmas where shows tend to go all out with big themed episodes and over the top guest stars and grand Christmas miracles. They’re a good way to cap the end of the first half of a season (of Broadcast television anyway) and send leave you with good tidings, good feelings, and maybe a cliff hanger or two. I know that with the way networks are changing up their lineups – more shows that have limited seasons, more shows that are split into two mini seasons, etc. – mid-season finales are coming earlier in the season and so the Christmas episode may be going a bit by the wayside, but it’s certainly not gone yet.
I always found Friends to be such an anomaly – airing during what is probably the heyday for big very special Christmas episodes – because of how minimally they dealt with Christmas. I mean, yeah, occasionally you got episodes like the one where Ross dressed up like the Holiday Armadillo, but more often than not Christmas was an after thought. Hell, the Season 9 Christmas episode was a clip show. Instead, Friends‘ big holiday was Thanksgiving.
Usually when I make these top ten lists, there’s no real order. Well, that’s not entirely true – there has to be some order, I can’t handle chaos – but it’s usually chronological or alphabetical. But this time, since there were ten Thanksgiving episodes and ten spots on this list, I’m going to actually do a real countdown, running through the episodes up to the best Friends Thanksgiving ever.
10. The One Where Chandler Doesn’t Like Dogs
Let’s be real, Season Seven was kind of the low point for Friends. Sure, there were a couple of standout episodes (again, Ross in that armadillo suit!) and yes, I have a soft spot for Tag, and things certainly picked up when we got to Chandler and Monica’s wedding, but for the most part it’s a bit of a stinker. And this episode’s no different. It’s forgettable and trite and I almost never remember it even is an episode until I get to it in the re-watch.
09. The One With the List
Okay, this is not actually a bad episode. In fact, it’s a bit iconic in that it’s the one right after Ross and Rachel kiss for the first time, it’s the one where Ross breaks up with Julie, and it’s the one where on last roadblock goes up between Ross and Rachel before the can finally be together. All in all, a pretty good episode! But it’s low on the list due to the simple fact that you would hardly know it was a Thanksgiving episode. The only reference to it is Monica making Thanksgiving treats with mockalate.
08. The One Where Underdog Gets Away
Here we start to actually get to the classic Friends Thanksgiving I know and love. This was the first attempt. And it was a good effort. But this early in Season One, some of the characters still hadn’t quite found themselves yet and some of the rhythms of the show hadn’t quite settled yet and it just wasn’t quite there.
07. The One With Chandler in a Box
Like The One With the List, this is a good episode, but it loses points for being just a little light on Thanksgiving. Sure, they all gather for the meal but it could have just been a Friday night and the stories would have all made sense not to mention, we were already pretty focused on Christmas what with the Secret Santa swapping. I do love Monica’s eye patch and Rachel’s dressing down of Ross on his judgement of her sentimentality. And Chandler’s sad, lone finger wave out of the box as Cathy says her goodbyes. All good, good stuff.
06. The One With the Late Thanksgiving
Oh, the last Friends Thanksgiving ever. How sad! At least it went out pretty well. Not the best Thanksgiving episode, but certainly not the worst. And it bookends so nicely with the Season One. Just like that first one, Monica is bullied into cooking Thanksgiving for everyone (not that Monica really needs to be wheedled too much to cook), and just like that first one people are locked out of the apartment and no one can eat it. Though Joey certainly didn’t get his head stuck in the door way back in Season One…
05. The One With the Rumor
I know there are going to be some people who are shocked this isn’t my number one Thanksgiving episode, seeing as it usually ends up as number one on some many other lists. But while I mostly find it hilarious (Ross trying to diplomatically stay on the good side of both his friend and baby mama who hate each other, Phoebe hitting on Will at every opportunity, Joey and his turkey pants), I do find Brad Pitt to be trying way too hard to fit into the sitcom world (and missing the mark by a wide margin) not to mention the joke of the actual rumor the title is referencing is in pretty poor taste. If I can look past those two things, however, the rest stands as a pretty solid episode.
04. The One With Rachel’s Sister
To be honest, we’ve gotten to the point where each of these episodes are so good, it’s incredibly hard for me to rank them. Numbers 4-2 are some of the best episodes of the whole series, not simply the Thanksgiving themed episodes. And our introduction to Rachel’s outrageously self-centered and insensitive sister Amy was classic. Honestly, it’s just unfortunate we only get two episodes with her. Comparing Rachel having a baby to decorating their dad’s office, mistaking Ross for a Middle Eastern man who sold her some falafel, trying to claim rights to Rachel’s newborn daughter: all excellent, excellent stuff. But the real joy was the knock down, drag out slap fight she and Rachel get into. Nothing says Thanksgiving like fighting with your family.
03. The One With the Football
I love when Monica and Ross get competitive. Because both of them are such utterly dorky, nerdy people, this kind of competition doesn’t actually seem like it would be inherent to them, but it is and it is always, always comedy gold. And that trophy is this kind of thing I would have made (I like to think of myself as the living embodiment of a troll doll). I hope they do manage to form a team and finally join that National Football League.
02. The One With All the Thanksgivings
Honestly, any time we get a flashback to high school aged Fat Monica and Big-Nosed Rachel is a delight. And of course we can’t forget Flock of Seagulls Haired Chandler or Miami Vice Ross. Or Joey (who’s thankful for the fall weather due to a breeze that lifted a girl’s skirt right up – incidentally, he’s also thankful for thongs) who got his head stuck in a turkey. Or poor Civil War nurse Phoebe. Because of course that’s Phoebe’s worst Thanksgiving.
01. The One Where Ross Got High
And we’ve made it. The all time best Friends Thanksgiving episode. And let’s be real, this is probably my all time favorite Friends episode of all. There is not one misstep, from Phoebe crushing on dream hunk Jack Geller, to Rachel making a dessert that tastes like feet, to Joey’s acting class (to keep Rachel from finding out), and finally to Ross and Monica’s (and really, everyone else too) climatic screaming match. Everyone’s together. Everyone loves one another. But everyone is screwing things up for everyone else left and right. And that’s the true meaning of Thanksgiving.