Each year on Thanksgiving as my mom seasons the turkey, my sister candies the vegetables, my dad tends to the fire and my brother fills the apple, but me? I am upstairs with my iPad, inevitably rewatching my favorite Thanksgiving-themed TV show episodes.
In my humble teen drama-obsessed opinion, Thanksgiving episodes are almost always the best holiday-themed episodes in a series. Halloween episodes often get too entangled with paying homage to horror films to move the plot forward, and the joyful spirit tends to force Christmas episodes to end on a happy, hopeful note. However, when every character gathers around the table for Thanksgiving dinner, the tension is always as thick as their cranberry sauce.
The recipe for a great Thanksgiving episode included three ingredients: tension, nostalgia and autumnal vibes. For tension, I want several ill-timed secrets to accidentally spill out right as the characters are sitting down to eat. For nostalgia, the finest Thanksgiving episodes allow the characters to reflect on the best and worst moments of their year, giving the viewers an opportunity to revel in the in-show callbacks. And even though by the time Thanksgiving usually rolls around tree leaves have long fallen off and the temperature is dipping into the negatives, the best Thanksgiving episodes provide viewers with a warm, cozy feeling of fall.
Not only is this one of my favorite Thanksgiving episodes of all time, but this may be my favorite “Gossip Girl” episode of all time. The episode is equal parts drama and nostalgia as flashbacks from the prior Thanksgiving key the viewer into the characters’ earlier lives while playing out against the current tension at the table. Plus, who doesn’t love fall in New York City?
Until this episode, there had been hints of drama, but as dinner is served, the full extent of their personal messes comes out. Serena and Dan (who are dating) find out that Dan’s father and Serena’s mother have been in a relationship. Blair’s struggle with perfectionism becomes fully realized as she relapses into her eating disorder that had been kept a secret from viewers. Nate’s father is hospitalized for drug use and his catalogue-esque family begins to fall apart. Yet despite these huge blowouts, the episode ends with the characters each having a greater emotional understanding of themselves, their friends or their family.
The flashbacks from the prior Thanksgiving let the viewer understand the cracks that were forming in these complex relationships. Blair’s father mentions the male model that he eventually leaves Blair’s mother for. Blair pulls Serena out of a bar on Thanksgiving morning. Dan wistfully wishes he could date Serena. The episode is a full circle moment, where the personal growth of each character is impactful.
One of the sillier episodes on the list, this “Glee” episode melds humor, nostalgia and drama quite impressively. While this episode is not perfect (see: the glee club’s cover of “Gangnam Style” and Rachel and Kurt’s mashup of “It’s Turkey Lurkey Time” and “Let’s Have a Kiki”), it’s the first time many of the main characters reunite after graduating. The former members return to help mentor the new glee club members before their upcoming competition.
The episode calls back to past seasons with an Unholy Trinity performance, a classic Santana and Quinn slap scene and the first phone call between Blaine and Kurt after their breakup. But perhaps the best part of the episode is the first scene, where the returning members sing a mashup of “Homeward Bound” by Simon and Garfunkel and “Home” by Phillip Phillips. Over the years I’ve come to associate this cozy cover with Thanksgiving season.
Nearly two years after the end of their record-breaking, but also controversial, first season, Netflix’s “Ginny and Georgia” had to make a statement with their first episode back. In a departure from the jovial first season, this episode leans much darker as the scenes alternate between Georgia’s Thanksgiving with her new fiance’s family and Ginny’s Thanksgiving with her father and brother.
The following day, Georgia and Ginny reunite after Ginny ran away because she discovered Georgia murdered Ginny’s stepfather in order to protect her. The two, along with Georgia’s fiance and Ginny’s father and brother celebrate Fry-Yay, a version of Thanksgiving Georgia created when she was struggling to make ends meet because she had to work on the holiday. So not only are we treated to Thanksgiving dinner tension, but Fry-Yay is also filled with internal anger and uncomfortable emotion, making this episode an absolute must for a Thanksgiving rewatch.
I’ll admit, I know this is a bit goofy to include on my list, but this episode of the Disney+ drama checks every box of what I want in a Thanksgiving episode as the members of the East High Drama Club come together for a post-dinner Thanksgiving party.
The lead-up to the party gives the viewer more insight into each character’s life, providing some needed backstory to the new show. Ricky and his newly single father poorly attempt at making dinner, Gina spends the holiday alone because her mom is working and E.J. and Ashlyn’s parents are away on a cruise. Yet despite these struggles, the group can still find joy in celebrating the holiday together.
What this episode does best is solidify the “found-family” nature of the group. Despite their in-fighting and personal drama, it becomes clear that these characters hold real admiration and appreciation for their classmates. The episode is wholesome and shows character growth while still being exciting to watch and creating new, meaningful drama. And for dessert, we get a great Olivia Rodrigo song out of the episode.
In this episode, the Gilmore Girls are tasked with eating their way through four different Thanksgiving meals, meaning there are four different chances for drama. At their first meal, Lane is hiding her secret boyfriend from her strict mother. At the next meal, Sookie, a stressed-out chef, deals with her husband butchering their turkey. At Luke’s, Rory and Jess navigate making their relationship public.
However, the best scene of this episode occurs at the final Thanksgiving destination — the Gilmore grandparents’ home. Here, Lorelai learns that Rory applied to Yale in addition to Harvard without telling her. Despite the tension of the moment, the classic “Gilmore Girls” volleying back and forth of dialogue adds humor and keeps the viewer on their toes.
You know how everyone has that one show they were obsessed with that no one else has ever heard of? “Life Unexpected” was mine. The plot of the show—rich popular boy and loner girl get together on prom night, girl gets pregnant and doesn’t tell boy, girl puts daughter in foster care. Flashforward 15 years, and the daughter comes to meet her parents—create the perfect trappings for a dramatic, secrets-filled Thanksgiving episode.
Set in Portland, the dreary weather captures a perfect Thanksgiving vibe right away. The tension grows over as the group makes dinner and unexpected guests continue to show up. Between three secret affairs, a pregnancy test, a student-teacher relationship and drunk parents, there’s plenty of drama for all party members and viewers to delight in.
While these high schoolers are celebrating Canadian Thanksgiving and not American Thanksgiving, there’s still plenty of drama to be served. As the Degrassi High students put on a Thanksgiving dinner and show community members, they must deal with friend alliances being tested and with the drama that comes with significant others returning home from college.
Many moons ago, it was this episode that introduced me to the idea of a “turkey dump,” where a partner returns from college for the holiday and breaks up with their counterpart. This episode structure allows the viewers to check up on how fan favorites are doing in college, while still keeping the current student’s plots moving.
While I will always prefer the “Gossip Girl” season one Thanksgiving episode, this list could not be complete without “The Treasure of Serena Madre,” as it contains perhaps the most iconic Thanksgiving scene of all time.
In a single, three minute and 21-second scene, Jenny reveals she knows her step-brother and best friend sabotaged her Cotillion debut, Blair accuses her mother of being pregnant, Rufus learns his wife lied about her mother’s cancer and Maureen blackmails her husband and Serena to end their affair with a video of them kissing. Before they’ve even started eating, five characters have stormed off from the table.
However, what makes this scene iconic is Jason Derulo’s song “Whatcha Say” playing in the background. This absolutely perfect music choice balances humor with the table’s tension and has inspired an entire TikTok trend of video recreations.