In the pop culture world, Thanksgiving gets the short end of the stick. It falls between the first fall and winter holiday of spooky, scary Halloween and is shortly before the magical time of Chrismahanakwanzika. As soon as the pumpkins are chucked, the Christmas carols start playing on repeat. Everyone immediately adorns their homes with Frosty the Snowman and completely forgoes Tom Turkey.
For the most part, every TV show has at least one Thanksgiving-themed episode. It’s a staple and is a given storyline. Sure, How I Met Your Mother has Slapsgiving, but no show has ever done Thanksgiving like Friends. For all 10 seasons, Friends celebrated Thanksgiving, and essentially all of them mark very special moments in the show’s history. Let’s break it down season by season.
10. “The One Where Chandler Doesn’t Like Dogs” (Season 7)
Ross accepts the challenge to have to name all 50 states without any help before he can eat Thanksgiving dinner. Chandler finally admits he doesn’t like dogs after Phoebe sneaks in Clunkers, whose adorableness can make my heart explode. Rachel struggles over her feelings for her assistant Tag now that he is single again. In the end, Ross gives up on naming the final state that puzzled him all night; Chandler comes to sort of like dogs; and Rachel and Tag kiss.
I’m personally and morally offended the writers felt it would be OK to taint the best character on television, Chandler, with a distaste for dogs. Who doesn’t like dogs?! The 50 states storyline is just a filler to include Ross. Side note, when actually tested, it is actually a puzzling challenge. And no one really cares about Rachel and Tag, so this episode is rather pointless. Its true purpose is in being the episode in which Joey delivered this gem: “It’s all a moo point. It’s like a cow’s opinion. … It just doesn’t matter. It’s moo.”
9. “The One With the List” (Season 2)
This episode falls on the heels of the monumental first kiss between Ross and Rachel. Ross is conflicted because he can finally be with Rachel but has a good relationship with Julie. It prompts one of my all time favorite lines from Chandler: “This must be so hard. Oh no, two women love me. They’re both gorgeous and sexy. My wallet is too small for my fifties and my diamond shoes are too tight!” Ross obviously chooses Rachel, and everything seems like it’s finally coming together until Rachel finds the pros and cons list Ross created to help him make his decision. The “It’s always been you, Rach” line won’t cover that reveal. The episode ends with the most melodramatic of all scenes as both Ross and Rachel stare out of their windows as the rain trickles down.
In terms of the Ross-Rachel storyline, this episode is huge. But this was the one year when Friends didn’t really do Thanksgiving except for Monica’s mockolate side storyline, which was basically added to fill time in between the stirring and uber-emotional Ross and Rachel drama. Yet, it still ranks above season seven’s episode because it at least has a good plot driving the episode.
8. “The One With Rachel’s Other Sister” (Season 9)
This is when the ranking starts to get tough because the rest of the eight episodes are pretty great. Nevertheless, some trump others in different ways. Christina Applegate shows up as Rachel’s sister Amy. Controversy stirs when a discussion starts about who would have custody of Emma in case Ross and Rachel passed away. Neither even consider allowing Amy to be her guardian but issues arise when they aren’t too keen on Chandler alone being Emma’s caretaker. Meanwhile, Joey forgot to be on the Days of Our Lives Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade float, and Monica is overly stressed about using their wedding china for Thanksgiving dinner.
Applegate, who won an Emmy for her guest role, shines as the unaware, self-obsessed Amy. It’s an amazing performance that makes this episode noteworthy and a joy to watch on repeat.
7. “The One With Chandler in a Box” (Season 4)
This episode is essentially tied with season nine’s episode in that it’s not great overall but there are one or two moments that are a saving grace and make it worthwhile.
Joey is furious with Chandler for kissing his girlfriend Kathy to the point where he won’t talk to him, swears at him in Italian and threatens to leave the apartment. To prove his dedication to Joey, Chandler locks himself in a box to think about what he’s done. He’s scolded for making jokes and promises to stay silent for the rest of the time, which ends up including when Kathy comes by to break up with him. Joey’s kindhearted nature steps in, and he sets Chandler free to go after Kathy. Meanwhile, Monica gets ice in her eye and is treated by Tim Burke, the son of her ex-boyfriend Richard. Things get even more awkward when she invites him to Thanksgiving dinner because she’s attracted to him. The creepiness comes to its fullest after the two kiss and realize Tim reminds Monica of Richard and Monica reminds Tim of his mother. Ew.
Chandler locking himself in a box is one of the most memorable moments of the show’s history. It’s so absurd that it could only be on Friends and only be done by Chandler. We don’t even see his performance, yet we’re cracking up at his sarcastic wit. It’s a very important moment in Chandler and Joey’s friendship because they finally return to their brotherly love dynamic after a several episode stretch filled uneasiness due to the love triangle with Kathy. Also, kudos to the writers for finally incorporating a second storyline that wasn’t as simplistic and unnecessary as the mockolate one in the season two episode. And shout out to this awesome declaration Monica makes: “Fine! Judge all you want to, but married a lesbian; left a man at the altar; fell in love with a gay ice dancer; threw a girl’s wooden leg in a fire; and lives in a box!”
6. “The One Where Underdog Gets Away” (Season 1)
It’s the one that started it all. Everyone’s plans eventually fall through, so they decide to have a Thanksgiving dinner just for them. Initially, they are all quite bitter about the demise of their original plans but after bonding over Ugly Naked Guy and his female friend, the gang realizes how lucky they are to have one another. The dinner might have been ruined when they were locked out of the apartment after running up to the roof to see the runaway Underdog balloon, so they instead share Chandler’s holiday favorite of grilled cheese and tomato soup.
In terms of plot, this episode doesn’t carry much weight. It gains points, however, in that it sets the tone for the rest of the series. After watching this show for 10 years, the idea that friends can be family is an old one now, but this episode really started that notion. Nostalgia always makes the heart grow fonder. Plus, the montage of Joey being the face of public health advertisements about venereal diseases is hilarious, especially with the addition of “Don’t Stand So Close to Me” playing in the background.
5. “The One When Ross Got High” (Season 6)
The Geller parents are coming to Thanksgiving dinner and there’s only one problem: They hate Chandler because they still think he is a pothead after Ross used him as a scapegoat many years ago. Monica urges him to come clean so that she can tell her parents about her relationship with Chandler, but Ross replies, “It’s Thanksgiving Day, not ‘Truth Day.’” Secrets are eventually spilled in a hilarious, rapid-fire fashion known well to Friends fans. Adding to the hilarity is Rachel’s attempt to make the dessert: a traditional English trifle, which she ends up mixing with a shepherd’s pie. And we all know the next scene. Food-lover Joey still finds a way to enjoy and eat all of the dessert: “I like it. … What’s not to like? Custard? Good. Jam? Good. Meat? Gooooood.”
It’s an episode that is truly a great representation of the Friends dynamic. Each character has a shining moment, from Phoebe’s strange and sudden affection for Mr. Geller, played by personal guest star favorite Elliott Gould, to Chandler’s pitiful attempts to impress the Gellers. The episode was able to make the tired storyline of how families interact during Thanksgiving into something refreshing and hilarious all the way through.
4. “The One With the Football” (Season 3)
Ah, the Geller Cup. When I think about Friends Thanksgiving, one of my first thoughts is of the tragedy of Geller Bowl VI. Monica and Ross got too competitive as kids during their family’s annual flag football game and were thus banned to ever play the sport again. Until now. The rivalry picks up right where it left off, and we’re in for a half hour of hilarity.
I identify strongly with both Rachel and Phoebe as the girls who don’t really care about football, aren’t very good at it but will try to play along anyway. Any time the show plays up on Monica and Ross’s competitive spirit and sibling rivalry, it’s a good time. It is written so well to the characters. Some of the jokes now feel a bit sexist, but in the context of the show, they still make me giggle.
3. “The One With the Rumor” (Season 8)
The title might not jog any memories, so instead it should be referred to as “The One With Brad Pitt.” Yes, now we remember. Pitt plays Will Colbert, a formerly obese classmate of Ross, Rachel and Monica’s who has since lost 150 pounds. Because they apparently like to invite random old classmates to holiday dinners, Will comes to Thanksgiving but is less than pleased to hear that Rachel will be in attendance as well. Will hates Rachel for being so mean to him in high school. “My two greatest enemies: Rachel Green and complex carbohydrates,” Will says while glaring at Rachel who is holding a dish of yams. Will and Ross even created the “I Hate Rachel” Club and started a rumor that she was a hermaphrodite. Classic comedy.
This episode is hilarious from start to finish. Pitt absolutely shines with his mocking hair flip, smoldering look and confident declarations. It’s a bit odd now that he and Jennifer Aniston have split, but his performance is so spot on that I can overlook that pop culture phenomenon for the time being. I identify strongly with Phoebe when she states, “Oh come on Will. Just take your shirt off and tell us.”
2. “The One With All the Thanksgivings” (Season 5)
What I love about Friends is its characters, and this episode is great for learning about their crazy and fashion-challenged past as they recount the tales of their worst Thanksgivings. Though Phoebe’s might be from her past life in 1862 as a war nurse, the focus is on Thanksgiving at the Geller home in 1987 and 1988 when Ross brings Chandler home from college. The first flashback features the much talked about, but not yet seen at that point, overweight Monica, Rachel with her original nose and Ross and Chandler sporting some high altitude hairstyles. The second shows Monica after her weight loss, Rachel with her new nose and Ross and Chandler in their best Miami Vice-esque outfits. In the present at the end, Chandler tells Monica he loves her for the first time. And how can you not when she is shimmying with a turkey on her head?
I am a huge champion of Monica and Chandler, probably more so than I am for Ross and Rachel. This episode shows the growth in their relationship from when they first met and Chandler calls her Ross’s “fat sister” to now when they are in love and on the eve of a happy future. It’s a moment when you gasp just as loud as the audience track. It marks a monumental point in the characters’ lives and it came after a solid performance the whole way through.
1. “The One With the Late Thanksgiving” (Season 10)
This was an incredibly hard decision. I love my No. 2 choice because it is the one I most often see during holiday reruns and also because it’s another one I recall a lot when I think about Friends Thanksgiving episodes. However, after re-watching all 10 episodes, I confidently state that the final Thanksgiving episode is the greatest. The gang pressures Monica into cooking Thanksgiving dinner but all end up an hour late after getting involved in other things — Rachel and Phoebe enter Emma into a pageant and Ross and Joey go to a hockey game. They end up locked out of the apartment and have to plead to be let back in. Unfortunately for Joey, he gets his stuck. In an attempt to get him free, he ruins the entire meal, but Monica doesn’t care because she and Chandler just received the call they were selected to finally adopt a baby.
Now that the show has ended, this episode should top people’s lists of the best Thanksgiving episodes because it has just about everything we love about the show in one episode: certain characters get involved in crazy antics and try to scheme their way out of the conflict it causes, it’s all about the main six and a wonderful life event happens for the characters we love. The show works best when it focuses on the main six and tells a story about their interactions with one another. I crack up every time Phoebe, Rachel, Joey and Ross poke their “floating heads” through the door. It’s so quintessential Friends. Also, as I mentioned in my No. 2 explanation, I love Monica and Chandler, so their victory at the end of the episode warms my heart and actually gave me chills now. “This Thanksgiving kicks last Thanksgiving’s ass!” It certainly did, Monica. It certainly did.
I’m always thankful for the brilliant comedy and stories Friends gave us throughout the years.