In one of television’s longest-running holiday traditions, Friends broadcast a Thanksgiving episode for each of its 10 seasons from 1994 to 2004. The sitcom has a rich history of celebrating the American holiday, often with true-to-life family feuds. Each Thanksgiving episode of Friends highlights a different dynamic among the found family and shows how the characters grew over the years.
Friends, as is typical for many U.S sitcoms, often devoted themed episodes to different holidays, some of which rank among its most memorable. Across the years views saw Ross (David Schwimmer), Rachel (Jennifer Aniston), Chandler (Matthew Perry), Monica (Courteney Cox), Joey (Matt Le Blanc), and Phoebe (Lisa Kudrow) celebrate Christmas, New Year, Valentine’s Day, Halloween, and more. However, it was often its Thanksgiving episodes that received the most acclaim, and with good reason.
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Throughout the show, the friends struggle with boring and unfulfilling jobs, family stresses and romantic strife — issues which are never more on display than during Thanksgiving. Friends’ holiday episodes, each of which aired in late November around Thanksgiving Day, put people’s real-life troubles on the small screen and left audiences with hope when they were resolved.
The One Where Underdog Gets Away
The first-ever Thanksgiving episode of Friends, “The One Where Underdog Gets Away,” documents everyone’s worst nightmare — a ruined Thanksgiving dinner. In season 1, episode 9, many of the friends plan to celebrate Thanksgiving with their families before their plans are stymied by distance or dysfunction. The friends, lonely and somewhat depressed, congregate at Monica’s apartment, where things continue to go wrong.
After speeding up to the roof to look for the Underdog balloon, which escaped the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, the group is locked out of the apartment. When they eventually regain access, dinner is burned and Rachel has missed her flight to Vail to spend the holiday with her family. With everyone’s original holiday plans effectively ruined, the group ends up re-cementing their friendship over a simple dinner of grilled cheese and tomato soup. The touching ending reminds audiences that Thanksgiving isn’t necessarily about a gourmet meal or well-laid plans (which can always go awry), but about spending time with the people you love, even if they aren’t related to you by blood.
The One With The List
The second Thanksgiving episode of Friends is the one most loosely connected to the holiday and the only one not to include a portrayal of Thanksgiving dinner, although it does mark an important turning point (kind of) in Ross and Rachel’s relationship. Season 2, episode 8 picks up after Ross and Rachel kiss for the first time, setting up their relationship later in the season. The B storyline focus on Monica’s job hunt as she tries to find work as a professional chef. She eventually takes a job way below her skill set because, as she puts it, “I have no morals and I need the cash.” Monica’s effort to create appetizing Thanksgiving recipes with the FDA-unapproved chocolate substitute “mockolate” brings some lightheartedness to an otherwise dramatic episode and makes it easier for the audience to laugh at their own woes. Sometimes, as much as someone might want to pull themselves together for the holidays, life just doesn’t cooperate.
The One With The Football
Friends season 3, episode 9, “The One With The Football,” devotes it’s entire 22 minutes to one of the most long-standing Thanksgiving traditions in America — a backyard game of touch football. Like most Thanksgiving Day football games, however, the game isn’t about football at all. With teams made up of friends who have varying levels of ability, the game is mostly driven by the relationships between the players. The episode creates an overwhelming feeling of nostalgia as audiences recall football games from their own childhood, whether they were the one to bring the football or were dragged into it by sports fans.
Viewers can easily recognize themselves in the characters, whether it’s as the diehard football fan (Joey) or the enthusiastic girl who has no real experience or interest in football (Rachel). Little details play out in the show just like they do in people’s living rooms. Chandler gets dragged into the game to make sure the teams are even, Rachel gets bored and wanders off and eventually only a couple of players remain — Ross and Monica, whose old sibling rivalry flares up. The image quality might be dated, but this is one episode that will remain relevant for years to come.
The One With Chandler In A Box
“The One With Chandler In A Box” is one Friends episode whose title perfectly summarizes the plot. As stated, Chandler spends the majority of the episode voluntarily trapped in a large shipping box as punishment for kissing Joey’s girlfriend Kathy. Willing to do anything if it means fixing his friendship with Joey, Chandler spends six hours silently ruminating on the nature of their friendship. Their relationship is restored when Chandler lets Kathy break up with him and walk away, prompting Joey to forgive him so he can go after her. This episode — which tests one of the strongest friendships on the sitcom — shows how even the best relationships can fall apart after trust is broken. It’s only through Chandler’s willingness to reconcile — and lose the fight — that his friendship with Joey is saved, leading to a Thanksgiving Day full of love and forgiveness.
The One With All The Thanksgivings
Friends season 5, episode 8, “The One With All The Thanksgivings,” is a flashback episode that sheds light on the early ties between Ross, Chandler, Monica and Rachel. The episode focuses on the relationship between Chandler and Monica, revealing that the once-obese girl was driven to lose weight after she heard Chandler insulting her at a previous Thanksgiving, and later tried to get revenge. The revelations cause strife between the couple before they reconcile, with Monica’s attempt at cheering Chandler up leading him to say, “I love you” for the first time. The sweet moment rescues an otherwise scattered episode, which, despite showing a lot of the hallmarks of Turkey Day, isn’t the most Thanksgiving-focused.
The One Where Ross Got High
Friends season 6, episode 9, “The One Where Ross Got High,” is all about secrets. With Ross and Monica’s parents visiting for Thanksgiving, Chandler is tasked with impressing the Gellers so Monica can reveal that they’re living together. Meanwhile, the gang tries to protect Rachel’s feelings by lying to her about the quality of her dessert. The presence of parental figures puts the spotlight on familial tensions, with Ross and Monica competing to be the perfect child.
The pressure not to disappoint parents is a familiar feeling to many on Thanksgiving Day, and in this case leads to one of the most memorable moments of the series — a fight between Monica and Ross in which they one-up each other with the biggest secrets they’ve ever kept from their parents. By the end of the episode, all the secrets are out and it turns out everyone is better for having told the truth. The episode does make one thing clear — lies to family will always come back to haunt you.
The One Where Chandler Doesn’t Like Dogs
Friends season 7, episode 8, “The One Where Chandler Doesn’t Like Dogs,” embraces a format made famous by Friends with a fun series of events where nothing really important happens. At this point, the friends are all a little more grown up and show it by not taking anything too seriously. The episode revolves around Chandler’s lifelong fear of dogs, but also involves a “name all 50 states” challenge and an attempt by Rachel at seducing her young assistant Tag. With Rachel, Ross, Monica and Chandler all in somewhat more stable professions, their Thanksgiving is relaxed and interrupted only by trivial squabbles, like all Thanksgivings should be.
The One With The Rumor
By season 8, episode 9, “The One With The Rumor,” Friends has Thanksgiving down to a science. A new dynamic is introduced to the tight-knit group with a famous cameo from Brad Pitt, who plays a friend of Ross’s from high school. Will, like Monica, was once overweight and is now devastatingly attractive, which prompts flirtatious attention from Rachel. Will’s presence at Thanksgiving dinner causes some old resentments to flare up, however, as he reveals that Rachel tormented him in high school. Even though Ross and Rachel now have a child together, they seem to devolve into the worst versions of themselves from high school. That’s when Monica jumps in to remind them that they’re adults now.
This episode just goes to show that no matter how old you get, childhood slights can still hurt. It also shows how much Rachel has changed over the years, becoming a successful mother. Bonus: Joey finishes an entire 19-pound turkey by himself after pointing out (correctly) that it’s not Thanksgiving without a turkey.
The One With Rachel’s Other Sister
Another dysfunctional familial relationship emerges inFriends season 9, episode 8 when Rachel invites her sister Amy to Thanksgiving. Aptly named “The One With Rachel’s Other Sister,” the episode focuses on Rachel’s struggle to reconnect to her spoiled and inconsiderate younger sibling. Amy quickly becomes offended when Rachel reveals that Amy would not take care of her daughter Emma should she and Ross die. The episode continues to confront that eminently adult problem as Ross and Rachel try to defend their choice of godparents. In the end, Rachel and Amy bond by focusing on the things they have in common instead of the differences in their lifestyles, proving that family is family no matter what. Bonus: Monica’s OCD emerges as she tries to protect her wedding china, which Chandler ends up breaking.
The One With The Late Thanksgiving
The final Thanksgiving episode of Friends, season 10, episode 8, returns to the show’s tried-and-true formula of avoiding major plot developments. “The One With The Late Thanksgiving” shows Monica preparing a lavish feast after being challenged to outdo herself. When Phoebe, Rachel, Ross and Joey all turn up late, the day is seemingly ruined. The friends disregard for Monica’s hard work kicks off a massive argument devolves into destruction of the door and dinner. All conflicts are instantly forgotten, however, when Monica receives a phone call saying that she and Chandler have been selected as adoptive parents.
The ruined dinner and reunion between the friends in the final Thanksgiving episode mirrors themes from the first season. Everyone in the group is much more grown up now and sometimes struggles to stay connected. This Thanksgiving episode again leaves the audience thinking about how important it is to reserve time to spend with friends and family, regardless of the circumstances.
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