Sunday, November 21, 2021

Sunday Best: Thanksgiving Movies and TV (repost)

 Much of this is a repost from 2013 


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 In terms of what is the best Thanksgiving movie, there is no contest. The winner is Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. There is no Thanksgiving movie like it. It is fully of deep belly laughs, but it also has one of the finest last scenes in movie history. What makes this a great Thanksgiving movie is that it is all about the quest to get home for the holiday. Most Thanksgiving movies focus on the chaos of family reunions. And if you only watch those, you would wonder why anyone would want to ever celebrate the holiday. But Planes, Trains, and Automobiles never questions the impulse to do whatever it takes to get home. It assumes that the holiday is so important that it MUST be celebrated with family, either those made by blood or by long, hilarious road trips. 

There is so much artistry in this film and it goes unnoticed because John Hughes covers it with very broad comedy.  It is actually a magical kind of movie in the sense of the best magic tricks.  You think that the quest is to get home for Thanksgiving.  But the real quest is to create that special home we call friendship.  The entire forward thrust of the movie is Neal (Steve Martin) doing anything and everything to get to his house while Dell (John Candy) unwittingly gets in the way.  But penultimate scene is the crux of the film.  Neal is finally on his way with no more obstacles, but then he has an epiphany about Dell.  And in that moment, the entire movie is flipped on its head and Neal leaves the pathway home and goes back to Dell.  It is one of my favorite movie friendship moments, followed by that amazing shot of Dell and Neal walking down the street carrying Dell's steamer trunk.  It is such a potent image: a friend helping another friend carry their burden as they walk side-by-side to the place they call home.

This movie reminds me on Thanksgiving that I have been blessed with friends and family who have helped me carry my burdens and walk with me on the journey home.


 Four Thanksgiving episodes come to mind when I think of this holiday. 
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 The first is the "No Fat" episode of Everybody Loves Raymond. The show would annually do a Thanksgiving episode, but this one emphasized the absurd importance of the food. Marie tries to do a fat free Thanksgiving, and the resulting chagrin by her family is hilarious. I also love the ending: 

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 The second is "The One With All the Thanksgivings" from Friends. Told through a series of flashbacks, this episode shows how Thanksgiving can be both wonderful and awful throughout the years. I also enjoyed seeing how much the relationships between the friends changed over time. It is also might have the most awkwardly funny "I love you" on TV.     

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The third is "The Thanksgiving Decoupling" from The Big Bang Theory.  There is an incredibly funny storyline where Penny realizes that she got married to someone else in Las Vegas.  What makes that work is how everyone else reacts to the Thanksgiving drama.  But the main reason I love this episode is the way that Bernadette's dad and Sheldon bond.  These two are so opposite and yet there is an unlikely emotional connection that is bitter sweet and at the same time incredibly funny.  

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But the one I might like the most is "Pangs" from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It's Buffy's first year in college and she tries to put together a Thanksgiving for her Scoobies, including the chair-bound Spike, while the spirit of a Shumash Indian curses Xander's body. This results in extended debates about the meaning of the Holiday for both Indian and European immigrant, as well capturing the awkward frenzy of trying to have a nice meal when the world seems to be going to hell. I also got a kick out of Spike's darkly insightful take: Great final shot too.        

What are your favorite Thanksgiving pop culture moments?

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