What to Watch (and Avoid) with Friends and Family on Thanksgiving

America’s most glutinous day is almost here, and it’s also the day when a) your relatives invade b) you invade your relatives or c) you spend it with your chosen family.

Regardless of where you’ll be for the holiday, you’ll be facing the perennial challenge of what to watch after the Macy’s Parade and before eating time. So we created a quick Watercooler Guide to the best movies and TV episodes to watch for walking bird day — broken out with your fellow viewers in mind.

The Kids Table

Ratatouille  Yes, this animated Pixar classic is set in Paris and Thanksgiving is never mentioned. But this is the ultimate foodie movie for the ultimate foodie holiday. The entire plot revolves around cooking, with mouth-watering scenes of delectable French dishes. The story:  Remy (Patton Oswalt) is a rat who dreams of being a chef in a fancy French restaurant, despite the deep fears his kind inspires in every restaurant. With the help of a garbage boy named Linguini, he ultimately gets his chance to prove his culinary skills to a top food critic, all the while hiding from the staff. It’s a true gem with hilarious sight gags, and both the grownups and kids can get into it. As a bonus, it might just inspire your younger guests to help you cook afterward. (Get them to make the actual ratatouille dish from the movie for an Instagrammable Thanksgiving side dish.)  Stream it on: Disney+

A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving   It’s been 15 years since cord cutting began in earnest, which means a whole lot of people missed out on the Peanuts’ holiday TV classics. But for several generations, Charlie Brown’s Thanksgiving special – which premiered in 1973 – was a familiar staple that marked the beginning of the holiday season, one that everyone could watch together.  The story: Peppermint Patty invites everyone she knows to Charlie Brown’s house for Thanksgiving dinner. The only problem is that he doesn’t know how to cook. (He’s only eight, permanently, so of course he doesn’t know how to cook. Good grief!)  In classic Charlie Brown fashion, the whole thing is a fiasco. And in case you were wondering, Lucy does pull the football away.

Look for this one if you’re bringing together three+ generations, especially for the younger ones who’ve never seen it and the older ones who have surely missed it.   Stream it on: Apple TV+

The Teenagers

The Simpsons: “Bart vs. Thanksgiving”  It’s not easy to find a show teens will want to watch with their elders. But now that every episode of the longest-running show in history is on Disney+, you could join them on the couch and get lost in it. The problem? It’s up to 33 seasons, and that’s a ridiculous time commitment, especially if you’re in charge of the turkey. So we recommend this standout episode from Season 2. The story: After Lisa makes a beautiful centerpiece that Bart destroys, he runs away from home. The whole family comes together to track him down it what becomes one of the most emotionally-charged episodes of The Simpsons. But “Bart vs. Thanksgiving” also delivers some great jokes, including Homer’s imitation of Marge’s sisters and Bart “making” cranberry sauce.  Stream it on: Disney+

Addams Family ValuesThe Addams tend to come to mind around Halloween, but in this 1993 sequel to the hit Addams Family, Wednesday Addams is reluctantly cast in a Thanksgiving play at her camp, something her counselors come to quickly regret. From children dancing as pieces of food singing “eat me!” to Wednesday’s deadpan delivery of the story of the Real Thanksgiving, the entire scene is uproarious (and peak Addams Family). The film also includes a delightfully campy performance from Joan Cusack and more macabre humor that teens are sure to love.  Rating: PG-13.  Stream it on: Paramount +

The Seniors

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles  Another classic that hasn’t been easy to find since streamers took over, the iconic Steve Martin and John Candy comedy from John Hughes revolves around the ultimate Thanksgiving travel nightmare, the kind that gave birth to a record-breaking number of F-bombs packed into one minute of dialogue. The story:  Control freak Neal (Steve Martin) is just trying to get home to his family. After a snow storm delays his flight, he meets Del (John Candy), an overzealous shower curtain ring salesman who, much to Neal’s chagrin, becomes his travel buddy. The pair face one mishap after another, and the hilarious and heartwarming trip down memory lane will hit the older guests right in the feels. As an added bonus, they’ll get to introduce the younger generations to the brilliance of these two legendary actors.  Rating: R (due to the F-bombs.)  Stream it on: Paramount +

Grumpy Old Men  Another classic buried in the deep vaults of streaming libraries, this comedy featured long-time friends and co-stars Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau, “one of Hollywood’s most successful pairings,” as the New York Times described them.  The story:  Set in their ways in rural Minnesota, the two neighbors both become enamored with their new neighbor, played by Ann-Margaret, and a prank war ensues. Older audiences will appreciate the memories of these three legendary actors in one film and the jokes centered around aging. And if they need more, there’s the sequel, Grumpier Old Men, that adds Sophia Loren, who proves that like a fine wine, some things become better with age.  Stream it on: Fubo and Showtime

The Whole Family

Little Women: My uncle-in-law, who spends most of his time watching the Green Bay Packers, loved this movie. He cheered, he laughed, he cried.  The story: Based on the classic novel by Louisa May Alcott, set just after the Civil War, it revolves around the bonds and conflicts between four Massachusetts sisters and the event that brings them back together. The film eschews young adult rom-com tropes as it explores the constraints they all faced, and it’s given nuance thanks to an all-star ensemble that includes Meryl Streep, Emma Watson, Florence Pugh, Saorise Ronan, and Laura Dern. Rating: PG.  Stream it on: Apple TV+ (for rent)

Paddington 2  He earned peak cultural icon status in the UK this year after sharing a marmalade sandwich with Queen Elizabeth, just months before she passed. To understand the bear’s enduring charm, you’ll want to watch this movie. It netted a perfect Rotten Tomatoes score for many years (raising some eyebrows among cinephiles about the aggregator).  The story, sweet and funny, dips a little deeper than you might expect. Framed for a theft, Paddington winds up in jail. Being the delightful bear that he is, he befriends the prisoners, but while his family is trying to exonerate him, he believes that they’ve forgotten him. Incredibly British and filled with mischief and marmite, Paddington and his antics are a warm welcome for any Thanksgiving gathering.  Stream it on: HBO Max

Friendsgiving

Home for the Holidays  Centered around a very dysfunctional family, Home for the Holidays will make you feel grateful for your chosen family. The story: Holly Hunter plays a newly divorced mom who just lost her job and learned that her teenage daughter is planning to have sex. Still processing this news, she returns home for Thanksgiving to face her resentful sister, kooky aunt, and spoiled niece and nephew. During all the chaos, she somehow manages to get a love interest and escapes the family mayhem. You’ll get a kick out of all the familiar faces (Robert Downey Jr., Anne Bancroft, Clare Danes, Dylan McDermott, Steve Guttenberg) as you breathe a sigh of relief that you are not going home for the holidays.  Stream it on: Fubo and Apple TV+ (for rent)

Friends: “The One with the Thanksgiving Flashbacks”  “Friends” had multiple Thanksgiving celebrations, but one of the best is the episode where they each remember their worst Thanksgivings. Phoebe (Lisa Kudrow) has a flashback to her holiday as a Civil War nurse, Joey remembers getting his head stuck in a turkey, and Chandler relives all the reasons he has come to hate Thanksgiving. While there are some problematic moments, the episode is still endearing, especially when Monica tries to cheer up Chandler.  Stream it on: HBO Max

Cheers “Thanksgiving Orphans” episode  Given that several generations have already binged through Friends during the pandemic, the Boomers and Gen-Xers might want to revisit another classic that takes them back a little further: Cheers. Look for the “Thanksgiving Orphans” episode, as it was the rare time where the cast got to leave the bar and gather as a “friends family,” which of course involves a lot of barbs. You’ll get a kick out of seeing a young Woody Harrelson, Ted Danson, and Frasier Crane himself.  Stream it on: Hulu

One to Skip

(at least for Thanksgiving)

The Oath  One topic that’s best avoided at the Thanksgiving dinner table: politics. While it’s quite likely one someone will bring it up, there are ways to deter this conversation, including not watching anything centered around politics.  The story: The Oath takes place in the near future where Americans are asked to swear their allegiance to the U.S. by signing a form. Chris (Ike Barinholtz) and Kai (Tiffany Haddish) are hosting Thanksgiving dinner for their families, where the family can’t help but discuss “the oath.” This leads to mayhem, including a visit from two government agents. Considering the subject matter of the film, save this one for after the relatives go home.  Is the coast clear? Ok you can stream it here.

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