For most people, Thanksgiving brings to mind family, football, and copious amounts of food. For some, however, it’s hard to think about the holiday without also having Friends quotes pop into your head. The iconic sitcom not only solidified its place in television history with memorable characters and perfect chemistry, but it also planted a flag in Thanksgiving week, setting some of its biggest episodes during the holiday. It became a staple of the series starting in Season 3 (the second season doesn’t have a Thanksgiving episode) and continued throughout the show’s run, resulting in some of the series’ best installments—and that’s saying something.
Which makes ranking them all is a tough task. None of them are outright bad. In fact, most are pretty outstanding. But seeing as how I’ve already ranked all ten seasons of the series, I’ve accepted the Thanksgiving challenge in lieu of the holiday, and I now present to you every Thanksgiving episode of Friends ranked.
9. The One Where Chandler Doesn’t Like Dogs
A funny if somewhat slight episode, you probably remember this Season 7 installment best as the one with the 50 states game (“No one cares about the Dakotas!”). There’s plenty of fun to be found, and the gang’s reaction when Chandler admits to hating dogs is perfect, but when stacked up against the rest of the show’s Thanksgiving episodes this one pales a bit.
8. The One Where Underdog Gets Away
This is the first time the show flirted with the idea of a Thanksgiving episode, and it comes in the series’ first season when the characters were still in the process of being fleshed out. But the roots of the show’s heart are intact, as the central conceit of the episode is that everyone’s Thanksgiving plans get ruined and they all end up having dinner together—call it “The First Friendsgiving”. This embodies why Thanksgiving is the perfect holiday for Friends to call its own, but the scattered nature of the characters in this particular episode mark it as “lower tier” when compared to the camaraderie of the other installments.
7. The One with Chandler in a Box
The show’s fourth season Turkey Day is a pretty swell mix of heart and comedy. After kissing Joey’s girlfriend, Chandler is forced to crack wise within the confines of a box for the whole episode. It makes for humorous proceedings, but the decision to take Monica out of the equation for a chunk of the episode as she visits the eye doctor (Michael Vartan as Richard’s son) results in a somewhat “incomplete” feeling. Regardless, the jokes are excellent and the romantic/emotional conclusion leaves the episode on a very sweet note.
6. The One with All the Thanksgivings
Friends would become fond of the idea of flashbacks throughout its run, resulting in some of its best (and sometimes not-so-great) moments. Season 5’s Thanksgiving episode goes the flashback route to lay the ground for Chandler and Monica to admit they love each other, but not without some fantastic 80s costuming (and a little toe-cutting) first. Elliott Gould is the MVP of the episode, but of all the Thanksgiving flashbacks Phoebe’s still probably gets the biggest laughs.
5. The One with the Late Thanksgiving
Through the show’s run, the Thanksgiving episode became a time to get all the characters together in one place. It’s fitting, then, that as the series was winding down in Season 10, the Thanksgiving episode was about them all being too busy to come together. Of course, they do eventually convene, but Monica (and Chandler’s cranberry sauce) aren’t having it. That the show was able to conjure up yet another iconic image—“the floating heads”—so deep into its run and end on a highly emotional note speaks to its legacy and the quality of the writing. But aside from all that important stuff, this episode is just plain funny.
4. The One with the Football
After skipping out on a Thanksgiving episode for Season 2, the show’s third season would solidify the holiday as an annual tradition once and for all. The “real-time” nature of the football game essentially turns this into an outside bottle episode, and it embodies the “friends are family” theme that would permeate throughout the show’s run. It’s a little dated in places (particularly when it comes to the girl Joey and Chandler are trying to woo—she is very 1996), but the physical comedy is on point and the “boys vs. girls” twist is delightful.
3. The One with Rachel’s Other Sister
AKA “The One Where Christina Applegate Crushes It”. By Season 9, we had already met one of Rachel’s infamous sisters (played by Reese Witherspoon), but for the show’s first Thanksgiving episode with baby Emma, they decided to introduce Rachel’s other sister, Amy, and she is fantastic/terrible. Applegate’s performance is equal parts aloof, entitled, and childish, and it is a deliciously spot-on turn that manages to make Amy entertaining rather than grating. The subplot concerning Monica’s dishes and the custody of Emma should Rachel and Ross die both work wonderfully as well, resulting in one of the show’s most purely entertaining episodes.
2. The One Where Ross Got High
This Season 6 episode is a masterpiece of pacing and build-up. All of the various subplots—Rachel’s “traditional” English trifle, Joey and Ross’ desire to go to Janine’s party, and Monica keeping her relationship with Chandler a secret from her parents—begin entirely separate from one another, and then slowly begin to converge until Ross and Monica’s explosion of revelations to their parents. What makes the episode truly great is what comes after, which is where Christina Pickles shines as Judy Gellar. Her reaction to the string of revelations is fantastically measured, bringing the episode crashing down to a hilariously satisfying conclusion.
1. The One with the Rumor
Fans had been waiting for years to see if Jennifer Aniston’s off-screen beau Brad Pitt would make an appearance on the series, and he finally delivered in the show’s eighth season. What’s funny about “The One with the Rumor”, however, is that Pitt isn’t even the standout of the episode—it’s David Schwimmer. The actor made art out of being uncomfortable during his tenure on Friends, but in this episode he takes things to another level with a mix of embarrassment, adoration, and confusion. Pitt’s no slouch, though, and his public persona and real-life relationship with Aniston only makes his performance that much more enjoyable.