Several lists of Top Ten Thanksgiving episodes will include perennials such as “The Thanksgiving Story” from The Waltons, “Thanksgiving Orphans” from Cheers and “Turkeys Away” from WKRP in Cincinnati. But as is to be expected, most of these lists overlook several great ones.
While more well-known for their annual Halloween episodes, Roseanne turned in some Thanksgiving classics ranging from the 1992 revelation of her father’s long-standing affair in Season Four to her mother’s coming out in 1996, during the show’s final season.
The best half-hour during the 1992-1999 run of Mad About You was the third season classic “Giblets for Murray”, where Paul and Jamie attempt to keep their botched Thanksgiving a secret from their family. The highlight of that episode was Jamie tossing a turkey out the window in a panic to keep their replacement turkey from being discovered.
One of the most consistent aspects of the long-running Friends was its own annual Thanksgiving gems, particularly the “The One Where Ross Got High” from Season Six and “The One with the Rumor” (featuring Brad Pitt) from Season Eight.
Following the show’s second season breakout, “Homo for the Holidays” in 1999, we began to look forward to annual Thanksgiving standouts from Will & Grace.
Even less buzzed-about comedies such as Dharma & Greg and Titus made their own outstanding contributions to Thanksgiving on TV with their respective entries “Thanksgiving Until it Hurts” (where the titular couple are expect to make appearances at three separate dinners) from 1999 and “The Perfect Thanksgiving” (told in reverse) from 2000.
However, the greatest and most overlooked of all Thanksgiving classics in the annals of TV history is the warm and funny entry titled “Cliff’s Wet Adventure” (oddly named for a family show) from the sixth season of The Cosby Show.
The episode takes place during the preparation of a large Turkey Day feast in which Cliff (Bill Cosby) is repeatedly sent out by Clair (the criminally underrated Phylicia Rashad) in a cold and windy rainstorm to purchase forgotten items such as canned pumpkin, fresh nutmeg, eggs and tomatoes. The latter item begs the question as to how Elvin’s mother Francine (Marcella Lowery) can make a salad so large that it has to be tied to the roof of a car for transport and forget a key ingredient such as tomatoes.
The half-hour also introduced the previously mentioned but hitherto unseen Paula (Victoria Rowell), ex-wife of Denise’s husband Martin (Joseph C. Phillips), who was stranded at the airport and invited to dinner at the last minute by the ever-evolved Denise (Lisa Bonet). It was a characteristic gesture that excited Olivia (Raven-Symone), made Martin unnecessarily nervous and piqued the family’s curiosity. The latter situation led to the hilarious moment when Clair brought a large group of family members that included Cliff’s parents (Earle Hyman and Clarice Taylor, Elvin’s parents (Dennis Scott and Lowery), Sondra (Sabrina LeBeauf) and Elvin (Geoffrey Owens) from the kitchen where they had all been eavesdropping into the living room for a mass self-introduction to Paula shortly after her arrival.
Paula then explained to Denise why she left Martin despite the fact the two of them shared a very young daughter. In true Cosby Show fashion, she was readily welcomed into the extended Huxtable family.
Later, Olivia presented Paula with a hand-drawn picture of herself, which was followed by a heartwarming moment of mutual acceptance between her, the mother who was to raise her and the mother who would be raising her.
Throughout these proceedings, Cliff made hysterical departures and returns from his appointed rounds in the cold, wind and rain with stone-faced insistence that “I’m not going back out there”.
By the end of the episode, the dinner party had expanded from 15 to 18 (20 if you count Sondra and Elvin’s twins) when Theo’s friends Howard (Reno Wilson) and Denny (Troy Winbush) as well as Rudy’s very thankful friend Bud (Deon Richmond) joined Paula in making their way through the Huxtable’s always-open door.
The installment ultimately ended with the storm finally giving way to sun just as Cliff returned from his final run while the family sat down to dinner.
“Cliff’s Wet Adventure” is a welcome throwback to those days when Thanksgiving meant waking up or coming home for an extended weekend from college to the smell of food cooking in anticipation of a house full of family and friends who will invariably be full and sleepy twenty minutes after the meal that took all day to prepare was finally completed. Like the episode itself, the feelings it evokes exist in a time that is far gone for many people but yet still brings a smile to their faces.
Any gimmick and event-free half-hour that can accomplish that with such simple plotting twenty-plus years after its initial airing deserves placement on every and any Top Ten list.