A Look Back at TV’s Worst Thanksgiving Episode of All Time
Nostalgic ’90s sitcom specials are an integral part of the holiday season — whether your preference is Thanksgiving episode hijinks or the drama of Chrismukkah. Unfortunately for Friends fans, some shows have aged atrociously, with the Friends Thanksgiving episode being our current case in point.
Season 8’s Friends Thanksgiving episode, entitled “The One with the Rumor,” is a particularly sad display of comedic writing. If you can get past the fact that Chandler is actually an asshole who pretends to like football to get out of helping his wife set the table, or the sprinkling of fat jokes courtesy of Brad Pitt, you get to the real meat of the cringe here: the rumor itself.
Here’s the premise of the episode: Will (Brad Pitt) is a formerly fat classmate of Ross, Rachel and Monica who has since lost weight. Monica invites him to Thanksgiving dinner, where it is revealed that Rachel made his life a living hell when they were kids and that Will and Ross had an “I Hate Rachel Green” club in high school. Not only that, the two spread a rumor that Rachel had both a penis and a vagina.
Rachel is horrified when she learns this, because apparently there is nothing more humiliating in 2001 — including the fact that you all live in New York City and don’t know a single Black person — than being intersex.
“You were the hermaphrodite cheerleader from Long Island?” Chandler asks. Yikes.
To make matters progressively worse, when Rachel asks her best friend Monica why she never told her about the rumor, Monica replies, “I thought it might be true. And I was afraid that you were going to cry and then show it to me.” Rachel is so traumatized by this revelation that she goes to find her old yearbook and read from it.
“Sorry about your teeny-weeny,” one classmate has written.
“You told people that I was half-and-half,” Rachel says angrily to Ross, the man she’s having a child with. Honestly … did we really find this show funny?
Times have changed since the late 1990s, and we live in a more progressive, understanding society. It’s difficult to contest that fact — or the way this progress has impacted our relationship to popular media and comedy. However, intersex folks have always existed, and they have always deserved basic dignity and respect. Comedy that relies on exploiting our inherent differences, whether this be the size or attributes of our bodies, our genders, preferences, disabilities or appearances — meaning comedy that is cruel and comedy that points at the mere existence of a quality and laughs — doesn’t tend to hold up in the long run. Not only that, but it’s not interesting, it’s not innovative, and it’s not creative either.
A brief look back at Friends in its entirety reveals years of lazy writing and thinly veiled mockery disguised as jokes. These two-dimensional characters are mean, out-of-touch, and oftentimes unlikeable. They’re certainly not a group of people I’d like to spend time with — no matter how beautiful or cosmopolitan they might seem.
While revisiting old classics this holiday season, it’s easy to skip the Friends Thanksgiving episode. They’ve certainly proven that they’re not our friends, after all.
Do you remember the Friends Thanksgiving episode? What’s a holiday-themed episode of a popular sitcom that’s actually worth watching? (Besides this episode of Master of None, which should be a queer holiday tradition.)
Photos: © Warner Bros. / Courtesy Everett Collection