Just because it’s Turkey Day in real life doesn’t mean the characters of your favorite television programs can’t enjoy heaps of delicious poultry and a remaining feast rounded out by gravy-topped favorites. Thanksgiving-themed episodes of TV shows are usually the domain of shameless sitcoms like Friends to cash in on seasonal ratings, but other more unorthodox shows also have stopped to remind their viewers that even they can give thanks in their very own way as well.
From the deepest reaches of outer space, to green-skinned superheroes, and vampire slayers, sci-fi TV shows have had some fascinating Thanksgiving-related episodes that put their very out-there characters into the collective familial anxieties of sitting down and eating with the people closest to you.
Here’s some of the best and weirdest episodes of sci-fi Thanksgiving ever.
Heroes — “Thanksgiving”
The only thing more surprising than realizing that Heroes, NBC’s once-great show about normal people realizing they have superhuman abilities, ran for four original seasons is that they managed to also include a Thanksgiving episode. The show was notorious for having long stretches where absolutely no action happens despite being about superheroes, and yet the eleventh episode of the fourth season, “Thanksgiving,” at least tries to make an excuse for all the inactivity by weaving together three different storylines of holiday meals. After all, Thanksgiving is a time for sitting, eating, talking, and drama.
ALF — “Turkey in the Straw”
It’s only appropriate that a cheesy but fondly remembered sitcom about Gordon Shumway, otherwise known as the titular Alien Life Form, would have a Thanksgiving episode if only because it was supposed to be a sci-fi send-up of TV sitcom tropes in the first place. In this two-parter, Alf eats his family’s Thanksgiving turkey, forcing the Tanners to eat at their friend’s house and leaving Alf to try and fend off a homeless man named Flakey Pete who has stumbled upon the fact that the family is harboring an alien. When Pete calls a military organization out to weed out illegal aliens in Part 2, Pete learns the error of his ways when he realizes they’ll probably kill Alf. He plays dumb by telling the task force that he’s the alien, and they leave thinking he’s a crazy old coot out for a free meal.
Smallville — “Ambush
The young Superman TV series that turned the Man of Steel into an angsty teen had a couple of Thanksgiving episodes, including one called “Rage” where the proceedings come to a screeching halt for Clark Kent to wax poetic about how it’s his dad’s favorite holiday. But another one called “Ambush” does what Heroes couldn’t do: Bring a bunch of superhero characters together in a feasible way for a family meal. In it, General Sam Lane — father to Lois — rails against superheroes and talks about trying to pass a vigilante registration law. Unbeknownst to him, his guest will eventually become the greatest superhero of all time.
Quantum Leap — “The Leap Home”
Quantum Leap is the butt of way too many geeky jokes despite being a pretty innovative sci-fi show. It was like a hyper anthology, changing everything week-to-week as lead character Dr. Sam Beckett leapt from person to person because of his mixed up time travel experiments. In the two-part episode, “The Leap Home,” Beckett actually leaps into his own body at a younger age, realizing he’s back home to relive his high school days around Thanksgiving in 1970. It’s a big, personally heartbreaking deal as Beckett learns to accept that he can only have one last Thanksgiving dinner with his family after finding out his father will eventually die of a heart attack and his brother will be killed in Vietnam.
The Incredible Hulk — “Homecoming”
The MCU can’t seem to find the right place for the big green guy in a good version of his own movie, and if they were brave enough maybe they could bring him to TV like the classic 1978 series starring Bill Bixby as David Banner (not Bruce, but hey maybe there could be alternate timelines or something). Like every story about a troubled mind returning to his family’s dinner table for the holiday, Banner has to confront his demons. But he also has time to save the Banner family farm from the incongruously evil pairing of crooked real estate developers and a plague of bugs.
Amazing Stories — “Thanksgiving”
Steven Spielberg’s Amazing Stories was a valiant Twilight Zone pastiche, more known for the Bearded One’s involvement and the collaboration of other big time filmmakers like Joe Dante, Tobe Hooper, Robert Zemeckis, and Martin Scorsese who all directed episodes for the small screen anthology series. “Thanksgiving,” directed by Child’s Play and Fright Night filmmaker Tom Holland and starring Kyra Sedgwick and David Carradine, gave the show an autumnal spin. It literally has nothing to do with Thanksgiving, other than taking place the day before and the fact that it’s all about familial strife. Carradine plays an abusive father to his step-daughter (Sedgewick), and the pair are trying to eke out a living in a secluded desert town until they uncover a well with potentially some treasure inside. They obviously try to get the treasure, but given the fact that this is Amazing Stories, it doesn’t go according to plan.
Star Trek — Charlie X”
In true Trek fashion, Kirk orders the chef of the Enterprise to cook the crew a synthetic meatloaf and make it look like turkey because the stardate is Thanksgiving back on Earth. It’s a small detail in “Charlie X,” the original series episode aired in September 1966 about the crew picking up a young boy who was the sole survivor of a ship that crashed being ferried by a cargo ship called the Antares. Also in true Trek fashion, the boy isn’t really who he says he is, revealing himself to be an evil telepathic force out to destroy the Enterprise and all its crew.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer — “Pangs”
Joss Whedon’s supernatural teen horror comedy drama series did a lot of gimmicky episodes, but they were mostly able to pull them off because of Whedon and his squad’s inalienable talent. These are the people who pulled off an episode where no one talked, and even managed to make a musical episode non-cringeworthy. But in “Pangs,” Buffy and her motley crew of vampire and human friends gather for a Thanksgiving meal and fight off Native American spirits with a little social symbolism thrown in with the show’s infamous wit. According to the episode’s screenwriter Jane Espenson, “The core of it was something Joss had wanted to do for a long time, which is have a dead [Native American] at Thanksgiving — a very poetic illustration, I think, that we do kind of live in this country by virtue of some very ugly conquest. And the next thing you know we had a very non-threatening bear and some funny syphilis.”Photos via WB