Cheers began back in 1982 and ran for 11 seasons and 275 episodes. One of my favorite episodes of the sitcom (and quite possibly of any sitcom) is the one that aired on Thanksgiving evening (November 27th) in 1986 titled “Thanksgiving Orphans”. It was season 5, episode 9 and, yes, it did actually and appropriately air on Thanksgiving night. And please don’t think I am exaggerating about how well-regarded this episode is because TV Guide ranked it number seven on its “100 Greatest Television Episodes of All Time”. It is coincidental that two of my personal all-time favorite television episodes, this and WKRP in Cincinnati‘s “Turkey’s Away”, both revolve around Thanksgiving.
The premise of “Thanksgiving Orphans” is that all of main characters have nowhere else to go to celebrate Thanksgiving, so Carla invites them all over to her house for a potluck dinner. Part of the premise of the entire Cheers series is that these character have nowhere else to go (or that they’d rather go), so that’s why they often end up in the bar “where everybody knows your name”. What does make this episode a little unusual is that it almost entirely takes place outside of the bar.
The episode culminates in a truly glorious scene, but I also enjoy an earlier part of the episode while the guests are watching television passing the time as the turkey cooks. The conversation is hilarious, but what really cracks me up is the jockeying over which direction the television is pointed. The look on Frasier’s face the first time the TV is moved is priceless. You can watch a good portion of this interaction right here…
While waiting they watch two football games, the parade and a wrestling match. (In case you care, the wrestling match they watch is Hulk Hogan vs. Paul Orndorff which originally aired on WWF’s Saturday Night Main Event October 4th, 1986.) As I said, I enjoy the interactions watching TV in the living room almost as much as the memorable ending. It is so fun to watch these seven outstanding characters do their thing.
All of the dinner is on the table except for the turkey while their hunger and frustration build. Diane will not allow anybody to eat until the turkey is ready and forces them to go around the table saying something each is thankful for.
As the wait continues, you can feel the tension and irritation building. Sam says, “Come on, you guys, come on. We don’t have to bite each others’ heads off here.” And Cliff responds, “It may be the only thing we get to eat this day, Sammy.” It eventually starts with a flick of a pea. Which is followed by a flip of a carrot and then a splash of yams. But just as the food fight begins to gain momentum, Diane runs in and appears to halt it… until she gets splattered with a spoonful of cranberry sauce by Sam. Then, as they say, the chaos ensues. You can watch the entire hilarious scene here…
I love how Cliff is grabbing Woody in a headlock and giving him a face-wash. If you can believe it, they actually filmed the food fight twice. In order to get additional coverage, they did it, cleaned it all up and then did it again. It has also been confirmed that everything after that shot of cranberry sauce lands perfectly on Diane’s white pilgrim collar is not choreographed at all. It was a complete free-for-all which you can certainly believe by watching them slip all over. It is just how I would imagine a Thanksgiving food fight would look. Then it is implied that they ended up still sitting down to eat after the battle ended. Woody begins a round of toasts and, during this, Sam made his a simple yet touching toast, “To Coach”, remembering the character who passed away in real life in 1985.
There is one final gag in the episode. Norm often talks about his wife Vera on the show, but she is never seen. She show’s up at Carla’s house at the end of this episode and the audience thinks they are finally going to see Vera. But just as she walks in to meet everyone, Diane hurls a pumpkin pie at Sam who ducks out of the way causing it to smash Vera right in the face. The audience does not get to finally see Vera after all. One bit of interesting trivia is that Vera is played by Bernadette Birkett, who is married to George Wendt in real life.
Early on in the episode Woody makes the prediction that “This is gonna be the best Thanksgiving ever!” Then at the very end, covered in food, Woody confirms, “I knew this was gonna be the greatest.” Little did Woody know, he wasn’t just talking about the greatest Thanksgiving, or the greatest Cheers episode, but one of the greatest television episodes of all time. And, yep, it happened back in the ’80s.