The holiday season was often a significant event on the classic sitcom “Roseanne.” Roseanne is probably best known for their annual Halloween celebration, but Thanksgiving was highlighted in most seasons since family and togetherness are very important to the real-life Roseanne. Most years, the Conner family celebrated Thanksgiving in a big way with a large family dinner complete with all the trimmings, jokes, laughter, and some family squabbles, too!
When we looked back at Halloween on Roseanne last month, we discovered that the holiday was emphasized more than others in some years. Thanksgiving is no different during the 9 season run of the series, but as we found with Halloween, the first season of “Roseanne” didn’t cover Thanksgiving at all as the series was only 4 episodes old at that point. Interestingly, “Roseanne” was on an every-other-season schedule celebrating Thanksgiving until season 6, when each of the remaining seasons enjoyed using the holiday as a backdrop to an episode.
Watching the Thanksgiving episodes over for this article, I noticed some fun trends, routines, or traditions that seemed like something that would happen in any family in America. Jackie would always be the one to bring the groceries over early in the morning while Roseanne would cook. Dan and the men watched football after playing in their own annual football game. Each year, new faces would be around the table, while as the kids grew, some familiar faces began to disappear into their own families and traditions. Roseanne’s mother got on her last nerve every year while using the holiday as a way to “spill the beans” about something from her past.
In continuing my “Holidays on Roseanne” series, we’ll take a look back and see how they touched on Thanksgiving each season. So, get ready for some dysfunctional yet loving family fun as we look back on “Thanksgiving on Roseanne!”
“We Gather Together” (S2 E9) Originally Aired November 21, 1989
This episode from Season 2 takes the honor of being the first Thanksgiving installment for “Roseanne.” In “We Gather Together,” we find more of the same stress that the holidays bring to everyone. I feel like this is one of the most enjoyable Thanksgiving episodes of the series because it does exactly what “Roseanne” does best. It shows the different struggles of everyday Americans and the lives we all lead. It also does a great job of weaving multiple storylines throughout the episode.
We start in the kitchen, where Roseanne is up early at 5 AM, stuffing the turkey. She’s complaining to herself and talking to the turkey. Jackie comes over with the groceries, and they quickly begin fighting over their mother’s invasiveness. Later that morning, Dan is getting ready for his football game, and Roseanne’s mother, Beverly, keeps calling the house. Jackie wants everyone to hide her new job as a police officer from her mother. Roseanne admits she booked her parents a room at the Lanford Motel so that they would be out of everyone’s hair and make for a more peaceful visit.
Her parents arrive and Bev immediately starts her criticism. Bev goes after Roseanne about the size of the turkey, how she is cooking, how Jackie looks, and more. Dan arrives home, dirty and tired from his football game, just as his own father arrives. Dan’s parents are divorced, and they haven’t seen each other in several years… but this year his mother is bringing a date!
Beverly continues to needle her daughters at every opportunity. She tells Roseanne that her father must carve the turkey, but this makes Dan upset because it’s “his house, his family, his turkey!” Roseanne carves the bird herself to keep the peace. Surrounded by chatter from both sets of parents, Roseanne, Dan, and Jackie are on edge. Jackie explodes and tells her parents she just graduated from the police academy, causing Beverly to storm out angrily.
Later on, as everyone starts to head home, Beverly wants Dan to bring in their bags from the car, forcing Roseanne to tell them about the hotel room. Beverly lays on the guilt real thick and leaves. Dan gets into an argument with his father over his dad’s interest in Crystal, the divorced friend of the family. His dad points out how lonely he is and mentions he’s jealous of Dan for his marriage with Roseanne before leaving to pursue the much younger Crystal.
As the episode draws to a close, Dan and Roseanne share a sweet moment together of thankfulness before the episode ends like it started… with Roseanne talking to the turkey.
“Thanksgiving ’91” (S4 E10) Originally Aired November 26, 1991
We skip ahead to Season Four since Season Three did not include a Thanksgiving episode. There was a week off for “Roseanne” between November 13th and 29th when it was preempted for the network debut of Steven King’s “It” Part 2. Season 4’s episode, “Thanksgiving 91,” is another excellent holiday episode full of family problems, good food, and in the end, the love and togetherness of family.
Roseanne, Becky, and DJ are preparing the Thanksgiving meal when Darlene stumbles into the kitchen in her bathrobe. Darlene is going through a moody phase of her teen years, and Dan is worried about her while he settles in for an afternoon of football. Jackie arrives with a bag of groceries, including “Roseanne’s famous homemade frozen pumpkin pie.” After dropping off the food, she heads home to change clothes, hoping to avoid spending time with her mother.
Beverly and her mother, Nana Mary, arrive at the house, and both immediately start giving Roseanne a hard time. Roseanne’s father is missing, but Bev says he’s just at home sick and not to worry. Jackie is suspicious because she just talked to him the day before, and he seemed fine.
Darlene doesn’t want to join the family and just wants to spend the day alone in her room. Jackie finds her way up to her room to take a breather from her mother. Dan’s father is stuck in a snowstorm in Buffalo and can’t make this year’s dinner but is spending time on the phone with his now-wife Crystal. Apparently, he had good luck two years ago when he pursued her after Thanksgiving dinner. Roseanne and Jackie confront Bev about their missing father because he won’t answer the phone when they call. Bev tries to deflect but eventually admits that he’s not sick but instead spending the holiday with his new girlfriend.
While eating, Beverly’s acting happy is way over the top to cover for her husband’s infidelity. She admits he met a much younger woman at his office and that she’s known for several years but didn’t want to rock the boat at her age. This year he apparently decided enough was enough and announced he was spending the holiday with his girlfriend. She begs Roseanne not to say anything because she wants to handle it her way.
Dan goes upstairs to talk to Darlene and tells her he’s upset they aren’t best buddies anymore. She shuts him down, and he walks off sullenly. Nana Mary stumbles in, and Darlene opens up to her. Darlene says she feels like she doesn’t fit in a small town like Lanford and cheers up after talking with her great-grandmother.
Roseanne’s father calls the house to say Happy Thanksgiving, and Roseanne fights the urge to yell at him. Instead, she covers for her mother and asks how he’s feeling. As the show ends, Darlene leaves her room in a much better mood and bonds with Roseanne in the kitchen.
“Thanksgiving ’93” (S6, E10) Originally Aired November 23, 1993
Again we skip ahead two seasons when Season Five’s would-be Thanksgiving episode saw Darlene stay out until 4AM at a rock concert. The episode that aired prior to Season Six’s holiday episode saw the first appearance of Sarah Chalke as Becky, following the original actress Lecy Goranson’s departure from the show. This episode isn’t as good as the last Thanksgiving one, but it is full of family squabbles that, in typical sitcom fashion, somehow mostly resolve themselves by the end of the show.
The family is still adjusting to Becky and Mark’s marriage, which sets the stage for quite a few problems in this episode. As soon as the show opens, Dan discovers that Mark drank the last beer in the house. Roseanne and Dan begin to argue with each other about cooking the turkey, beer, and Mark, so Becky interjects and offers to do the cooking and cleaning for the big day. Roseanne accepts the offer, but her happiness is only temporary as she answers the phone to find that Darlene will not be coming home for the holiday.
A pregnant Jackie arrives with the groceries and is upset to find that Roseanne has invited Fred, her one-night stand and the father of her unborn baby. She quickly realizes that inviting Fred is Roseanne’s plan to get them together as a couple. Dan is still upset Mark drank the last beer… and eloped with his 17-year-old daughter… when Beverly and Nana Mary arrive. It seems Nana Mary’s memory is starting to slip, and she keeps mixing up her great-grandchildren. However, when Beverly leaves the room, Nana Mary confides in Roseanne that her memory is just fine and she’s only messing with Beverly for a laugh.
Privately, Beverly complains to Roseanne about Jackie having a child out of wedlock. Roseanne suggests reverse psychology and recommends telling Jackie she hates Fred so that Jackie would feel compelled to marry him just to spite her mother. Meanwhile, Mark is in the kitchen and doesn’t want to go in and watch football with the men. Roseanne chases him in there, and he awkwardly mentions Brian Piccolo before running away in embarrassment. Piccolo was a Chicago Bears running back in the 1960s who died of advanced testicular cancer at the young age of 26 in 1971, some 22 years before this episode. Dan dislikes Mark even more after realizing he knows nothing about football.
Jackie is confused when Beverley, acting goofier than ever, tells her she hates Fred and is thankful they aren’t together. Meanwhile, Nana Mary keeps hitting on Fred in the living room to the point it makes Dan uncomfortable. Bev folds under Jackie’s questioning and quickly points the finger at Roseanne for trying to put the two together. In this year’s annual Beverly surprise, Nana Mary lets it slip that Bev was pregnant with Roseanne before getting married.
When Becky burns her hand in the kitchen, Mark pushes past Dan to help her. Dan shoves Mark, and the two begin shouting before throwing punches. Fred gets between them just as Roseanne runs in to stop the fight. Alone in their bedroom, Roseanne drops the angry act and is excited that Dan punched him. Having gotten it out of his system, Dan has a much cooler head now and says he should apologize. Before he can leave, Mark enters the bedroom to apologize first. The two shake hands and joke about the fight and part on much better terms. Roseanne is shocked that men can resolve differences this way, if only temporarily.
Having just put one fire out, Roseanne heads to another as she tries to cheer her mother up. She asks questions about Bev’s life and grows closer to her mother.
“Thanksgiving ’94” (S7 E10) Originally Aired November 23, 1994
This episode is definitely a “Thanksgiving episode,” but the news Roseanne receives early on takes over the whole episode. Up until this season, the show had been on their every-other-year streak for Thanksgiving, and it probably should have stayed that way. The main storyline probably should have gotten its own episode, but it highlights that the holidays aren’t always a happy time for everyone.
We start off as Roseanne and Jackie are leaving the doctor’s office. A pregnant Roseanne has just completed a routine checkup and is instructed to wait for a phone call about the baby’s gender. An anti-abortion rally is surrounding the office’s front door, and the nurse advises her to take the back way out. Roseanne just can’t help herself and goes into the crowd and starts messing with the group leader. Claiming to be from “the central office,” she gives him the address of a place she says is sure to perform abortions. The group heads off to the new location, which Roseanne reveals to be her mother’s house.
At home, David and Mark are arguing about sewing. Fred and Dan toss a football over and around them before recruiting the two younger men for the annual football game. Mark is nervous about joining the men on the field and admits to David he knows nothing about football. Seeing this as a way to move himself up a step in Dan’s eyes, David gives him bad advice about the rules of the game.
That afternoon, Roseanne hasn’t heard from the doctor, so she decides to call them herself. As she starts to dial, her mother and Nana Mary arrive… with Nana Mary’s new husband, Joe. Joe appears to be pushing 90 and just stares into the distance quietly. An excited Dan forces Roseanne to make the call to the doctor. The nurse refuses to give the baby’s gender over the phone because she’s not allowed to give out information in “situations like this.” She tells Roseanne that the doctor has already left for the holiday, and the Conner’s will just have to wait until he calls them back. Even though the nurse didn’t say anything, it certainly doesn’t sound good, and this understandably worries Roseanne and Dan.
Later, the men return home from the game. Mark had followed David’s advice and cost Dan’s team the game. Meanwhile, Dan and Roseanne decide to keep the news about the baby to themselves. Everyone’s conversation turns to the abortion rally and abortions, and it makes Roseanne sick with worry. She tries to stop the talk about abortions, but it only worsens when Nana Mary says she had two when she was younger. In her bedroom in tears, Roseanne is comforted by Jackie. Roseanne admits to Jackie that as much as she had previously supported abortions, she could never do it now that she’s heard a heartbeat. Dan enters and the two argue about what to do if something seriously wrong with the baby. Dan gets very upset and leaves when Roseanne tells him that her opinion is the only one that matters.
David has car trouble, and Mark gives him bad advice that will ruin his engine as payback. Dinner is served, and Dan and Roseanne look miserable while everyone else is having a good time. The phone rings, and moments later, Roseanne hangs up, saying the doctor didn’t know anything and that she needs another test. She also mentions that the doctor knows the gender of the baby, but given the circumstances, she didn’t want to ask.
The episode ends as they return to the table, sad and afraid. To lighten the mood somewhat, David and Mark trade more insults during the closing credits.
To put a happy bow on this downer, the next week’s show concludes with the doctor informing them the first test was contaminated, and the second test showed the baby was perfectly healthy. He also told them it was a little girl, but as we learned in the Halloween episodes, she gave birth to a baby boy named “Jerry Garcia Conner.” Roseanne has said that she made the switch to reflect her real-life (she had recently given birth to her son Buck), and she wanted to honor the recently deceased Jerry Garcia.
“The Last Thursday in November” (S8, E8) Originally Aired November 21, 1995
As Roseanne often did, she used this season’s Thanksgiving episode as a public platform to showcase her personal and political thoughts. This episode leans heavily into the poor treatment Native Americans received by the American government. I guess this could be considered the most “complete” Thanksgiving episode where the focus is entirely on the holiday and not so much on any of the Conner’s family issues.
Jackie and Roseanne sit at the kitchen table with their infant sons, going over the grocery list for Thanksgiving. Roseanne asks Jackie to add earplugs to the list because she’s tired of hearing Darlene’s political rants about slaughtering innocent turkeys for a holiday meal. As is often the case, they begin complaining about their mother. After the opening credit sequence, Roseanne walks in on Beverly acting crazier than ever, talking to the turkey and vegetables.
DJ tries to sneak out for his school’s Thanksgiving pageant, but Roseanne and Dan inform him they are going to watch. He gets upset and asks them to stay home so they don’t embarrass him. At the pageant, the Conner family is bored while other children recite poems. The final presentation begins and DJ, dressed as a Native American, starts to narrate the play. He explains how peaceful life was and that this particular year the harvest was bountiful. The Natives are cooking their feast and invite the “strangers from across the great water” to join them. Two boys dressed as pilgrims show up on stage and decide it’s time to start “making some dead Indians” in a scene more fit for Pulp Fiction than a high school Thanksgiving pageant. They rip off their pilgrim clothes to reveal mafioso-style suits and handguns, and slaughter the Indians.
DJ overacts his death scene, and the Conner’s are the only ones in the audience to applaud. Mr. Hill, their teacher, joins them on stage to only a smattering of polite applause. Afterward, the parents complain about the “revisionist, violent propaganda” on stage. Roseanne defends the play and tells them that’s precisely how it really happened, although personally, I’d argue they didn’t use handguns. Darlene uses several “big words” to insult some upset parents, who accuse her of being a communist. Roseanne says that it’s just the college education talking, and her first shift selling lawn furniture at Walmart will “cool her off.”
Mr. Hill, a Native American himself, asks if Roseanne liked the play. When she says yes, he begins to retell the “true story” of the first Thanksgiving, and we fade into a reenactment featuring the Conner family as the English pilgrims. They are overly rude and treat their women as second-class citizens. Roseanne stumbles into a hut where the Native American women tell Roseanne how a woman should really be treated. Women give life and are an essential part of the family and should be treated as such.
Back into the present day, Mr. Hill and his family have joined the Conner’s for Thanksgiving. They thank him for teaching the origins of Thanksgiving and apologize for the early treatment of his people. Beverly, however, insists “his people are doing a lot better now, what with the casinos and cigarettes.”
“Home Is Where the Afghan Is” (S9, E10) Originally Aired November 26, 1996
While this episode takes place in the final bizarro-world season, I’ll admit this episode is pretty close to a typical early-season episode of “Roseanne.” It takes place shortly after the Conner’s have won the lotto and the annual “Beverly surprise” seems like it’s just for the sake of having a surprise. Although, in the final episode, there appears to be a purpose when Roseanne switches the “surprise” with another member of the family. Dan does not appear during this episode, having been in California taking care of his sick mother. We find out a few episodes later that he’s really been cheating on Roseanne while he was away. While Mark is present during the episode, Becky doesn’t appear, and no explanation is given.
Roseanne opens the show on the phone with Dan, upset he will miss Thanksgiving for the first time ever. The family enters the newly renovated kitchen and is very excited to go over all of the modern amenities Roseanne paid to have installed after winning the lottery. Her Thanksgiving meal arrives, cooked by a catering company and served by a waitstaff. Roseanne and Jackie’s excitement over not cooking the turkey quickly fades as they realize they don’t know what to do with themselves on Thanksgiving without cooking. They move into the living room and join everyone awestruck at the new big-screen television.
Roseanne is uncomfortable with everyone eating food in her newly renovated living room and unsuccessfully tries to get them to move into the kitchen. The doorbell rings, and Jackie presents her friend “Prince Carlos Phillip Johnathan Kent William Arthur Thompson Peppy Charmaign of Moldavia,” played by Jim Varney. Varney is best known as Ernest P. Worrell from the 80s and 90s advertisements and film franchise “Ernest.” Beverly quickly begins hitting on the new guest, and they share a drink while Leon and his husband Scott, played by the great Fred Willard, fawn over The Prince.
After seeing Leon and Scott treat Jerry Garcia so well, Roseanne offers them a babysitting job. The couple is flattered and announces their plans to adopt a child of their own. Beverly gets upset at the thought of two gay men adopting a baby because that’s “how they recruit to their side.” Bev starts a tirade against gay men and men in general. Since she and Leon usually get along so well, he brushes it off as her just being drunk.
At dinner, Beverly goes on another tirade about men. In her frenzy, she lets it slip that the only way she could sleep with her husband was if she stopped at the store and bought a copy of Playboy first. Everyone quickly realizes, in stunned silence, what has just occurred. Darlene finally says it out loud: “I think Grandma just outed herself.”
At some point in the dinner, The Prince has begun talking with a Texas accent. It’s basically Jim Varney’s natural voice, but he says it’s from spending two semesters at a University in Texas when he was younger. Jackie is having a hard time dealing with the news of Beverly’s confession. At the same time, Roseanne takes the opportunity to take good-natured jabs at her mother because her “right-wing, conservative, Republican mother is a big fat lesbo!”
Once everyone’s gone home for the evening, Roseanne sits on the sofa, depressed. She had nothing to do with Thanksgiving, and she feels like it wasn’t a real holiday and that she feels like she has nothing to be thankful for. Jackie and Darlene suggest opening The Lunch Box and serving Thanksgiving meals for the needy and homeless to get her out of her slump.
As the show ends, Roseanne is happy once again. She says serving food makes her feel good because she’s “feeding people, exhausted, stopped a fight, and burned her fingers… and it finally feels like Thanksgiving!”