THANKSGIVING, FOR A LOWLY Canadian like me, is not really a big deal. I’m trying to recall Thanksgiving specials from Canadian television, but then I was like “Canadian television? Hah hah hah.” I’m joking, sort of. American Thanksgiving, though! It merits its own week of turkey-themed TV. In practice, American and Canadian Thanksgiving aren’t really so different. We have less nationalistic sentimentality attached to our holiday, and I sense there’s less of an obligation to visit one’s parents, but the concept remains: we count our blessings by accounting for where we are in life.
The True Meaning of Thanksgiving translates pretty directly to all sitcoms, regardless of the individual show. Characters gather and assess their current situation, their relationships, their economic and emotional growth. It provides an opportunity for sitcoms to play with multigenerational dynamics, and, consequently, our 30-something ladies sometimes regress a bit. As the women on both New Girl and Mindy Project aren’t yet married, we cannot see them as entire and complete individuals in their own right. Further, without children of their own (and, really, even with), they are still the children of their parents. (Betsey’s family! Also, we’re all officially shipping Betsey and Jeremy so very hard, right? When did Jeremy get to be such a sweetheart?) Thanksgiving means families. And families are complicated.
Prior to the airing of New Girl and Mindy Project last night, I watched the New Normal Thanksgiving special, which boasted a scene of divorced parents hooking up, together again. The same happened on New Girl. Is this a sitcom commonplace? Is this a Thanksgiving commonplace? I appreciated seeing older characters explore their sex drives (especially Jamie Lee Curtis, who was a definitive fox as Jess’s mom), but isn’t this plot device a little bit gimmicky? Is this the only way to cast the parents of our characters? As somehow expectedly divorced and gruesomely combative, yet not so combative as to still give and get the warm holiday fuzzies by straddling one another?
On a recent Parks & Recreation, Ben’s divorced parents were forced to interact at his engagement party. The outcome was messy and hysterical, but at least the show didn’t try to have it both ways. There was a sense that Ben and Leslie would absolutely not turn out like Ben’s parents, that there would be no inheritance of such feuding. Ben and Leslie would be different.
On New Girl, it seemed the opposite. Jess’s mom enters the apartment with a gleeful flourish, donning a pilgrim’s hat, to signal that, yes, Jess definitely got it from her mama. As she says to her mother later: “I can’t wait to eat cat food with you.” Is this the Platonic ideal of a Jess line? Not only that, but Nick — Jess’s ostensible soulmate — mirrors Jess’s curmudgeonly dad as they sit in front of the television, practically finishing one another’s sentences. When Jess asks Nick to hit on her mom (as a ploy to reignite jealous passions in her father), Nick is reluctant at first, but then grows almost immediately captivated by Joan. We get it! Jess and Nick are, in some confused Oedipal way, destined for one another. Nick is like Jess’s dad, Nick likes Jess’s mom, and Jess wants desperately for her dad and mom to get together. Well, not this time, Jess. Perhaps she’d be better to displace such matchmaking energy onto a different couple? Still, the past doesn’t bode well for the future.
We saw progress on New Girl in the relationship between Schmidt and his cousin. It was a chance to see Schmidt as the refined modern man he had to learn to become ($18 granola, a sophisticated beer pallet, knowing the marks of a classic julienne), but it was also a way to see Schmidt find communion with a cousin that used only to bully him.
By giving characters a marked moment to reevaluate their lives, the Thanksgiving special also gives viewers another window in which to assess where characters currently stand. Did Cece break up with Robbie already? If so, was Robbie so inconsequential to Cece — so not a threat to Schmidt — that he didn’t even merit a goodbye? Schmidt’s recently-single cousin (also known as Schmidt) reminded us that there is no better time to feel alone and sorry for yourself than during the holidays. This is, as suggested, all the more depressing if you’re not used to being alone.
Mindy Project showed three separate plotlines (which, I thought, they pulled off brilliantly), the most heart-wrenching being Danny alone at the office, eating a hotdog, feeding crumbs to his only company — a rat, who rejects his offerings anyway. We’re reminded that Danny is recently divorced, but this Thanksgiving special also reveals that Danny is, even if slowly, moving on and toward something. While the episode begins with Mindy’s current (now-exclusive) boyfriend Josh as viewed from outside a holiday-lit window, it ends with Danny, also framed by a window, as he turns off the office lights to leave the workplace. Danny has just texted “Happy Turkey” to Mindy, and her immediate response (though presumably simple) is enough to put a smile we so rarely see on Danny’s face.
What remains harrowing about such a family-oriented holiday is the question it raises for our unmarried characters: does Thanksgiving simply make clear that these 30-something apartment-sharing singletons aren’t just becoming children again — but that they never really grew up? Extended adolescence was, in a sense, the starting premise for Jess and Mindy. When Jess cried during Dirty Dancing rerun marathons, it was a little bit cloying, but still somewhat endearing. She was going to move on from this, right? Become her own woman? When Mindy made a drunken scene at her ex’s wedding, it was already framed as a flashback. That was before. That pilot ended with Mindy on her game as a self-possessed OB/GYN! She was totally on her way to self-fulfillment.
Last night included some sour notes for both shows, but I think Jess takes the cake with her (not first try) at parent trapping, followed by when she picked up the untouched turkey, dumped it in the sink, and tried to dispense with it through the garbage disposal. In terms of unrestrained yelling, New Girl and Mindy Project run a tight race. There was that chasing scene between Mindy and Gwen, but with all the competitive energy happening in New Girl, they probably win the decibel game. Poor Winston.
POINT: Mindy, for that seduction scene.