5 Thanksgiving Shows That Were Surprisingly Controversial

Even pop-culture isn’t immune from heated Thanksgiving arguments.
5 Thanksgiving Shows That Were Surprisingly Controversial

As you can probably tell from all the rotting Jack-O-Lanterns currently stinking up your entire neighborhood, Thanksgiving is just around the corner. And while Thanksgiving – aka Black Friday Eve – often means drunkenly scarfing turkey while arguing with old people about their terrible politics, at least we always have television to pacify intense family get-togethers. However, sometimes the Thanksgiving-themed programs are themselves low-key lightning rods for controversy, like when…

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‘A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving’ Was Accused of Segregating Franklin

After discovering the true meaning of Christmas/Coca-Cola products and worshiping at the altar of a false pumpkin god, Charlie Brown and the Peanuts gang eventually starred in a holiday special all about Thanksgiving, the aptly-titled: A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving.

But beneath the seemingly harmless facade of bright colors and smooth jazz, there’s some seriously messed-up stuff going on in this show. For starters, the whole thing ends with Snoopy’s pal Woodstock cannibalizing a fellow fowl, which even producer Lee Mendelson reportedly objected to.

But the special’s most highly-publicized controversy didn’t surface until the 21st century, long after the Peanuts kids would themselves have turned into soulless trombone-talking grown-ups. ABC’s annual broadcast of A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving caught heat after viewers noticed an unnerving detail in the dinner scene (even beyond the fact that these unsupervised kids’ Thanksgiving dinner consists of candy and popcorn served by a literal dog).

Yes, Franklin, the cartoon’s only Black character, is weirdly seated completely alone on one side of the table. And while all the other characters were seated in proper dining chairs, Franklin was given some kind of beach chair? What the hell?

As Darnell Hunt, Dean of Social Sciences and Professor of Sociology and African American Studies at UCLA, said at the time, by isolating Franklin, “you could interpret it that no one wanted to sit next to him,” further pointing out that even if it was unintentional, “today this would not be acceptable… It really does speak to the need for more inclusive creators and storytellers behind the scenes who produce these images.”

‘Cheers’ Got Angry Letters For Wasting Food in its Thanksgiving Episode

With the exception of the odd protracted court case involving robotic barfliesCheers generally wasn’t a very controversial series. But one of the show’s Thanksgiving shows led to a barrage of “angry letters.”

The episode “Thanksgiving Orphans” found the gang sharing a holiday dinner together after all their other plans fell through. Unfortunately, gathering a bunch of co-workers and heavy drinkers into one small room erupts in chaos, ultimately leading to an intense food fight. Think of it as the ’80s sitcom precursor to that one episode of The Bear.

Apparently, the episode upset some viewers to the point of even threatening to boycott the show, specifically due to food wastage in the climax. As writer Ken Levine recalled: “At the time, Cheers got a lot of flack for that episode because there was a big ‘Stop World Hunger’ campaign.” Director James Burrows defended the production by pointing out that the unused food was sent to a mission afterward, but admitted: “You get complaints no matter what you do.”

‘How I Met Your Mother’s ‘Slapsgiving’ Episodes Devolved Into Racist Nonsense

Unless you angrily expunged the entire show from your memory following the godawful finale, you may recall that How I Met Your Mother’s Thanksgiving shows became intertwined with its “Slap Bet” storyline, giving us a slew of “Slapsgiving” episodes. At first, slaps were prohibited during holiday festivities, but by “Slapsgiving 2,” open-hand wailing on Barney became a heartwarming addition to Thanksgiving dinner.

Weirdly, the Slapsgiving saga expanded beyond the confines of November with “Slapsgiving 3: Slappointment in Slapmarra.” Unfortunately, the show abandoned the usual holiday trappings for an ill-considered martial arts parody that featured several fantasy sequences with the actors in “yellowface.”

Following the swift backlash, co-creator Carter Bays apologized for the episode just days after it aired, stating: “We try to make a show that’s universal, that anyone can watch and enjoy. We fell short of that this week and feel terrible about it.”

Fans Thought Uncle Chuck Was Eating Ass in a Holiday-Themed ‘Hey Arnold!’

While they’re totally cool with dowsing celebrities in green slime and subjecting small children to traumatic obstacle courses, Nickelodeon tends to avoid depicting graphic sex acts in their shows. But some filthy-minded fans believed that a Thanksgiving episode of Hey Arnold! contained a shot featuring Uncle Chuck in the background passionately performing a sex act that rhymes with “bleating smass.”

After the clip went viral on Vine (hey, remember Vine?) The A.V. Club’s Kinky Cartoon Department leaped into action, contacting the show’s creator, Craig Bartlett. According to Bartlett, the background detail in “Arnold’s Thanksgiving” merely depicted “Uncle Chuck eating a turkey with his hands.” He also said: “I assure you it was never intended to be what the guy tweeted it was.” (Yet more disrespect for Vine).

‘Friends’ Welcomed Brad Pitt – and Condemnation From the Intersex Community

One of the most famous guest stars in the history of Friends is Brad Pitt, who popped by in 2001 to play Will Colbert, Monica and Ross’ close childhood pal who got invited to one Thanksgiving dinner, then was bafflingly never mentioned ever again. 

While complaining about dated storylines in old Friends episodes is a little like shooting fish that won’t stop making gay jokes in a barrel, this particular episode, “The One With the Rumor,” elicited immediate criticism. This came from the story centering around Will’s revelation that he and Ross once started an “I Hate Rachel Club” in high school and spread a rumor that she was born with “both male and female reproductive parts.” It turns out that even Chandler had heard stories of the “hermaphrodite cheerleader from Long Island.”

The intersex community was, understandably, hurt and offended by the episode, prompting several “intersex activists and allies” to reach out to NBC to express their disappointment concerning the show’s ignorance and insensitivity. In recent years, Friends co-creator Marta Kaufman admitted: “I might have not done the hermaphrodite stuff today if I had that to do over,” calling the storyline a “period piece.” It might be a better excuse if not for the fact that people in that period were voicing their objections.

You (yes, you) should follow JM on Twitter (if it still exists by the time you’re reading this).

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