26 November 2009

The Long Halloween: Thanksgiving

Continuing our year-long look at the greatest Holiday specials ever, Thanksgiving is one of the easiest. There was no debate really, no second-guessing, everyone should know above and beyond what the greatest Thanksgiving Episode EVER is immediately off the top of their heads.

From WKRP in Cincinnati, it's "Turkeys Away" (S1;E7) first broadcast in the November of 1978. Okay, so maybe if you were born on this side of the Berlin Wall falling down you may have missed it. Never fret, dear readers, see it yourself right now:

Now, right off the bat we can discuss some of the show's flawed "sitcom-y" conventions (thinking of the awkward flirting between Jennifer Marlowe [Loni Anderson] and Herb Tarlek [Frank Bonner] during the first scene of the episode) as well as the occasional painful bits of dialogue. Now I'll admit first that I've never seen another episode of this show, but Turkeys Away does a fine job of introducing a wide range of characters with different idiosyncracies and lets them work for the story. The finest being Arthur Carlson (Gordan Jump) and Les Nessman (Richard Sanders) who really sell the disastrous Turkey Fiasco.

Now, this episode works because of its subtlty and building catastrophe. Surely due to budget constraints, but also to heighten the ridiculosity, we never actually get to see the Turkey Atrocity but we get a few good descriptions ("It was almost as if they were...organized..."). The show brilliantly establishes Nessman's awkward uncomfortableness in normal office life, imagining his fighting against both Turkey and Man (Sanders' delivery of "A man and his two children tried to kill me" makes me crack up every single time, it's so deadpan and serious while simultaneously absolutely absurd) provides most of the hilarity in the ending of the episode. His references to Herbert Morrison and the Hindenburg Disaster ("OH THE HUMANITY!!") really round out what must have been such a hellish experience.

"Turkeys Away" also builds its tension incredibly well. The first two-thirds are paced fairly slow and focus mainly on Carlson adjusting to the station format change. Suddenly and accidentally Carlson unleashes hell on a local Cincinnati supermarket when he drops twenty live turkeys out of the sky onto the heads of the people down below in a misguided attempt to take an active role in the marketing of the station. What works is how shocking this is compared to the lighter earlier half, as well as a good pay-off for Carlson's secrecy as to the exact nature of the promotion.

Finally, I enjoy it because it doesn't deal with any "giving thanks" or "pilgrims" or any of that crap. It boils down Thanksgiving to what it should be: an insane old man throwing turkeys out of a helicopter ("As God as my witness...I thought Turkeys could fly," perfect ending line by the way). The holiday is clearly in the background, but also vitally important to the plot of the episode. It is by far and large the greatest Thanksgiving Special ever, and if you haven't seen it that's a problem that needs to be fixed immediately.

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