This is the second Thanksgiving episode after Thank You, God on Album 3. In that first show we heard how Mr. Whittaker went through some hard times as a child but still learned to be thankful to God in spite of it all. He was particularly thankful for his stepmother, who showed him compassion when he didn’t deserve it and led him to become a Christian. Similarly, Thanksgiving at Home again introduces the concept that we should be thankful even when things don’t go our way. The Barclay kids gain a new appreciation for their parents who have raised and provided for them. And in typical Barclay fashion, this show is a comedy rather than a serious drama like Thank You, God. As the title of Thanksgiving at Home implies, this is another Barclay do-it-yourself staycation. But unlike Our Best Vacation Ever, which was driven by George’s enthusiasm, this show is driven by the Barclay children. Donna and Jimmy are such strong characters that they more than carry the show without the need for the introduction of any characters outside the Barclay family. The two of them do such a great job together that the Barclay parents are largely absent for much of the show and yet the story doesn’t suffer. Instead, it thrives off the kids’ interaction.
Thanksgiving is an important holiday for Jimmy. But he’s not so clear on the meaning of the holiday itself. Just as he was so focused on the presents he was going to get for Christmas in the episode Peace on Earth, now he’s totally focused on the food his parents are going to make. But then disaster hits. In Peace on Earth the family woke up to find they had been robbed of their presents. Now in Thanksgiving at Home the Barclay parents wake up sick and Jimmy is robbed of his prized turkey dinner. Of course Donna is deprived of this as well, but it’s interesting to note that she doesn’t complain the way Jimmy does. Jimmy is absolutely devastated by the situation. He’s horrified at the prospect of having Thanksgiving at the Jacobs house. Turkey dinner with Robyn? No thank you. You would think Donna would be the one who would vocally oppose having to go over to Robyn’s place. In the episode But, You Promised, Donna and Robyn had a falling out and their friendship never recovered. This seems like the closest they ever came to coming together again, but alas they missed the opportunity.
The humor in this episode is topnotch. It basically turns into a terrible cooking show. Donna says, “It can’t be that hard to do. Stuff some bread in the turkey and throw it in the oven. Simple.” It’s a great line and immediately signals to the audience that things are about to go horribly wrong. And a lot of it is the result of impatience. Donna and Jimmy want their Thanksgiving dinner as quickly as possible, so they fast track the turkey and pop it in the microwave. Kids these days. Things haven’t changed much since this episode came out in 1990. During the cooking process the Barclay house fills with smoke. Keep in mind that this show aired after Two Sides to Every Story, which for some reason was placed on Album 9, so you would think Jimmy would have learned not to mess around with fire by now. I’m kind of disappointed the kids didn’t try to cook the turkey over the fireplace, but I guess that would have gone a bit too far towards the cartoonish. After the turkey has been burnt, now all of sudden the kids find a cookbook. What a perfect way to end their botched cooking experiment. If it wasn’t already clear that they did everything wrong, now at least they have it in writing.
This episode is steeped in the theme of tradition. It’s not always possible to maintain traditions, which can be either a good or a bad thing depending on the situation. We listen in this show as the Barclay kids try and fail to recreate their family Thanksgiving traditions. A bulk of the episode’s humor comes from Donna and Jimmy’s turkey preparations. Meanwhile, amidst his fear that their celebration of the holiday will change, Jimmy grasps at old gender roles for security. As is tradition in their home, Jimmy declares that it’s his role as the man to watch football on TV while it’s Donna’s role as the woman to prepare the food for the meal. This tradition also falls apart, which is a good thing, as Donna forces Jimmy to help her in the kitchen. And finally, Jimmy and Donna retell the story of the original Thanksgiving, the one which so much tradition has since been built on. And what’s so important about this is that it shows how even the first American Thanksgiving was a celebration in the context of hardship. Not only had the Pilgrims been persecuted and had to flee from their homes in England, but many of them died during their first winter in Plymouth. And the Indians were suffering as well, having experienced plague. But they all did the best they could with the harvest they were given and started a new tradition, similarly to the Barclays.
You’d be hard-pressed to find another episode which gives Donna and Jimmy so much time to talk with each other without interruption. The setting doesn’t even change once, but somehow it never gets boring. That’s probably because the show is so funny. Not only is the overarching situation entertaining, but Jimmy is constantly cracking off jokes. And there’s also a lot humor that only adults will get. This is a show for the whole family and will make you love the Barclays if you don’t already. The character-driven story is simple and relatable, and thoroughly enjoyable. It’s a fun comedy told at a nice, relaxing pace and is nothing short of a classic Odyssey episode. It gets 5 out of 5 stars.