It’s Thanksgiving night. A half-finished piece of pumpkin pie rests on your distended stomach. The dishes are washed. You need something to watch — but you don’t want to exert much mental energy trying to follow it.
Fear not: We’ve compiled a list of 12 TV shows that are high quality and well worth watching under any circumstance, yet lend themselves to vegging out.
So if you get caught up in one of them and watch enough episodes that you abruptly realize it’s 4 am, and you should have been bed hours ago — or if you immediately fall asleep and wake up at 4 am to fall back into its comforting rhythms with a smile on your face — well, you’ll be happy either way.
And just in case none of these recommendations appeal, we’ve provided bonus options as well, shows that fit a similar vibe but are just different enough to be worth a shot.
All of the series below are available on at least one of the three major streaming platforms — Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon — and most of them are available on other platforms as well. Happy veg-watching!
One of the greatest Thanksgiving episodes ever made is “Thanksgiving Orphans,” a season five installment of Cheers, in which the regulars of Boston’s favorite bar gathers for a big meal, then end up in a food fight instead. It’s a terrifically representative episode of this hangdog hangout comedy about the people who make the place where “everybody knows your name” a place worth going.
But if you’d rather not watch Cheers, why not try out Frasier, the show’s long-running spinoff about psychiatrist Frasier Crane? It’s more farcical than Cheers, with more a more erudite sense of humor. Maybe that’s your thing! Either way, both shows ran for 11 seasons and over 250 episodes, so you’ll have plenty to keep you occupied. And as a bonus, both are available on all major streaming services. —Todd VanDerWerff
If that doesn’t appeal, try ... Friends (on Netflix)
Gilmore Girls (Netflix)
Gilmore Girls is about exactly three things: gorging yourself on food, exploring the complex and occasionally rancorous dynamics of families across generations, and making you feel cozy. In other words, it’s an ideal Thanksgiving show. Even if you decide to skip the so-so revival, there are still 149 episodes of mother-daughter small-town hijinks for you to enjoy, so it will last you through the longest food coma you can imagine.
Just about any stretch of Gilmore Girls should suffice, but if you’d like some guidance, start with arguably the show’s best episode — season three’s “They Shoot Gilmores, Don’t They?” — and just keep watching from there. A couple of hours in, you’ll hit the show’s only official Thanksgiving episode (the ninth episode of season three, “A Deep Fried Korean Thanksgiving”), so you’ll be on theme. And the whole time, you’ll be basking in the series at its sweetest and warmest. —Constance Grady
If that doesn’t appeal, try ... The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (on Amazon)
The Great British Baking Show (Netflix)
The Great British Baking Show has won hearts and spawned countless imitators the world over for a litany of very good reasons. For one thing, its contestants’ struggle is Herculean: The UK’s best amateur bakers, week after week, have to produce perfect pastries using a combination of pure luck, snap judgments, and baking magic, which means the results are often as jaw-dropping as they are unpredictable (the bread lion guy didn’t even win star baker!).
Yet rather than fighting and turning the experience into a cutthroat competition, the bakers work together, become BFFs, and cheer each other on, and you will cry over their bond at least once. In the latest season, which recently landed on Netflix, the contestants frequently held hands as they entered the baking tent. “I love you all,” one finalist told her fellows in the last moments of the finale. It’s a perpetual group hug that leaves you feeling full: stuffed not with food but human kindness. —Aja Romano
If that doesn’t appeal, try ... So You Think You Can Dance (on Hulu)
Jane the Virgin (Netflix)
A candy-coated confection of a show, yet one that possesses astounding emotional depth, Jane the Virgin is a sneaky, brilliant little series that you’ll quickly grow addicted to. This spin on the telenovela — which airs on The CW first-run — involves a young woman named Jane who is (you guessed it) a virgin but finds herself accidentally impregnated after an artificial insemination mixup.
If that doesn’t sound like the basis for a quirky comedy, well, you’d be surprised. Creator Jennie Snyder Urman (who adapted Jane from a Venezuelan series) and star Gina Rodriguez give every moment of this daffy show visual pizzazz, heart, and a winking sense of humor. The show has 81 episodes so far, and if you start watching now, you’ll be all caught up when the fifth and final season launches in 2019. —TV
If that doesn’t appeal, try ... Felicity (on Hulu)
King of the Hill (Hulu)
Hank Hill is just a normal man, with a normal wife, and a normal son, living a completely normal life in the little hamlet of Arlen, Texas, in Mike Judge and Greg Daniels’s animated sitcom. King of the Hill, which ran from 1997 to 2010, has some of the same small-town charm and low-key humor of the 1960s classic The Andy Griffith Show, but the fact that it’s animated means it can also indulge in weird flights of fancy.
Add in some of the finest voice performances ever on TV (including Judge himself as Hank) and you have a show that scrapes the surface of “normal” to reveal America’s weird, beating heart. There are 13 seasons and 259 episodes newly available on Hulu, after the show was absent from streaming for years, so get cracking. —TV
If that doesn’t appeal, try ... Bob’s Burgers (on Hulu)
The Office (Netflix)
There are two kinds of people in America: the happy and well-adjusted ones, and those of us who frequently find ourselves watching The Office on a constant loop as comfort food, a bracing bulwark against the insanity of the world. But the beauty of The Office is that both kinds of people can unite in post-Thanksgiving stupor to just watch whatever Dunder Mifflin adventure is next in the binge queue and enjoy it. Whether you watched The Office when it was first airing, have been maniacally binge-watching for years (like me), or never saw it at all, it makes perfect sense to most anyone no matter where you pick up in the story.
The character archetypes are so true to life that everybody knows an Angela, or a Dwight, or a Michael, or a Kelly. And the paper company setting is so banal that it’s the characters’ antics, not the work of selling paper itself, that take center stage. If you want a Thanksgiving-specific episode, try season seven’s “WUPHF.com”; or, if you want one that makes your awkward Thanksgiving meal conversation seem glorious and relaxed by comparison, there’s nothing better than season four’s spine-tinglingly awkward “Dinner Party.” —Alissa Wilkinson
If that doesn’t appeal, try ... Parks & Recreation (on Hulu)
Nailed It (Netflix)
Nailed It! is no ordinary baking show, and it won’t teach you much of anything. But that’s what makes it so fun. Born of the “nailed it” internet meme — a variation of the Pinterest fail in which a beautiful or elegant thing, often a cake, is portrayed side-by-side with a much less successful recreation — Nailed It! features three home bakers, usually very bad ones, competing to make two cake creations. The challenges are purposely absurdly out of reach for many professional bakers, let alone amateurs. And the results are hilariously bad — which is the point.
Some cool prizes (including $10,000) are at stake, but for the most part, Nailed It! is a comedy show, with a panel of judges that includes pastry chef Jacques Torres, the hilarious Nicole Byer, and usually some rotating random person who has no connection to baking whatsoever. There are 13 episodes total that you can watch in an afternoon. And thanks to Netflix corporate integration, one of them is a bonus episode featuring the guys from Queer Eye. —AW
If that doesn’t appeal, try ... The Wine Show (on Hulu)
Jason Katims won an Emmy and considerable acclaim for his work on the five-season Friday Night Lights, a beauty of a series about small-town Texas, adolescence, and high school football. His follow-up series, Parenthood, which ran for six seasons on NBC, wasn’t quite as good. But it was close, and it’s probably a better show to watch in the throes of a food coma.
The Bravermans of the San Francisco Bay Area have very real problems with smaller stakes than those on most shows — an unexpected child here, a cancer diagnosis there — but the show succeeds at making those life-sized problems feel as important to you as they do to the Bravermans. Especially in the second through fourth seasons, the show is as good as any family drama ever made, and the cast — which includes Peter Krause, Lauren Graham, Bonnie Bedelia, and Craig T. Nelson — is stacked. There are 103 episodes, so you could almost finish the series this weekend if you did nothing else! —TV
If that doesn’t appeal, try ... My So-Called Life (Hulu)
Property Brothers (Hulu)
Perhaps your home kitchen is currently covered in splatters of gravy and cranberry sauce. Perhaps signing up to host Thanksgiving dinner has made you painfully aware that your non-open floor plan doesn’t lend itself to the type of entertaining that everyone on HGTV seems to love so much. But don’t let your mismatched folding chairs or those pesky walls get you down.
Turn on the endlessly cheerful, cheesy charm of the Property Brothers, and let Jonathan and Drew Scott show you just how bright and airy your place could look if you had the time, money, and motivation to let them take a sledgehammer to it.
Revel in their lighthearted bickering. Play “unexpected setbacks” bingo (Asbestos! Knob and tube wiring! Something tricky with the HVAC!). Once it’s time for the big reveal, marvel at the staged bowls of fruit and open shelves and gleaming quartz countertops that would feel right at home in a Nancy Meyers movie. Then have a second helping of stuffing, try your hardest not to sweat that new red wine stain on the rug, and remind yourself that even if your abode isn’t ready for its TV debut, it gets the job done — and at this time of year, that’s all you need. —Jen Trolio
If that doesn’t appeal, try ... Grand Designs (Netflix)
Sex and the City (Amazon Prime)
Watching Sex and the City is like opening up a time capsule full of dated jokes about financial irresponsibility, the novelty of fellatio, trendy restaurants, and sentences that start with “I couldn’t help but wonder…” Granted, a lot of that datedness is because it’s been 14 years since the show ended.
Even if some elements of Carrie Bradshaw and her friends’ story of navigating the big city haven’t aged particularly well, there’s still something very sweet and enjoyable about the core bits — the friendships, the terrible puns, how candidly the series approached dating and sex — that make it pleasant to watch while cooking, cleaning up, or digesting that enormous meal.
Nothing too bad ever happens, and everything, even a cancer scare or converting to Judaism for a soulmate who walked on you, is neatly resolved within in a handful of 20-something-minute episodes. —Alex Abad-Santos
If that doesn’t appeal, try ... Terrace House: Opening New Doors (Netflix)
This incredibly charming family comedy has aired 47 episodes over two full seasons and a still-airing third, almost completely without major media attention. Well, here’s hoping this tiny blurb in a larger feature about shows to watch over Thanksgiving counts as “major media attention”!
Focused on the cash-strapped DiMeo family, Speechless follows what happens when they put everything on the line to get oldest son JJ, who has cerebral palsy, into a school that will provide him with the educational aide he needs to thrive. That begins with moving their lower-class family into the most rundown house in an upper-class neighborhood. Minnie Driver and John Ross Bowie are terrific as the family parents, while Micah Fowler, an actor with cerebral palsy himself, breaks ground for TV as JJ. If you enjoy the show, new episodes air Fridays on ABC. —TV
If that doesn’t appeal, try ... Superstore (Hulu)
The Twilight Zone (Netflix)
What could be a better way to drift through your half-awake, post-meal hibernation period than a classic example of paranoid science fiction? Rod Serling’s original Twilight Zone ran five seasons between 1959 and 1964, with 156 episodes of wildly varying quality.
Some of these episodes are so famous at this point that they can be boiled down to, say, “The one with the monster on the plane wing” or “The one with the guy who just wants to read.” Or they might even be recognizable from a single line of dialogue — “That was a good thing you did!” or “It’s a cookbook!”
At any rate, even the bad Zones are entertaining, and the show’s cool, black and white terror becomes relevant all over again every few decades or so. Which is to say it’s relevant all over again right now. (Plus, Jordan Peele’s new version of the series launches in 2019.) —TV
If that doesn’t appeal, try ... The X-Files (Hulu)