The Tastes and Testimonies of Thanksgiving TVNovember 27, 2015
- Don JaucianWords
It’s possible that Thanksgiving is an American pop-cultural invention, brought upon a Western-enamored populace to foster ideals of freedom and gratitude. At best, it is a soft power fable about bountiful harvests and tables brimming with food. Perhaps most of the things that we know about Thanksgiving was filtered through film and TV: Addams Family Values, A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, Planes Trains and Automobiles, and hours of Thanksgiving TV specials from Saturday Night Live, Friends, and even The Sopranos.
Thanksgiving brims with a Rockwellian image of America: families gathering in tables laden with plates and bowls of pumpkin pie, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, cornbread, and of course, the turkey; the singular icon of this annual feast.
Filipinos usually don’t care for this much backtracking, especially in this chaotic economic climate. What the hell is there to be thankful for, anyway? But there’s something about the turkey-fied celebration that has held sway over us in the last couple of years. Thanksgiving wasn’t a thing until our favorite TV shows started imposing this festivity on us.
Each season became marked by occasions that track the progression of time in the show’s narrative itinerary: October comes the Halloween Special, when episodes are a bit spookier; November comes Thanksgiving, when plot lines mainly revolve around cooking or families reuniting; and December brings in Christmas, when things are a bit more somber, and filtered by bokeh from Christmas lights.
During its 10-year run, Friends was the TV authority on Thanksgiving. Try Googling “thanksgiving episodes” and most of the results will be a ranking of the 10 best Friends episodes. Although definitive lists on Thanksgiving episodes run a smattering of genre that use the holiday to deploy several devices and crises to spring on their characters, from All My Children (atheism) to Cheers (food fight!), How I Met Your Mother (slapping!) to Community (daddy issues), and The Simpsons (the blame game) to Bob’s Burgers (indecent proposals).
While Friends nurtured its high stakes humor for its themed episode as a setup for family dysfunction, TV’s current thanksgiving king, Bob Belcher of Bob’s Burgers hones in on the core of it all: the food. Bob’s Burgers is unabashedly a foodie’s show, centering on a family that tries to survive its flatlining restaurant despite the fancy ingredients that Bob tries to force on his burgers, from black onion, soft chevre cheese, to kale and creme fraiche, all with pun-tastic names such as “Baby You Can Chive My Car Burger” to “Chorizo Your Own Adventure.” There’s actually a running gag that his restaurant’s failure mostly hinges on his stubborn insistence to craft burgers that go beyond the All-American tradition.
Being a family show, Bob’s Burgers’ thanksgivings still thrive with a lot of household ruckus but it tries to be more inventive. The classic trope is that the holiday creates tension which gets resolved as they all realize the “true meaning”. Bob’s Burgers likes to turning the weird ante up a notch, ticking off the requirements although wrapped in oversized exercises on hilarity.
One episode focuses on how a turkey in a toilet is an evocation of Bob’s fears of his kids finally growing up. Another puts the Belchers in a mansion to stand-in as their landlord’s brood, just so he can entice his former lover to wreck his “family” (there’s also a Ghibli tribute tucked in via an absinthe-aided hallucination). An attack of turkeys become a Halloween-Thanksgiving crossover, plus a special performance accompanied by Donna Summer’s “Dim All The Lights.”
The show’s resident musicians, mother and son Linda and Gene have also contributed two Thanksgiving songs (you know, like Christmas carols), which were both covered by The National. All throughout, Bob desperately tries to cook his beloved turkey for his favorite holiday, even going as far as a three-day brine that, of course, eventually goes down the drain, literally.
In local landscape though, nothing is as remarkable as Randolph Longjas’s Ang Turkey Man Ay Pabo Rin. The film sends Tuesday Vargas’s Cookie into a quest to find turkey as requested by her American boyfriend, Matthew (Travis Kraft) who wants to celebrate Thanksgiving and show her how it’s the American equivalent of a fiesta. Along the way, there are discussions of Fil-Am relations, the stigma of having an afam as your significant other, cultural clashes, and the mystique of “ano” and language.
“In the real world, we may spend Thanksgiving trying to avoid sticky situations but in sitcoms, we like to pile on as many high jinks as we can think of before shoving in some overt sweetness during the last act,” wrote Pilot Virulet in an article in The A.V. Club.
Ang Turkey Man Ay Pabo din follows this template, drawing parallels on the familial and romantic tendencies of both cultures. To watch a Filipino film that harps on the values of Thanksgiving perhaps isn’t merely a spectacle of whitewashing, but a demonstration of how the holiday has seeped into a wider consciousness as a showcase on how food and domestic ties go along so well. It has become the meat and stuffing of our cherished moments in pop culture.