No other holiday says television like Thanksgiving, which is already three-quarters devoted to sitting on a couch in an insurmountable stupor. Whether it’s from the tryptophan, the pie or the beer, from unquestioned custom or, indeed, the psychosomatic effects of television itself, America will be collapsed in front of the tube from coast to coast this weekend.
From the vicarious chill of the early-morning East Coast parade sites, to a game called football I am told is popular, to the official beginning of the Christmas-special season (a gun that Hallmark Channel has already jumped this year, but it is always Christmas with those people anyway), it’s all totally allowed.
Thanksgiving Day itself begins, as any child knows and no adult can possibly have forgotten, with the Macy’s parade (9 a.m. CBS and NBC), with bands on the street, balloons above it, turned-up collars in the crowd and bare trees in the park. Taylor Swift is in it this year, which seems right.
Marathons, which is how the pioneers binge-watched, are another custom of the day, as much as marshmallows melted into sweet potatoes or an aged aunt’s sloppy kiss on the cheek. In the days before television was totally your slave, it was a rare opportunity to luxuriate in hours of “I Love Lucy” or “The Twilight Zone.”
But even now that your wish is its command, there is something special about the unasked-for offer, the unexpected bounty — something very much in tune with the holiday and its spirit of happy overindulgence and exhaustion.
This year’s Thanksgiving Day marathons include something for many tastes. There will be huge batches of “Adventure Time” (Cartoon Network, from 9 a.m.), “Modern Family” (USA, from 10 a.m.), “Duck Dynasty” (1 p.m. A&E), “River Monsters” (2 p.m. Animal Planet), “Cops” (5 p.m. Spike) and “Portlandia” (9 a.m. IFC) coming your way.
TBS will have a Thanksgiving meta-marathon of Thanksgiving episodes of “Friends” (Thursday, from 10 a.m.), followed by three hours of “Seinfeld,” culminating in “The Strike,” where you first heard the word “Festivus.” Not exactly on television, a “Mystery Science Theater 3000 Turkey Day Marathon” begins at noon, live-streamed from MST3KTurkeyDay.com, providing a vicarious social experience for those wishing to avoid or unable to enjoy a real one.
Later in the weekend, and out of the nominal holiday spirit, Showtime will offer current seasons-to-date of “Homeland” (3 p.m. Saturday) and “The Affair” (4 p.m. Sunday). Syfy will rerun the whole first season of its virus-in-Antarctica sci-fi-horror-thriller “Helix” (6 a.m. Friday); BBC America, on the strength I suppose of Patrick Stewart being British and having the word “America” in its name, will cover large tracts of Friday with “Star Trek: The Next Generation” (noon), while USA fills up Saturday with “NCIS” (11 a.m.) and Sunday with “Law and Order: SVU” (9 a.m.), which actually isn’t all that different from any other day on USA.
A clutch of old Christmas specials will be dragged again from the old Christmas special box; only the CBS pairing of “Yes, Virginia” (voices of Neil Patrick Harris and Jennifer Love Hewitt) and “Frosty the Snowman” (the Rankin-Bass roasted chestnut, narrated by Jimmy Durante) and CW’s DreamWorks twofer of “Kung Fu Panda Holiday” and “Merry Madagascar” feel worth mentioning. They compete for your attention Friday night from 9 to 10.
And there will be dogs: NBC has the “13th Annual National Dog Show” Thanksgiving Day at noon, with a prime-time repeat Saturday at 8. Thanksgiving night at 8, Fox airs “Cause for Paws: An All-Star Dog Spectacular,” at once a celebration of rescue dogs and an opportunity to rescue one. Hilary Swank and Jane Lynch co-host; Betty White, Kesha, Scarlett Johansson, Josh Duhamel, Kristen Bell, LeAnn Rimes, Kristin Chenoweth, Whitney Cummings, Max Greenfield, Kathy Griffin, Jerry O’Connell, Kelly and Sharon Osbourne, Rebecca Romijn and Emmy Rossum are among famous humans who have promised to come.
Last and possibly most is “Comedy Central’s All-Star Non-Denominational Christmas Special” (premiering 10 p.m. Thursday and repeating every night through the weekend), an olio of holiday-themed japes and bad examples built around the stars of a network that has every cause to be proud of them.
I have not seen any of this undoubtedly magical hour, but we have been promised appearances by Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer from “Broad City"; Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele, from “Key & Peele"; Nick Kroll and Jon Daly; Stephen Colbert and his time-slot successor Larry Wilmore, who will recall “his fondest holiday memory when his dad, dressed as Santa, was shot and arrested by the police"; a “Drunk History” take on “It’s a Wonderful Life"; a “RENO 911!” PSA; those crazy “Workaholics” as the Three Wise Men; and a Holiday Hashtag Wars edition of "@midnight,” with Steve Agee, Brian Posehn and Aisha Tyler. Host Chris Hardwick, too, naturally.