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Thanksgivings Past: How Felicity Turned the Thanksgiving Episode Upside Down

It's freshman year of college, and nobody wants to leave New York.
  • Jennifer Garner, Scott Foley, Amy Jo Johnson, Keri Russell, Ian Gomez, and Scott Speedman in Felicity (The WB)
    Jennifer Garner, Scott Foley, Amy Jo Johnson, Keri Russell, Ian Gomez, and Scott Speedman in Felicity (The WB)

    Thanksgiving episodes are a tradition dating back to television's earliest days. This week on Primetimer, we're traveling back in time to revisit episodes that made an impression on our contributors, both good and bad. 

    Felicity: "Thanksgiving"

    Air Date: November 24, 1998
    Available to Stream? Yes! On ABC.comAmazon Prime Video and YouTube

    When it comes to Christmas, TV has no shortage of episode themes to fall back on. Or, okay, they mostly have two: the Scrooge tale and the It's a Wonderful Life tale, and they just get used over and over again. Thanksgiving doesn't really have that. For one thing, nobody wants to do an episode about the actual Thanksgiving story, with all its colonial and genocidal overtones. And there aren't any real classic Thanksgiving movies to do homages to, certainly not compared to Christmas. So pretty much every Thanksgiving episode on TV involves the characters making dinner, and then something goes wrong, and then everybody enjoys the disrupted meal, because the moral of the story is being with loved ones and gratitude and whatnot.

    This is why the Thanksgiving episode in Felicity's first season remains such an important holiday touchstone: because it actually addresses a Thanksgiving landmark/rite of passage. And in doing so, the show plays with the idea of going home again after leaving for the great big world. In real life, the first Thanksgiving break of freshman year is a crucial juncture. It's a welcome break from the rigors of a college workload. In many cases, it's the first chance for students to return home since the summertime. And it's also the first time that old high-school friendships and relationships get put to the test after three months of absence and distance have put them at risk.

    Felicity knew all this, and yet, rather than return home to Palo Alto with its title character, creator J.J. Abrams moved heaven and earth and flew in the face of common university policy to keep his entire cast of characters at the fictional University of New York over Thanksgiving break. Of course, Felicity flew in the face of that kind of logic all the time, witness the palatial freshman dorms they live in. But in violating the way things would go in the real world, Abrams got to essentially invert the idea of someone's first Thanksgiving break since leaving for college. Rather than Felicity, Noel, Ben, Julie, and the gang each returning to their homes to, say, break up with their high-school sweethearts or to realize that their lives are back at college now, all that action gets redirected to New York instead.

    This was all very memorable to me personally, since Felicity enjoys the distinction of being the one college-set TV show that aired contemporaneously with my own college years. The Buffy kids were a year behind me, and the Dawson's Creek brood were even farther back than that. And while I couldn't exactly relate to the perils of a beautiful young girl making a cross-country move only to end up in a love triangle with the boy she followed from California to NYC and the floppy-haired resident advisor in the bulky button-down shirts that were so popular at the time, I still saw in Felicity a reflection of the general timeline of my life. And so, while I experienced the first big homecoming after college began, I watched with fascination as Felicity and Noel saw home come to them.

    The major and most memorable storyline in the Felicity Thanksgiving episode was Noel's long-distance girlfriend, Hannah, coming to New York to spend the long weekend. Felicity would have gone into a neurotic meltdown about the whole situation anyway, but add to it that Hannah was played by Jennifer Garner and was generally the perfect person, and suddenly Felicity's long weekend started to seem like it would last an eternity. Garner's stint on Felicity was notable for a few reasons: 1) Garner and Scott Foley, who played Noel, would begin dating, beginning the chain reaction of Garner dumping boyfriends to start dating new co-stars (Michael Vartan on Alias, giving way to Ben Affleck on Daredevil), and 2) J.J. Abrams got the idea for Alias from Felicity, as he fantasized about a grand reveal where college-student Felicity would turn out to be a CIA agent.

    Ultimately, Hannah isn't in New York to re-commit to Noel, and after a short while of falling into bad habits, she dumps him for this new guy she's seeing back at her school. This is both a cruel blow to Noel as well as an easy decision-maker, since now Felicity is the only game in town. Yes, that's annoying. Welcome to Noel. (#TeamBen) But the real standout scene is when Hannah essentially bequeaths Noel to Felicity.

    Then cut from Hannah and Felicity to the most infuriatingly unrealistic yet wonderfully idealized Friendsgiving dinner ever, complete with a full roasted turkey and all the trimmings that was ... prepared in the freshman-floor common room? Sure! Why not. It's all perfectly Felicity: a fairy tale of the college years, where sensitive people hack through the jungle of their unrelenting feelings. If that isn't perfect for Thanksgiving, what is?

    Would you believe we didn't have a Felicity topic in our forums? We're corrected that mistake. Weigh in with your favorite memories from the series.

    Joe Reid is the Managing Editor at Primetimer and co-host of the This Had Oscar Buzz podcast. His work has appeared in Decider, NPR, HuffPost, The Atlantic, Slate, Polygon, Vanity Fair, The Herald Sun, Vulture, The A.V. Club and more.

    TOPICS: Felicity, Jennifer Garner, Keri Russell, Scott Foley, Retro TV, Thanksgiving