The Holidays, As Seen On Television

Whitney Carpenter is the only person who wishes her Thanksgiving was more like an episode of Friends.

My goal this Thanksgiving is to get five attractive, unrelated people into my home and keep them there until someone makes a toast with three discernible punch lines. I’m willing to be ruthless, with no regard for family or nonrefundable plane tickets; we’re talking vegetarian stuffing, two kinds of cheap wine, and modest monetary incentives passed out in little envelopes shaped like the Mayflower. If it goes well I’ll be inviting them back for a Christmas celebration where I hope to fraternize with an oh-so-hilariously-jaded mall Santa and see some serious sexual tension under the mistletoe. It’s the holidays, people, only this time I’d doing them sitcom-style. And I’m pretty sure it’s going to be amazing.

When you consider that I don’t own a television and love shouting, “Get over Friends!” at women with Jennifer Aniston-esque haircuts, it’s strange that I pine for a version of the holidays that boils down to just 22 minutes after commercials. (20 minutes if you don’t include the comic subplot about finding cranberry sauce in a crowded supermarket, which I emphatically do.) But there’s something seductive about a gathering where you’re rooting for disaster, a holiday where each inedible side-dish or unexpected guest isn’t a tragedy, just a step towards that inevitable slap-stick conclusion. The cliché floats in my imagination with all of the romance and clarity you can demand from memories created by a pair of rabbit-eared antenna prongs: a handful of people with gleaming smiles (their values and lifestyles aligned on all points, excepting a few trademark eccentricities), who jointly overcome a series of mishaps and the burden of a laugh-track to enjoy a bountiful and joyous meal.

As a dame in her socially-ambiguous twenties, I can appreciate that there is usually no discussion of where our cast of sitcom cronies will be spending their holidays. Last year, newly married and with no experience in large-scale negotiations, I was completely bamboozled; time limits were assigned, snide text messages were sent, and guilt was distributed like Starbucks gift cards. I’m pretty sure I committed us to at least three Thanksgiving dinners and every tree-lighting ceremony within 200 miles.

I dwell, currently, in a kind of holiday limbo. I’m old enough to celebrate the holidays on my own — old enough to complicate my yuletide maneuvers through marriage, even — but not yet old enough for grander holiday matriarchs to view my deviations as anything less than social terrorism. I’m further hindered by the lackluster nature of my convictions; I’m overbooked, sure, but if I chose sides on Thanksgiving, I’ll spend Christmas Eve imagining that my great-aunt is glaring at me from the space between her lap-dog and her oxygen tank.

From this position of staunch cowardice, a sitcom holiday seems utterly guiltless and magical, as much fun as a mashed potato binge should be. I’m not going to take the easy route and say that TV-style holidays are magical because they don’t involve actual families; admitting that would validate television clichés a little too thoroughly, like an admission that I’d cast Bette Midler as my mother. It also doesn’t fit with the theme. As the characters’ speeches and champagne-on-the-fire-escape New Year’s resolutions tell us, sitcom friends comprise voluntary families — albeit incestuous, dysfunctional ones.

I suspect that their magic comes from the sort of tunnel vision that makes it possible to pretend that five people can find various lovers, roommates, and business partners amongst themselves for seasons on end with no slackening of suspense. Those of us hovering in that gap between being a kid and giving our parents grandkids frequently find ourselves with too many options during the holidays; we try and fail to achieve the correct ratio of obligation to celebration. In this struggle, we could all take a lesson from sitcoms. Oftentimes, hidden in what seems like a throwaway episode of network-TV muck, there is a surprisingly rational balance between sappiness and punch lines.

In the world of sitcoms the holidays are important — that’s why they get their own episode. But when that perfect pumpkin pie gets chucked in someone’s face, we realize that the rituals hardly carry the life-and-death weight we assign them. This year I’m adopting that same kind of tunnel vision. Any protests from the holiday matriarchs will be answered by pointing to the ample evidence in late-night syndication.

All I need now is a cast of sitcom pals to pull off my plan properly. To do it right I’ll need a gung-ho feminist, a wacky guy who might live in his van, someone with over-sized eyeglasses and a perchance for corduroy, and a super suave man-slut type. As a point of interest, I’ll be acting as the neurotic character whose preoccupation with holiday traditions threatens to suck the fun out of the Thanksgiving. It shouldn’t be too hard, since that’s the role I play in my real life.

Whitney Carpenter is a would-be writer who spends her time starting great cubicle conversations with questions like, “Which soda do you think is the classiest?" She blogs the mundane at Little Nearer.