As you're sitting down with your family for Thanksgiving dinner and trying not to say anything to piss off your uncle, just be grateful there are no vengeful ghosts or evil aliens crashing the party. Allow us to demonstrate.
There have been only a few notable Thanksgiving episodes of science-fiction TV shows — after all, not all SF stories even take place inside the United States. But science fiction and fantasy are always happy to remind us that gathering a bunch of characters together at a table is a recipe for stress and disaster.
Cuddly sitcom alien Alf was a huge fan of Thanksgiving, as this bizarre moment from the 1989 Macy's Thanksgiving Parade shows. But Alf went further — his show devoted a whole two-part episode, "Turkey In The Straw," to the holiday.
In that episode, everybody's favorite lovable alien puppet causes a stir when he eats the family turkey, raw. And it all goes downhill from there, when no replacement can be found the Tanners end up at dinner with the crazy neighbors. Then you add in the homeless person that Alf has been leaving clothes and food, and it's a "very special episode" to remember. You can watch it on Youtube
Buffy the Vampire Slayer featured a slayer Thanksgiving in the episode "Pangs." After her mother announces she's leaving town for the holiday, Buffy decides to take over Thanksgiving duties herself. She ends up so obsessed with the idea of the perfect meal that she starts neglecting her slayer duties, as the vengeful spirit of the Chumash tribe starts murdering people. Maybe we don't all have Native American spirits infecting our best friend's penis with horrible diseases, but most people can relate to craziness and stress that our expectations of "the perfect Thanksgiving" can create. Not to mention the final moment when someone lets a secret slip and creates an awkward silence.
Plus, now all geeks everywhere can call the holiday a "ritual sacrifice with pie" and complain about yam shams.
And then of course, there was the Heroes episode the other day, which proves we're still working through our emotions with respect to this particular holiday. Once again, one of our protagonists wants to create the perfect family Thanksgiving, and as always their plans are entirely thwarted by drama.
But even apart from those three examples of Thanksgiving in media SF, there are plenty of other warnings that a table spread with food is a dangerous thing. In Star Wars, our heroes almost become part of the celebratory meal. In Alien, as soon as everybody tucks into their food, somebody's chest bursts open.
But two recent fantasy films prove that the most dangerous combination in film is children and food.
In Pan's Labyrinth, Ofelia has been denied food, when the faun appears to her and tells her to perform another task for him. She's sent into the lair of The Pale Man, who sits motionless in front of a sumptuous and tempting feast. The faun has told Ofelia not to eat anything from the table, and at first she listens and completes her task. But the temptation is too great, and when she samples the food The Pale Man comes to life and pursues her in what is one of the most frightening scenes in recent cinema history.
In another film about a little girl with a huge imagination, Coraline is drawn into a world populated by her Other Mother and Other Father, who have buttons for eyes. In her real world, the food her mother makes is unappetizing and sparse. But in this other world, there is more than enough home-cooked food to go around. The animators worked hard to sculpt food that looks completely delicious, no matter what it may have been made of. The Other Mother's table includes a gravy train, and cakes that with magic icing. All Coraline has to do to stay there and eat her fill is agree to have buttons sewn over her eyes.
But let's not leave things on a downer note — it's not always true that every fantastical feast has to end miserably. In the Lost episode "Everybody Hates Hugo," the survivors have found a cache of food in the hatch. Hurley is given the task of cataloging it and rationing it. This makes him remember the things he went through when he won the lottery, and after briefly considering blowing up the pantry, he instead decides to give all the food away all at once. The survivors enjoy the food together, in a moment of good will and companionship.
So before you sit down to your meal with your family, friends, or fellow superheroes, tell us in the comments what your favorite science-fictional feast scene is. And please pass the plate of mashed potatoes shaped like Devil's Tower.