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TV Review: TBS serves small helping of Thanksgiving laughs

Sunday, November 23, 2003

By Rob Owen, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

TBS's "National Lampoon's Thanksgiving Reunion" is unlikely to wind up on anyone's holiday favorites list, those movie gems that must be watched annually. But it is that rare comic made-for-TV movie that's funnier than you might expect.

"National Lampoon's Thanksgiving Reunion"

When: 8 tonight on TBS.

Starring: Bryan Cranston, Judge Reinhold

Essentially a reverse of the "Vacation" movie plots -- instead of the bumpkins visiting the more cultured suburban relatives, the suburbanites visit the bumpkins -- "Thanksgiving Reunion" sends well-meaning California anesthesiologist Mitch Snider (Judge Reinhold) on the road to Idaho after he receives an invitation from his long-lost cousin, Woody Snider (Bryan Cranston).

Mitch's wife, Jill (Hallie Todd), hates the idea of visiting this unknown branch of the family tree. Their children, Allison (Meghan Ory) and Danny (Calum Worthy), are no more enthusiastic. They're particularly unhappy when dad invites "Uncle Phil," a flatulent, unrelated neighbor, "a lonely old man who sits on his lawn and yells at Japanese cars."

"This trip is very important to your father," Jill lectures the children, "no matter how much it might inconvenience the rest of us."

Once they arrive at Cousin Woody's home, "Thanksgiving Reunion" becomes significantly funnier, thanks in large part to the reliable antics of Cranston and a surprisingly loopy performance from the usually more reserved Penelope Ann Miller as Woody's wife, Pauline.

They're a hippie-dippy couple with two kids and an amorous dog named Yoko.

"She's got a great spirit," Woody says of Yoko, "unless you move too fast, and then she kind of rips your throat out."

Thanks to the unpredictability of the Snider clan, "Thanksgiving Reunion" is an enjoyable romp. It dissolves into a maudlin muddle near the end, and, oddly, the Thanksgiving meal itself plays like an afterthought of missed opportunities. Why make a broad comedy about Thanksgiving and then downplay the centerpiece meal?

Directed by Neal Israel ("Police Academy," "Bachelor Party"), "Thanksgiving Reunion" is mostly sophomoric fun. It contains some sexual innuendo, but it's not overly gross.

"Thanksgiving Reunion" is no "A Christmas Story," but it comes close to the holiday spirit humor of "Home Alone" or "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation." That's saying something, especially for a film on TBS, known mostly for disposable disaster flicks (e.g. "Atomic Twister," "Red Water," etc.).

The film is greatly enhanced by the willingness of its stars to act as strange as you can imagine. Cranston is game for bad behavior each week on "Malcolm in the Middle" and he's equally comfortable here playing yet another well-meaning screw-up.

Reinhold, largely out of the limelight in recent years, again plays the straight man surrounded by lunacy. Miller, often cast as the Good Wife, is the revelation, playing a whacked-out Earth mother with a unique approach to preparing the Thanksgiving meal.

Though not quite a comedic feast, against all odds "Thanksgiving Reunion" isn't a total turkey.

TV Editor Rob Owen can be reached at or 412-263-2582. Post questions or comments to under TV Forum.

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