The ABS light clicked on and no more than five minutes later, my brother’s car broke down in the Bronx right before the George Washington Bridge on Thanksgiving eve. Though he had to wait three hours for AAA, pee on the side of the road and fend off a man with an aluminum bat (yes, this is all true), he was fortunate enough to be with his college roommate and only a short distance from our extended family. So, while my mother sat anxiously between calls to my brother, his roommate and AAA, I couldn’t help but smile and laugh about the whole situation. And that led me to this conclusion: everyone should watch the Thanksgiving episodes of “Friends.”

Thanksgiving inevitably brings with it some sort of grand-scale calamity, whether it be altered travel plans, insufferable in-laws or burnt turkeys. After all, whose families haven’t sparred over which relatives to visit or invite over? But what if we didn’t view any of this obligatory travel and forced family time as potentially disastrous, but rather as comical? Here’s where the million dollar-per-episode cast of “Friends” have something on all of us — and we should learn from their (though admittedly contrived) remarkable ability to make light of any situation.

To state the obvious, there are few comedies in history that rival this 10-year-phenomenon in universal appeal. I laughed at Joey when I was 10 and understood more of Chandler’s jokes at 19. But why the Thanksgiving episodes? From cameos by Brad Pitt to a turkey stuck on Joey’s head, the absurdity of these tension- and disaster-filled episodes, with the addition of an audience laugh track, manage to lighten the mood and help us appreciate the commonality of our own experiences.

In honor of David Schwimmer’s presence on campus (he’s directing a new movie called “Trust”), I picked a few of my favorite Thanksgiving episodes as examples. The situations may be fictional, but I would bet nearly everyone can see a bit of their lives through this classic 30-minute comedy — and learn something from it, too.

“The One With The Football” episode revolves around the cherished Geller Cup, a trophy awarded to the winner of a Thanksgiving football rivalry of the Geller family. With Ross and Monica pitted against each other, needless to say, the competition is fierce. But instead of crying (this is always my main tactic), posturing and complaining, the Gellers duke it out in what I find one of the most entertaining sports games I’ve ever viewed (sorry Wolverines, “Friends” outdid you).

Another favorite, “The One With All The Thanksgivings,” shows flashbacks of past Thanksgiving disasters and manages to make light of all of them. Most notable is the one where Monica unintentionally drops a knife, severing Chandler’s toe. In my household, this type of disaster would be synonymous with tears and chaos, rather than laughter and amusement as is the case with the “Friends.” Even years later as they reminisce, they still manage to laugh about it.

Yes, maybe if you drop a knife on someone’s toe it won’t end in marriage, but there certainly are lessons to learn from similar misfortunes of life. My brother’s broken-down car provides a perfect example. After waiting in the Bronx, my brother ultimately had to sleep at my uncle’s house in New York, which enabled him to spend time with family he wouldn’t have otherwise seen. We should appreciate these types of situations because the time my brother got to spend with family is truly something to be thankful for, and is more important than the time he could have spent stressing over his poor luck.

And even more importantly, watching these episodes reinforces my own personal goal to lighten up. Many of us are consumed with stress over what we perceive as crises, whether it be stressing over tests, relationships, the current economic situation or prospects for employment. But why not adopt this “Friends”-inspired attitude and, despite luckless situations, smile and laugh at our own problems?

Because we unfortunately can no longer rely on the Central Perk gang to relieve our pre- or post-holiday stress, we need to take matters into our own hands. Without the help of NBC this Thanksgiving, I took it upon myself to smile at my brother’s bad luck, just as the cast laughed about Chandler’s severed toe. And as a result, I will fondly remember this past Thanksgiving as “The One Where The Car Broke Down.”

Leah Potkin can be reached at

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