When it comes to holiday season programming, New Year’s is frequently the outlier. While many households have the TV on during Thanksgiving dinner, and Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa provide us with plenty of time at home to watch classic and contemporary favourites with our families, New Year’s Eve is usually spent out on the town. Aside from that, many shows have winter hiatuses that prevent them from airing at the end of the year and at the starting of the year.
Nonetheless, TV writers have long made creative use of holiday tropes such as exaggerated resolutions, excessive drinking, and midnight kisses. Some writers have even written New Year’s episodes as finales to capitalise on all the symbolism. And, thanks to omicron and its relatives, many of us will have more couch time than usual this New Year’s to watch those stories. Take some time to watch Variety’s 15 best New Year’s TV episodes of all time in between writing down your 2022 goals and setting a countdown clock with your quarantine-mates.
1. 30 Rock, ‘Klaus & Greta’
This episode is a example of how their opposing dynamics work so well together. Jack (Alec Baldwin) and Kenneth (Jack McBrayer) quickly climbed to the top of the “favourite friendships in ’30 Rock’ list.” Jack enlists Kenneth to break into Nancy’s (Julianne Moore) house and find a way to erase the tape after leaving a drunken message on her voicemail on New Year’s Eve. (Yes, Virginia, there are landlines in this episode.) Kenneth is able to deduce that Nancy has feelings for Jack as a result of his actions (even though he struggles with other pieces of technology). Liz (Tina Fey) allows her young cousin to stay with her after she outs him at their family gatherings, and Jenna (Jennifer Aniston) allows her young cousin to stay with her.
2. Big Mouth, ‘Re-New Year’s Eve’
Given that “Big Mouth” is an adult animated comedy about hormone monsters guiding pre-teens through puberty, you could say this about almost any moment of the show, but “Re-New Year’s Eve” is particularly off-kilter. New Year’s Eve, like the final episode of the fifth season, sees our protagonists desperate to make amends with their friends. Bridgeton Middle’s it-couple, Devin (June Diane Raphael) and DeVon (Jak Knight), throw a black tie New Year’s Eve party to renew their vows (yes, they’re married; don’t think about it for too long), giving Nick (Nick Kroll), Andrew (John Mulaney), and Jessi (Jennifer Aniston) a chance to party with them (Jessi Klein).
Missy (Ayo Edebiri), Jay (Jason Mantzoukas), Matthew (Andrew Rannells), and Lola (Kroll) have a place to talk about it all, with varying degrees of success. The highlight comes when Nick realises how his angst has harmed him and others, and he confronts his hate worm Walter (Brandon Kyle Goodman), who inadvertently drags Nick to the previously unknown Monster World. Nick makes his way to the complaints office for an oddly meta and self-referential meeting with the man in charge of all his big feelings: “My name is Nick Kroll, creator of ‘Big Mouth,’ and I guess, like, grown-up, real-life you!” It’s a colossal swing. Let’s see how it goes.” It does, uncomfortably.
3. Bojack Horseman, ‘Old Acquaintance’
This New Year’s edition of “Bojack” flips the concept of “good” and “bad” on its head, as Bojack (Will Arnett) and Princess Carolyn (Amy Sedaris) try to get Bojack the lead in a new movie, resorting to some unscrupulous methods. Meanwhile, firm partners Rutabaga Rabitowitz (Ben Schwartz) and Vanessa Gekko (Kristin Chenoweth) assure the pair that they will be cast because they are the “good guys.” To no one’s surprise, by the end of the episode
Bojack and Carolyn lose the deal, while Rutabaga and Vanessa are ecstatic. “You have to love a happy ending!” Rutabaga exclaims. This episode, which is appropriate for this reflective time of year, explores the universality of a happy ending, which isn’t always reserved for your own life’s main characters. Rather, it’s a matter of opinion. “Old Acquaintance” may not be the most jolly addition to this list, but it’s a necessary one.
4. Everyone Dislikes Chris, Everybody Hates New Year’s Eve.
In Brooklyn, it’s New Year’s Eve, and the traffic is unbearable. When Julius (Terry Crews) gets out of his truck to figure out what’s causing the traffic jam, he discovers that all of the cars have come to a halt because a man has crawled to the edge of the George Washington Bridge with the intention of jumping off. Julius joins the man against his better judgement and tries to persuade him that life is worth living as they both sit inches from a watery grave. But it all works out: the man agrees not to jump, and Julius is hailed as a hero by the mayor, who even gives him the key to the city.
Meanwhile, back at home, Tonya (Imani Hakim) has downed handfuls of instant coffee granules to aid her in a bet with Drew (Tequan Richmond) that she can stay up until midnight, and Rochelle (Tichina Arnold) prepares the black eyed peas and 20-dollar bills that are essential to her New Year’s traditions while forbidding Chris from going to Times Square to see the ball drop unless he finds a responsible Finally, he realises he can join his crush Tasha (Paige Hurd), her mother Peaches (Tisha Campbell), and Peaches’ boyfriend Malvo on their adventure (Ricky Harris). The night isn’t without its twists and turns, including an accident that curses Chris’ family for a year, but “Everybody Hates New Year’s Eve” is a must-see.
5. Frasier, ‘RDWRER’
There were some concerns in the run-up to the new millennium, the most pressing of which was where to hold the celebration. Those concerns grow for Frasier (Kelsey Grammer) and his brother Niles (David Hyde Pierce) after learning that the chic venue they planned to visit has burned down, and the alternative, a wine club, is hundreds of miles away and has no open flights. The Cranes’ road trip turns into a living hell, first because Martin (John Mahoney) irritates them even more than usual in such cramped quarters, and then because Niles returns to the wrong Winnebago at a rest stop. Needless to say, the comedy of errors that ensues is one of the most memorable New Year’s experiences.
6. Friends, ‘The One With All the Resolutions’
Each of the titular friends makes their own New Year’s Eve resolutions, which result in a variety of intriguing stories. You don’t need to see Monica’s (Courteney Cox) idea to take more pictures of everyone to get it, but Chandler (Matthew Perry) agreeing not to make fun of his friends, Rachel (Jennifer Aniston) agreeing not to gossip, and Ross (David Schwimmer) deciding to do one new thing every day all end in hilarious results.
Ross wearing leather pants on a date has become iconic, but the outfit proves to be very ill-advised when he goes to the bathroom and can’t get them back on, leading him to try powder and lotion (which forms a paste!) before giving up and walking home pants-less. But it’s the way Rachel’s resolution ties into the season’s overall secret-relationship-between-Chandler-and-Monica arc that elevates this episode to a new level of brilliance.
7. Friends, ‘The One With the Routine’
On “Friends,” making fun of the Gellers’ nerdiness is always a surefire way to get a laugh, and learning that they were HUGE fans of “Dick Clark’s Rockin’ New Years” does just that. When Joey (Matt LeBlanc) learns that his dancer roommate Janine (Elle Macpherson) has been invited to a taping of the New Year’s Eve television extravaganza, Ross and Monica are overjoyed. They end up getting tickets as well, and in order to get on camera, they decide to resurrect their childhood dance routine. It’s not the kind of thing that words can adequately describe, but it’s one of the show’s most memorable moments throughout its decade-long run.
8. How I Met Your Mother, ‘The Limo’
Too many television shows attempt to stage elaborate holiday party celebrations, and this one is no exception. However, the best scenes in this film occur when the five central characters are seated in the back of the titular limo. Ted (Josh Radnor) rents a car to drive his friends around New York City, with the goal of attending five parties in the three hours before midnight, then returning to the best of the five for the midnight celebration.
It’s a lot of juggling, with some special guests (like guest stars Kathleen Rose Perkins and Marshall Manesh) thrown in for good measure, and it’s all backed up by Barney’s (Neil Patrick Harris) “Get psyched” mix. None of the parties are particularly exciting, and New York traffic thwarts them in some ways, so they end up in the limo as the years pass. Despite her having a different boyfriend at this point in the storey, Ted and Robin (Cobie Smulders) share a promised kiss.
9. Living Single, ‘Let’s Stay Together’
The series finale of “Living Single” features an emotionally charged New Year’s Eve. Max (Erika Alexander) is content and at peace with her decision to become a single mother with the help of a sperm donor — until she finds out that the donor she matched with is none other than Kyle (T.C. Carson), her frenemy-turned-lover-turned-ex. She becomes terrified and vows to keep it a secret from him, but Khadijah (Queen Latifah), Overton (John Henton), and Synclaire (Kim Coles) throw an impromptu party to entice the two back together. Meanwhile, Synclaire and Overton prepare to relocate to Hollywood for Synclaire’s dream job, and Khadijah discovers the spontaneity she requires to make long-distance dating with Scooter (Cress Williams) work. The brownstone is deserted, and life is lonely.
10. My So-Called Life, ‘Resolutions’
In this episode, 1994 gives way to 1995, with some characters taking small steps forward while it make changes in the new year. Angela (Claire Danes) wants to get out of her head more, while Sharon (Devon Odessa) wants to take things more slowly sexually until she’s truly in love, Rickie (Wilson Cruz) wants to find a place where he belongs, and Jordan (Jared Leto) appears to be more focused on his schoolwork.
Individually, there’s a lot to unpack in terms of each character’s specific intentions and thus arc in the episode, as well as what it means for them moving forward in the series, but Rickie’s storey is unquestionably the most emotional. For some, being back home with his family would be the answer, but given how bad their fight was that caused him to leave before the holidays, that would not be an all’s well that ends well scenario. Instead, when he shows up at Mr. Katimski’s (Jeff Perry) house, the show gives him agency and better acceptance.
11. The Office, ‘Ultimatum’
What best way to get ready for the new year than by looking at Dunder Mifflin’s top resolutions? In this episode of “The Office,” the cast discusses their New Year’s resolutions, which include flossing, eating vegetables, and learning how to do a cartwheel, among other things. As each character deals with their own difficulties, the nice sentiments start to get out of hand like clockwork.
When Erin (Ellie Kemper) successfully cartwheels in front of him, Creed (Creed Bratton) becomes enraged. Finally, the episode ties up the loose ends, honouring the resolutions made (though perhaps not in the way the characters expected), and celebrating the virtue of keeping the promises made to you and only you.
12. Seinfeld, ‘The Millennium’
Although the episode takes place in 1997, Kramer (Michael Richards) and Newman (Wayne Knight) are already planning New Year’s Eve parties for the new millennium. Newman, who was planning to co-host the party, says Jerry (Jerry Seinfeld) cannot attend, prompting Kramer to throw his own party.
The real kicker comes when Jerry realises Newman has his party scheduled for the wrong year. Meanwhile, Lauren Graham appears as Jerry’s most recent girlfriend, who gets into a speed-dial fight with her stepmother over him, and George (Jason Alexander) does everything he can to get fired by the Yankees so he join the Mets (who can’t poach him but imply they will hire him if he’s a free agent).
13. Starstruck, ‘NYE’
The New Year’s Eve-set pilot of “Starstruck,” one of 2021’s smartest (and under-appreciated) romantic comedies, kicks things off with a bang. Who reminds her of the “schmokin'” hot employee at the Shepherd’s Bush Superdrug, thanks to her loud, crass sense of humour and one too many drinks. He’s completely taken in by the bait. Matafeo opts out of the midnight kiss as creator, co-writer, and star, but she wins where it counts.
“Do you want to have sex?” she asks first when she finds herself in bed with him. “We’re having sex!” exclaims the narrator. “I know,” says the narrator, “but do you want to?” I’m just double-checking that it’s not a typo!” — and then again when she realises he’s heartthrob actor Tom Kapoor. It’s a ridiculous premise that could easily lead to the cheesiest rom-com ever, but it works because of Jessie’s reaction: Of course, she freaks out, but once the shock wears off, there’s no real fandom, dissolving much of what could have been a complicated power dynamic. Jessie and Tom are just two people to her. In fact, as Tom demonstrates, she may be the better of the two.
14. That ’70s Show, ‘That ’70s Finale’
The series finale of “That ’70s Show” takes place on the last day of the decade, with a lot of change in the air for characters like Kitty (Debra Jo Rupp) and Red (Kurtwood Smith), who are planning to move to Florida; Donna (Laura Prepon), who is going to college; and Jackie (Mila Kunis), who finally realises she loves Fez (Wilmer Valderrama). If the spinoff series “That ’80s Show” hadn’t already come and gone, the transition to a new decade might have been a little more noticeable.
(It only aired for one season, from 2002 to 2006, and this is the first episode.) However, it’s difficult to argue with using such a significant date on the calendar to commemorate such an iconic episode as a series finale, which more than holds its own as a modern classic episode (including the return of Ashton Kutcher). Some of the best New Year’s parties are those where friends simply gather in a house and spend time together, much as they did all year and will likely do for the next 12, and this episode features one final gathering in the basement to cap off an eight-season sitcom run.
15. The X-Files, ‘Millennium’
This episode is more than your typical “of the week” storey because it’s a crossover that serves as a wrap-up for the drama “Millennium.” The heroes of both shows (David Duchovny’s Fox Mulder and Gillian Anderson’s Dana Scully, and Lance Henriksen’s Frank Black) teamed up to stop a secret organisation from creating zombies in this episode. Not everyone thinks such horror is appropriate for the holiday season, but what makes this episode special is the gift it gave diehard fans: Mulder and Scully’s first romantic kiss. The New Year’s Eve holiday has made a big deal out of people finding someone to kiss at midnight, but this episode is worth watching any time of year.