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August 1, 2014

TV: The Ultimate Holiday Icebreaker

by Stephanie Earp, posted Dec 15th 2009 10:22AM


Ah, the office holiday party - it's a delicate operation. After all, you know these people - in fact you probably spend one-third of your life with them - but do you really know them? Do you want to? If my experience is anything to go by, it's only sheer effort that's kept your opinions of how the boss really ought to run the company quiet. Ditto your feelings on your cube neighbour's BO, ugly baby or sloppy work.

And yet, every December the powers that be decide to round up this unruly group in a hall or hotel conference room, serve them drinks and expect them to get along without embarrassing themselves.

If it wasn't for television, it would be impossible.

Ah, the office holiday party - it's a delicate operation. After all, you know these people - in fact you probably spend one-third of your life with them - but do you really know them? Do you want to? If my experience is anything to go by, it's only sheer effort that's kept your opinions of how the boss really ought to run the company quiet. Ditto your feelings on your cube neighbour's BO, ugly baby or sloppy work.

And yet, every December the powers that be decide to round up this unruly group in a hall or hotel conference room, serve them drinks and expect them to get along without embarrassing themselves.

If it wasn't for television, it would be impossible.

From the wife of the middle-manager who came dressed as a fairy princess to the newly-hired former intern who turned up in jeans, from the intimidating vice-president to the sad-sack IT guy, everyone watches TV. And if you want to glide through your office holiday party with charm and wit, TV is the ticket.

TV gives the illusion of closeness. While we watch as individuals or in small groups, it's a cultural experience - hence the term mass media. You can toss out a few movies or articles you read in the Globe as conversational fodder, but you'll probably strike out. Mention the tube, and you're bound to hit on a common interest sooner or later. But in the interest of speeding things up and smoothing your way, here's a brief guide to talking TV with strangers.

Married women and men over 35 who are over-dressed for the occasion: If you get the feeling the office Christmas party is the social event of the year for your conversation mate, start with reality TV. 'The Biggest Loser', 'So You Think You Can Dance' and 'The Amazing Race' are excellent possibilities. If you actually watch any of the shows they do, you could find yourself happily ensconced all night. Occasionally, you'll run into the type who claim they can't stand reality TV. That's what they think - try cooking or decor shows.

30-year-old boys dressed in jeans or ironic party clothes, and interns: They don't have to be young of face or heart, but if they are young of dress, chances are they watch 'How I Met Your Mother.' I don't know why this is, but bring it up and you may spend the evening making slap bets and quoting Barney. 'Flight of the Conchords' makes a good back-up. If the man-boy of your acquaintance is in the creative fields or has pretensions to artistry, ask about 'The Wire'.

The bigwig in the steel-grey suit with a Christmas tie: Ambitious types may decide the holiday party is the perfect time to make themselves known to the boss, and while I still recommend TV as an excellent starting point, I wish I could give up-and-coming brown-nosers more to go on with this type, but they are wily. The TV preferences of the CEO are as inscrutable as his reasons for hiring half the idiots you work with. Gently mention 'Entourage' and 'Californication'. No bite? Reverse right back to 'The Hour' or 'Rick Mercer'. Still nothing? You could just ask. After all, it shows initiative.

The IT guy in the ill-fitting suit or acrylic Crosby sweater: Okay, not every IT guy is a friendless nerd, but sometimes cliches exist for a reason. Think of it this way: even if he is outgoing and cheerful, he still knows all the best ways to nab files over the 'net, so chances are the IT guy is watching things that haven't even aired yet. Go cult show with this fella - 'Battlestar Galactica', 'Doctor Who', and 'Red Dwarf'.

Everyone else: The joy of talking about TV is that everyone has a favourite and most are eager to share. At office parties this year, I've picked up heartfelt recommendations for shows I've never even heard of - like FX's 'Sons of Anarchy'. You can tell a lot about people by the shows they're passionate about - and what they have to say about why they watch. And if the worst comes to worst, you can always have a 'Simpsons' quote-off.

Ho, Ho, D'oh.

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