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Spot them all: TV tropes in holiday episodes

It’s that time of year again: the time of year when television shows put on their holiday hats and churn out holiday episodes. Christmas decorations go up, gifts are bought and exchanged, and someone dresses up like Santa Claus. This year, instead of just saying which classic episodes are our favorites, we decided to analyze some of the tropes we see year after year in these TV shows so you can start feeling academic and cultured while spotting them in all those holiday specials you’ll be using to procrastinate on your actual studying.

Office holiday parties gone awry

In a workplace comedy, how do you celebrate a holiday that most people get off from work? With an office Christmas party, of course! Fans of shows like “The Office” know by now that as soon as December rolls around, an office-wide holiday party is in order. And since it wouldn’t be a workplace comedy without a bunch of wacky coworkers, you know things are just going to get weirder when you throw in Secret Santa, mistletoe and lots of booze.

The writers of “The Office” were particularly adept at writing great Christmas party episodes. Between the manic “Yankee Swap” in the second season, Kevin nearly crushing Michael (playing Santa) in the sixth season and the constant drama amongst the members of the Party Planning Committee every year, those holiday parties were basically guaranteed to go hilariously amiss.

Mindy Kaling has continued that tradition with “The Mindy Project,” but with a little less wackiness and a few more romantic gestures. Just look at the second season’s “Christmas Party Sex Trap.” The episode almost ends with Mindy lying on the floor of her office, dejectedly drinking out of a wine bra, until co-worker/future love interest Danny arrives to cheer her up with a fantastic dance routine to Aaliyah’s “Try Again.” Hate to break it to you, job-searching seniors, but you’ll probably never attend an office party as awesome as the ones on TV.

–Katharine Jaruzelski

Combining holidays

Even though holiday episodes are often advertised as “Christmas” episodes, it isn’t uncommon to see the creators and writers combine multiple winter holidays in these holiday-inspired episodes. Some of my favorite episodes of “The O.C.,” for example, were the ones in which the Cohen family celebrates “Chrismukkah,” a holiday Seth Cohen supposedly created that combines Christmas and Hanukkah. He claims it is “the greatest super-holiday known to mankind,” and the family celebrates this merged holiday every season.

This sort of combination is often used as a way to include viewers of different faiths, but it still usually manages to place Christmas in the center of the episode and includes the other holidays as alternatives, or examples of “other” holidays. But hey, it’s still fun.

–Elena Wandzilak

Bad guy dressed as Santa

Every year around Christmastime, which at this point encompasses the entirety from Halloween to New Year’s, television’s crime shows insist upon throwing a Christmas special. While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, nine times out of 10, the show always does the same thing: make the bad guy dress as Santa.

Now, I see what they’re going for. Santa is a symbol of all that is good; he is a jolly, old fat man who gives people gifts. Therefore, having the perpetrator dressed as bubbly old St. Nick just oozes irony. “He’s dressed up as Santa, so of course he can’t be evil,” many a television executive has likely proclaimed, feeling self-satisfied in his own perceived cleverness.

Some examples for you:

In “Psych”’s “Christmas Joy” episode, a young girl asks Shawn and Gus to get her father—a local Santa Claus—out of jail. Once they do, however, they realize that Santa and his daughter are actually a con man duo.

“Grimm”’s “Twelve Days of Krampus” sees an evil Santa Claus-like creature kidnap children and jail them in woven baskets hung from trees. Nick and Hank must stop this, obviously.

And in “Doctor Who”’s Christmas special “The Christmas Invasion,” the Doctor must fight alien robots that look exactly like Santa Claus.

This trope has appeared time and again in other shows like “Supernatural,” “Monk” and “Bones” and will happen many times more. But it has and never will be ironic or clever. It’s just a cheap gag for a Christmas episode. I hope the television executive leans too far back in his self-satisfied chair and falls, just so he knows he never was actually clever.

–Wesley Jenkins

Choosing the perfect gift

GIFTS! Who doesn’t love gifts and the fact that the holidays have become ploys for capitalist materialism? No matter the all-encompassing consumerism that surrounds us, the act of choosing the perfect gift for someone can reveal a lot about a relationship, as proven by holiday episodes that revolve around picking out the perfect gift. There is always the pressure of spending the right amount of money or putting in the right amount of thought, which is often heightened by differences in family or social status (“Gossip Girl,” am I right?).

My favorite episode of gift-giving, however, has to be the “Christmas Party” episode of “The Office” in the second season, when Jim pulls Pam’s name and proceeds to fill a teapot with little mementos of their friendship, from his yearbook picture to a packet of hot sauce. Of course this simple act is complicated by Michael Scott, who gives Ryan an iPod, and Dwight, who wants the teapot, but in the end, we see how much Jim cares for Pam.

We learn so much about characters through gifts, so even if it is an overused trope, I still think it’s valuable.

–Elena Wandzilak