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Here's a primer to help you keep up with the shows your family will force you to watch during the holidays

Shaun Harrison
1 of 27 Cliff Lipson/CBS


Major Players: Special Agent-in-Charge Leroy Jethro Gibbs (Mark Harmon), the big boss; Senior Special Agent Tony DiNozzo (Michael Weatherly); quirky forensic specialist Abby Sciuto (Pauley Perrette); Special Agent Tim McGee (Sean Murray); newly-recruited Special Agent Ellie Bishop (Emily Wickersham); medical examiner Ducky Mallard (David McCallum); Director Leon Vance (Rocky Carroll).

Basic Premise: A spin-off of JAG, the No. 1 drama on television follows the team of agents from the Naval Criminal Investigative Service as they solve crimes week after week. They're led by former Marine Gibbs, who's haunted by the murder of his wife and daughter. Season 12 finds resident goofball Tony wading back into the dating pool after former agent Ziva David broke his (and millions of viewers') hearts in Season 11 by opting to quit the team and return to her native Israel.

Impress Your Parents With: "Do you think Ziva will ever come back? The show's just not the same without her."

2 of 27 Colleen Hayes/ABC

Castle (ABC)

Major Players: Mystery writer Richard Castle (Nathan Fillion); NYPD Detectives Kate Beckett (Stana Katic), Javier Esposito (Jon Huertas) and Kevin Ryan (Seamus Dever); and Castle's mother Martha (Susan Sullivan) and daughter Alexis (Molly Quinn)

Basic Premise: Castle begins shadowing Beckett while researching a new novel. Despite his overactive imagination, Castle proves helpful enough to become a regular member of the team that solves homicides each week. As their partnership grows (and as Castle helps Beckett crack the long-unsolved murder of Beckett's mother), he and Beckett fall in love and get married.

Impress Your Parents With: Try to work the word "always" into your conversations about "Caskett." Also, posit a theory about when 3XK will return. Finally, pack a couple Nikki Heat novels (real books released as tie-ins to the series) in your carry-on for extra points.

3 of 27 Jordin Althaus/FOX

Bones (Fox)

Major Players: FBI Agent Seeley Booth (David Boreanaz); forensic anthropologist Dr. Temperance Brennan (Emily Deschanel) and her team at the Jeffersonian Institute, including Camille Saroyan (Tamara Taylor), John Hodgins (TJ Thyne) and Angela Montenegro (Michaela Conlin).

Basic Premise: Booth works federal cases with the assistance of Brennan and the Jeffersonian team, who process and analyze victims' remains in order to find clues. Although Hodgins and Angela marry, Booth and Brennan's will-they-or-won't-they tension take many season before it finally gives way with them sleeping together, resulting in the birth of their daughter Christine. The duo latter marries.

Impress Your Parents With: Know these serial killers: Gormogon, Gravedigger, and Pelant. Also, say this often: "I wish they would bring back squintern Zack."

4 of 27 Michael Yarish/CBS

Criminal Minds (CBS)

Major Players: Aaron "Hotch" Hotchner (Thomas Gibson) leads the Behaviorial Analysis Unit (BAU) team, which includes Rossi (Joe Mantegna), Morgan (Shemar Moore), genuis Reid (Matthew Gray Gubler), JJ (A.J. Cook), newbie Kate (Jennifer Love Hewitt) and technical analyst Garcia (Kirsten Vangsness), aka Morgan's "baby girl."

Basic Premise: The BAU catches baddies — or unsubs ("unknown subjects") — all over the country by profiling the, you guessed it, criminal's mind. They travel via a sick jet.

Impress Your Parents With: "Morgan and Garcia need to get together already!"; "I wish they wouldn't give the unsub away so early." "Who do you think the worst unsub was? I say The Reaper. I mean, he killed Hotch's wife." If you really want to start something, bring up Gideon, who's a sore subject because of Patinkin's controversial departure.

5 of 27 Lou Rocco/ABC

Nashville (ABC)

Major Players: Country music superstars Rayna James (Connie Britton) and Juliette Barnes (Hayden Panettiere); songwriter Scarlett O'Connor (Clare Bowen), who's recovering from a mental breakdown; songwriter Gunnar Scott (Sam Palladio); Rayna's ex, Deacon Claybourne (Charles Esten); Rayna's current fiancé/music superstar Luke Wheeler (Will Chase); closeted up-and-comer Will Lexington (Chris Carmack) and his vengeful wife Layla (Aubrey Peeples); smarmy record executive Jeff Fordham (Oliver Hudson).

Basic Premise: Perhaps the soapiest drama this side of Scandal, the show follows a group of successful and aspiring musicians in Nashville, and is generally more preoccupied with whom they're sharing beds with as opposed to whom they're sharing the stage with. The biggest drawn-out drama is the on-again off-again romance between Rayna and Deacon (who so obviously are meant to be together). This season, it's off, as Rayna prepares for her upcoming wedding to Luke Wheeler. Elsewhere, Juliette and Avery are preparing for the birth of their child even though they've broken up, and Will is struggling with staying in the closet as his fame grows.

Impress Your Parents With: Stuff their stockings with the recently-released Nashville Christmas album

6 of 27 Adam Taylor/ABC

Dancing with the Stars (ABC)

Major Players: Co-hosts Tom Bergeron and Erin Andrews, judges Len Goodman, Bruno Tonioli, Julianne Hough and Carrie Ann Inaba.

Basic Premise: Celebrities (the show often uses that term loosely) are paired with professional dancers to compete for the grand prize: a Mirrorball trophy. Expect blood, sweat and tears along the way.

Impress Your Parents With: "Did you love Tommy Chong this season?"; "Do you think Janel and Val were hooking up?"

7 of 27 Sonja Flemming/CBS

NCIS: Los Angeles (CBS)

Major Players: Special Agent-in-Charge G. Callen (Chris O'Donnell), Senior Field Agent Sam Hanna (LL Cool J), Special Agent Kensi Blye (Daniela Ruah), LAPD liaison Marty Deeks (Eric Christian Olsen), technical operator Eric Beale (Barrett Foa), analyst Nell Jones (Renee Felice Smith), operations manager/big boss Hetty Lange (Linda Hunt).

Basic Premise: It's NCIS, but in Los Angeles. The procedural follows the Office of Special Projects, an elite division of NCIS that specializes in undercover ops. The big potential romance of this show is between Kensi and Deeks (a.k.a "Densi").

Impress Your Parents With: "(Heavy sigh) I wish Kensi and Deeks would just get together already!"

8 of 27 CBS

Hawaii Five-0 (CBS)

Major Players: Steve McGarrett (Alex O'Loughlin), Danny "Danno" Williams (Scott Caan), Chin Ho Kelly (Daniel Dae Kim), Kona "Kono" Kalakaua (Grace Park), Lou Grover (Chi McBride), Jerry Ortega (Jorge Garcia); Honolulu medical examiner Max Bergman (Masi Oka).

Basic Premise: The remake follows the same plotline of the original show: Members of the Five-0 task force fight crime in the state of Hawaii. An underlying thread involves McGarrett's quest to find answers about his past. After killing his nemesis, Wo Fat, McGarrett is now on a quest to locate his mother, whom he learned was alive after believing for 20 years that she was dead.

Impress Your Parents With: "I really miss Danno's old Camaro."

9 of 27 Tony Rivetti/ABC

Shark Tank (ABC)

Major Players: Daymond John, Mark Cuban, Barbara Corcoran, Lori Greiner, Robert Herjavec and Kevin "Mr. Wonderful" O'Leary make up the revolving group of sharks looking to invest.

Basic Premise: An entrepreneur pitches their company/product/service etc, hoping to strike an investment deal with one of the sharks. What ensues is usually a mix of harsh feedback, the sharks arguing, tears from the contestant and almost always a royalty offer from Mr. Wonderful.

Impress Your Parents With: Quickly calculating how much the company is being valued at if the shark is offering $200,000 for 10 percent equity in their company. Knowing what each shark is known for (i.e. Cuban owning the Mavericks, O'Leary's love of wine).

10 of 27 FOX

Fox News

Major Players: Opinionated hothead Bill O'Reilly, brittle ex-attorney Greta Van Susteren, teacher's pet Megyn Kelly, party captain Sean Hannity, by-the-numbers Shephard Smith, cheerleader Elisabeth Hasselbeck and the whole Fox and Friends gang.

Basic Formula: Wall-to-wall coverage of political, national, and world news presented with a conservative slant that usually involves attacking President Obama and his policies.

Impress Your Parents With: Bemoaning the loss of Glenn Beck on the network. Also, constantly criticize the liberal media.

11 of 27 MSNBC


Major Players: Rachel Maddow, the cool girl at school and the network figurehead in the post-Keith Olbermann era, Chris Matthews aka your loud history teacher who insisted on shouting everything, elder statesman Lawrence O'Donnell, the slightly-less-shout-y Al Sharpton, underdog upstart Chris Hayes, Ed Schultz aka your crazy uncle and rookie wunderkind Ronan Farrow.

Basic Formula: No matter what time of the (week)day you're tuning in, it's pretty much all the same slightly left-leaning political, domestic and world news.

Impress Your Parents With: The easiest way into their hearts is bringing up timely topics like ObamaCare, immigration, ISIS or, most popular, the 2016 presidential election. Sample quote: "When is Hillary going to announce already?" or "Does Chris Christie really think he still stands a chance at the White House after bridgegate? Please!" Other safe topics include whether your parents miss Olbermann, who's now back to reporting sports on ESPN2, and if the scheduling higher-ups at MSNBC will ever start programming actual news programs on the weekends instead of countless Lockdown marathons.

12 of 27 Skip Bolen/CBS

NCIS: New Orleans (CBS)

Major Players: Special Agent-in-Charge Dwayne Pride (Scott Bakula); Senior Special Agent Christopher LaSalle (Lucas Black); Special Agent Meredith Brody (Zoe McLellan); medical examiner Dr. Loretta Wade (CCH Pounder); Dr. Wade's assistant Sebastian Lund (Rob Kerkovich).

Basic Premise: The show takes a more mom-and-pop approach than the original NCIS, but still follows the same procedural formula. And, because Pride (who's using the field office as a crash pad while he and his wife are separated) is a former associate of NCIS' Gibbs, there's plenty of crossover between the two shows.

Impress Your Parents With: "So, which is your favorite NCIS?"

13 of 27 Monty Brinton/CBS

The Big Bang Theory (CBS)

Major Players: Nerdy pals Sheldon (Jim Parsons), Leonard (Johnny Galecki), Howard (Simon Helberg) and Raj (Kunal Nayyar), and not-so nerdy ladies Penny (Kaley Cuoco Sweeting), Amy (Mayim Bialik) and Bernadette (Melissa Rauch).

Basic Premise: Comic shenanigans between awkward scientists and the women in their lives. Socially inept Sheldon dates Amy, and they only had their first kiss last season. Leonard and Penny, an actress-turned-pharmaceutical sales rep, are engaged after years of will-they-won't-they. Howard's married to Bernadette. Raj, who previously could not talk to women sober, is dating Emily (Laura Spencer).

Impress Your Parents With: Carol Ann Susi, who voiced Howard's overbearing but never-seen mother, Mrs. Wolowitz, recently died of cancer. "Did you hear that Mrs. Wolowitz died in real life? I wonder if they'll replace her."

14 of 27 Will Hart/NBC

Law & Order: SVU (NBC)

Major Players: Olivia Benson (Mariska Hargitay), the empathetic detective-turned-captain of the squad, which includes Amaro (Danny Pino), Rollins (Kelli Giddish) and Tutuola (Ice-T).

Basic Premise: Each episode chronicles a case — which could be anything from rape, murder, incest, child abuse or other things from your worst nightmare — from the moment the crime was reported all the way through its prosecution. But don't always expect a happy ending.

Impress Your Parents With: Lamenting the loss of Stabler, Benson's former partner and fan favorite who left a few seasons ago. Though Stabler and Benson were never more than friends, viewers always wanted them to be more.

15 of 27 Eric McCandless/ABC

Modern Family (ABC)

Major Players: House No. 1: Jay Pritchett (Ed O'Neill), his wife Gloria (Sofia Vergara) and their sons Manny (Rico Rodriguez) and baby Joe. House No. 2: Jay's daughter Claire Dunphy (Julie Bowen), her husband Phil (Ty Burrell), and their kids Haley (Sarah Hyland), Alex (Ariel Winter) and Luke (Nolan Gould). House No. 3: Jay's son Mitch (Jesse Tyler Ferguson), his husband Cam (Eric Stonestreet) and their daughter Lily (Aubrey Anderson-Emmons).

Basic Premise: The Emmy favorite revolves around the Pritchett-Dunphy clan and incorporates the theme that family comes first, no matter what.

Impress Your Parents With: Ask them who they think is cuter: Jay and Gloria's infant son Joe or their French bulldog, Stella.

16 of 27 Robert Voets/CBS

Two and a Half Men (CBS)

Major Players: In the early years: perennial bachelor Charlie Harper (Charlie Sheen), his recently divorced brother Alan (Jon Cryer), Alan's son Jake (Angus T. Jones) and Charlie and Alan's mother Evelyn (Holland Taylor). In the later years: recently divorced Walden Schmidt (Ashton Kutcher) and Charlie's long-lost illegitimate daughter Jenny (Amber Tamblyn), plus Alan and Evelyn.

Basic Premise: Alan moves in with Charlie after his sudden split (bringing his son along with him on weekends) and hijinks ensue. Following Sheen's abrupt exit and his character's death, Walden buys Charlie's Malibu digs and invites Alan to continue living there (because, you know, TV) and eventually Charlie's secret kid Jenny resurfaces and also moves in (because who knows?).

Impress Your Parents With: Sheen's downward spiral that led to his dismissal from the show is an easy topic (just say like things like "winning" and "tiger blood" as if people are still quoting that on the regular). "Half-man" jokes are also free reign since the original half man hasn't been on in two seasons. ("I mean, what is with that, am I right?!") Or show off your show knowledge with a gem like, "Oh, that Berta always cracks me up!"

17 of 27 David Giesbrecht/NBC

The Blacklist(NBC)

Major Players: James Spader stars as Red Reddington, a fedora-clad seasoned criminal who turned himself over to the FBI to help them take down the world's most notorious crooks. But he has one major stipulation: Red will only to work with profiler Elizabeth Keen (Megan Boone), who works tirelessly to unveil Red's motivations and discover what connects her to the conman.

Basic Premise: It's part case-of-the-week, with Keene and Red working together to knock another name off his "blacklist," and part serialized mystery, as the mysteries of Red's and his interest in Keene are revealed.

Impress Your Parents With: Complaining that Red better not be Keene's father. The question of her parentage has been teased since Season 1, with major hints that Red might be her dad. But the answer would just be too obvious to deserve to be drawn out this long.

18 of 27 Doug Hyun/TNT

Rizzoli & Isles (TNT)

Major Players: Tomboyish Boston detective Jane Rizzoli (Angie Harmon) and her BFF, the prim yet analytical medical examiner Maura Isles (Sasha Alexander). Jane's boss is Korsak (Bruce McGill), who had a tiny fling with her mother Angela (Lorraine Bracco). Jane's younger brother Frankie (Jordan Bridges) is also a cop. Lee Thompson Young, who played Det. Barry Frost, committed suicide in August 2013.

Basic Premise: Standard crime-solving procedural: Jane does the investigating, while Maura does the examining. Things get super personal at times (see: Jane, who was pregnant by her ex military beau, recently suffering a miscarriage in the field.)

Impress Your Parents With: Express sympathy for or analyze the symbolism of Rizzoli's scarred hands or drop a joke about Isle's pet tortoise Bass, and you're golden. You can also turn on the waterworks by bringing up Young's tragic death.

19 of 27 Barbara Nitke/NBC

The Mysteries of Laura (NBC)

Major Players: Det. Laura Diamond (Debra Messing), whose husband Jake (Josh Lucas) won't sign the divorce papers. Oh, he's also her boss.

Basic Premise: In its first season, you don't have to know much except that Laura is a cop... who is also a mom! The comedy ensues from her juggling the two roles. It's also based on a telenovela.

Impress Your Parents With: When in doubt, introduce your parents to the musical stylings of "Copmom Momcop". Just be prepare to hear mom singing it for the rest of vacation.

20 of 27 Craig Blankenhorn/CBS

Blue Bloods (CBS)

Major Players: Police commissioner Frank Reagan (Tom Selleck), his son NYPD detective son Danny (Donnie Wahlberg), ADA daughter Erin (Bridget Moynihan) and youngest son Jamie (Will Estes) who's also an NYPD cop and Harvard grad. Frank's dad Henry (Len Cariou) was the former police commissioner.

Basic Premise: Take a crime procedural, add in some New York flavor and the Reagan family drama anchored by the mustachioed Selleck. What's more satisfying on a Friday night in?

Impress Your Parents With: Ask if they ever miss Danny's first partner Detective First Grade Jackie Curatola (Jennifer Esposito) and say what a shame it was that CBS replaced her after she received doctors orders to reduce her workload due to celiac disease. Also, very subtly channel those family dinner scenes at your own family dinners and nod as if you're receiving sage advice from Tom Selleck.

21 of 27 Sonja Flemming/CBS

The Mentalist (CBS)

Major Players: Patrick Jane (Simon Baker), who uses his psychic-like powers to help solve crimes; Teresa Lisbon (Robin Tunney), his partner/romantic interest; Kimball Cho (Tim Kang), another member of the investigative team; FBI agent Dennis Abbott (Rockmond Dunbar), Jane's boss.

Basic Premise: Jane is a former con man who became an independent consultant for the California Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to help the organization track down the serial killer known as "Red John," who murdered Jane's wife and daughter. Jane caught and murdered his nemesis in Season 6, leading to a two-year time jump in the show and the disbanding of the CBI. Now, Jane, Lisbon and Cho are working for the FBI in Austin, Texas. In Season 7, which will be the show's last, Lisbon and Jane are in a romantic relationship.

Impress Your Parents With: "I was so glad Lisbon chose Jane over Pike at the end of last season. I've been waiting ages for them to get together!"

22 of 27 Zach Dilgard/A&E

Duck Dynasty (A&E)

Major Players: The Robertson family: patriarch Phil and his wife "Miss Kay;" Phil's brother, "Uncle Si;" their sons Jase (and wife Missy), Willie (and wife Korie), and Jep (and wife Jessica); and numerous grandchildren, including siblings Sadie and John Luke.

Basic Premise: The reality show follows the Robertson family of Louisiana, who have built a rags-to-riches empire from their family business, Duck Commander, which manufactures products for duck hunters. Beards and bibles play equally important roles. Phil Robertson has courted controversy in the last year by making derogatory comments about AIDS and gay people.

Impress Your Parents With: "Did you hear that there's a Duck Dynasty musical in the works?"; "Didn't you love Sadie's duck routine on Dancing with the Stars?"

23 of 27 Meredith Nierman/PBS

Antiques Roadshow (PBS)

Major Players: Mark L. Wahlberg (not related to the "Marky" Mark Wahlberg) hosts the program, but the real stars are the various appraisers, whose names no one ever remembers so don't even try.

Basic Formula: Every episode features a different city across the country where locals gather to get items appraised by experts. But rather than the value determined, it's often each item's history and story that is the most exciting part.

Impress Your Parents With: In addition to taking bets on the appraisal value, show off your Roadshow knowledge by making vague comparisons to the UK version ("the original was better") or discussing how much you love all the additional information the spin-off Antiques Roadshow FYI provides.

24 of 27 Jeff Neira/ABC

The Chew (ABC)

Major Players: Mario Batali, Clinton Kelly, Carla Hall, Daphne Oz and Michael Symon make up the co-hosts.

Basic Premise:A daytime talk show that mixes cooking and lifestyle segments.

Impress Your Parents With: Offering to make one of the co-hosts' recipes or dropping the names of the restaurants they own. Even better, make one of their dishes for the holidays!

25 of 27 HGTV

House Hunters International (HGTV)

Major Players: Andromeda Dunker narrates.

Basic Premise: People search for new abodes around the world. They are shown three properties and chose one. We get a post-script on their life after they've moved in.

Impress Your Parents With: "So, you know this is fake, right?"

26 of 27 David Giesbrecht/USA Netowrk

White Collar (USA)

Major Players: Master con artist-turned-FBI informant Neal Caffrey (Matt Bomer), his FBI handler Peter Burke (Tim DeKay), Neal's fellow con man Mozzie (Willie Garson), Peter's wife Elizabeth (Tiffani Thiesen) and fellow FBI agents Jones (Sharif Atkins) and Diana (Marsha Thomason).

Basic Premise: After years of the cat-and-mouse game, Neal was finally caught by the FBI. But because of his skills as a forger and a thief, Neal trades in his jail cell and orange jumpsuit for a New York apartment and designer duds as an informant for the FBI. Over the years, Neal forms a close bond with his handler, Peter, but he constantly feels lured back into his old life of crime, with no help from fellow con man Mozzie.

Impress Your Parents With: If your dad is a sports fan, remember to mention that White Collar was the first show to shoot at the new Yankee Stadium, in addition to the countless other NYC landmarks it has used as a backdrop. Discussing Bomer's landmark rise from White Collar to Emmy nominee and movie star is always a good bet and don't forget to laugh at Mozzie's one-liners, even if you're busy on your phone. Worse comes to worse, pull at the parentals' heart strings by reminding them that this is the last season. (Tear!)

27 of 27 Lou Rocco/ABC

The View (ABC)

Major Players: Rosie O'Donnell, Whoopi Goldberg, Rosie Perez and Nicolle Wallace.

Basic Formula: A daytime talk show that combines interviews, gossip and their signature hot topics.

Impress Your Parents With: Throwing out some of the show's own hot topics like, "Rosie is so much better this time around!" or "Don't you guys miss Joy?" Bonus points if you can tell them all the show's previous co-hosts.