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Big shows, small screens

Last week's Golden Globes ceremony was your average, run-of-the-mill Hollywood gala. Stars modeled couture dresses for the approval of the tabloid crowd, while Ricky Gervais delivered a constant stream of moderately amusing commentary which never rose above making fun of the Kardashians. Even the winners were predictable, as Modern Family (ABC) claimed the globe for Best Musical or Comedy Series, while critical darling Homeland (Showtime) took Best Drama Series.

The lackluster awards show, however, hides some important trends in the television industry which are more noteworthy than the hideousness of Zooey Deschanel's Prada gown. In tableau's television issue, we highlight five shows which range from up-and-coming drama Alcatraz (Fox) to the cerebral British import Downton Abbey (PBS), but we're also intrigued by the overall trends which mark the rapidly changing television market.

A 2009 survey conducted by Alloy Media + Marketing found that college students spend an average of 2.5 hours a week watching television content. The same survey found that, increasingly, young people are watching on laptops instead of television sets. The rise of the Internet as a viewing platform portends more changes for the future, as Hulu, Netflix and even Amazon.com all vie for a share of the rapidly growing online viewing market. One thing we love about these online viewing platforms is that they equalize our ability to select shows. Hulu, for example, precipitated our discovery of under-the-radar cable gems such as Merlin (Syfy) and acts as an equalizer between network giants and cable channels.

Finally, while we love network comedies like Community and Parks and Recreation, we were disappointed with the 2011-12 new television season which, on the whole, failed to surprise or engage. Shows like The Playboy Club (NBC) and How to be a Gentleman (CBS) attracted woefully low ratings, as well as criticism for its misogynistic or stereotyped depictions of gender roles. Amazingly, ABC replaced the unfunny and unwatched Man Up, which features three friends who struggle to act like "real men," with the even worse Work It, whose protagonists dress in drag to escape what they perceive as reverse discrimination against men in the workplace. Canceled after just two episodes, the fate of Work It reveals that viewers may be keener than they let on - especially considering the kind of reality television fare which continually attracts high ratings.

As television continues to straddle the divide between art and entertainment, tableau will keep an eye out for the best in small screen offerings. In the meantime, we have a Modern Family episode to catch.

 

Editor's picks:\nRevenge (ABC, Wednesdays at 10 p.m.)\nBeautiful people doing ugly things on television is in no way a new concept, but Revenge executes the trope so well that each episode feels as fresh as a cool breeze in the Hamptons. Socialite Emily Thorne's (Emily Van Camp) expert plotting to take down the wealthy family which framed her father as a terrorist is reason enough to watch, but the icing on the cake is Gabriel Mann as Nolan Ross. Somehow both sinister and vulnerable, Nolan steals every one of his scenes - and his snappy one-liners are richer than the young billionaire himself.

Fringe (Fox, Fridays at 9 p.m.)\nLike a fine wine or a decomposing body, sci-fi thriller Fringe only gets more potent with time. While the third season of the once-hyped J.J. Abrams series suffered from poor ratings and a move to the show-killing Friday night time slot, a rabid cult fanbase kept it around for at least another year. Its fourth season has proved double the freaky fun, with the resourceful Peter Bishop (Joshua Jackson) and agent Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv) working in both the "prime" universe and an alternate universe to defeat murderous subhuman shapeshifters - we don't get it either, but it's a damn good time.

Modern Family (ABC, Wednesdays at 9 p.m.)\nYeah, we're sick of hearing about Modern Family, too, but we're definitely not sick of watching it. The funniest cast on television has hit its stride in its third season, integrating physical comedy, quick banter and hilariously relatable family drama into a seamless mockumentary format. It may not be the wittiest sitcom on TV, and it's certainly not the most contentious, but its mass appeal lies in its ability to be topical without being divisive. Week after week, the three branches of the Pritchett clan never fail to crack us up and warm our hearts - it's no fluke that it's won the Emmy for Outstanding Comedy Series two years running and just picked up the Golden Globe for Best Comedy Series.

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