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Decoding Fall TV 

Publisher's Note

Are we not the most elaborately entertained generation ever? For proof, I give you the annual cornucopia of culture we call Fall TV. The television business is in the middle of a boom, and networks are pouring their cash into programming.

But is it really a golden age? For every engaging Fargo or Mad Men, there are at least two or three insults to our intelligence like Naked and Afraid. And do we really need a 19th season of Dancing With the Stars? Still, I'm going to take a shot at understanding America based on the shows we produce, consume and, ultimately, cancel.

NERDS RULE The Big Bang Theory and Elementary prove that being a socially awkward genius is where it's at — you can deliver punch lines and solve murders. In real life, you can even overpay for an NBA team. Cultural Comment: We'll all be working for someone like Sheldon eventually, so we might as well settle in. New Addition: Scorpion (debuts Monday, Sept. 22, 9 pm on CBS).

WOMEN ARE SMARTER The Good Wife, Homeland and even Veep prove women are better than men at most things — juggling kids, career, relationships and even controlling the remote control. Cultural Comment: We may still fail to pay women equally, but they're winning the battle of the sexes. New Addition: Bad Judge (debuts Thursday, Oct. 2, 9 pm on NBC).

TOPICAL WISECRACKING Mom, The Goldbergs, The Middle — everybody's trying to duplicate that Modern Family formula. Cultural Comment: We tune in to our own particular tribe and identify with their/our goofy lives. New Addition: Black-ish (debuts Wednesday, Sept. 24, 9:30 pm on ABC).

SOAP OPERAS, BASICALLY Revenge, Scandal, Grey's Anatomy, Nashville — these shows amp up the drama with improbable plot lines and hammy acting. Cultural Comment: For all the talk of how highbrow our TV is, America still loves a good soap. Heck, even the NFL has turned into a (dark) soap opera. New Addition: Red Band Society (Wednesdays at 9 pm, FOX).

PURE ESCAPISM Of course the post-apocalyptic, supernatural world of zombies and/or vampires has been fertile ground for years, but the new trend is toward fantasies set in completely recognizable places, like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Once Upon a Time and Sleepy Hollow. Cultural Comment: There's plenty to escape from in our own real world, and pulling back the curtain on the secret forces that really drive our lives fits our feeling of powerlessness when faced with a society that seems to come at us faster and faster all the time. Plus, it's cool to see everybody turn into monsters on Grimm. New Addition: Gotham (debuts Monday, Sept. 22, 8 pm on FOX). ♦

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