New Networks — Launched early this year, Vice Media’s VICELAND brought the brand’s existing web shows and other new lifestyle series to the tube. Running 24/7 (no late-night infomercials), the network quickly became the destination for docuseries exploring everything from marijuana (Weediquette) and food (Fuck, That’s Delicious) to LGBTQ issues (Gaycation) and fashion (States of Undress). In August, MTV expanded its sister channel offerings withMTV Classic. No matter what your version of “classic MTV” entails — tons of music videos, irreverent animated series or binge-worthy reality shows — this network has a mix of it all.
Epic Shows — If you ever wanted to escape the real world this year, there were plenty of shows set in fantastical worlds in which to get lost. Fans love exploring a grand-scale universe, which is just what we got from new sci-fi offerings Black Mirror and HBO’s Westworld. The former, a British cult-favorite picked up by Netflix, approaches each dystopian-futuristic episode like its own film, while the later takes artificial intelligence to a new cinematic level. And, of course, there’s Game of Thrones on HBO, proving that when executed properly — no pun intended — a show can kill off beloved characters and literally bring some back from the dead while still retaining an audience of rabid fans. That’s unlike AMC’s The Walking Dead, whose exploitative ways led to a drop in viewership after years of continual rises in popularity.
The Dream of the ’90s Is Alive on TV — Trends of the 1990s continue to make a comeback in 2016, from choker necklaces and Full House to Doc Martins and the Backstreet Boys. But 1990s tragedies? Two major cases — the death of JonBenét Ramsey and the O.J. Simpson murder trial — took over TV again, two decades later. While ESPN documentary O.J.: Made in America and FX true-crime anthology The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story represented compelling takes on that tragedy and the superstar at the center of it all, the same cannot be said for the TV specials dedicated to the homicide of the 6-year-old beauty queen.
This Is Us (NBC) — Die-hard Parenthood fans might hesitate to dub this new family dramedy an adequate replacement, but if you’re looking for a show with a killer ensemble cast that will make you laugh out loud and weep like a baby in the same hour, look no further.
The Night Of (HBO) — This dark miniseries (adapted from the U.K.’s Criminal Justice) offered a chilling look at America’s criminal justice system, with outstanding performances by Riz Ahmed, John Turturro and Michael K. Williams.
The Path (Hulu) — It’s great to see Hugh Dancy in another transformative role since the end of the underappreciated Hannibal — and Aaron Paul since Breaking Bad. Michelle Monaghan (True Detective) rounds out the stellar cast of this psychological drama that takes viewers inside a hippie cult with serious skeletons in its closet.
CONTACT JAC KERN: @jackern