Top 10: The Best Ensemble Casts of 2011

Gone are the days of TV creators building a show around a central character! These days, TV stars are born in bunches, as more and more programs adopt ensemble casts—groups of six or more cast members who all share the spotlight. With the 2010-2011 TV season coming to a close, we've compiled a list of the 10 ensemble casts who've impressed us the most in the last year. Name your own in the comments!

10. Fringe

Cast Members: Joshua Jackson, Anna Torv, John Noble, Jasika Nicole, Lance Reddick, Blair Brown, Seth Gabel, Kirk Acevedo, Ryan McDonald, Kevin Corrigan

Why they're so good: Just as the cast members were really settling in to their characters and surprising us with their talent, producers introduced a whole new universe, complete with alternate versions of every role (so each cast member plays two parts). After what seemed like a slow start with one character, Torv in particular has now played three very different ones, changing smiles as easy as hats (yes, we liked her Nimoy). But Noble takes the cake here; he's mesmerizing as gentle, eccentric Walter and fearsome as stern, powerful Walternate.

9. The Big Bang Theory

Cast Members: Jim Parsons, Johnny Galecki, Kaley Cuoco, Simon Helberg, Kunal Nayyar, Sara Gilbert, Melissa Rauch, Mayim Bialik

Why they're so good: Parsons (deservedly) gets the accolades here, but don't overlook those in his shadow. Cuoco is no longer the token blonde, and has transformed Penny into a character who stands on her own. But Helberg and Nayyar are doing a lot of the unappreciated heavy lifting here.

8. True Blood

Cast Members: Anna Paquin, Stephen Moyer, Alexander Skarsgard, Sam Trammell, Ryan Kwanten, Rutina Wesley, Nelsan Ellis, Kristin Bauer, Deborah Ann Woll, Chris Bauer, Jim Parrack, Carrie Preston, Joe Manganiello, Denis O'Hare

Why they're so good: Do you know how to tell whether an ensemble is great? You can spend hours trying to choose your favorite character. That's the case with True Blood, which has someone for everybody. Besides O'Hare, no one's Season 3 performances were worth handing a trophy to, but together the cast encapsulates what the show really is: a sexy, fun romp.

7. Grey's Anatomy

Cast Members: Ellen Pompeo, Chandra Wilson, Patrick Dempsey, Justin Chambers, Sanda Oh, Eric Dane, Sara Ramirez, James Pickens Jr., Jessica Capshaw, Chyler Leigh, Kevin McKidd, Jessica Capshaw

Why they're so good: Even though 2010 was the first year in a while that we can remember an Emmy telecast that didn't feature Grey's actors, this season has shown they're still a solid group. Experience is a key here: Six of the cast members have been humping in the janitorial closets and performing surgeries at Seattle Grace for all seven seasons.

6. Parks and Recreation

Cast Members: Amy Poehler, Nick Offerman, Aziz Ansari, Rashida Jones, Aubrey Plaza, Chris Pratt, Adam Scott, Rob Lowe, Jim O'Heir, Retta Sirleaf

Why they're so good: The casts of several Thursday-night NBC comedies could have easily made this Top 10, but Parks and Recreation stands out for its emphasis on ensemble. Poehler may be the star, but every cast member gets the chance to shine in this well-spread offense. Even Jim O'Heir's much-maligned Jerry has been getting a good amount of screen time!

NEXT: The Top 5 Ensemble Casts of 2011


5. Friday Night Lights

Cast Members: Kyle Chandler, Connie Britton, Aimee Teegarden, Matt Lauria, Michael B. Jordan, Jurnee Smollett, Madison Burge, Grey Damon

Why they're so good: The fifth season of Friday Night Lights may not boast the talent of its early days, but the show still has Chandler and Britton at the top of the pile, and that husband-and-wife combo is good enough to get it a spot on this list. Riggins, Street, Lyla, and Tara may be gone, but Jordan, Smollett, and Lauria have done great things as the incoming class.

4. Breaking Bad

Cast Members: Bryan Cranston, Aaron Paul, Anna Gunn, Dean Norris, Betsy Brandt, RJ Mitte, Bob Odenkirk, Giancarlo Esposito, Jonathan Banks

Why they're so good: Let's start with Cranston, who is three-for-three in Emmy wins for his turn as meth-maker Walter White (take a seat, Jon Hamm!). Add first-time Emmy winner Paul, who brought complexity and sympathy to a small-time street-talking dealer who's in over his head. Exceeding their roles as merely supporting actors are Gunn and Norris, and Odenkirk's comic relief never gets old.

3. The Good Wife

Cast Members: Julianna Margulies, Josh Charles, Archie Panjabi, Alan Cumming, Matt Czuchry, Graham Phillips, Christine Baranski, Chris Noth, Titus Welliver

Why they're so good: A show that was originally sold to us as a showcase for a strong female lead (Marguiles) has turned into so much more than just that. Charles, Panjabi, and Czuchry make The Good Wife far from a one-woman show, and recurring stars Noth, Cumming, and Welliver strengthen things even more when they drop in.

2. Justified

Cast Members: Timothy Olyphant, Walton Goggins, Natalie Zea, Joelle Carter, Nick Searcy, Margo Martindale, Jeremy Davies, Raymond J. Barry, Jacob Pitts, Erica Tazel

Why they're so good: FX's Justified has followed the path of Damages, another fantastic FX ensemble, by bringing in a slew of new actors for new seasons. Martindale and Davies joined the cast this season as members of the evil Bennett clan, increasing the show's Emmy claims by two. Olyphant is as good a tough guy as anyone else on TV, Goggins continues to prove that his dedication to his craft is unparalleled, and Searcy has provided a rock-solid foundation as Chief Deputy Art.

1. Modern Family

Cast Members: Ed O'Neill, Ty Burrell, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Eric Stonestreet, Julie Bowen, Sofia Vergara, Sarah Hyland, Ariel Winter, Nolan Gould, and Rico Rodriguez

Why they're so good: This cast should be in the Smithsonian as one of the best comedy troupes ever assembled. Bolstered by breakout stars Ferguson, Stonestreet, and Burrell, who've finally been given a chance to show us what they can do, Modern Family has a great mix of vets and new faces who display great chemistry no matter who is on screen.

Honorable Mentions: Community, Treme, Mad Men, 30 Rock, Blue Bloods, Sons of Anarchy, Raising Hope, Archer, The Office.

And one last note: House wasn't considered for this list, because it's really Hugh Laurie's ride.

Which shows' ensemble casts are YOUR favorites?

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