TV.com 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

PAGE TWO

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?

Comments (243)
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I'm glad Mad Men gets an honorable mention, but honestly it should have made the list. The interaction between the characters across the seasons and how their roles reverse and their dependency on each other changed, is both compelling and incredible.
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THE BIG BANG THEORY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!111
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It defies comprehension the The Closer doesn't even make the list. The show gets better every year and the actors play some of the best characters ever to grace the small screen.
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Criminal Minds has an ensemble cast. The show wouldn't work properly if it didn't.
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this list is messed up.NCIS, Castle and Criminal Minds should be there.
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I'm sorry, but the casts of Castle and Psych should be here.
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Modern Family is just awesome... Love all the actors and actresses. Such a good assemble of people:)
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Mad Men is definitely top 10, how good were Jon Hamm, Elizabeth Moss, John Slattery and Christina Hendricks this year
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True Blood is the only show on this list that I watch. True Blood is #1...
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I agree about NCIS... should have been on the list.
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Fringe should win all the awards going - brilliant show.
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Big Bang Theory!!!
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love it 2 tbbt nr 1
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I agree with Blue Bloods but would have liked to have seen it get more than an honorable mention
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How could you not have Hawaii Five-0 or NCIS on this list? I also think that Criminal Minds should be on this list! You are totally forgetting a few shows here on your list....
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V.glad Grey's, The Good Wife and Modern Family are on this list.
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NCIS totally. Gibbs, Tony, Ziva, McGee, Abby and Ducky are pretty much unstoppable.
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I notice an almost defiant snub towards USA based shows the channel not the country. ie)Psych, Burn Notice, White Collar, ect.. Also theres no crime shows, which almost are based in ensemble casts, look at Criminal Minds, I think Prentice is a great loss...mainly cause the show is lacking girls as it is, but still...lol
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30 Rock? NCIS? Forgetting a few here, aren't we?
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1.NCIS is by far one of the best ensemble casts on television. A show that you'd assume would revolve around Gibbs actually functions as an exceptional ensemble cast, because if you lose any one of them it would be tragic. They have a chemistry and dynamic that most shows envy.



2. Leverage. That is an unstoppable team and they have a wonderful chemistry. It's amazing to watch and it's hard to choose one favorite character on Leverage because they all complement each other well and work.



3. The Vampire Diaries-easy to dismiss this show as being teen angst stuff wrapped up in the current Vampire phase but they have a very strong ensemble cast. Grant it Ian Somerhaulder steals the show but very strong indeed.
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what? no Community?
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I only watch 2 of these 10, Fringe and True Blood - and I only watch True Blood with the eye of one watching a train wreck, I confess I really don't enjoy it. Go figure. My 10 (in any order) would be: Stargate Universe (yes I know it was cancelled), Criminal Minds, Castle, Fringe, Bones, Mentalist, Vampire Diaries, Burn Notice, V (2009) and Human Target .
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What?? 30 Rock and Community didn't make the list?!?
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Fringe and Big Bang Theory should be higher. Grey's Anatomy shouldn't be there at all. What about Castle? It's a better ensemble cast than many on the list. But Notice? White Collar? Psych?
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NCIS & NCIS LA - better then most of the above.
from the list Grey's Anatomy
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Breaking Bad, FNL, Parks and Rec, True Blood, and Mad Men.
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Nice article....NOT!! You ruined it by putting that unfunny unwatched 30rock in it, albeit at the end, where it belongs.
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seriously. I'm reading your articles every week . Do you have anything against NCIS?I understand its about navy cops which maybe not your favourite (i can't know) but the cast is very very talented. Not that you say anything against them but you never mention them in such lists. Aparently my favourite is ncis cast. oh and i find bing bang theory awful cast
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I know Scrubs is not more but WHAT A CAST!
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I love the cast of Californication. Think it should be up there too.
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and Chuck!
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The Vampire Diaries, Criminal Minds, NCIS, Dexter, Weeds, Castle
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One of the best ensembles is NCIS, they all are related and work in the same direction. We would not understand NCIS without any of the crew. Frank's death was a great loss. Frank and Tobias, are great, and form a great family along with Gibbs, Tony, Tim, Abby, Ziva, Ducky and Palmer!
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How could "Brothers and Sisters" be left out? The best ever.
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I love the cast of Hawaii five O, their team plays so well off each other that its a pleasure to watch.
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Detroit 187 has a great ensemble cast. Parenthood, Grey's, Brothers and Sisters - all ensemble casts. Castle, Bones, Breaking Bad - great shows but not ensemble so they don't belong on THIS list.
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I have to go with The Vampire Diaries if for no other reason than that they have the best-looking cast of characters I've ever seen on any show--and the addition of Daniel Gillies, well, frosting on the bloody cake.
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supernatural does have a great cast but they are saying ensambles as in more that 6 people, so that's why i'm guessing supernatural is not there. but i'll say it again, community should have been in the top 5!
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I emphatically disagree with Modern Family being the best ensemble cast of 2011! I think the Fringe cast is much better, especially when you consider that most of the actors and actresses are playing the parts of two different people. Also, what about Hawaii Five-0 (Alex O'Laughlin + Scott Caan= hilarious, but endearing) and both of the NCIS's. What about the dysfunctional "family" ensemble from Burn Notice? Not to mention the Mentalist.
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Where is Hawaii Five-0??
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Community all the way!
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NCIS and House?
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No Hawaii Five-0? You got to be kidding!! That show has an amazing ensemble!
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It is incredible that is NOT included Hawaii Five-0!! Nothing any good their evaluations... it is unfair!!
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I'm very surprised not to see Hawaii-Five-0, as for me the best series! should come first! Not for nothing has he won the PCA and Scott Cann was named to the globes. I do not understand how is your evaluation!!
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Community, hands down.
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Bones, should be in there and rather high on the list. Also, Castle. A union of the two principles on this show would not hurt it. There is this "Will they, or won't they?" with both shows. Unlike Bones where a marriage would get in the way, Castle would work married or unmarried much like Nick and Nora Charles. They are a fun couple to watch and the supporting cast for both shows are wonderful.
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There is no cast better than that on The Mentalist. How could you not list it? It's the only American TV show my (Chinese) husband will watch. You goofed!
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Where is Hawaii Five-0? I can't believe it's not on this list.
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My favorite's are: Modern Family, Parks and Recreation, The Big Bang Theory, Men of a Certain Age, Rescue Me, and Brother's and Sisters. Look we can have good ensemble casts that do not involve crime or medicine!
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What!!!! No BONES! And only one of these shows (Fringe) is actually any good!
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