We all know that TV shows wouldn’t be anything without their main characters. After all, it’s those interesting and entertaining personalities that keep us coming back week after week.
There are plenty of shows out there that focus on a single character, but oftentimes, it’s the shows with great ensemble casts that really make an impact. When the actors mesh well together, it brings the stories to life and gives us more to relate to. As each character is given time to develop, it allows for more interesting plots.
Whether they’re on deserted islands or in massive estates, Manhattan skyscrapers or prisons, these ensemble casts prove that it’s better when everyone works together.
Game of Thrones
It’s hard to ignore Game of Thrones, considering it was the biggest TV show on the air for several years. It was adapted from the best-selling series by George R. R. Martin and encompassed hundreds of characters through a vast world as two powerful families battle for control of the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros.
With a show so entirely epic, complex, and detailed, it’s no wonder that the show featured one of the most talented ensemble casts of all time. It just wouldn’t have worked otherwise. The show received 59 Primetime Emmy Awards, the most by any scripted TV series, and it certainly couldn’t have done that without the brilliant ensemble cast.
J.J. Abrams dropped a plane full of people onto a seemingly uninhabited island in the middle of nowhere, and viewers couldn’t get enough of it. Sure, the island’s mysteries were intriguing, but it was the brilliantly written characters that kept us tuning in each week.
Lackluster series finale aside, Lost remains a fan favorite to this day. I feel like it’s one of the most well-known ensemble shows. I mean, very rarely do I ever come across someone who says they’ve never seen Lost. And those that haven’t are usually zoomers who were born well after it aired.
The Office is a hilarious mockumentary sitcom, but it’s also one of the best ensemble series of all time. Following the employees working at a paper company, the show – which seems like it should be mundane – was so funny and entertaining, almost entirely due to the show’s amazing cast.
That’s because each character was cast perfectly, and they all had plenty of depth. They were all entirely believable while being totally ridiculous. This allowed for plenty of plots to occur simultaneously as the characters progressed along with the show. That’s probably why a show about a paper company managed to stay on the air for nine seasons!
Orange Is the New Black
We can’t talk about great ensemble shows without talking about Orange Is the New Black. During its run, it was one of the most-watched original series on Netflix. Something like 105 million Netflix users had watched at least one episode of OITNB by the time the seventh season was released.
The OITNB cast defied television history and broke the mold when it came to representation. There was an abundance of women: Black women, poor women, trans women, immigrants, elderly, mentally ill women, and bodies of all shapes and sizes. The characters had depth, and they were relatable and real. They defied the traditional TV stereotypes.
Stranger Things is another great ensemble series from Netflix’s foray into original content. It follows a group of kids from Hawkins, Indiana, as they discover supernatural events occurring in their small town. It was an instant hit, and the show’s popularity has only continued to rise.
Not only is the show beautifully made and well-written, but it also features a stellar cast that brings the show to the next level. That’s probably why so many of the main cast members have been nominated for prestigious awards. Millie Bobby Brown alone has already won 12 awards and received 31 other nominations on top of that.
Undoubtedly one of the biggest shows of the 90s (and into the early aughts), Friends owes its success to the core ensemble of young, relatable, and funny characters that the show focuses on. The six friends in their 20s, single – at least in the beginning! – and living in New York City, created a show that was interesting and entertaining.
The cast members had an undeniable chemistry that definitely translated on camera. Plus, they also became the first cast to form an alliance together to demand equal pay. The show may have gone off the air in 2004, but Friends remains a cultural phenomenon.
After the family patriarch gets sent to prison for a white-collar crime, his son Michael Bluth finds himself forced to stay and run the family business. He’s trying to be a good role model for his son, George Michael, while also dealing with the wants and needs of his spoiled and dysfunctional family.
The show won six Primetime Emmy Awards and a Golden Globe Award; it also attracted quite the cult following. This is probably why Arrested Development is one of the few shows that has been canceled and then successfully revived. After airing on Fox from 2003 to 2006, Netflix picked it up in 2013.
Following Don Draper and the rest of the advertising firm Sterling Cooper, Mad Men takes place in the 1960s in New York City. And although there is certainly a focus on Draper, it also features an ensemble cast that makes the show what it is. Period dramas require exceptional casting, and there’s no shortage of that here.
The show received plenty of praise for the writing, acting, and directing – but also for the series’ visual style, historical authenticity, and attention to detail. During its seven-season run, it won 16 Emmys and 5 Golden Globes.
Parks and Recreation
Taking inspiration from The Office, Parks and Recreation also utilized the mockumentary style centered on workplace employees. This time, it featured the Pawnee Parks Department staff. Once you get past the iffy, probably best-ignored first season, the cast developed into the lovable work pals we all loved to tune in to see.
Just like The Office, this show featured an ensemble of perfectly cast characters, and each one was given plenty of attention and depth. It led to plenty of plots between charming, hilarious, and weird characters that held everyone’s interest for seven seasons. Plus, we got plenty of great Ron Swanson memes out of it.
Following the aristocratic Crawley family and their servants in the post-Edwardian era, Downton Abbey turned into something of a phenomenon – probably much larger than the show’s creators or actors even imagined. The historical drama covered great historical events, such as the sinking of the Titanic, the First World War, the Irish War of Independence, and more. The series ran for six seasons and spawned two films.
I think it’s pretty safe to pin the show’s success on its amazing ensemble cast, and the web of sub-plots that run through the series. Instead of just focusing on Robert and Cora Crawley or their three daughters, the show also delves into the lives of their domestic servants.
The Walking Dead
Find me a person who hasn’t watched at least one episode of The Walking Dead. I’ll wait. The series has 11 seasons. And while viewership declined in later seasons, by its third season, it had attracted the most 18- to 49-year-old viewers out of any TV series. And the fifth season’s premiere was the most-watched series episode in cable history.
Sure, the gripping tension and gore had a big hand in attracting viewers, but the show also managed to do extensive character development along the way. And although the main cast does change throughout the seasons, they’re all perfectly cast and they work really well together as an ensemble.
Widely regarded as one of the best family sitcoms in recent years, Modern Family aired for 11 seasons. It revolves around a couple of generations within the same family, and each of these families are different, covering the traditional nuclear family, blended, and same-sex parents.
Modern Family was a hit with both critics and audiences and won 22 Primetime Emmy Awards. Most of that success has to do with the attention given to each of the characters. Each member of their large family got their chance to shine, and the show as a whole reflected a diverse America with positive storylines.
The Golden Girls
Everyone knows (and loves) The Golden Girls, even now, thirty years after it went off the air. Who would have thought that the hilarious banter of Dorothy, Rose, Sophia, and Blanche would remain popular for all these years!
Part of the appeal of The Golden Girls was just how different it was from any other show on the air at the time. No other show before it had put four independent women over the age of fifty as the lead characters of a show. Plus, those actresses – Bea Arthur, Betty White, Estelle Getty, and Rue McClanahan – had undeniable chemistry. They were funny and lovable, and they gracefully tackled important topics such as aging, discrimination, and various other issues.
Related: The Golden Girls’ Zodiac Signs