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I love the cast.
I'm going to miss the cast.
I like to spend time with the cast.
I wish the cast were my friends.
I never tire of the cast.
I wish this cast got more credit for being amazing.
Holy shit, this cast.
OK, so you get the point of what this week's Power Rankings! is getting at. In many ways, this idea is fan driven. These are the things I constantly hear from people about shows they love. I took that and applied my own barometer to it, since it's not very difficult for a television critic to find examples of series to love because those series check all the boxes of greatness and, not surprisingly, also have a fantastic cast, while at the same time ticking off any number of shows that might not crack a strictly defined Top Ten list but have an amazing, sprawling, diverse (in all its different ways) cast.
Those instances, I would argue, are where the cast supplants the most important thing in any TV series — the writing. Oh, I get that TV is currently employing and will continue to attract (in droves) very talented directors, but TV is still primarily a writer's medium, while film is a director's medium. We can hash that out some other time.
But wow, when a cast can overcome either sloppy writing or writing that's been pushed and bent into untenable directions by, say, a broadcast schedule that ridiculously calls for 22 or 24 episodes, you really have something special.
Actors are fascinating. They can elevate words and they can destroy words. Beyond that, I've always keenly enjoyed the fact that acting is a sort of artistic witchcraft, where a person leaves their body (while still in it, but you know what I mean) to become someone else. A known quantity — an actor or actress you've seen for ages, populating all the late night talk shows, etc. — suddenly morphs into something completely other and you believe it. Like Hugh Laurie. You know Hugh Laurie. Well, none of us do, but we think we do (except for stupid Americans who never learned he was known for comedy before House). Anyway, if Hugh Laurie stands in front of you, you know him. And then he does The Night Manager. And then he does Chance. And you can't shake that transformation — particularly if you've seen A Bit of Fry & Laurie, Blackadder, Jeeves and Wooster and yes, Stuart Little and House andVeep and maybe a piano player on a jazz album you once heard — and you think, "My God, this man is not the man I thought I knew; this man is a chameleon, transformative, abnormal."
And you would be right because he's an actor. Same for Helen Mirren. And countless others.
It's absolutely realistic that some other form of these Power Rankings! will involve actors. Why wouldn't it? But in this installment, I was searching for something transient, moody, ephemeral, even. That feeling when you watch a show and realize, in addition to the examples listed prior, that what is keeping you hooked, what is driving you to finish it is acting.
And what I love about the flexibility of this particular Power Rankings! — when its turn next comes around in the future, the shows on it will surely be different, or ranked in some other order — is that appreciating the quality of a cast can take many shapes or elicit many different reactions. You might like the two leads and two very minor characters. You might love every single actor listed on IMDB. Conversely, you might suffer through the leads but really and truly love the five or so minor characters who, in your household, make watching the show essential.
Hell, old people in the casting profession are still talking about Friends and how that was magic that is rarely repeated (same with Cheers, though I would argue that both shows had writers who could write the hell out of any situation).
Focusing on casts that make a difference changes up the primary narrative of the Power Rankings!, in that some shows that would otherwise be missing from a best-of ranking of top dramas or comedies will be here because the cast utterly makes it so. That's really the point. And, oh yes, there will be shows here that could top any year-end best-of list because they are brilliant top to bottom, equally, cast included of course.
By the way, this was brutally difficult to winnow down and keep from getting unwieldy. So, next time around, expect flux.
So, let's do this. Let's celebrate strong casts — keeping in mind the initial Power Rankings rule that they need to have aired in the last 12 months. Lots of wonderful series I love will miss that mark — I'm looking at you, Happy Valley — but there will be other Power Rankings! in the future, including ones not tethered to the one-year rule (because, let's be honest, The Sopranos, Mad Men, Breaking Bad, The Wire, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Downton Abbey, Lost, Seinfeld and countless others would be hard to dislodge).
All hail the series that can hold down the No. 1 slot the longest. As you'll see below, there are two numbers associated with each entry. The number on the left is the current ranking; the number on the right was its last ranking. They will of course match on the inaugural list.
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