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The Best TV Ensembles of 2017 Demand Recognition Beyond the SAG Awards

The Screen Actors Guild Awards did a fine job nominating outstanding TV ensembles, but recognition is needed elsewhere.

The Deuce Natalie Paul Dominique Fishback Season 1 HBO

Paul Schiraldi/HBO

Judging an ensemble can be tricky, but it all comes down to what, exactly, you’re being asked to assess: Are you quantifiably measuring which cast members give the best individual performances, or are you judging how well a cast comes together overall? Are you counting award-worthy solo turns and rewarding the cast with the most? Or are you measuring the chemistry between a giant team all called upon to help create one specific story?

Maybe you’re doing all of the above, you might be swayed toward giving one or the other more weight. Honestly, it seems likely these questions aren’t often consciously considered so much as they’re instinctually chosen by each voter when asked, “Which cast is best?”

So let’s give it a try:

Which cast deserves the inaugural IndieWire Best Ensemble in a Drama Award for 2017: “Ozark” or “The Deuce”?

  • “Ozark” offers two very strong lead performances from Jason Bateman and Laura Linney, as well as a breakout turn from Julia Garner. The rest of the cast is strong, but many are separated from each other — Jason Butler Harner’s FBI Agent, for example, was off on his own arc a lot, and many of the performers playing criminals only interacted with each other and occasionally Bateman.
  • “The Deuce” has a sprawling cast of famous faces, like James Franco and Maggie Gyllenhaal, and young talent — like Dominique Fishback and Margarita Levieva. You’ve got curveball charmers (Method Man!) and veteran standouts (Michaael Rispoli), plus so many more in between. Gary Carr, Lawrence Gilliand Jr., Emily Meade, Natalie Paul, and Pernell Walker could all be legitimate picks for the best performance, but they collectively leave a powerful impression.

The point being, two or three performers stand out individually in “Ozark,” rather than five-to-10 names from “The Deuce.” Maybe no one performer in “The Deuce” can compare to what’s asked of Bateman (who’s in almost every scene, spiraling from emotional lows to a few rare highs), but “Ozark” doesn’t offer the same rich opportunities for character work and connection deep down the cast list.

So how do you decide? Well, like most decisions in judging artistic merit, there’s no objective reasoning that can be applied. (That is, except for the 2006 Oscars — “Brokeback Mountain” is better than “Crash” no matter how you slice it.) You’ve just got to do the best you can, think it through, and vote with your gut if it’s that close. And when it comes to nominations, there are only so many slots, so snubs are inevitable. Neither “Ozark” or “The Deuce” were nominated at the SAG Awards, and they still did pretty well with their list.

In a year like 2017 — and arguably every year since the new golden age of television began — the only way everyone is honored is via multiple award shows. Various individuals are nominated across the SAG Awards, Golden Globes, and Emmys, but so far only the former has an ensemble category. Perhaps it’s time for an expansion. If the Globes, Emmys, and various other TV award shows highlighted ensemble work, maybe then “The Leftovers,” “Big Mouth,” “Kingdom,” and even limited series like “Big Little Lies” and “Twin Peaks” could get their spot in the sun.

That’s what IndieWire TV Editor Liz Shannon Miller and TV Critic Ben Travers discuss on this week’s episode of Very Good Television Podcast. Along with highlighting the many ensembles from 2017 that deserve recognition, the duo debate the pros and cons of incorporating an ensemble category into their awards.

Don’t forget to subscribe via Soundcloud or iTunes. Make sure to follow IndieWire on Twitterand Facebook for all your TV news. Check out Liz and Ben’s twitter feeds for lots more. Plus, check out IndieWire’s other podcastsScreen Talk with Eric Kohn and Anne Thompson as well as Michael Schneider’s new podcast, Turn It On, which spotlights the most important TV of each week.

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