Ensemble television is an art form. At its best, you get a set of characters like Battlestar Galactica or Modern Family which you watch week after week — even when they begin to wear out their welcome (cough The Office cough). In a great ensemble cast, each role is distinctive, but the chemistry between the parts is what makes the whole great. And once you’ve seen a great ensemble, you remember it.
With the release of Designing Women Season 3 on DVD this week, Flavorpill listed its favorite female TV ensembles. Starting with the women that inspired the list, of course.
Dixie Carter, Delta Burke, Annie Potts and Jean Smart showed the world the sassy side of the South for seven seasons. And I don’t know about you, but I still watch it at least once a week. Linda Bloodworth-Thomason‘s script was classic, and when Julia, Suzanne, Mary Jo, and Charlene were in the same room they were impossible not to love.
The season before DW lit up the screen, a quartet of senior women became roommates in Florida. The world of older women with vibrant minds and active libidos was a new idea in sitcoms and Bea Arthur, Betty White, Rue McClanahan and Estelle Getty played it with style and heart. Some of the best writers in the business worked on The Golden Girls — and the adventures Dorothy, Rose, Blanche, and Sophia are remarkably fresh, time after time. This clip is from 1991.
If you didn’t watch Living Single, you aren’t alone — it aired against Seinfeld for much of its five-season run.
The cast — Kim Coles, Erika Alexander, Kim Fields and Queen Latifah — was the first ensemble series featuring African-American women (and two men). Synclaire, Maxine, Regina and Khadijah had a comic chemistry that transcended the show’s original target audience — and kept us laughing.
While most of us around AfterEllen.com focused on Jo and Blair, the Eastland School dorm wouldn’t have been the same without Tootie and Natalie there. Other girls came and went, but Lisa Whelchel, Nancy McKeon, Kim Fields and Mindy Cohn provided the comic interaction that took The Facts of Life through nine seasons. Even though we never could buy Jo in this dress.
Flavorpill also loves the ensembles of Desperate Housewives, Girls, Bunheads, Gilmore Girls, Charmed, and a show I never knew existed: The Ellen Burstyn Show.
While you’re thinking about what shows are missing, here are a few I’d add.
Love her or loathe her (and most of us do both simultaneously), Ilene Chaiken changed our world when she gave us The L Word.
From 2004 – 2009, we obsessed about Bette (Jennifer Beals), Tina (Laurel Holloman), Alice (Leisha Hailey), Jenny (Mia Kirshner), Shane (Kate Moennig), and Kit (Pam Grier). We were ready to burn down houses when Dana (Erin Daniels) died and screamed at our TVs when Shane left Carmen (Sarah Shahi) at the altar. Most of all, we felt all the feelings that no other TV show made us feel. I never thought I could miss a show as much as I miss The L Word.
PLL started as a guilty pleasure, and has evolved into stay-at-home television.
Sure, the shenanigans that happen in and around Spencer, Hanna, Aria, and Emily would not happen in real life. But who cares? When Troian Bellisario, Ashley Benson, Lucy Hale and Shay Mitchell are onscreen, I can’t look away.
Your turn. And before you ask, “How could you possibly leave off _____?” I’m going to tell you: I left them off so you could add them. Please do. Who are your favorite female TV ensembles?