It’s called the small screen, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t big performances on television. Recently, we entered the Golden Age of TV, where Hollywood stars and big budget producers are shunning film in favor of episodic series. From an actor’s perspective, much can be learned from fellow thespians who act on television and attention should be given to the best of TV performances. Here are five of the top TV shows for actors.
1. Inside the Actor’s Studio, Bravo (1994-present)
This long-running talk show, hosted by James Lipton offers a unique insight into the life of the professional actor. Lipton invites the most successful of actors onto his show and discusses their history, career, and motivations for pursuing the craft of acting. Through his keen questioning, Lipton is able to unearth gems of wisdom from whoever sits next to him on stage. As a bonus, near the end of each episode, acting students in the studio audience have the opportunity to ask the guests pertinent questions about embarking upon a career in theatre and film. All the episodes and guests are great but browse through the history of the show to find your favorite actors to learn from.
2. The Office, NBC (2005-2013)
There is stiff competition at the top of the sitcom game but The Office is special because of a strong ensemble and a legendary comedic lead character, Michael Scott. Based on an English television series of the same name, the American Office was a trendsetter in broadcast TV. It introduced mainstream American audiences to the mockumentary style of comedy that has since become hugely popular with such TV shows as Parks and Recreation and Modern Family using a similar model. Aside from the influence on the industry, The Office features a strong ensemble cast led by the illustrious Steve Carell. Mr. Carell’s turn as the dubious boss Michael Scott is a teaching lesson in comedic timing and facial expression. Simply watch to be awed by the skill and enlightened by the humor.
3. Game of Thrones, HBO (2011-present)
One of the best written and thoroughly enveloping series on TV right now, Game of Thrones is an actor’s dream. The series, based on the books by George R.R. Martin is set in a land of dragons, the living dead, espionage, and war. For actors, especially classically trained actors, the heightened language and fantastical setting are a luscious combination. The cast of the show is highly skilled and the plots are unpredictable which challenges actors to stay grounded and in the moment. Although Game of Thrones may not offer much job security, even a brief appearance could make a career.
4. Arrested Development, FOX (2003-2006)
Like all good comedies, Arrested Development has a tragic side. The groundbreaking series was cancelled by FOX after only three seasons but in its short run, the story of the wealthy Bluth family split sides and won many fans. An all-star cast headlines the show, led by Jason Bateman, Jeffery Tambor, Portia de Rossi, Michael Cera, and Will Arnett. Each character is perfectly cast, and exquisitely acted. Besides the aforementioned folk, David Cross’ performance as Tobias Funke is a hilarious, if not a cringe-worthy comedic accomplishment. The verdict is still out on the Netflix revival, but the original seasons on FOX are comedic television acting at its best.
5. Mad Men, AMC (2007-2015)
AMC came of nowhere to the forefront of television programming with the release of this original drama series. Set in the 1960’s, Mad Men follows the lives of several employees of a New York advertising agency. The clever dialogue and well-developed characters are just two of the characteristics that make this period piece an acting powerhouse. Jon Hamm, Elizabeth Moss, John Slattery and the rest of the cast display incredible restraint in their portrayals of mid-century Americans. If Game of Thrones is for the classical actor, Mad Men is for the modern thespian. Each scene shows how less can be more when acting on camera, and when the stakes are high, great emotion can be conveyed with thoughts rather than action.