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17 TV Castings That Deserve a Standing Ovation

You know a casting director has knocked it out of the park when an actor's character becomes their de facto identity. Like Bryan Cranston as Walter White or Michael J. Fox as Marty McFly, some actors will always be synonymous with one character over all others. You'll find this true of the TV actors on this list, who owe many a royalty check to a certain casting director.

1. The Wire (2002): Idris Elba as Russell “Stringer” Bell

Image Credit: HBO.

As Russell “Stringer” Bell, Idris Elba brought a layer of subtle sophistication to a ruthless, calculating gangster with dreams of more. 

2. Breaking Bad (2008): Bryan Cranston as Walter White

Image Credit: AMC.

Who would've thought the guy from Malcolm in the Middle would become one of the most notorious drug lords TV's ever seen? Possibly Vince Gilligan, who picked Bryan Cranston to play Walter White, a chemistry teacher-turned meth dealer. With his quiet determination and ability to oscillate between friendly middle aged dad and a ruthless killer, Cranston turned in a performance of a lifetime. 

3. Curb Your Enthusiasm (2000): Larry David as Larry David

Image Credit: HBO Entertainment.

Aside from creating Seinfeld, Larry David creating a show loosely adapted from his own life is the most brilliant decision he ever made. You might say the choice was “prett-ay, prett-ay, pretttt-ay good.”

Larry says in one episode, “A date is an experience you have with another person that makes you appreciate being alone.” This, and countless other lines delivered by the unrivaled stickler that is Larry David, would not feel right coming from anyone else.

4. Parks and Recreation (2009): Amy Poehler as Leslie Knope

Image Credit: Universal Television.

Fans have to be grateful that, when offered the leading role in Parks and Recreation, Amy Poehler said “Yep” instead of “Nope.” The diminutive bottle blonde with boundless energy was perfectly cast as the Deputy Director of the Parks and Recreation Department in Pawnee, Indiana.

5. Mad Men (2007): Jon Hamm as Don Draper

Image Credit: AMC Original Productions.

With his Elvis Presley jawline, impeccably coiffed and pomade-ed hair, otherworldly confidence, and ability to slug whiskey throughout the day with no discernible effect, Don Draper became a character that men envied and women fawned over. 

Showrunner Matthew Weiner did well choosing a relatively unknown, Jon Hamm, to make Don Draper fully convincing as he hocked Jaguars and puffed Lucky Strikes. Jon Hamm has been Don Draper ever since and forever will be Don Draper in our eyes.

6. The Sopranos (1999): James Gandolfini as Tony Soprano

Image Credit: HBO Entertainment.

When your wife asks if you want any “gabagool” from the Publix deli or you encounter an alpha male with mommy issues, you'd be remiss not to think of Tony Soprano. For better or worse, James Gandolfini blurred the lines between “Jimmy” (as his friends often referred to him) and “Tony” and was often haunted by the consuming nature of such a menacing anti-hero.

7. Deadwood (2004): Ian McShane as Al Swearengen

Image Credit: Paramount Network Television.

If you've yet to watch Deadwood, drop what you're doing, pick up your pickaxe and gold panning kit, put earmuffs on the kids, and load up your Max app. Come for the convincing portrayal of 1870s Deadwood, South Dakota, and stay for an endless stream of bitingly eloquent f-bombs courtesy of Ian McShane's ornery barkeep Al Swearengen. 

8. Game of Thrones (2011): Iwan Rheon as Ramsay Bolton

Image Credit: HBO Entertainment.

When discussing all-time Thrones characters, casuals will mention Tyrion Lannister, John Snow, and Arya Stark. Real ones know that no character stole more scenes per capita (or tortured more poor souls) than Iwan Rheon's Ramsay Bolton.

9. Justified (2010): Timothy Olyphant as Raylan Givens

Image Credit: Sony Pictures Television.

Justified fans were pumped to learn that their beloved U.S. Marshal, Raylan Givens, would be returning for another season of sarcastic quips and heart-attack-inducing glances in a 2023 reboot of the show. Timothy Olyphant was a journeyman actor until he accepted the role of Raylan, which will likely be the defining moment in his career.

10. The Shield (2002): Michael Chiklis as Detective Vic Mackey

Image Credit: Sony Pictures Television.

One of the defining shows in the first wave of anti-hero television series, The Shield announced that Michael Chiklis is one bad man. Vic Mackey wasn't above roughing up a perp or pocketing the proceeds from criminal activity. Chiklis portrayed the role of a crooked but well-meaning cop so convincingly that he took home the 2002 Emmy for Outstanding Leading Actor in a Drama Series

11. 30 Rock (2006): Tina Fey as Liz Lemon

Image Credit: Universal Television.

Tina Fey's effortless self-deprecation made her the only suitable option to play Liz Lemon, a spinster-ish comedy writer who prides herself on being the anti-feminine. One of the most consistent, beloved comedy television series ever (and certainly to air on network television), 30 Rock would not have rocked nearly as hard without Fey.

12. Peaky Blinders (2013): Cillian Murphy as Tommy Shelby

Image Credit: Screen Yorkshire.

Or, as fans of Peaky Blinders pronounce the name, Tawmmy freakin' Shel-beh. He can play Robert Oppenheimer or any other character he likes, but to most, Cillian Murphy will always be Tommy Shelby, head lad in the Peaky Blind-uhs.

13. I Love Lucy (1951): Lucille Ball as Lucy Ricardo

Image Credit: Desilu Productions.

There's a reason why Lucille Ball remains culturally relevant more than 70 years after the airing of I Love Lucy. She was a gosh-darned hoot as Lucy Ricardo, who was far more rambunctious than the typical 50s housewife. Lucy was going to be a star, come hell or high water, and Lucille Ball translated Lucy's frenetic desperation perfectly.

14. The Office (UK Version) (2001): Ricky Gervais as David Brent

Image Credit: The Identity Company.

Before Steve Carell could play the inexplicably confident, dimwitted, perpetually offensive Michael Scott, Rickey Gervais had to play David Brent—a man with all the same hilariously endearing traits that Scott embodies. Though the British humor definitely flows to a different beat, the net effect (an unfathomably absurd TV character that will live in pop culture for the foreseeable future) was the same.

15. The Simpsons (1989): Julie Kavner as Marge Simpson

Image Credit: Gracie Films.

Sure, you could shout out Dan Castellaneta as Homer or Nancy Cartwright as Bart, but Marge was the glue that held the Simpson household together. Through the detritus of empty Duff Light cans and endless Homer-initiated fiascos, Julie Kavner's Marge masterfully toed the line between comedic chess piece and straight woman.

16. Columbo (1971): Peter Falk as Columbo

Image Credit: Universal Television.

Before we wrap this list up, there is “just one more thing” we need to add: Peter Falk as the legendary Lieutenant Columbo. Intelligent but undeniably blue-collar, Falk became must-watch television throughout his ten seasons as the unconventional detective.

17. The Wire (2002): Michael K. Williams as Omar Little

Image Credit: HBO Entertainment.

“If you come at the king, you best not miss.” It's just one of countless lines that Michael K. Williams menacingly delivered as the one-man wrecking crew, Omar Little, a name that strikes fear in the hearts of corner crews throughout Baltimore.

Was Omar a worthy inclusion as one of the best-cast television characters ever? I'll defer to an Omar-ism once again: “Indeed.” 

Source: Reddit.

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17 TV Castings That Deserve a Standing Ovation


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