In my current Josie Tucker draft (which will be out this summer—there, I said it), I’m branching out from my usual lone-wolf detective strategy. Josie becomes the ad hoc den mother for a rag-tag pack of kids in the upcoming Dead Man on Campus (there, I said the title, too).
And I’m telling you now, the best ensemble casts aren’t the all-star mega-blockbuster behemoths (Ocean’s Eleven, Twelve, and A Billion), but rather the ones in which the characters have the best interplay, the best chemistry—the best banter.
Obviously I’m leaving out many famous ensembles (The Muppet Show, Criminal Minds, The Seven Samurai, Star Trek), but in light of finishing this blog post before we die of old age, here are some of my favorite fictional ensembles:
Sad-sack Charlie Brown and his pals are perfect archetypes for an ensemble cast. Passive-aggressive Linus. Lucy with massive anger issues. Snoopy, the perfect but silent kid with the big nose. That other kid with the hygiene problem. Macho Peppermint Patty and her obsequious and sexually ambiguous sidekick, Marcy. They know each other—their ins and outs, what makes the others tick, their weak spots, like Charlie Brown’s gullibility and his eternal faith that Lucy is going to hold the football. Their ambivalence is perfection.
2. The Scooby Gang
In a lot of ways, the Scooby Gang is a refinement of the Peanuts Gang. The types have been distilled down to five players. The jock. The nerd. The stoner. The girly-girl. And uh…the dog.
We’ll see them again in The Breakfast Club, Steel Magnolias, Sneakers, Star Wars, and almost every JJ Abrams show or movie (“Save the cheerleader, save the world”) with a little variation.
Why does it work? I don’t know—I just want to use it for fun and profit.
The difference between the first Alien movie and Aliens, the second one, is quintessential 1980s overkill. Scary unknown aliens? Let’s send in the mother-effing marines!
The result of this fundamental change is an awesomeness that has stayed in my brain since 1986: the motherlode of all banter, the bastion of takedowns.
Hudson: Hey Vasquez, have you ever been mistaken for a man?
Vasquez: No. Have you?
Arguably, the thing that makes the ensemble work so well with Ghostbusters was the real-life friendship among the actors. Just look at this perfection:
Dr. Egon Spengler: There's something very important I forgot to tell you.
Dr. Peter Venkman: What?
Dr. Egon Spengler: Don't cross the streams.
Dr. Peter Venkman: Why?
Dr. Egon Spengler: It would be bad.
Dr. Peter Venkman: I'm fuzzy on the whole good/bad thing. What do you mean, "bad"?
Dr. Egon Spengler: Try to imagine all life as you know it stopping instantaneously and every molecule in your body exploding at the speed of light.
Dr Ray Stantz: Total protonic reversal.
Dr. Peter Venkman: Right. That's bad. Okay. All right. Important safety tip. Thanks, Egon.
Finally, finally, we get to Joss Whedon. Yes, there’s the Avengers franchise, but I’m skipping over it even though it’s a masterful handling of massively ego’ed individuals, meshing them into a cohesive, yet bickering ensemble.
It’s Firefly (and the Serenity movie) that I’m focused on right now because nowhere will you find better, unrelentingly amusing ensemble banter. And I mean, nowhere.
This bit is from the episode called Bushwacked:
Harken: You fought with Captain Reynolds in the war?
Zoë: Fought with a lot of people in the war.
Harken: And your husband?
Zoë: Fight with him sometimes, too.
Harken: Is there any particular reason you don't wish to discuss your marriage?
Zoë: Don't see that it's any of your business, is all. We're very private people.
-- cut to:
Wash: [Zoë's husband] The legs. Oh yeah, definitely have to say it was her legs. You can put that down. Her legs, and where her legs meet her back. Actually, that whole area. That, and above it. [...] Have you seen what she wears? Forget about it. Have you ever been with a warrior woman?
6. Buffy The Vampire Slayer’s “Scooby Gang”
Even though Firefly sets the banter bar high, I always circle back to Buffy. Another Whedon creation, of course, and this time, closer to the original Scooby Gang.
Giles: It's the end of the world.
Buffy, Willow, Xander: Again?
A scholar, some nerds, a couple of cheerleaders, and a brooding vampire—don’t ask what could go wrong, ask what could go so, so right.
I don’t own any of these images or quotes. Then again, I’m not trying to make any money off them. I am, however, offering up my books, which you can find here. 🙂