Last night, LeBron James came as close as any player has in 46 years (since Jerry West in '69) to winning the NBA Finals MVP for a losing team. What he did in carrying a team of scrubs and/or Knicks castoffs to within two games of a championship was otherworldly, not just for his own play, but for the complete ineptitude of his supporting cast whenever he wasn't on the floor.
It had me wondering if there was a TV equivalent. I'm not talking about a great performance in an otherwise bad show, because we've seen plenty of those (Matthew Perry in “Studio 60,” for instance), but a Hall of Fame performance that transforms a show that would otherwise be unwatchable into something seemingly great in its own right.
I put the question out on Twitter this morning, and got some interesting responses:
@sepinwall Orphan Black …
– Tormund Clientsbane (@LukeMayeux) June 17, 2015
Certainly, Tatiana Maslany is the whole reason to watch “Orphan Black,” especially as its mythology turned more and more into gibberish. But that show has some good performances around her. I (probably) wouldn't watch “The Felix Show,” but Jordan Gavaris would be a fine supporting actor on another series, for instance.
@sepinwall Hagman on Dallas?
– Rich Heldenfels (@RHeldenfelsABJ) June 17, 2015
My friend Rich goes old school, and I didn't watch nearly enough “Dallas” in my youth to judge for sure. But that show had other beloved actors and/or characters, to the point where the creative team felt they had to bring Bobby Ewing back from the dead, in one of the most infamous soap opera twists ever.
@sepinwall Mendelsohn on Bloodline?
– Matt Sherman (@shermND) June 17, 2015
This came up a day after I published a “Bloodline” review lamenting how uninteresting most of the show around Ben Mendelsohn was. But to compare Kyle Chandler and company to the likes of JR Smith is absurd. This was more a situation like the one Kevin Love found himself in before he got hurt: an All-Star talent overshadowed by someone playing at an epic level, and struggling to change his game to fit.
– Grant (@grantnewkirk) June 17, 2015
The awful later seasons of “Dexter” have cast a shadow over what was a good and occasionally great show in its first few years (through most of season 2 in particular). Yes, most of the Miami Metro characters were complete wastes of space, but there was a show there with a few good supporting characters, an interesting look and a good sense of how to use its leading man.
@sepinwall The Following? Kevin Bacon is essentially the only reason I watch it.
– Conrad Kaczmarek (@ConradKazNBA) June 17, 2015
I agree that “The Following” was awful, but even before I quit, I'd charitably describe Kevin Bacon's performance as competent, and certainly not anywhere near the LeBron level we're talking about here.
@sepinwall I'm thinking of Kelsey Grammer on Boss. That show got so laughable, so quickly, but Grammer had me in awe.
– Autumn Florek (@AutumnFlorek) June 17, 2015
A great performance by Kelsey Grammer, sure, and not a lot else memorable beyond its photography style, but I'm not sure I'd go so far as to call the non-Grammer parts unwatchable.
@sepinwall Robin Williams on Mork and Mindy?
– Rahul Sharodi (@RSharodi) June 17, 2015
This one's definitely in the neighborhood. As Robin Williams himself once said, “Literally they would put in the script, 'Mork does his thing here,'” and leave it to him to make scenes funny. Pam Dawber had a career after this show, and even fronted her own sitcom at one point, but Williams was the whole show.
@sepinwall When Eddie Murphy was on Saturday Night Live?
– Daniel MacEachern (@MacEachernNL) June 17, 2015
And here's our clear winner. In Murphy's first “SNL” season, virtually everyone else in the cast (other than Joe Piscopo) was fired, and so was the showrunner. In the second, new producer Dick Ebersol recognized that Murphy was so much more valuable than everyone else (despite an ensemble that also featured Piscopo, Tim Kazurinsky, Mary Gross and other gifted and versatile comics) that he turned the show into a vehicle for one castmember like had never happened in the franchise before or since. Murphy kept the show alive at a time when it would have been very easy to kill it; as Chris Rock would put it on the 40th anniversary special, if Murphy hadn't rescued the show the way he did, “I”d be like the funny UPS driver in Queens. Tina Fey would be the funniest English professor at Drexel University.”
I'm open to other nominees, though. What does everybody else think?