Sitting down to work on this list was rough because it reminded me just how few dramas I watch consistently. Even fewer than last year. Even fewer that I watch and enjoy. I know I'm missing out on some critically acclaimed ones on cable (ones that are not necessarily ignored here), but I just don't have the time to pick up new shows right now! Unless someone wants to send/lend me DVD box sets. I can always keep it on in the background, and my birthday is coming up, after all ;) Anyway, here are my typical fangirl picks:
Yunjin Kim (Sun, LOST)-- This year was tough on all of the cast members, who had to go back and forth between multiple timelines, but she had some of the more emotionally difficult scenes to perform, from finally getting reunited with her husband to getting shot to actually dying, and then remembering it all. And she knocked each one out of the park, adding a new layer and much depth to a character that after six years, many thought they already completely knew.
Archie Panjabi (Kalinda, The Good Wife)-- Though she is usually only in a couple of scenes per episode, they are scenes that are eagerly awaited by diehard fans. She has this ability to add mystery to even the most banal lines or questions, and her poker face is the best of them. She makes it so you can't tear your eyes off her when she is in a scene because you might miss a flicker of something behind one of her eyes or a slight cock of the head that lets on so much more than the dialogue they give her. Plus, she has perfected an accent just a bit too exotic to be true American, and that is intriguing in and of itself.
Christine Baranski (Diane Lockhart, The Good Wife)-- She's a veteran who can take any scene and spin it so she shines, even if she mostly has reactionary shots, but never to the point of overshadowing who is written as the star of the scene. In this particular case, she stepped into a role that could have been relegated to exposition or the background, and she brought her out into the forefront enough to warrant more and more of a story each week. She has even managed to get her trademark laugh, and therefore some of her wry wit by default, inserted into what could have been a stodgy serial, and for that, she certainly deserve accolades, as well!
Christina Hendricks (Joan, Mad Men)-- She has shown great range on a show that seemed at first to somewhat stunt what it would allow its women to do. She can play vulnerable with the best of them, but there is something about her that makes you wonder if maybe she's just milking it to manipulate the men in her life. But when she's guarded and confident, that's when everyone better watch out because she will steal the scene and maybe break (down) a few things in it.
Lisa Edelstein (Dr. Cuddy, House)-- An actor I grew up admiring once said that the most-nuanced performances are the ones in which the performer holds just a little something back-- enough for the audience to pick up on and on which relish the subtlety. This season this character had ample opportunity to explode, and yet she made the choice to play some scenes more restrained. And they were richer for it.
John Lithgow (Arthur Miller, Dexter)-- Growing up knowing this man as a dry, take-no-nonsense alien just trying to blend in and survive among modern-day society, seeing him in all of his murderous glory was quite the shock. The man deserves serious props for having the self-esteem to go bare-@$$ at his age (even if I would have preferred not to see that), but his chops as a scary-@$$ man cannot be denied. He was the ultimate villain not only because he could match wits with the show's hero and pull out a surprise or two but because he was able to change from jolly guy-next-door to dead-eyed life-crushing within an instant.
Terry O'Quinn (Locke/NotLocke, LOST)-- Playing two very distinct characters on the same show at the same time is tough for even the most brilliant actors, but he did something so rare and nuanced with his performances: he made it so that with each new scene, he was peeling back another layer, revealing just a little bit more of the characters and capturing the full attention of even the most A.D.D. audience member (i.e.: me!).
Michael Emerson (Ben Linus, LOST)-- Up until the final few moments of the series finale, fans still weren't entirely sure if this guy was good or bad, and for an actor to be able to tread a line like that is remarkable in its own right. The things he can do with a stoic stare or a subtle inflection shift! It's no wonder his character started out with a three-episode arc and quickly got expanded across multiple seasons. Even if you're loving to hate him, you still can't take your eyes off him, and that's what makes a truly gifted actor.
Zach Gilford (Matt Saracen, Friday Night Lights)-- Fans who don't have DirecTV eagerly awaited the return of this show, in great part for the return of this actor to their homes. Week after week as episodes air, my Twitter feed blows up with more compliments on his acting and anecdotes about how he makes them swoon and cry nearly simultaneously. Less than few can pull that off! He even manages to make me want to watch a show about football, and that in itself is a sheer miracle!
Matt Czuchry (Cary, The Good Wife)-- Who knew Logan would have a more promising dramatic series career than Jess?? Well, it's true, and he is proving himself quite the force, whether he's going up against an older, more experienced lawyer in a courtroom (or a boardroom) or he's tripping balls and just trying to keep himself from drooling on his shoes. What's best about him, though, is that with a simple crooked smile he can go from cutthroat to charming. I'm so glad the show managed to find a loophole to keep him on even after his character lost the contest (as we all knew he had to).
Julianna Margulies (Alicia Florrick, The Good Wife)-- What could have been a somewhat stuffy, buttoned-up, conservative woman-out-of-place-in-the-workplace character turned into someone with real heart, vulnerability, and relatability due to this season actor's skills and intuitions. Admittedly her show is not even one I thought I would care about, let alone look forward to week after week, but her very specific governor's wife character became the everywoman and warmly welcomed me in.
Connie Britton (Tami Taylor, Friday Night Lights)-- She is strong-willed like any good Southern woman but she also plays the character close to her heart, which makes her the new mother on TV that everyone would love to have. When she dolls out advice, she manages to seem like she's not only speaking to her on-screen husband, kids, or student-- whoever is in the scene with her at the time-- but also those watching at home, as well. She jumps off the screen and adds a ray of light to a sometimes serious and somewhat melodramatic moment.
Brittany Robertson (Lux, Life Unexpected)-- She may be young and seemingly sunny with her shiny golden hair, but she is anything but vanilla, as she proves week after week on The CW's "little show that could." Her eyes alone hold a depth, and a warmth, that more often than not lend themselves to emphasize her emotion, setting the bar just a bit higher each time. But also, she goes head-to-head with actors who have a decade in age, if not experience, on her and often manages to one-up them in scenes. She is truly an ingenue!
Lauren Graham (Sarah Braverman, Parenthood)-- She has always been the an amazing, refreshing talent, but in this role she has goes outside her usual typecasting. There is a sadness to this character that could make her a whiny or otherwise tragic figure, but she is a smart enough actor to make her have moments of defeat instead of a defeated individual. You root for her even when she's making mistakes because you believe in her even when she doesn't in herself, and that is something that cannot be written on the page but will only come through true organic performance. I can honestly say I would not gravitate toward this character with any other actor in the role, and without her, I might not have even tuned into the show at all.
Katey Segal (Gemma, Sons of Anarchy)-- I admit I haven't seen every episode of this show, but from what I have seen, I am more than impressed with how hard and charge her performance is. She is one tough mama, but she is not afraid to be vulnerable, too. She is an open actor who gives it her all, regardless of for what the scene calls.
Michael C Hall (Dexter Morgan, Dexter)-- He makes serial murder look like a sexy pre-date ritual, but this year he really took his performance to another level. No longer an unfeeling sociopath, he opened his mind and his heart to his "for appearances" family and found himself entangled with another serial killer, unable to fully process the feelings that he understood and was extremely similar to this guy. His struggle was written all over his face, even when he thought he was showing stone-cold silence. And somehow he still eluded to the fact that he's barely scratching the surface; he makes complex character work look effortless and like the best is only yet to come.
Kristoffer Polaha (Nate 'Baze' Bazile, Life Unexpected)-- He is so good at playing a little boy lost who is sensitive, vulnerable, and a guy's guy all wrapped into one that you can easily forget this guy is actually a successful family man in his real life. He has the ability as an actor to take even the most screwed up character and endear him to the audience, and "messed up" never looked so good! It's hard to pick his best moments because he is able to take each one-- from bonding with his daughter to standing up to his father to realizing he's in love with his baby mama-- and use them to unveil another facet of his personality. He's much more complicated than the man-child everyone writes him off to be, but in a less capable actor's hands, he could have just been a jerk.
Peter Krause (Adam Braverman, Parenthood)-- I admit I didn't like this show at first, mostly because I thought his character was too much the "do no wrong" guy that he was coming off as somewhat arrogant and in need of being reeled in. But once they allowed him to start adlibbing a bit and imparting some of his natural charisma into the character, he became much more likeable and loosened-up. It is a true testament to the actor himself that he can make the guy-- and the show in general-- fun and goofy at times but doesn't skimp on or gloss over the serious issues. Some of the most heartwarming moments on recent television have been when he was playing catch with his nephew or attempting to bond with his autistic son over winning a trophy for fundraising.
Kyle Chandler (Eric Taylor, Friday Night Lights)-- He is tough on his kids but with a loving spirit. He is not perfect, but his intentions always come from the best places, and that makes him a success no matter what the outcome. He can pretty much make you feel better about anything with a smile, even if there is still sadness in his eyes. He is the kind of guy you just want to be around, and that kind of magnetism is celebration-worthy.
Jensen Ackles (Dean Winchester, Supernatural)-- This year he had to deal with everything from the silly (being thrown into different television shows) to the downright absurd (sitting down for pizza with Death him-- err, itself), and he managed to do it all as if it was just another day at the office. Which I guess for him it is, but that's what takes him to another level as an actor on a genre show: he makes meeting demi-Gods and taking punches from Lucifer himself seem like it really could happen to you, too, in your daily life. He is not living in a fantasy world; his performance is always deep and grounded without going over-the-top.
Friday Night Lights
The Good Wife