Carol's story line was inconsistent and somewhat baffling in Season 6, but the strength of McBride's performance never wavered. Even when the writing isn't believable, McBride is. She fully commits, whether Carol is being a steely killer or a hyperventilating basket case. Her range was on full display during the Carol-focused bottle episode "The Same Boat," one of the strongest episodes of the season.
Most of the time, casting a man to play a woman is a gimmick. But Baskets isn't that kind of show. Anderson is perfect as Christine Baskets, Zach Galifianakis' twin characters' mother. Anderson, clad in a short blonde wig and muumuu dresses, imbues Christine with complexity, a mother who still wants the best for her disappointing boys. It's a subtle, almost naturalistic performance, which is not something that can often be said of men in drag. Considering the shortage of roles for women over 40, maybe it would have been more sensitive to give the part to a woman, but Anderson does it so exceptionally well it's hard to find fault.
Bloom's Golden Globe win for actress in a comedy or musical series in January was so deserved because frankly, she's nailed both. Only Bloom could play the neurotic mess Rebecca Bunch, since, as writer and creator, Bloom has created one of the most original, daring and compelling characters on TV today. Bloom seems to be without boundaries in conjuring up and acting out the terrible things Rebecca can do -- her actions as cringe-worthy as they are hilarious and yet still somehow, relatable. In fact, Rebecca is actually likable in spite of the fact that she's a lying, manipulative, self-absorbed needy person most of us would run away from, which is probably Bloom's biggest feat. And don't even get us started on those gut-busting songs. She's a force of nature.
The dysfunctional FXX comedy took a dramatic turn in its second season when it revealed Cash's character Gretchen suffers from depression. Rather than shy away from the harsh realities of the situation, Cash delivered one of the most heartbreaking performances that was both deft and honest.
There wasn't a lot of range in the Punisher as a character, but Bernthal committed to the morally gray vigilante with such conviction that he was all you wanted to watch. And while Matt Murdock spent the entire season having a crisis of conscience, Bernthal gave Frank Castle a quiet confidence that was both the perfect follow-up and complete antithesis to Vincent D'Onofrio's powerhouse performance as Wilson Fisk in Season 1.
Galvin's trick here has been turning the vulnerable, neurotic Kenny, who's just come out to his parents, into a strong-willed teen worthy of respect. A newcomer to TV, Galvin gives Kenny an adorable innocence and natural comedic timing that we're eager to watch, no matter what ridiculous situation he's in from week to week.
Supergirl has had a rocky first season, but none of that was the fault of Benoist. The actress almost single-handedly proved that Supergirl and Kara Danvers could be bright, hopeful superheroes without being annoying. She's played the highs and lows of being the savior of National City with acute perception and nailed the tough emotional moments, as well as perky jokes. The show's Red Kryptonite episode, in which Benoist played an Evil Kara on top of the regular optimistic one, only reinforced what an asset Benoist is to the show.
There were some snickers when the cast of Ryan Murphy's latest project was announced, but as the absorbing series unfolded, the verdict was promptly overturned. Sarah Paulson's Marcia Clark, a portrait of steeliness and heartache as the public and sexism raged against her, is a career performance that might finally win the four-time nominee her first Emmy. Courtney B. Vance chewed the scenery just enough as Johnnie Cochran, the blustery yin to Clark's calm yang. Meanwhile, the supporting players filled the screen with both color (John Travolta's hypnotic Robert Shapiro, Nathan Lane's Machiavellian F. Lee Bailey) and pathos (David Schwimmer's trapped voice of reason Robert Kardashian, Sterling K. Brown's determined but doomed Christopher Darden). Cuba Gooding Jr., who is arguably the weakest link, also put his own petulant spin on O.J., making the most out of what turned out to be a supporting part in his own captivating drama.
Atwell already asserted herself as one of Marvel's better heroes last season, but this year she helped Peggy grow into one of the most dynamic characters on television. In addition to delivering badass action sequences and heartbreaking speeches, Atwell put her slapstick comedy chops to good use and even demonstrated her song-and-dance abilities in an unforgettable dream sequence, proving once and for all that anything you can do, she can do better.
In one of the most outstanding performances in television this season, Jessup soared as Taylor Blaine, a high school student whose sexual assault by another male teen sparks a dreadful series of events in the school and community. Quivering, crying and then downright maniacal in his stunning performance, Jessup makes a frightened man-child someone we root for no matter what, even as his behavior turns unjustifiable.
Sure, we've known her as Jenny from the Block, but not very often like this. While J.Lo has stunned us before by transforming from glam goddess into a dramatic powerhouse (see: her turn as a battered wife-turned-ass-kicker in the 2002 film Enough), she's still something to behold in Shades of Blue. As Harlee Santos, a working-class beat detective caught up in the shady dealings of her department, Lopez masterfully maintains anxious unsteadiness and quite literally rolls with the punches. She's versatile too -- conveying perfect, nail-biting tension with Ray Liotta, then venerable tenderness with her on-screen daughter and, in another beat, total savagery with the bad guys in her way. How will she top her performance in Season 2?
When Netflix's Love premiered, it did so in unexpected fashion, and all of the best parts about the new series boiled down to one single element: Gillian Jacobs. Despite all the major stories and character flaws surrounding the character of Gus, Jacobs' Mickey Dobbs raised the series to astounding heights. She's flawed in ways that make her feel vulnerable rather than unrelatable. As viewers watched her slow demise into addiction, they realized there was a good person hiding behind her rough exterior, and that person came out in stride in the season's final moments, when Mickey admits all her flaws to Gus. Without Mickey, Love wouldn't have been a show of note, but with her, it's one of the best new shows of the year.
The Season 2 cast was uniformly excellent, and it's difficult to single any performer out. How does one determine which light on the flying saucer shines brighter than the others? Dunst comes out on top solely because Fargo reminded us how good she can be. Dunst was equally adept at playing heartbreakingly pitiable and repellently heartless in her portrayal of woman-on-the-edge Peggy Blomquist. She managed to make viewers feel deep empathy for a woman who does horrible thing after horrible thing.
A lot has been made about Bee's lack of penis and decision to forgo the typical late-night desk, but what we should be talking about is how incredibly great Bee is at her job. Bee takes an unflinching approach to covering serious topics, including abortion and rape kit backlogs, and manages to turn even the most upsetting stories into hilarious segments. She captures everything that was great about The Daily Show with Jon Stewart while adding her unique perspective that immediately sets Full Frontal apart from the glut of other late-night fare.
Olyphant is the new Jon Hamm: a dramatic actor on a long-running basic cable series who loves dabbling in comedy. The Justified star has appeared on The Office, Archer and The Mindy Project in recent years, but they all pale in comparison to his turn on The Grinder. Olyphant's exuberant gung-ho-ness at playing a devilishly, delightfully dim version of himself is somehow both over-the-top and natural -- and hysterically funny, of course. It's the kind of genius surrealism that would make the late, great Garry Sanders proud.
What could be a thankless "put-upon wife of a tortured genius" role is in Wilde's hands a complex portrait of a woman no longer willing to sublimate herself to her husband's identity. Wilde has one of the most interesting and expressive faces in the business, and in episodes like "Yesterday Once More" and "Whispered Secrets" she puts every inch of it to use. She's a reverse Betty Draper. She can't keep her emotions hidden at all.
VanSanten's ambitious detective Patty Spivot brought a lot of light to Team Flash after the deaths of last season's finale left the group in a state of perpetual humbug. Patty was also smart enough to go toe to toe with Barry and their chemistry brought back a lot of the fun energy that made the first season a success. She was good for the Scarlet Speedster, and for the show. It's a shame she had to go out in such a lame duck fashion, but the door is still open for her to snoop back into our hearts.
Davis has long said she enjoys how "messy" Annalise Keating is, and Season 2 of the ABC drama dove deeper into that mess, as Davis showed the full range of her considerable talents. You want palpable fear and horror? Watch her controlled frenzy of a turn in the midseason finale, when Annalise's brilliant mind fluttered with rage and nerve as she concocted an insane plan to cover up ADA Sinclair's death that involved getting shot herself. You want a reach-for-the-Kleenex good cry? Look no further than "There's My Baby," in which we learn exactly how Annalise lost her baby 10 years ago. The loss itself is traumatic enough, but Davis's portrait of grief, guilt and anger will break your heart 700 ways 'til Sunday.
The Leftovers' second season doubled-down on its existential mysticism, but Theroux's performance as the exhausted former police officer Kevin Garvey kept the entire series grounded. Whether he's making tense small talk with his next door neighbor or singing karaoke in actual purgatory, Theroux provided an emotional anchor in a world where everything can change in a moment.
Lewis has long been an underrated national treasure but on Black-ish, she may be finally getting the exposure she's long deserved. As Dre's mother Ruby, Lewis's smoky, sassy voice is both the nurturing Earth Mother and the voice of reason -- delivered with a verbal slap upside the head. Her lines may be limited in the ensemble, but her timing is perfect, as is her wanton refusal to accept her son's parenting styles and perpetual irritation with daughter-in-law Bow.
Jessica Jones is the best Marvel television show yet and that is in very large part due to the charismatic and multi-faceted performances put in by its lead. Ritter is simultaneously badass and vulnerable as a super-strong former superhero rattled at her core by the return of her mind-controlling rapist Kilgrave. You want to be her as much as you want to hug her... and buy her a new pair of jeans.
Tennant will make you question your sanity and moral compass as he makes you feel very attracted to -- and even sorry for -- the maniacal Kilgrave even as he continues to emotionally and psychologically torture Jessica. Is it wrong to have wanted Jessica to teach him how not to be evil? Yes. Did you do it anyway? Also yes. That's the mark of a truly great, complicated villain.
Smollett-Bell has a tough job as Rosalee, a slave who's never left the plantation before deciding to run away: remain in a perpetual place of fear; convey natural intelligence in spite of ignorance and show optimism in a bleak condition. She's captivating and impressively handles tough physical work that includes sprints through woods and enduring beatings.
Smollett, Jurnee Smollett-Bell's brother, meanwhile, shatters everything we've seen from him on Empire as Josey, a slave whose righteous anger turns into a frightening state of monstrous rage. Spectacular siblings, these two.
In 1995, Brad Pitt delivered a performance of a lifetime in 12 Monkeys that landed him an Oscar nomination. Clearly, whoever was going to take on his character for the television version was going to have a lot to live up to, and Hampshire took that challenge in stride to become, arguably, the most fascinating part of the Syfy series. Her ticks and mannerisms feel natural, and thus, frightening. It's truly hard to see where Hampshire ends and Jennifer Goines begins. But, while Seaon 1's Goines may have just been crazy, Seaon 2's is a woman on a mission. Goines now holds the key to humanity's demise, and could there be anything worse than the most unstable person on Earth having access to the button that will destroy all of mankind?
Fielder is TV's foremost performance artist. He displays a Sacha Baron Cohen-like willingness to put himself and others in uncomfortable, unscripted situations. But unlike Cohen, it's just him, Nathan Fielder, playing an exaggerated version of his socially anxious self, pushing people to the absolute limit of tolerance for bad ideas and misbehavior from a professed expert. The way Fielder reveals details about his desperately lonely character is masterful. He orchestrates moments that could never, ever be predicted.
Yeah, yeah, Negan this, Negan that. Let's not forget about Morgan's other Sunday night drama. The poster child for "mysterious bad boy" (he punched a judge for goodness sake), Jason could've been stock and one-note, but Morgan has made him uniquely disarming, injecting the final season with a cocktail of intrigue and charisma -- and Alicia with a semi-exciting love life -- missing since its stellar fifth season. Though sadly we won't see any more of Jason, Morgan has truly wrung everything he can out of the leather-clad investigator's Cheshire grin, and we won't be too upset if he and Alicia ride off into the sunset.
For the last three seasons, Maslany has wowed audiences with her portrayal of too many characters to count on Orphan Black. In Season 4, she has added yet another one, M.K., to her repertoire, a sneaky, invasive and dangerous LEDA clone that she still manages to make distinct while growing the clones she already plays. That's where Maslany's talents will truly shine as we enter the beginning of the show's halfway point.
Carmichael was basically unknown when he landed his namesake network sitcom. Less than a year later, no one who's watched the show will forget who he is. He's one of the smartest, most inquisitive voices in comedy, and he just turned 28. His best is yet to come. As an actor, he's a Seinfeldian, slightly stiff version of himself, but he holds his own with David Allen Grier and Loretta Devine, the brilliant veterans who play his parents. And Jerry was 35 when Seinfeld premiered.
Ever since holding her own against Donald Trump last summer in that infamous debate that launched the first of his needlessly excessive, sexist attacks against her, Kelly is the undisputed breakout star of election season who's about to go mainstream. Her fearlessness at taking both parties to task and fierce interviewing skills have not only made her a feminist hero in the politicking boys' club, but the rarest of journalists who appeals to both sides as well. Regardless of the election results later this year, the true winner is Kelly.
Drew threw down on this season as April's marriage to Jackson disintegrated in front of her. The split also helped facilitate April's transformation into a boss-in-charge trauma surgeon, which is quite the feat considering the heartbreak she dealt with after losing her baby last season. This season was April 2.0, and she learned to stop wondering why God was punishing her and start making her own choices, deciding what she wants and going after it. The marriage didn't work out and April is in for another fight of her life as the season closes, but Drew's powerhouse performances assure us that she's more than able to handle it.
Lady Gaga might have won the Golden Globe, but it was Bassett who really deserved it. As Ramona Royale, Bassett effortlessly emanated sex and power, which is exactly what you want for a '70s vampire kween. Her character's blaxploitation origins also gave Bassett free reign to camp it up, easily outshining (often with the help of actual sequins and glitter) everyone around her.