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See the actors who stole the spotlight last year

Shaun Harrison
best-performances-2014-05jeffrey-tambor1.jpg
1 of 49 Amazon

Jeffrey Tambor, Transparent

Tambor's delicate portrayal of Mort/Maura Pfefferman might be the best television performance of the year. As Tambor softly navigates all the awkward twists and turns of Maura's journey of self-discovery, he ensures that the audience is right in step, experiencing every heartbreak along with her. At the same time, he eschews vanity and doesn't shy away from exposing her (and his own?) clumsy flaws and insecurities. Anyone who doubts Tambor's ability to handle dramatic material as well as he does comedy needs to see this knockout performance.

2 of 49 Jessica Miglio/Fox

Robin Lord Taylor, Gotham

Arguably the breakout star of the TV season, Taylor is the best reason to watch Fox's Batman prequel. He undercuts his Penguin's psychotic tendencies with a charming wit, while also showing the pain from years of abuse that have shaped him into a power-hungry villain. Although he's larger than life, Taylor's Penguin is one of the few things on the show that isn't over the top. Instead he shows subtle flashes of the character he's destined to become, proving that the journey will be just as exciting as the ultimate destination.

3 of 49 Danny Feld/The CW

Gina Rodriguez, Jane the Virgin

Off-screen, Rodriguez's poise and character blew us away the first time we heard her speak, but the relative newcomer immediately lit up the screen the moment she introduced us to her titular character in the charming CW series. Whether it's her comedic timing during the awkward scenes with her birth father, an emotional monologue to her mother or Michael, or even her adorably shy, self-deprecating exchanges with the father of her child, and unexpected crush, Rafael, Rodriguez has taken us on a journey and roller coaster of relatable emotions this first season. We can't wait to see where she takes us next.

4 of 49 Lloyd Bishop/NBC

Jimmy Fallon, The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon

Jay Leno left some pretty big shoes to fill and not only has Fallon done so effortlessly, he's proven that you can breathe some fresh and fun ideas into a legendary show without insulting those who have come before him. His signature games, like the lip sync battle, are not only a delight, but he has managed to show a side of A-list celebrities most people at home never get to see. (see: the First Lady's "Ew!" skit.) Plus: Is there anything he's not good at?

5 of 49 Regency Enterprises/20th Century Fox

Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl

From a Bond girl to a "cool girl." In her breakthrough role, the British actress so perfectly plays unlikable yet sympathetic, all while being a cold-blooded, manipulative mastermind who keeps everyone -- including those who have read Gillian Flynn's bestseller -- on their toes the entire film. Even better, Pike was just how we always pictured Amy to be, a feat most movie adaptations of books fall short of accomplishing.

6 of 49 Dana Edelson/NBC

The new kids on Saturday Night Live

Saturday Night Live got some much-needed new blood for its 40th season, adding Leslie Jones, Sasheer Zamata, Michael Che and Pete Davidson to the cast. Though it's a shame he had to replace Cecily Strong on the now male-dominated "Weekend Update," Che has provided biting commentary on stories like the Bill Cosby scandal (and makes the racially tinged one-liners land more comfortably). Jones and Davidson have brought different forms of humor in their appearances on "Weekend Update," and though Zamata has thus far been underutilized, she's a positive addition to the show's already strong crop of female performers.

7 of 49 Prashant Gupta/FX

Walton Goggins, Sons of Anarchy

Leave it to the man who has already created two indelible performances as The Shield's Shane Vendrell and Justified's Boyd Crowder to craft another memorable character with far less screen time. Although we met Goggins' transgender escort Venus Van Damme two seasons ago, it wasn't until Sons of Anarchy's final season that we got to know her heart. Goggins was remarkably restrained as Venus slowly allowed her feelings for Tig to grow, and he was even more heartbreaking when, after they had consummated their relationship, Venus almost walked away from it out of fear that her feelings could never truly be reciprocated. Goggins illustrated Venus' conflict with simple, understated beauty, and turned a character that once served as shocking comic relief into perhaps the show's most relatable character.

8 of 49 NBC

Billy Eichner, the 66th Primetime Emmy Awards

Some were already familiar with Eichner's brand of comedy, but many were first exposed to it during his wildly entertaining Emmys segment that was arguably the highlight of the ceremony. Riffing on his Billy on the Street show -- where he runs around furiously asking "Man on the Street"-type questions, often with celebs standing alongside him -- Eichner headed out in New York with host Seth Meyers. As Eichner proved most of New York doesn't give a crap about the Emmys -- or knows who Meyers is for that matter -- he also kept us laughing with his inside baseball rage about Tatiana Maslany's snub and his infectious excitability that even those he questioned got excited despite having no idea what he was talking about.

9 of 49 K.C. Bailey/Netflix

Samira Wiley, Orange Is the New Black

While Poussey was mainly a point of comic relief in the first season, she became the heart of Season 2. The rawness Wiley brings to the role was the only bright spot in the show's decision to split up her friendship with Taystee. And every time we thought we couldn't stand another scene of Vee drama, Wiley would appear and make everything OK (while simultaneously bringing tears to our eyes).

10 of 49 Sony Pictures Classics

Steve Carell, Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo, Foxcatcher

All due respect to The Office, but John du Pont might just be Carell's career performance. With his hunched back, cracking high timbre voice (and that giant schnoz), Carell instills an eerie grimness as the unstable scion of the wealthy du Pont dynasty that permeates the film. Yet he is so mesmerizing that it's easy to see how, money aside, du Pont coaxed the Olympic champion Schultz brothers under his wing. As Mark, a lost, monosyllabic man-boy, Tatum has also never been better, masking vulnerability behind brutal physicality. Ruffalo provides much-needed warmth as Dave, the most stable of the three, and steals the best scene when, while taping du Pont's self-made documentary, he conveys his conflicted feelings about his "mentor" all in the contours of his face.

11 of 49 Paul Drinkwater/NBC

Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, the 71st Golden Globe Awards

It shouldn't surprise anyone that Fey and Poehler didn't suffer a sophomore slump as Globe hosts. But it's how they matched -- nay, stepped up -- their game the second time around that's great. Between accurately renaming American Hustle (Explosion at the Wig Factory), making out with Bono and introducing us to Randy Fey, they launched razor-sharp zingers with a smile, a wink, and every now and then, a whole lotta sting. (Sorry, George and Leo.) It all only makes us even more excited for their final (tear!) stint in January.

12 of 49 Paul Drinkwater/NBC

Erika Christensen and Sam Jaeger, Parenthood

Once NBC announced that Season 6 of Parenthood would be its last, the easy thing to do would have been to reunite Joel and Julia. But then fans would have been robbed of not one, but two fantastic performances entangled in uncertainty, love, sadness, anger and everything that makes up a real, complicated union. So much of TV is about getting from point A to point B, or for procedurals, solving the case. Parenthood is about the journey, the progress, and no matter how things end up for Joel and Julia, we're along with them for the ride until the bitter end.

13 of 49 Rooks Nest Entertainment/Sundial Pictures/Votiv Films

Jenny Slate, Obvious Child

It's hard to believe that just a few years ago, Jenny Slate was known best as that Saturday Night Live rookie who dropped an F-bomb during her first episode. That's all a distant memory now thanks to her funny, fearless performance in this Sundance breakout. As a standup comedian struggling with breaking up, growing up, an unplanned pregnancy and falling in love with the equally charismatic Jake Lacy, Slate is unflinchingly honest and heartfelt onstage and off, a tricky feat to be sure. If Obvious Child is the jaded, snarky millennial version of a romantic comedy, then Slate can be our messy, emotionally stunted Meg Ryan any day.

14 of 49 Tony Rivetti/ABC Family

Italia Ricci, Chasing Life

Playing someone with leukemia is no easy task, but Ricci's breakout performance has been heartbreaking and hopeful rather than depressing and melodramatic. Week to week, she's shown range with her grounded and realistic take on learning your life could be over when it should be just getting started. Ricci's been able to weave in the weight of her emotions about her diagnosis and discoveries about her late father's affair and subsequent half-sister with a lightness you'd see in a 24-year-old in love for the first time and chasing the career of her dreams.

15 of 49 Nicole Wilder/ABC

Viola Davis, How to Get Away with Murder

Although we've known that the two-time Oscar nominee has the chops, we've never seen her like this -- enigmatic, commanding, twisted and nearly uncontainable. Davis burns up the screen, one Shondaland speech at a time, but she also revels in showing the burned, broken and sensitive mess of a woman Annalise is underneath the body armor. One of the most moving -- and bravest -- sequences of the year was when Annalise removed her wig, makeup and jewelry in front of her vanity, baring her psyche for us to see as it reflected back at her.

16 of 49 Melissa Moseley/HBO

Sam Waterston, The Newsroom

Pretty much everyone working at the fictional ACN has their faults. Will is too self-righteous, Don is pompous, Sloan is socially inept, Jim is a wuss, Maggie is, well, where do we begin? But it's the boss man himself, Charlie Skinner, who is the series' best character, thanks in no small part to Waterston. In a lesser actor's hands, Charlie would either be too much of a drunk or too preachy. Much like his overzealous alter ego, Waterston gives every joke and every dramatic monologue his all (as evidenced by the high number of hair flips), and unlike so many of his co-stars, he never makes any of it look like work, a true sign of talent on a Sorkin series.

17 of 49 Marvel

Chris Pratt, Guardians of Galaxy

Fans of Parks and Recreation, Everwood and, yes, even The O.C.: The Later Years were already well aware of not only Pratt's top-notch skills as a physical comedian, but also his ability to seamlessly mix humor and heart without sacrificing either. So really all Pratt had to do was lose the beer belly and pick up a few butt-kicking skills to emerge as one of the year's biggest breakthroughs in this lighthearted comic book-based blockbuster. Now if only he could teach a few of his Marvel cohorts about comedic timing (we're looking at you, Chris Hemsworth).

18 of 49 Jojo Whilden/HBO

The cast of The Normal Heart

Ryan Murphy's devastating adaptation of The Normal Heart is anchored by incredible performances all around, particularly from Mark Ruffalo, Julia Roberts, Matt Bomer and Taylor Kitsch. As Ned Weeks, the activist at the center of the story, Ruffalo infuses the character with a stubborn, fiery passion -- which makes his tender vulnerability in scenes with Bomer, who plays his lover, all the more affecting. His anger is matched only by that of Roberts as Dr. Emma Brookner, the crusading paraplegic who led the charge against AIDS in its early days. As for Bomer, the actor's physical transformation as the disease consumes his character is a gut-punch in and of itself. Kitsch also demonstrates a range we haven't seen before in his portrayal of a heartbroken lover.

19 of 49 HBO

Thomas Middleditch, Silicon Valley

As the hopelessly awkward and reclusive programmer Richard, Middleditch plays someone who is, literally, repulsed by attention. However, next to some of his more showy co-stars, like the brash T.J. Miller or the gifted physical comedian Zach Woods, Middleditch's rare techie with a soul is an understated treat. Even in Richard's most dire, and usually most quiet, moments, the skilled comedian always manages to find the funny.

20 of 49 David Bloomer/Showtime

Claire Danes and Mandy Patinkin, Homeland

In Homeland's fourth season, this power duo has reminded us why they have always been the heart of the show. Danes once again dazzles as Carrie walked the razor's edge between reckless and responsible, with everything from sexually manipulating a young recruit to ordering a drone strike that would have killed both a dangerous target as well as Carrie's mentor Saul. Patinkin has imbued Saul with stoic bravery and then stinging fury, after Carrie betrayed his wishes to let him die rather than become a bargaining chip. Both actors were never finer than during the prisoner exchange, when Danes used Carrie's heartfelt love and respect for Saul to melt him into stubborn submission.

21 of 49 Fox Searchlight Pictures

Ralph Fiennes, The Grand Budapest Hotel

Wes Anderson's fantastical screwball adventure is so elegantly zany that only the most confidently game actor would do as its lead. Fiennes imbues Monsieur Gustave H., the concierge of the Grand Budapest Hotel in 1932, with a breezy wit and quirky style. On one hand, he is devoted to his job, and on the other hand, he sees no conflict of interest in giving "exception service" of the bedding variety to the aging female clientele. Despite the film's heightened reality and almost cartoonish action, Fiennes finds a way to make his character appealing and ultimately real to the audience.

22 of 49 Mary Cybulski/HBO

Clive Owen, The Knick

The only thing that pulsed more than The Knick's soundtrack this season was Owen's thoroughly charismatic performance as racist, cocaine-addicted surgeon John Thackery. Although brash and cocky when performing in the surgical theater, Owen uses Thackery's quieter moments to show the hollowness of a life consumed by chasing professional success at all costs. The fascinating portrayal became even more a joy to watch as Owen followed his character into the twitchy grip of withdrawal and the horrifying realization of what he'd allowed himself to become as a slave to his addiction.

23 of 49 Fox Searchlight Pictures

Michael Keaton, Birdman

Who better to play an aging actor once on top of the world for playing a superhero than an aging actor once on top of the world for playing a superhero? Embracing the amusing meta-ness, Keaton gives a vanity-free, nuanced turn as Riggan Thomson, dissecting the has-been's insecurity and ego with high-wire precision and vast range. His frustration, desperation and fear of failure are deeply felt, and deeply personal, as Riggan is confronted with endless hurdles in his mounting of a play -- none bigger than the haunting voice of Birdman in his head. Riggan might be seeking a comeback, but Keaton has made a triumphant return.

24 of 49 Lacey Terrell/HBO

Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey, True Detective

When two movie stars come to TV, you expect big things -- and this duo didn't disappoint. We couldn't take our eyes off McConaughey's Rust Cohle, who was an intense, mysterious conundrum from Minute 1. McConaughey showed sides of himself we've never seen as he tracked Cohle from being a lonely, big-thinking man to the ragged shell of his former self that was left behind after years of obsession. McConaughey's flashier role wouldn't work, however, without the Harrelson's understated turn as Cohle's stern, confounded partner Marty Hart. Adding hints of rage, heartbreak and comic relief whenever the show needed them, Harrelson anchored the series in reality as McConaughey searched for the universe's master plan.

25 of 49 Brooke Palmer/NBC

Mads Mikkelsen, Hannibal

After shedding comparisons to (and outdoing) other portrayals of Hannibal Lecter in the show's first season, Mikkelsen focused on showing the slippery pychopath's strength and his heart. Mikkelsen revealed his brutal killer's softer side as he was unable to walk away from his friendship with Will Graham, even after Will tried to have him killed. Mikkelsen continued to mix menace and charm as he nurtured Will's fledgling psychopathy with beautifully rendered affection -- which of course turned into searing, vulnerable anger when Hannibal's heart is broken by Will's long-con betrayal. If there was ever any doubt that this show is actually about its titular character, Mikkelsen removed it in Season 2.

26 of 49 Justin George/Baltimore Sun/TNS/Landov

Sarah Koenig, Serial

Even before its official debut, Serial was a breakout hit, topping the iTunes chart for weeks. And while the bizarre circumstances surrounding the 1999 murder of Hae Min Lee are mysterious enough to warrant interest on their own, the key to Serial's success lies in Koenig. Rather than recounting Adnan Syed's case from an objective distance, Koenig created a story by making her own shifting thoughts a key part of the narrative. Koenig's transparency in her investigation provide some of the series' most interesting moments and force us to question our own processes and intentions when making assumptions about guilt and innocence.

27 of 49 Chris Large/FX

The cast of Fargo

Billy Bob Thornton can play a charming killer like no other (must be the bangs), even when he's sitting on the toilet as drifter Lorne Malvo. And yet, Martin Freeman introduced a meeker yet somehow more frightening psychopath with his milquetoast-turned-murderer Lester. Leading the colorful supporting cast was breakout star Allison Tolman, who brought heart, integrity and smarts to the table. Hat tips also go to Kate Walsh as a hilariously widowed hussy; Glenn Howerton as a misguided man with a plan (and a spray tan); and the wise, warm Keith Carradine, among a host of others who brought small-town Minnesota to life.

28 of 49 Helen Sloan/HBO

Peter Dinklage, Game of Thrones

Dinklage continues to prove that his Emmy for playing the wise-cracking yet vulnerable Tyrion Lannister was not a fluke. In the HBO fantasy drama's fourth season, Tyrion's life was on the line when he's accused of murdering his own nephew, the teen tyrant King Joffrey. This test of character allowed Dinklage to really stretch and completely enrapture the audience. His shining moment? When he's on trial and in the space of one epic monologue, he swings from disbelief and disdain to anger and finally, a sort of triumph. His outrage is so palpable and yet so commanding that we're convinced that he has just saved his own skin with mere words.

29 of 49 Barbara Nitke/Showtime

Dominic West and Ruth Wilson, The Affair

The duo at the center of Showtime's steamy new drama are the main attraction -- and they have to pull double duty. Thanks to the show's dual- perspective premise, West and Wilson expertly play out their conflicted feelings about entering into an extramarital affair with subtle tweaks depending on which character is telling the story. West tempers his promiscuity we saw on The Wire with a shy family man approach, while Wilson vacillates between being a temptress and mess of a woman whose lost her son. The actors are so convincing, they tee up the show's fundamental (yet perhaps unanswerable) question to the audience: Which version of each character is real?

30 of 49 Jeff Neumann/CBS

Julianna Margulies, The Good Wife

For a woman who never cries, even Alicia Florrick's tough defenses were no match for the death of Will. But Alicia's unimaginable loss was Margulies' gain, allowing the actress to explore new depths as the normally stoic and silent lawyer grieved her lover and fought her husband each with unbridled emotion. But even in the darkest of times, Margulies also excels at finding the light, and the humor, whether she's getting drunk with Diane after Will's funeral or learning about all of her dirty laundry as she slowly ventured into politics. Margulies is always good great, but this year will be tough to beat.

31 of 49 Michael Desmond/Showtime

Betsy Brandt, Masters of Sex

Always underutilized on Breaking Bad, Brandt finally found a role she could sink her teeth into on Season 2 of Masters of Sex. As Dr. Masters' secretary Barbara Sanderson, whose debilitating sexual hang-ups can be traced back to childhood suffering, Brandt broke our hearts week after week. If you can only watch one of her scenes, let it be the one in which she confesses to Virginia the guilt she feels because God knows her sin.

32 of 49 PBS, The Weinstein Company, Yui Mok/ PA Wire/BBC America

best-performances-benedict-cumberbatch1

Benedict Cumberbatch, The Imitation Game, Sherlock and as a talk show guest Yes, we know that Cumberbatch made our list last year, but what can we say? The lanky Brit continues to kill it on any screen. On the past season of Sherlock, he was able to balance the kicked-up slapstick comedy with Sherlock's newfound emotional intelligence, bringing the famed detective one step closer to full humanity. In the biopic The Imitation Game, Cumberbatch infuses the role of tactless, brilliant computer scientist Alan Turing with such energy that he holds the film together and makes it more than it is. The quirks and intelligence are played with honesty, and the wronged Turing finally gets a tribute worthy of his deeds. Finally, Cumberbatch as a guest on any talk show is a win for everybody because he is so incredibly game to do anything that he cannot help but entertain, whether it's by doing 11 impersonations in a minute or < a href="http://www.tvguide.com/News/Benedict-Cumberbatch-Beyonce-Walk-1088445.aspx">copying Queen Bey's signature strut.

33 of 49 Sony Pictures Classics

Julianne Moore, Still Alice

Portraying a physical or visible ailment is one thing, but an invisible one? That takes subtlety, restraint and precise skill, all of which Moore showcases in spades. Playing Dr. Alice Howland, a linguistics professor diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer's, she quietly, gradually channels Alice's fading memory and sense of self in her hollowing eyes. It's a heartbreakingly believable performance that might finally win the four-time nominee her first Oscar.

34 of 49 Corbis

best-performance-Nirvana1

The Nirvana tribute, the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony In the absence of late frontman Kurt Cobain, the surviving members of Nirvana enlisted a little help from their (female) friends to power through four of the band's songs for their induction into the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame. Joan Jett, Kim Gordon and St. Vincent all handled their vocal duties with aplomb on "Smells Like Teen Spirit," "Aneurysm" and "Lithium," but the real standout performance came courtesy of Lorde, who, depressingly, wasn't even born until two years after Cobain died. She stunned the crowd at Brooklyn's Barclays Center with a version of "All Apologies" that transcended the bittersweet atmosphere and somehow managed to channel the raw emotion and pain that typically permeated Cobain's stage presence. It would've made him proud.

35 of 49 Sony Pictures Classics

Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons, Whiplash

That blood you see splattered across the snare drum on more than one occasion in Whiplash? It's not courtesy of the prop department. Teller throws himself wholeheartedly into the role of Andrew Neyman, a prodigious jazz drummer whose dedication to his craft talent blurs the line between sheer genius and unhealthy obsession. Those blisters are real, folks. The life he breathes into Andrew is matched only by the performance of Simmons, whose sadistic, brutal teacher Fletcher is perhaps the most terrifying villain in any movie to come out this year. Like a well-crafted drum solo, the rhythm with which they play off each other throughout the movie builds and builds before erupting into (barely) controlled chaos.

36 of 49 Liam Daniel/Focus Features

Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones, The Theory of Everything

To call Redmayne's portrayal of Stephen Hawking transformative is almost an understatement. Not unlike Daniel Day-Lewis' Oscar-winning turn in My Left Foot, Redmayne plunges himself into the role and skillfully depicts the deterioration of Hawking's body from motor neuron disease, all while emanating his joy, pain and brilliance with increasingly limited means. If Redmayne leads the film, then Jones carries it on her shoulders. Elevating Jane beyond the typical Long-Suffering Wife trope, Jones is a reservoir of strength and makes the story every bit as much about Jane as it is about Stephen.

37 of 49 Trae Patton/NBC

Gwen Stefani, The Voice

With Christina Aguilera busy prepping for baby and Shakira busy shaking her hips elsewhere (or whatever it is that she does when she's not on The Voice), one of those big red chairs opened up for No Doubt's leading lady. But who would have thought she would steal the whole show? Stefani not only brought her unique style and decades of experience in the music biz, but she's proven that female coaches don't have to play the "girl card" to get ahead. On top of her honest, heartfelt critiques and her impressive sales tactics (she made T-shirts for crying out loud!), Stefani also isn't afraid to let viewers into her personal life by having her husband, Bush singer Gavin Rossdale, mentor her team. Our fingers are crossed that she hollas back for another season (sorry, we had to).

38 of 49 Paramount Pictures

David Oyelowo, Selma

Start learning how to pronounce Oyelowo's name (Oh-yellow-oh) because you're not going to forget it after his powerful performance as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Meeting the challenge of playing one of the greatest orators ever, Oyelowo captures the civil rights leader's magnetic charisma, searing passion and defiance so masterfully that it almost feels like Dr. King brought back to life.

39 of 49 FX

Sarah Paulson, American Horror Story: Freak Show

This season of AHS is a mess. But rather than get bogged down in the nonsensical plots and CGI, Paulson has risen above the garbage to deliver two stellar performances as conjoined twins Bette and Dot. Paulson brings each character to life with individual mannerisms and voices so that even if you forgot who was left and who was right, the twins' identities would always be clear. Plus: How often do you get to see someone sing backup for herself?

40 of 49 20th Century Fox

Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort The Fault in Our Stars

Talk about a year for this pair, who both starred in two of the year's biggest movies: Divergent and The Fault in Our Stars. In the latter, Woodley portrays Hazel, the sarcastic, cancer-stricken loner who meets Augustus Waters (Elgort) in a therapy group her mom urges her to attend. Together, the pair takes viewers on an emotional ride (we probably cleared out a box of tissues) as they fall in love, travel abroad and face, as teens, insurmountable pain and the harsh reality of how cruel the world can be. Still, we'd watch it all over again.

41 of 49 Jojo Whilden/HBO

Frances McDormand and Richard Jenkins, Olive Kitteridge

Olive Kitteridge, the title character of HBO's miniseries and the short story collection on which it was based, is not a likable woman. But the schoolteacher becomes, through McDormand's outstanding portrayal, if not endearing, then at least empathetic. Throughout a story that spans about 25 years, McDormand plays Olive with a resoluteness that stays consistent even as her physical appearance changes. As a result, when Olive betrays even the slightest twinge of softness, it feels like a major emotional breakthrough. McDormand finds a perfect foil in Jenkins, who infuses Olive's long-suffering husband Henry with a contented weariness that, to viewers of a certain age, seems cautionary and familiar at the same time.

42 of 49 Eric Liebowitz/HBO

John Oliver, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver

Although Daily Show fans had seen glimmers of Oliver's talents, it was mainly as a limited, and admittedly, sometimes annoying character. His weekly HBO format allows him to truly be himself in all of his cerebral, ethical and goofy glory. Oliver has a skill for boiling down an issue and transliterating it into pop culture of the most bizarre kind. Take, for example, when Russia placed sanctions on importing U.S. chicken. Somehow that issue progressed to the point where the now-jilted chicken tried to get some action on Tinder. Add to it Oliver's emphasis on foreign affairs and his epic rants on net neutrality and payday loans, and we feel lucky to have his voice on our TVs once a week.

43 of 49 Roadside Attractions

Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader, The Skeleton Twins

Starring in a depressing indie film has become a post-SNL ritual for many alums, but Wiig and Hader's chemistry elevates The Skeleton Twins beyond its litany of clichés. Both actors give refreshingly understated performances, but its Hader's ability to resist turning Milo into another gay cartoon like Stefon that is the most admirable. That being said, without a doubt, the highlight of the film is when Hader and Wiig really let loose in an impressive lip sync that would have RuPaul shouting, "Shante, you stay!"

44 of 49 Adam Taylor/ABC

Alfonso Ribeiro, Dancing with the Stars

If there was any celebrity made for this show, it's Ribeiro. Not only did his insanely good dance moves (this was just Week 1!) lead him to a win, but his upbeat attitude, ability to poke fun at himself and overall joyous aura connected with audiences in a way no one else has in a long time. Not to mention, he can still rock The Carlton as well as, if not better than, his days on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.

45 of 49 Bernard Walsh/HISTORY

Travis Fimmel, Vikings

At first glance, Ragnar Lothbrok seems like another typical white male antihero. He's powerful, defiant, a total ladies' man and will literally kill you if you get in his way. But Fimmel makes sure to always bring Ragnar's vulnerability to the surface, whether on the battlefield or in family disputes. And while Ragnar is usually a man of few words, Fimmel got the chance to truly show what he can do when Ragnar delivered an intimate eulogy to his daughter Gyda.

46 of 49 Michael Ansell/ABC

The kids on Black-ish

It's easy for sitcom children to be embarrassingly underdeveloped, precocious, angsty or [insert any other stale archetype here]. While Dre and Rainbow's kids don't revolutionize the TV family, the ease each of the kids has in their performances allows the show to tackle serious issues about race and class without it ever feeling forced or heavy-handed. Miles Brown and Marsai Martin, who play twins Jack and Diane, have comedic timing that rivals the adults. Yara Shahidi, who plays Zoey, has the makings of a stereotypical self-obsessed teen, but there's an exciting softness to herperformance that reigns in the diva. And then there's Marcus Scribner, whose portrayal of the ultimate square Andy seems destined to make him a breakout star. We would watch a spin-off starring each and any one of the Johnson kids in a heartbeat.

47 of 49 John P. Johnson/HBO

Lisa Kudrow, The Comeback

There is something so lovable about how unlikable Kudrow plays Valerie Cherish. But this season, Kudrow took Valerie a step further by adding in the faintest hints at sincerity underneath her pathological obsession with the spotlight. In the blink of an eye, Valerie's self-absorption veers from gratingly narcissistic to endearingly defiant against the industry and people who try to put her down. And watching Kudrow, a great actress, play a terrible actress discovering she's a talented actress while playing herself on a terrible show is such a delightful mind trip that we couldn't get enough.

48 of 49 Jonathan Hession/SHOWTIME

Eva Green, Penny Dreadful

Those. Eyes. Green acts through every last eyelash and muscle in her body to portray Vanessa Ives, a seductive, secretive and ultimately dangerous medium on Showtime's gothic psychosexual horror series. Nothing is too small -- a flick of her eyes conveys doubt or humor -- or too big -- she almost bends backwards in half while possessed by an evil spirit -- when it comes to the physical lengths to which Green will go. Balance that with an almost prim composure, and it's clear that Green has captured the paradoxical sprit of the Victorian era that is the hallmark of Penny Dreadful.

49 of 49 BBC America

Tatiana Maslany, Orphan Black

Maslany makes our list for the second year in a row simply because she is so believable playing wildly different clones that we sometimes forget she's just one actress. (No, really. There was that one time we watched her during an interview and got confused why she was talking about Cosima and, well, nevermind.) On the BBC America sci-fi thriller's second season, she brought to life even more clones, including a sweet but terminally ill American girl and even a transgender clone, along with the four core clones she portrayed in the first season. It's baffling to us why every TV watcher is not part of the Clone Club yet, but TVGuide.com is doing our part to recruit.