1 of 29 Netflix
Uzo Aduba, Orange is the New Black
While OITNB's first season was very much Piper's story, Crazy Eyes was all anyone could talk about. Her one-liners and her twitchy stare have become iconic, thanks to the conviction and complexity Aduba brought to the role. With only a small amount of screen time, Aduba managed to convey a painfully misunderstood woman who loves Shakespeare and publicly urinates out of spite. While Crazy Eyes is, without a doubt, pretty darn crazy, Aduba also showed us Suzy, whose biggest problem seems to simply be loving too much. We'd throw our pie for Aduba in a heartbeat.
2 of 29 Michele K. Short/FX
Kathy Bates and Angela Bassett, American Horror Story: Coven
Move over, Jessica Lange! Bates and Bassett stole the show this season as the duo played out a centuries-long feud to much hilarity. Bassett was strong and sassy and Bates somehow made her character sympathetic despite being a horrible racist. The duo's back-and-forth bickering may have been highlighted by over-the-top torment — Bassett's Marie Laveau eventually cut off the head of Bates' LaLaurie, though she survived — but they're respective heartbreaking ends were grounded enough to make us feel something.
3 of 29 David Giesbrecht/CBS
Josh Charles, The Good Wife
As Will Gardner reeled from the betrayal of his ex-lover leaving the firm, Charles delivered intense and thoughtful performances — most memorably in the show's 100th episode, in which Will imagined an entire interrogation with Alicia in his head. Little did we know that Charles was doing his best work to date as part of the actor's exit from the show. By the time Will was surprisingly shot to death, Charles didn't even need words to express exactly what was going through Will's head. Losing Charles' triumphant performance week after week only added to the pain of losing Will.
4 of 29 Frank Micelotta/Fox
Harry Connick Jr., American Idol
After last year's Diva Disaster, the entire judging panel on Idol's 13th season has been a breath of fresh air — but rookie panelist Harry Connick Jr. in particular has consistently provided helpful, intelligent and entertaining feedback to this crop of contestants. He doesn't shy away from wading into music theory or using technical terms when addressing the singers, which both teaches the audience a thing or two and makes viewers feel like they're watching a show that's a cut above typical reality TV.
5 of 29 Annette Brown/The CW
Nina Dobrev, The Vampire Diaries
At one point this season, Dobrev actually played three different characters from different eras — all in the emotional depth that we imagine she'll stick around almost as long as the show's vampires have.
6 of 29 PBS
Jim Carter and Phyllis Logan, Downton Abbey
Although Carson is always a joy to watch, with his rather tradition-bound curmudgeonly ways, this season Jim Carter was able to express extra humanity — revealing jealousy and heartache — over a long-lost love. On the flip side, Logan demonstrated a steely strength as head housekeeper Mrs. Hughes, as she supported her friend who was raped and then confronted the attacker face-to-face. Together, the two actors bring enough strength and warmth to make it clear why their characters are the ones to turn to for guidance. Plus: In the Christmas episode, their chemistry was not just comfortable but also rather adorably funny.
7 of 29 Liane Hentscher/Fox
Michael Ealy, Almost Human
Who knew we'd come away from this Fox drama feeling more connected to the robots than the humans? Playing opposite Karl Urban's straight man, Ealy brought robotic cop Dorian to life with dry wit and a surprising sense of humanity. Although Dorian struggled to understand the complexity of human emotions, Ealy's heartfelt performance played on ours to great effect.
8 of 29 Mark Levine/ABC
Charles Esten, Nashville
Deacon has gone from rock bottom to... well, back down to rock bottom. But the arc has given the often under-utilized Esten some nice material to sink his teeth into. Seeing Deacon deal with his hand injury, the news that he's Maddie's real father and Megan cheating on him with Teddy — all while trying to resist the temptation to drink — has been one of the most interesting (and least frustrating) plot lines this season. Now if he and Rayna could just get back together for good already...
9 of 29 Lloyd Bishop/NBC
Jimmy Fallon, The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon
Sticking to his word not to make any adjustments for The Tonight Show, Fallon, from the second he bounded onto the stage, continued to do what he does best: have fun. Between his famous musical bits and getting celebs to do the most ridiculous things they likely wouldn't do on any other talk show, the SNL alum has brought pure, goofy glee to the ultimate late-night throne we'd happily watch for years to come.
10 of 29 Michael Ansell/ABC
Troy Gentile, The Goldbergs
Barry could be easy to hate. He suffers from your typical middle-child syndrome and probably needs to seek anger management. But Gentile never goes full throttle with the rage, playing it at just the right level to make Barry a hilarious, offbeat weirdo you are simultaneously exasperated by and want to befriend — especially after you see Big Tasty's sick rap skills. Anyone who rhymes "mustard" and "flustered" gets our vote.
11 of 29 Adam Rose/Fox
Lea Michele and Naya Rivera, Glee
Returning for the show's fifth season following Cory Monteith's death, Michele brought a refreshing dose of honesty and realism to the sometimes far-fetched series, as her character mourned the loss of Finn and attempted to move on and star in the Broadway revival of Funny Girl. Rachel's possibly star-making turn also managed to bring back the old vicious Santana viewers fell in love to hate. After her brief phase of playing it nice in Season 4, Rivera channeled her character's merciless and unapologetic Lima Heights Adjacent persona with newfound gusto.
12 of 29 Michael Parmelee/NBC
Mariska Hargitay, Law & Order: SVU
Fifteen years in, the series delivered one of its best seasons thanks largely to the series' star, who delivered her strongest performances to date during the electrifying and horrifying "Save Benson" trilogy. In the brutal premiere, Hargitay tapped into an unfiltered rage as she beat her attacker William Lewis with a pipe. Lewis' subsequent trial gave Hargitay the chance to show Benson's internal struggle with her lies about their encounter and his escape from prison. And their recent "last dance" brought out new defiance while also revealing the vulnerable cracks in Benson's hard shell. Between that and Benson's challenging love life, Hargitay showed new layers to a character viewers (falsely) thought they had figured out long ago.
13 of 29 HBO
Murray Bartlett and Lauren Weedman, Looking
There's more chemistry between Dom and Doris than even the most romantic couples on this show. The pair is so delightful to watch together, that they somehow even turn complaining about a "manipulative" 6-month-old with a heart defect into endearing conversation. But the real reason Bartlett and Weedman continually steal the show is that they actually feel like real, genuine people — and adults at that. They call each other on their B.S., have actual purposes outside of getting laid and even have mixed feelings towards Zumba. In short, they're just like us.
14 of 29 Rick Rowell/ABC
Chris Harrison, The Bachelor
For 12 years, Harrison made his role as Rose Master look easy. But during Season 18, Harrison took off his hosting hat and began questioning polarizing star Juan Pablo right alongside the audience and the contestants. Culminating in the awkwardly tense "After the Final Rose," Harrison pushed back and became visibly frustrated when Juan Pablo refused to answer seemingly simple questions. It was refreshing to see the cheerful (and sometimes cheesy) Harrison shed his TV persona and admit that the outcome isn't always perfect. But in the end, that perhaps made for better, more realistic TV.
15 of 29 Michael Desmond/Showtime
Allison Janney, Masters of Sex
Dutiful and unfulfilled '50s-era wife Margaret Scully somehow became the heart of the series after a distressing sexual journey that not only included her own personal awakening to pleasure, but also the discovery that her dear husband Barton (Beau Bridges) is gay. Although the character didn't show up until almost halfway through the season, Janney made the most of her time on screen, playing Margaret's pathos with such unwavering, ruthless commitment — those expressive eyes! That poignant voice! — that we couldn't help but be moved... and awed.
16 of 29 Beth Dubber/Fox
Chris Messina, The Mindy Project
Danny might have tried to keep up his office curmudgeon facade, but this season, Messina found ways to hint at the secret romantic underneath. Every time he put his hand on Mindy's back while crossing the street or stumbled over his words in her presence, it became painfully obvious these two were meant to be, even without Danny saying a word. That kind of chemistry can't be scripted — nor could Messina's impeccable dance skills, which he once again showed off to Aaliyah's "Try Again."
17 of 29 Ron P. Jaffe/CBS
Cristin Milioti, How I Met Your Mother
Whoever was going to play The Mother after eight long years of buildup had big heels to fill, and Milioti fit them to a tee and more. Though The Mother was written too perfectly in line with Ted's tastes, Milioti played her with such easygoing charm, dorkiness and vulnerability, and had such warm chemistry with Josh Radnor, that it made it all the more heartbreaking when The Mother died. (And you've heard her "La Vie en Rose," yes?) Regardless of how you feel about the finale, Milioti was singlehandedly the best part of the risky weekend-set final season.
18 of 29 FX Network
Amber Nash, Archer
As the voice of HR director Pam Poovey on Archer, Nash knocked it out of the park this season as Pam developed a (hilarious) addiction to cocaine. Whether she's gnawing her way through a body cast made of blow or using her super-strength to walk into oncoming tranquilizer darts, "Cokie Monster" Pam has been, hands down, the best aspect of the rebooted Season 5.
19 of 29 Eric McCandless/ABC
Jeff Perry, Scandal
Every week, Perry delivers a compelling performance that masterfully balances the monster inside cutthroat Chief of Staff Cyrus Beene with the crushed man dealing with the loss of his husband because of his own actions. The moment you start to hate Cyrus, Perry reels you back in with a depth of humanity unbefitting of a character who has done such cruel things.
20 of 29 Justin Lubin/NBC
Danny Pudi, Community
Troy and Abed go together like Jeff and his cell phone. So, there was understandable hesitation after Donald Glover announced he wouldn't be around to play yin to Pudi's yang. But instead of getting lost in his character's gimmick, Pudi found a way to explore a new, more mature Abed, while still staying true to his meta observational humor. Pudi knew when to reel it back and when to go all-out (his Nicolas Cage impression is truly a thing of beauty). So, as much as we miss Troy, we are more than cool, cool, cool with only Abed in the morning.
21 of 29 Sundance Channel
Yara Pilartz and Swann Nambotin, The Returned
All of the performances on the French series about people who come back from the dead (not to be confused with ABC's far inferior Resurrection) are stellar, but the turns from child actors Pilartz and Nambotin are particularly haunting. Pilartz is simply mesmerizing as Camille, the first undead character we meet, and immediately makes viewers empathize with The Returned. Though his performance as "Victor"/Louis is mostly a wordless one, Nambotin is perfectly cast as the young murder victim whose motives remain somewhat unclear.
22 of 29 Sonja Flemming/Showtime
Emmy Rossum, Shameless
After years of getting away with everything short of murder, Fiona finally faced the music this season. Rossum beautifully played the vulnerable side of a woman on the verge of hard prison time after her irresponsibility nearly led to the death of her baby brother. Her usually stony exterior was cracked and Rossum displayed the range of emotions her character ordinarily tries to keep bottled up. The result was Rossum's most compelling work to date.
23 of 29 Brownie Harris/Fox
Tom Mison and Nicole Beharie, Sleepy Hollow
In an era where bromances are growing tiresome, the platonic relationship between Mison's Ichabod Crane and Beharie's Abbie Mills shined most bright during the Fox drama's freshman run. The chemistry between the pair was palpable, as their characters bounced off each other in dealing with the fish-out-of-water Ichabod and the weekly villains who go bump in the night. Some fans even began to 'ship the duo, who have found a rhythm unlike most partnerships we've seen on TV before.
24 of 29 Dana Edelson/NBC
The Women of Saturday Night Live
The sketch show has always been a notorious boys club, but thankfully the ladies are finally getting their due this season. Kate McKinnon, aka our favorite Justin Bieber, and recently promoted "Weekend Update" anchor Cecily Strong have become this year's breakout stars, but Aidy Bryant, Vanessa Bayer, Sasheer Zamata, Nasim Pedrad and Noel Wells are hot on their heels. With such talented comediennes at their disposal, SNL is finally giving us more female-dominated sketches, including "(Do It on My) Twin Bed," "Mr. Big Stuff," "Slumber Party" and "Women's Group." Maybe now we can finally put that old "women aren't funny" stereotype to rest.
25 of 29 David Giesbrecht/NBC
James Spader, The Blacklist
The veteran actor chews the scenery with such nonchalant aplomb that one can't help laughing at the master criminal's outrageous bon mots. One who styles himself as the "concierge of crime" obviously amuses himself, but we're just happy to be included. And yet, Spader is able to switch from the sardonic, falsely folksy jokester to the chilling killer with just a flick of his eyes. Where does James Spader end and Red Reddington begin? We don't know and we don't care.
26 of 29 HBO
Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson, 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.
27 of 29 Eric McCandless/ABC
Albert Tsai, Trophy Wife
Good things come in small sizes. Tsai probably doesn't know just how funny he is, but the 9-year-old has stolen the show from his far more seasoned castmates (which includes Oscar, Tony and Emmy winners) with his unbridled energy, perfect delivery and overall cuteness that never veers too far over into the "annoying precocious kid" end. Trying not to chuckle whenever he's on screen is a futile exercise.
28 of 29 Colleen Hayes/NBC
Mae Whitman, Parenthood
If Season 4 was Mae Whitman's official graduation to the grown-ups table on the NBC family drama, then Season 5 was her victory lap. Amber and Ryan's surprise engagement brought bigger, more tear-jerking moments, thanks in no small part to Ryan's continued struggle with PTSD, which Whitman expertly handled as his helpless partner. Amber never made it down the aisle, but the second half of the season saw a heartwarming, hilarious relationship between her and her TV brother Miles Heizer. Whitman has always been known as one of the best cry-ers on TV, but this year she also proved herself as one of the show's best comedic talents.
29 of 29 Ray Mickshaw/Fox
Parker Young, Enlisted
After years of stealing scenes on Suburgatory, Young shines in a starring role on the subversive yet surprisingly touching military comedy, becoming one of the Fox show's many bright spots. As youngest brother Randy Hill, who makes up for his lack of smarts with tons of enthusiasm, Young capitalizes on what made his Suburgatory alter ego work, while also showing his little-known softer side as one-third of what has to be one of TV's best sibling bonds.