Fall TV season is officially in full swing as 1.183 billion TV shows showcase in new seasons in the hopes of surviving at least through November sweeps. In this golden age of television, some, a lot of series are great…others, not so much. But even on some lacking scripted series (reality shows are an entirely different matter), there may be a few diamonds in the rough. Here are five actors and actresses whose great performances shine through the murky plot points, overwrought themes, and lackluster surrounding cast of their respective not-so-great TV shows.
Dean Norris, Big Jim, Under the Dome
Most recently known for his role as ASAC Hank Scrader on Breaking Bad, Dean Norris rode the acclaim wave straight into a villainous lead role in CBS’ Under the Dome, based on Stephen King’s eponymous novel. For lack of a better term, the summer drama is lacking in pretty much every way. Watching most of the series, I’ve come to two conclusions: the “bad” show is actually a well-hidden satire on the absurdity of American television and Abrahamic religions, and Norris as Big Jim is the only memorable performance on the show.
Sandra Oh, Cristina Yang, Grey’s Anatomy
Grey’s Anatomy has gone through its ups and downs, and while it regained some momentum after abrupt departures and crazy brain tumor ghost sex, it remains at its core, an often overly melodramatic soap opera. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a total Grey’s Anatomy sucker. Every episode I watch, regardless of whether or not I’ve kept up with the latest medical/romantic drama, I cry. Every. Single. Time. What Grey’s does do well is characterization, and no character (and performance) has been as consistent and solid as Sandra Oh as Dr. Cristina Yang. Whip smart, arrogant, dark, and twisty, Yang has dealt with her fair share of melodrama and yet maintains a vibrancy and authenticity.
Ming-Na Wen, Melinda May, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
The first TV series of Marvel’s massive Cinematic Universe, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. epically disappointed would-be fans and critics alike with cliched plots, awkward dialogue, and wooden delivery. Real life Disney warrior princess Ming-Na Wen (Mulan, Stargate Universe) doesn’t disappoint. As bad ass Agent Melinda May with a dark past, she is not one to be trifled with, taking down bad guys with ease. Even better, Wen’s Agent May side-steps much of the early episodes especially terrible dialogue through speaking less with her voice and more with a plethora of dirty/brooding looks.
Mireille Enos and Joel Kinnaman, Sarah Linden and Stephen Holder, The Killing
It’s astonishing how much of the layered plotting and story arcs this series gets wrong for the caliber of talent associated with this AMC/Netflix show. But I would be lying if I didn’t watch each and every season of The Killing like the chump that I am. The reason for my insanity-like behavior? The continued excellence of Enos and Kinnaman. As Linden and Holder, Enos and Kinnaman made magic by merely driving in a car, smoking cigarettes, and waxing philosophically on the vegan lifestyle and murder. The surrounding series may be lacking, but watching The Killing strictly for their electric chemistry and master class showcase of two-person dialogue scenes is worth it.
Richard Armitage, Guy of Gisborne, Robin Hood
Having received my first (but not my last!) angry Tumblr message due to critiquing the BBC show, none of my snarky criticism has been directed towards Armitage’s performance as Robin’s romantic, familial, and socio-political adversary Guy of Gisborne. In a part meant to be a straight villain albeit a pitiful one, Armitage elevates the role into a emotionally conflicted anti-hero/BDSM enthusiast. Okay, I may be exaggerating about the BDSM enthusiast part but this and this and THIS suggest otherwise. (He wears a LOT of leather.) Going from murderous crony to lovesick puppy in .01 seconds, Armitage showcases his range and adaptability in what would normally be a one-dimensional role. Especially next to Good Guy Robin, Bad Boy Guy is definitely more appealing. Despite the focus of the show, you may find yourself rooting for the villain.
What other actor/actress do you think performs above and beyond their show? Sound off in the comments! *cough*John Cho in everything.*cough*