Yvonne Strahovski as Sarah Walker on Chuck (NBC) –– Sarah Walker is one of the toughest characters on TV and not just because she can kick your ass. She has to be one of the most deceptively difficult characters to play. Just think about all the things that Sarah Walker has to be: Strong and powerful enough that you believe the petite blonde could fight a much bigger enemy; alluring and seductive enough to attract a target; guarded and distant in her emotions as a spy, but soft and open enough that you believe she could fall for a geeky guy like Chuck; vulnerable and broken enough underneath that tough exterior that you believe she really just aches for a normal life with Chuck. And Strahovski pulls it all off with ease. Watch “Chuck Versus Phase Three” if you don’t believe me.

Matthew Rhys as Kevin Walker on Brothers & Sisters (ABC) — Rhys has always been quietly great on the show, but this season, he really shone as Kevin dealt with Scotty’s infidelity. Angry, heartbroken, petty — Rhys was perfect as the never perfect Kevin. And then three episodes later, he was showing off his equally adept comedic skills when Kevin accidentally got high.

Chris Pratt as Andy Dwyer on Parks and Recreation (NBC) — Pratt did kind of dumb, but lovable as Bright Abbott on Everwood for four seasons and then did weird, but lovable as Che on The O.C., but he still manages to make Andy his own thing. As played with sweetness and a childlike spirit by Pratt, the seemingly harmless Andy is the ultimate stealth scene stealer.

Candice Accola as Caroline Forbes on The Vampire Diaries (The CW) — Nina Dobrev, rightfully, is getting a lot of attention for her fantastic dual turn as good girl Elena and naughty minx vampire Katherine. But the surprise star of this season has been Accola, who took Caroline from neurotic teenage girl to confident vampire. She delivered an equally devastating and humorous performance as she made the confusing transformation in this season’s second episode and has gone on to impress in scenes with her mom, Tyler, Stefan and Katherine, going from teary to light and funny to scared to nurturing to kickass. Even in season one, I thought Accola gave Caroline a depth beneath her bubbly exterior, but this season, she proved herself to be the show’s secret weapon. No wonder she’s my pick to play Buffy if a new film must be made.

The cast of 10 Things I Hate About You (ABC Family) The little seen ABC Family show had some of the best young, comedic talent around. Everyone was terrific from Dana Davis as the snappy queen bee Chastity to Chris Zylka as the lovable doofus jock Joey to Ethan Peck as the smoldering Patrick. But I have to single out Meaghan Martin and Lindsey Shaw as the Stratford sisters. Martin never played the wannabe popular Bianca as vapid or stupid. Instead, she gave her a sweetness and an awareness that fleshed out what was a rather thin character in the film version. And as Kat, Shaw was a revelation — tart, whip smart and tough, but never off-putting. These kids need pilots, stat!

Jensen Ackles as Dean Winchester on Supernatural (The CW) – If you’re on a CW series, you should get used to being criminally overlooked, which is unfortunate because Jensen Ackles is the best actor on the CW and one of the best on TV, period. In its sixth season, I’ve been taking notice of costar Jared Padalecki’s performance more than ever before, but it’s Ackles who has been delivering one hell of a performance — no pun intended — for six years now. Whether it’s tackling the grief of losing his brother, the disappointment and heartbreak of losing the normal family he’s longed for, being comedically attacked by Tinkerbell or delivering that one perfect tear, Ackles always nails it.

Eric Mabius as Daniel Meade on Ugly Betty (ABC) — Full disclosure: I have a weird thing for Mabius because he reminds me of Jason Dohring (Veronica Mars) and I imagine Daniel Meade is Logan Echolls ten years down the line. That being said, I honestly think Mabius turned in a criminally underrated performance in the show’s final season. Watching Ugly Betty in syndication, it really becomes obvious how much Daniel grew over the course of the series, and Mabius matured with him. I never liked the idea of Daniel and Betty as more than friends. Then I saw Mabius’ dawning realization of his feelings and his hopeful, nervous face during that pitch-perfect meeting with Betty in London in the series finale.

Miles Heizer as Drew on Parenthood (NBC) — Perhaps the best, little-seen performance, but not because nobody’s watching Parenthood. Sadly, this a case of too little screentime for a very promising actor and character. I loved Heizer in the Parenthood pilot, but it seems like we’ve barely seen him since then. When he got a small storyline in the Thanksgiving episode, I nearly yelped with joy.

Anna Torv as Olivia/Alt-Olivia on Fringe (Fox) — You’ve come a long way, Anna Torv! When Fringe first premiered, I wasn’t enamored with Torv’s performance. It felt a little flat to me, especially considering how alluring and alive she seemed in the U.K. series Mistresses. But this season, juggling two characters, both of whom were pretending to be somebody else, Torv came into her own. She imbued both characters with layered, complex performances that never, ever veered into campy evil doppelganger territory.

Hunter Parrish as Silas Botwin on Weeds (Showtime) — With his family veering further off the path into crazytown, Silas became the saving, sane grace of the Botwin clan. This was the year that Parrish took Silas from boy to a young man desperately trying to connect to his brother and hold onto whatever piece of normal he can. Every time Silas had to leave behind “normal” — college life, the real father he never knew — Parrish made my heart break a little.

Honorable Mentions: The cast of Burn Notice, Autumn Reeser on No Ordinary Family, Matt Czuchry on The Good Wife, Eve Best on Nurse Jackie, the supporting cast of Dollhouse, Paul Wesley on The Vampire Diaries, Sasha Roiz on Caprica, Justin Hartley on Smallville, Regina King on Southland.

More TV in 2010: My Favorites TV Episodes of 2010, My 2011 TV Wish List

  1. MikeNJD says:

    I was going to offer up Jack Huston as Richard Harrow on Boardwalk Empire, but he’s been praised for that role. Instead, I offer Noah Gould as Luke Dunphy on Modern Family. For a 12 yr old to have such great timing, and for a 12 yr old MENSA member to play dumb so perfectly, well the kid is fantastically talented.

  2. Merve says:

    I’d like to put in a plug for Josh Hopkins as Grayson on Cougar Town and Jay Harrington as Ted on Better Off Ted. Both come from more dramatic backgrounds, yet manage to be hilarious.

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