The Year’s Most Underrated TV Actors

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As last week’s Golden Globe nominations reminded us, our favorite entertainers don’t always get the recognition they deserve. So, as part of Flavorpill’s end-of-year extravaganza, we’re tipping our woolen winter hat to ten TV actors who did a fantastic job in 2011 but, so far, aren’t getting a lot of credit for their success. While some play minor characters who always shine, others have been overshadowed by famous co-stars or are standouts on shows most critics and awards voters don’t take seriously. Let us know which television actors you don’t think are getting their due in the comments.

Taissa Farmiga, American Horror Story

A few months ago, we praised Taissa Farmiga’s Violet Harmon for being one of the best kid characters on TV — and that was before, you know, most of what happened to her this season. It’s easy to see why Farmiga is getting less than her share of praise; when your show is the creepiest, most over-the-top hour of TV every week, viewers can be too busy WTF-ing to think much about the performances. And then there are her big-name cast mates; Jessica Lange is getting a ton of well-deserved attention for her Tennessee Williams-worthy Constance, and who isn’t fascinated to see Connie Britton transform from Friday Night Lights’ Mrs. Coach to a pregnant woman slowly being driven crazy by the spirits who haunt her home? But what’s great about Farmiga is how subtle and believable she is as Violet, a depressed teenager who is bullied in school and turns to a dangerous, ghostly boyfriend to help her through familial chaos.

Gabriel Mann, Revenge

ABC’s Revenge is 2011’s great grown-up answer to Gossip Girl, which hasn’t done much for us in a few seasons. (And yet, for some reason, we’re still watching it.) The show is full of rich-people intrigue, pretty faces, cute clothes, and gorgeous Hamptons scenery. As such, it’s not really known for the quality of its acting. But one member of its ensemble cast deserves more recognition than he’s getting: Gabriel Mann, who plays Nolan Ross, a rich, lonely computer genius who happens to be interested in men. Nolan is a loyal friend to the show’s revenge-seeking heroine, Emily, using technology to aid her in pulling off elaborate schemes — but the sadness that comes through in his character makes him more than just a sidekick.

Kim Dickens, Treme

You know who Kim Dickens is. You’ve seen her on just about every great TV show of the past five years, from Deadwood to Friday Night Lights to Lost. But for the past two seasons, she’s been playing Janette Desautel on Treme. Aided by a strong team of writers that has, at times, included Anthony Bourdain, Dickens brings to life the plight of a New Orleans chef who loses her restaurant in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. We’ve loved Janette from the very beginning — she’s the kind of tough, smart hometown girl we wouldn’t mind having as a friend — but she really came into her own in Season 2. Her shining moment came when, having relocated to New York to find work, she spotted a critic who had famously advised readers not to patronize NOLA restaurants — and threw a drink in his face before walking off the job.

Kevin Alejandro, True Blood

Everyone loves Lafayette. But how about some love for Kevin Alejandro, the man behind Lafayette’s great love, Jesus Velasquez? His story ended tragically last season, but not before he showed off his acting chops, depicting a powerful brujo who struggles with his family’s supernatural legacy and falls in with a crowd of bad witches. What comes through in Alejandro’s performance — and especially in the Season 4 scene that had Jesus talking down his possessed boyfriend — is how deeply his character cares for Lafayette, even in death.

Retta, Parks and Recreation

There are so many great characters on Parks and Rec: deeply sincere overachiever Leslie Knope, player-in-his-own-mind Tom Haverford and his splendidly naïve sidekick, Jean-Ralphio, pleasantly disaffected April, Ron Fucking Swanson. But we have heard far too little celebration of single-name comedian Retta’s Donna Meagle. She doesn’t get as much screen time as some of the others, and we haven’t seen entire story lines devoted to her yet. But every time we glimpse something about the character — from her Benz to her apparently steamy romantic life — it’s wonderful. More Donna, please, Parks and Rec. And more Treat Yo Self Day, too.

Tim Sharp, Enlightened

We have been thoroughly enjoying Laura Dern and Mike White’s new HBO series, Enlightened, which ended its first season earlier this week. Dern has been earning accolades for her nuanced performance as Amy Jellicoe, an executive recovering trying to put her life together after a nervous breakdown that ruined her career — and all of that praise is well deserved. But we also think Tim Sharp deserves a shout out for his depiction of Amy’s boss, Dougie, a leering douche bag with a massive inferiority complex. Sharp plays him with the perfect mix of arrogance and insecurity, making him instantly recognizable to anyone who’s had the misfortune of having to work with a guy who’s prone to very public temper tantrums.

Sofia Black D’Elia, Skins

Although we didn’t hate it as much as most critics did, there was certainly something lost in translation when MTV decided to adapt the cult-favorite British teen drama Skins for the US. Part of the show’s MO is to roll the dice on unknown, high school-aged actors — and the lack of experience was a problem for much of the show’s US cast. The glowing exception was Sofia Black D’Elia, whose portrayal of a tough lesbian teen who can’t stop sabotaging herself stood out amid the mediocrity. We can’t wait to see what she does next.

Keir Gilchrist, United States of Tara

Speaking of great, LGBT teen characters, how about Marshall Gregson from United States of Tara? Despite being excellent and unusual and well-written, the series bit the dust this year after three strong seasons. It’s impossible to talk about the show without raving over Toni Collette’s portrayal of a woman with dissociative identity disorder and her diverse handful of alter egos. But we’d also like to point out how wonderful Keir Gilchrist was in the role of precocious Marshall, who, in Season 3, had to come to terms with the sudden death of an ex-boyfriend and sort out his feelings about leaving his crazy family to pursue his dreams of being a filmmaker.

Anna Chancellor, The Hour

The central trio on the great new BBC show The Hour is one of our favorite teams on TV. And yet, we have to confess that the character who intrigued us the most was Anna Chancellor’s hard-drinking former war correspondent, the excellently named Lix Strong. Hard as diamond and full of gruff wisdom, in Chancellor’s hands she’s the perfect blend of mystery, glamour, and sadness.

Troian Bellisario, Pretty Little Liars

Finally, we need to give some recognition to Troian Bellisario, of our favorite guilty pleasure teen murder mystery, Pretty Little Liars. While most of the acting on this addictive show is reminiscent of what you might find on a daytime soap, the exception is Bellisario, who brings preppy Spencer Hastings’ soul-crushing anxiety to life so realistically, we sometimes forget that the character and the actress are different people.