The 10 Most Underrated TV Performances of 2011

When you think back on the year’s standout small-screen performances, no doubt you’ll think of Madeleine Stowe’s turn as a hot, hot piece of ice on Revenge. You’ll recall the Jim Parsons/Mayim Bialik tag team on The Big Bang Theory. You’ll hail the cast of Modern Family (possibly, in particular, in the warp-speed Christmas episode).

But since the holidays are a time for reflection, why not take TVLine’s lead and consider a few performances that you might have overlooked the first time around? Flip through our slideshow below, then second our suggestions in comments or offer up fresh kudos of your own!

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141 Comments
  1. Amber says:

    Elisha Cuthbert – good pick! Before this show all I remembered about her was her notorious history with hockey players.

    • Patrick says:

      My vote is Diana Argon in Glee! Since her character is so disliked, it’s easy to overlook her for Naya, Lea and Chris, but she’s a phenomenal actress!

    • Leo says:

      So agree that Evan Peters is the most underrated. I’m really not sure about Nolan, I don’t get it why everyone seems to all over him. I think he’s boring and he tried too hard to be evil-goody-guy.

  2. Ari says:

    Dan Byrd is one of my favorites on Cougar Town. Glad to see he got a mention! Wish Cougar Town would get a premiere date.

  3. Ryan says:

    It bums me out how Britta’s been sidelined lately. I really liked Tate too.

  4. Ingmar says:

    The one from Revenge and Eva Longoria Parker fit well! Besides I’d love to give Ellen Pompeo some love for Grey’s Anatomy. She performs her role so well and yet gets no credit at all. And John Noble anyone? where are his awards? Just like Nina Dobrev and Anna Torv.

    • tvhabitblog says:

      I really just don’t understand how John Noble is so consistently and universally overlooked. The man’s a genius and an institution. He’s included in the TV Habit TV I’m Thankful For series (http://tvhabit.wordpress.com/2011/11/25/thankyoufridays/), so at least that’s a little something.

      • Cortexifan says:

        totally agree. What else does John Noble have to do to get some recognition. The same goes for Anna Torv as well.

        • i dont think so says:

          i can understand john noble, but anna torv HELL no.

          never going to happen, she can only act when she is giving the best material.

      • fragesteller girl says:

        My thoughts exactly. John Noble deserves much more recognition.

      • Jenn C says:

        While John Noble is overlooked during awards season, critics are constantly gushing about his performance, and I don’t know of anyone who doesn’t think he’s an utter genius. This particular article was about underrated actors, people who normally are glossed over, who deserve praise, so I don’t think JN applies here (I do love him, too! He’s wonderful!)

      • octopus says:

        Here here!!!

        • octopus says:

          Sorry, just to clarify – my “Here here!!!” is to the original sentiment that John Noble is constantly overlooked, not only during awards seasons, but often BY critics…

          • Dunham says:

            Anna Torv is the one who is underrated , by major awards and still some critics, John Noble has been given all the credit since the beginning, simply because he plays the best written character on tv, Walter who can do everything he likes, and gets all the best stories, oneliners and scenes with big emotions.

            Anna Torv has to play many versions of Olivia based on a few facts, without the gadgets, oneliners etc, as Olivia Dunham is an introverted, stoic FBI agent, who shows her emotions subtle.
            And any actor will tell you that this is far more difficult to play.
            But showy parts always get all the attention, see Carrie (Homeland) or Walter of Fringe.

            So for Anna Torv to get her big regocnition when in Fringe, lets hope for an episode of rage and madness , thanks to all the abuse Olivia had to go through, courtesy of Walter.

      • dee says:

        Maybe it’s because 2 men & a dog watch Fringe yet it’s fans/sheep treat it like it’s the TV equivalent of the second coming.

  5. Josh says:

    I think this list is missing a name, and that is Monica Potter. She consistently blows me away on Parenthood. She has to be one of television’s most unsung heroes right now.

    • rebecca says:

      YES!! I just got into Parenthood this season but I’ve caught up on previous seasons with Netflix. Monica Potter is great on this show. The entire cast is perfect.

    • DL says:

      Totally agree. She’s consistently amazing, so emotionally open and real all the time. I think my favorite scene with her this season with the final one with Michael B. Jordan’s “Alex.” Just heart-wrenching.

  6. Mafalda Neto says:

    Kathleen Rose Perkins is hilarious in “Episodes”. great pick!

  7. Danielle says:

    Evan Peters for all the awards, to be honest. His performance was top notch every single time. So many people I know watched almost solely because of him and Taissa Farmiga’s Violet. So sad Tate was only a one season thing. Beautiful characters. But really, I am pissed Evan didn’t get a nomination for Best Supporting.

  8. GK says:

    AHS’s Tate Langdon definitely left an indelible mark on me. He was almost as good as Jessica Lange’s, Constance.
    Jon Bernthal’s final scene in The Walking Dead elevated his character even more in my opinion. That was one hair-raising sequence.
    Good to see the love for Community. Though Annie should have made the list too!

    • tvhabitblog says:

      I agree about Jon Bernthal – I don’t know how many times I’ve been watching this season and said “well, I hope they put that on his Emmy reel!” I actually included him in the TV Habit Best of: 2011 Most Memorable Moments (with Video, some Spoilers) (http://tvhabit.wordpress.com/2011/12/23/bestmoments/) at #1!

    • Ciara says:

      I disagree about Annie making this list. Everyone knows how funny Alison Brie is, she has her star firmly on the rise and is frequently praised by fans of Community. It’s Gillian – who doesa good job with ‘Britta’ Britta, and badass Britta. She walks the fine line between silly, loveable screw-up and faministic badass very well, but she hasn’t had a lot to work with recently, so she’s slipping off some people’s radars.

  9. Kate says:

    I really think Bernthal deserves award nominations for his portrayal of Shane Walsh. The way the character has evolved since S1 of TWD has been wholly unexpected, and to his credit Bernthal has really run with it and managed to show the deeper pain and confusion beneath Shane’s machismo and temper.

    • tvhabitblog says:

      I second that! It’s funny because Shane isn’t even my favorite character, but I cannot deny how amazing John Bernthal has been. I think he’s definitely been the standout this year on The Walking Dead. If anyone could get a nomination, I should be him. He gave me chills more than once, and scared the crap out of me more often than I’d anticipated! It’s been quite an intense season for him.

  10. Paige says:

    I totally love the way of happy endings, but my pick would be penny!! I also think that the cast, especially the daughters of last man standing are awesome and fresh, albeit overlooked, standouts!

  11. Juliet says:

    I know the Revenge writers are trying to get viewers to divide into Team Daniel or Team Jack camps, but I’m on Team Nolan all the way! I love him–even in his silly cravats.

  12. Kris says:

    Misha Collins’ performance in Supernatural’s “The Man Who Would Be King” was a real standout this year in a season when Collins was sorely underused.

    • Michael says:

      “The Man Who Would Be King” was a painfully long, detached monologue of an episode. Collins (and Ackles for that matter) did a very good job dealing with complex emotional arcs circa season 4 and early 5 but the writing of the show, I’m sad to say, has devolved into a hollow shell of its former self. With the exception of Jim Beaver no one has really been batting at their A game for a couple years.

      • Belinda says:

        Go watch the electrifying performance Misha Collins gave in Meet The New Boss of Season 7 and tell me that he has not been batting his A-game, he carried that episode with three different character transformations, each so subtle and distinct and unique, and delivered easily one of the best performances I’ve seen on screen and deserving of Emmys.

    • raelee514 says:

      Agreed.

  13. napocskin says:

    SERIOUSLY? Elisha Cuthbert? I thought one can’t underestimate her enough.

    • ChrisGa says:

      I’ll admit she’s gotten better this season, but that show’s secret weapon is Eliza Coupe, who can spin the most throwaway line into something of genius.

  14. eric murphy says:

    Sorry but I believe the entire cast of Community should be on this list. Joel McHale as Dean Pelton and “Kiss From A Rose”? Alison Brie’s diminishing returns on Boopy Doopy Boop Boop Sex? Chevy Chase in the Halloween episode? I could go on and on. But I have to agree: Britta ruining the glee club Christmas special is one of season 3’s highlights so far.

    • Bob says:

      Agreed! But I really do think britta is this shows secret weapon–she started out as the bland romantic lead and has really blossomed to become a zing machine week after week. To reiterate your thoughts: “me so Christmas, me so merry!” was the best thing about the glee Xmas ep.

    • lacey says:

      I agree that the whole cast of Community should have made the list b/c they’re completely ignored. I don’t know if I would name Gillian Jacobs as the most underrated of the cast. Gillian is often praised for her neurotic Britta, while all Allison is recognized for is her sex appeal.

  15. CJ says:

    I don’t know that I would call any of these “underrated.” Underrated is usually just a tool for someone to pat themselves on the back (“I’m special because I like something other people don’t”) without having to back it up. These are unnoticed more than underrated. I agree with the ones I’m familiar with (which is maybe half).

  16. Cheryl says:

    After getting his footing in the role Jared Palalecki did an amazing job as soul less Sam in Supernaturals Season 6 episodes “Clap Your Hands” and “Caged Heat.” A poorly timed storyline no doubt with the lack of the brother hood from seasons 4 thru 6 causing the show to hit a all time low.

  17. Allyson says:

    I think the whole cast of Sons of Anarchy are totally overlooked. Amazing acting in that series as well as a storyline that has you guessing the whole way through.

    This show doesn’t get the attention it really deserves.

    • Kimberly says:

      I agree 100%…. there were so many strong SOA performances this year – Charlie Hunnam, Maggie Siff, Ron Perlman, the list goes on.

    • Bad Breaker says:

      I completely agree. Everyone in the SOA cast is terrific and the show deserves a wider audience. My only exception would be the female ATF agent that they whacked last season. Her little facial expressions just screamed “Watch me, I’m acting”. JMO but I’m glad she’s gone.

  18. Maddie says:

    Gabriel Mann is my favorite! Good pick! I’m sure he’s in good part responsible for making Nolan such a compelling character; one of the most original on TV.

  19. Jill says:

    I don’t know how many Nurse Jackie fans there are out there, but why hasn’t Zoey gotten a nomination yet?!

    • ChrisGa says:

      Totally agree; both Merritt Wever and Eve Best save that show for me, especially considering the central character has lost what little rooting value she had to begin with. Love Zoe and O’Hara.

  20. rebecca says:

    Allie Grant from Suburgatory needs to go back to Weeds!!! I miss the mother/daughter relationship with Elizabeth Perkins.

  21. tvhabitblog says:

    Honestly, I could post about this all day, but for now I will just say that one person who is missing that my eyes were really opened to this year was Benedict Cumberbatch, in the BBC’s Sherlock. He really is amazing. In the present day Sherlock Holmes series, he plays Sherlock in a House meets Bones kind of way. He really is amazing, as is the show. I absentmindedly left it off of the TV Habit Best of lists – and attempted to correct it by giving it its own post (http://tvhabit.wordpress.com/2011/12/25/sherlock/) because I think it really was that refreshing and cool. Maybe they’re talking about it in Britian, but he’s completely underrated here in the US.

  22. eric says:

    Eva Longoria makes Desperate Housewives for me. She’s the best thing going. She’s funny and while there is drama in Gabby’s life, she’s not nearly as depressing as the other wives.

  23. Kiki says:

    Taylor Kitsch in Friday Night Lights. Just think about everything Riggins went through, nobody imagined he would have such a dramatic role in FNL when we first saw him shirtless. He was sublime, especially the last 2 seasons.

  24. mollie says:

    Mch and Dexters entire cast got completely snubbed in recognition. Jennifer carpenter’s performance is polish

  25. Mike says:

    I think Gillian Jacobs pretty much gets her due. There’s a reason Britta, despite being initially set as the female lead as morphed into some universal mocked, live action Meg Griffin (And it’s not Jacobs). I guess what I’m attempting to say here is that Britta and Annie have both gotten plenty of attention and screentime but the Community writers still don’t know what to make of Shirley. And though they give Yvette Nicole Brown so little, she spins it into pure gold.

  26. Michelle says:

    Chris Meloni’s performance on SVU was underrated for 12 seasons. He made the show and it is no longer worth watching IMO. Such a pity that the exit storyline was so poor, considering the executive producer of season 12 was well aware that it was likely that Smoked was going to be his last episode. Let’s hope that True Blood sees him getting storylines which are more worthy.

  27. Jack says:

    As much as I approve of your choice of Gabriel Mann, I take exception to the term, a true original. Remember the 80s? James Spader turned smarmy into an art form.

    • Sarah says:

      I love Gabriel Mann in Revenge, but I totally agree with you when it comes to the comment “a true original”. He is doing a great James Spader impression of rich and smarmy! Spader was the all-time best at this type of character and Mann has proven to be an excellent student of the master. Not as good looking as the master in his heyday, but still able to pull it off.

  28. Lauren says:

    Love seeing Allie Grant on this list! Lisa is one of my favorite character on the show…and I agree, the humor in her character is that her reactions are always so understated in comparison to the emotion. (Though I absolutely loved her Thanksgiving storyline with not wanting to wear the Pilgrim dress her mother picked out for her, haha)

  29. Agent52 says:

    I’d suggest Yvonne Strahovski for her tour de force performance in ‘Chuck vs. Phase Three.’ She delivers consistently professional performances and deserves some peer recognition.

  30. Petra says:

    Kathleen Rose Perkins is perfect. So glad she got some recognition for this role. You’re right — when I rewatched the first time, I noticed how absolutely hilarious she is!

  31. Matt H. says:

    I find Gabriel Mann’s performance on Revenge to be muddied and unconvincing. Nor would I have chosen Eva Longoria or Gillian Jacobs. Both of their performances tended to be loud and unsubtle. The Neil Flynn choice is a definite thumbs up.

    • TH says:

      I think Gabriel Mann is overlooked on Revenge because everyone praises Madeline Stowe all the time. I love his character!

      I disagree on Eva Longoria being “underrated” on DH. Sorry, but I always thought her charcter was annoying, and Longoria displays very little acting range. Just my opinion. :(

  32. Henry says:

    I’d say Yvonne Strahovski. She had many great performances this year on Chuck. From the more comedic roles to the dramatic ones. She’s highly underrated and deserves a lot of recognition!

  33. Jean says:

    Tate/Evan were absolutely not forgotten by any means. In fact, kinda extremely overrated.

  34. ncisfan4evr says:

    What about Michael Weatherly of NCIS? This guy plays both funny and break-your-heart dramatic, and gets so little love (except from us NCIS fans who know how great he is). Guess he will have to leave the show before he gets any attention, but he gets my vote!

  35. TFD says:

    I don’t get why people are raving about Madeleine Stowe so much.
    she’s ok in Revenge, but it isn’t this powerhouse performance people seem to be building it up as.
    Emily is far, far better IMO.

    • Erin says:

      Emily is better? Hee you’re joking. Right? I have liked EVC in the past but she’s miscast in Revenge. She does okay but that is it, she’s like a kitten trying to be a tiger – I hate hate hate that pursed lipped Amanda Clarke no longer exists – ugh. Madeline Stowe rocks it and glad to see Gabriel on the list but is he underrated?

      Britta is deserving as is Evan, Neil, Dan and Jon. Havent watched Happy Endings bar one episodes which sucked (I hear it gets better but that one ep was too awful) but Elisha Cuhbert, really? Seems wrong. As does Eva Longoria. Haven’t watched DH in years but she got plenty of plaudits back in the day back when the show was good.

      Also agree with some suggestions in the comments: Anna Torv (John Noble deserves every award possible but although he’s underrated by whatever award voting committees that exists he is praised non-stop by the fans and critics), Yvonne Strahovski, Michael Weatherly (procedural actors are written off all the time) and Merritt Weaver.

  36. Carmichael says:

    I watch the Middle and agree Neil Flynn can usually bring a dose of reality to things. Totally different than Glen Mathews.

  37. Sammy says:

    I’d compare Evan Peters with the phenomenon (not interpretation or character even)of Dexter-Michael C.Hall. The fact than an actor (of course helped wit A LOT of people behind cameras) can he make you feel ptity or even nice about a serial psycho killer is amazing

  38. taddeo says:

    You want underrated and under-appreciated try Paul Guilfoyle as Jim Brass on CSI. You might love him or lately, hate him but the guy continually hits it out of the park and is always overlooked. He definitely makes my list.

  39. Karen says:

    Katey Sagal. Katey Sagal. Oh, and Katey Sagal. Plus, Ron Perlman. Charlie, Ryan, Theo and Maggie got some well deserved praise throughout the season, but Katey and Ron made season 4 epic for me. Such subtle yet powerful performances. Sons of Anarchy has an underrated brilliant cast.

  40. Captain says:

    There are so many stand-out characters on that show (Penny, Max, Jane, Brad) that it’s easy to forget about her but she can actually be really funny. I love when they give her those dumb blonde moments.

  41. Abed says:

    Love the inclusion of Elisha Cuthbert, Gillian Jacobs, Evan Peters, and Jon Bernthal.

  42. Ruby says:

    Evan Peters and Jon Bernthal, hell yes! Because Bernthal is so good, Shane has gone from “that creepy misogynist” in the pilot to my absolute favorite character on TWD. It bums me out how many people hate him, because I think he’s genius, and definitely more interesting than any other character on the show. And Evan Peters is flawless.

  43. Jess says:

    So glad to see Evan Peters on this list! He took a character who was a complete psycho and made him into someone you cared about. Not an easy task considering all of the horrible things his character “Tate” had done. I feel that he was definitely able to hold his own in scenes with his on-screen mother Jessica Lange and I feel that he deserved a supporting actor nomination as well.

  44. BonesFringeFan says:

    Ummm what about ANNA TORV, Fringe?
    Or Emily Deschanel, Bones?
    Or John Noble, Fringe?

    • i dont think so says:

      anna torv??

      onlyin her dreams.

      she could start by actually showing TEARS if she cries instead of putting her hands in her face or whipping her nose.

      that’s not how you do a crying scene, that’s why it’s john noble who gets praised.

  45. Rash says:

    Simon Helberg, Kunal Nayyar. And Mayim Bialik for sure. I know a lot of people don’t like her character, but you have to admit, Bialik plays her excellently. Melissa Rauch is also really good. But [rant] none of them are as the incredibly ignored, underrated, phenomal cast of BSG. That snub still kills me. [/rant]

    • Carmichael says:

      *tilts head* BSG? You mean Battlestar Galactica? That show’s been off the air for close to three years now, why would it be included in a reflection of 2011?

  46. Lil'E says:

    Evan Peters as Tate is amazingly deep and complex. Neil Flynn and Allie Grant are both great. The others on the list don’t really move me I have to say.

    Misha Collins’ performance as Castiel in Supernatural and his soulful eyes were definitely underrated, just like Jennifer Carpenter in Dexter.

  47. Jess says:

    I love the character Nolan Ross! he’s definitely my favorite on the show! thx for including him!

  48. Olive says:

    I say the same thing every year, Heather Morris from Glee. She is literally the most subtle actor on the show, delivering her lines with a straight face and never trying to steal the spotlight. And her chemistry with Naya is unbeatable.

  49. l says:

    Stana Katic, Seamus Dever and Molly Quinn.
    Well, actually, we have so many underrated performances everywhere that I don’t know how to pick, but yeah, those above.

  50. mes says:

    Jorja Fox totally killed it earlier this year in The Two Mrs. Grissoms and a few months ago in Bittersweet.
    Paul Gulfoyle is very underappreciated.
    Ted Danson has done a great job this season.
    Eric Szmanda and Robert David Hall did a superb job a few weeks ago in Genetic Disorder.

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