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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  1. John says:

    Pssh, Evan Peters is OVERrated.

  2. Justin says:

    Love the inclusions of Dan Byrd and Jon Bernthal.

  3. Cheryl says:

    I’m not sure I’d call Allie Grant a “relative newbie”. She learned how to hold her own working with Elizabeth Perkins on Weeds for several seasons. It’s great to watch her keep blossoming but her ability to stand toe-to-toe with heavyweights was known to many of us for a few years now.

  4. Jenn C says:

    Love to see the love for Gabriel Mann, Nolan has quickly become my favorite character on Revenge!

    Also was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked Evan Peters on American Horror Story. Even though Tate was a complete psychopath, EP somehow made him sympathetic, and his relationship with Violet is the only relationship on the show (which was a scattered mess at times) that I felt invested in. I didn’t see how they could end up together in the end, and yet I was enthralled by them.

    Finally, good to see a shout out for Britta from Community! Love every single cast member on that show, and while Donald Glover’s Troy is my fave, Britta has emerged as one kooky lady! An absolute blast!

  5. Babygate says:

    This list is woefully incomplete. My vote is for Sandra Oh in Greys Anatomy. This show has some incredible performers that are always overlooked during award season. Ellen Pompeo and Chandra Wilson among them. But Sandra Oh is a freaking master. She can go from hot to cold at the drop of a hat and her dramatic scenes are spell binding. Just look at everything she ‘said’ without a word when she found out it was Henry that had just died after she operated on him. And I’m not a big Meredith fan but Ellen Pompeo makes me cry like no one else. Greys may not be everyone’s cup of tea but the fantastic performances should not be overlooked, IMO.

    • Laurie says:

      I agree with you about Ellen Pompeo and Sandra Oh being overlooked during award season. I think Grey’s is just off their radar anymore but these two ladies just get better every year and they make the show for me.

  6. Nick says:

    Morgan Saylor from Homeland has done amazing as Brody’s daughter Dana. In my mind at least.

  7. kelios says:

    I agree with you about Shane and Tate (American Horror Story and Walking Dead are the only shows on your list I’ve watched) but it would have been nice to see the guys from Supernatural (Jensen Ackles, Jared Padalecki, Jim Beaver) here as well. They are perpetually overlooked and underrated; I’m always disappointed they don’t get the recognition they deserve.

  8. Jennifer says:

    Everyone on Parks and Recreation! The whole show is underrated, as are the performances. Particularly the dudes that play Ron Swanson, Andy Dwyer and Tom Haverford

  9. Stormy says:

    I don’t watch any of the shows you highlight, so my own choices are: Gabriel Macht and Patrick J. Adams on Suits, Robert Carlyle [Rumpel/Gold] on Once Upon A Time, and the entire cast of Psych for the “Last Night Gus” episode. Funniest episode in all 5 seasons.

  10. J says:

    Evan Peters is this year’s discovery for me. Where’s he been all my life? He’s unbelievably talented.

  11. Cindy says:

    Totally agree!!

  12. Two things:
    1) John Noble from Fringe should be on this list.
    2) In ten years, Evan Peters will make a kick-ass Joker.

  13. Rainey says:

    I think both Matt Bomer and Tom DeKay deserve to be mentioned. This whole season so far on White Collar has been full of beautifully nuanced performances by these two actors. There isn’t a better bromantic pair anywhere!

    • Bad Breaker says:

      Both of these guys are really good but, to me,the most underrated would be Mozzie. He’s so funny and quirky and just owns that character, much like he did Stanford on Sex and the City.

  14. Zoe says:

    Yes, Neil Flynn!

  15. blingedup.susan says:

    So glad to see Neil Flynn get a nod. I love his character on The Middle, and love him as an actor.

  16. Kelly says:

    Great list. My picks would be Joshua Jackson and John Noble on Fringe.Great performances by both actors and they share amazing chemistry.I love both Peter and Walter and miss their bond that is the glue of their little quirky family with Olivia. The entire cast of BBC’s Primeval. I’m not into creatures but the cast as created likeable and memorable characters and mystery that deserves more seasons. The same goes for Syfy’s Warehouse 13 and Eureka. Also Ginnifer Goodwin as Snow on Once upon a Time. Makes me says Lily Collins who, Kristen Stewart who

  17. Bad Breaker says:

    Claire Danes and Damian Lewis are both exceptional on Homeland but Mandy Patinkin’s Saul is supporting actor giving great calm, introspection and strength to a terrific story.

  18. Lillianna Morales says:

    Hey, ppl u gotta giv props to Melinda Clarke as Amanda on Nikita c’mon the way she plays that character is just pure genius especially in the show’s first season.

    Xander Berkeley too as Percy give him praise too.

  19. raelee514 says:

    Misha Collins, Jared Padalecki, Jensen Ackles and Jim Beaver. Brilliance. Consistently. Ignored. Consistently.

    Also I agree above with the person who said Matt Bomer and Tim Dekay!

  20. Mandy says:

    Elisha Cuthbert is by far the worst part of Happy Endings, but lets face it, Happy Endings is amazing, so being the worst part of such a great show isn’t that bad.
    And agreed with the inclusion of Dan Byrd. His exaperation really highlights the halarity. Love him!

  21. Mark says:

    Gillian Jacobs and Elisha Cuthbert are my two least favorites of their respective ensemble comedy shows. I think both characters are downright annoying with their over the top stupidity lately.

    Eva Longoria is great on DH.

    Personally I think Ian Gomez is more underrated on Cougar Town than Dan Byrd. Then again, everyone on Cougar Town is pretty underrated!

  22. vivek says:

    decent list but missing out on quite a few people… for example from himym theres jason segel and cobie smulders! marshalls dads death episode and the one following were amazing… and criminally overlooked.. so was cobies recent baby crisis eps… then we have john noble josh jackson and anna torv on fringe.. how have they along with the show not got much recognition till now i have no clue! n lastly the cast of parks n recreation… no credit at all to nick offerman as ron f****ng swanson!

  23. C says:

    All ten are excellent and inspired picks. Cuthbert has really stepped up her comedic game in season 2. Evan Peters had great moments in AHS and Gabriel Mann is a chameleon – dude is older than the hills (by Hollywood standards) but looks in his mid 20s!

  24. Tahoe Mike says:

    The entire cast of Treme. Especially Kahndi Alexander, and Wendall Pierce.

  25. Mel says:

    the fact that Anna Torv is not on the list is beyong me.
    is she even so underrated that after awards her performance is ignore is the most underrated tv performances list?
    it’s a shame

  26. Jonsoto says:

    Rot in he//, you bitter beast.

  27. Sarah says:

    I agree with what’s been said about Gillan Jacobs, I don’t know why everyone likes Alison Brie so much. She’s amazing as Britta even though they’re making her character less funny than in S1.
    And Evan Peters, damn, he’s amazing. But it’s kind of weird, the character raped and knocked up his girlfriend’s mother right before taking his girlfriend virginity. Also, killed about 20 people but Evans’ acting still makes me like the character.
    Jon Bernthal’s character is kind of the bad guy in the group, he’s not my favourite character but he’s better than some others.

  28. Dave says:

    KaDee Strickland-Private Practice
    Retta-Parks & Recreation
    Sara Ramirez-Grey’s Anatomy
    Glad that Elisha Cuthbert and Eva Longoria were on here.

  29. Evelyn says:

    The entire cast of ‘Friday Night Lights’ should be on this list. In fact that the producers, writers and Berg paved such a brilliant path for the show’s story(s) to be wrapped, plus the actors executed their performances wonderfully, the entire show should get their own list to extoll their awesomeness.

    PS John Noble, Anna Torv, and Joshua Jackson of ‘Fringe’ should be on this list, too.

  30. aleksa says:

    I’m sure I’ll get completely flame-warred for saying so, but I’d argue that Evan Peters’ performance was on par with Jessica Lange’s. Her performance was just showier. Considering his relative lack of experience (compared with Lange’s, anyway), that’s extremely impressive.

  31. Debora says:

    My vote goes to MAX ADLER (Dave Karofsky) on Glee! He did a great job on the few episodes he appeared! I hope to see more of him on 2012!

  32. cinthy says:

    what about anna torv in fringe???? she deserves like a million nominations to the emmy’s and john noble? he is awesome!!!!!!!

  33. MJ says:

    Michael Pitt on Boardwalk Empire! I can’t believe neither the Golden Globes nor the SAGs gave him a nomination, did they not see the last 2 episodes of the season?!

  34. K says:

    Have to agree about Gillian Jacobs. Any of the Community cast is deserving and Annie is still my favorite female character but Gillian has been killing it as Britta this year. Didn’t really love Britta at the beginning but she has grown on me overtime.

  35. Smilinangel says:

    How about Maisy Williams? The amazing little actress behind Arya Stark?

  36. em says:

    Agree with Dan Byrd. I’m not sure if I would categorize Fringe and their cast as underrated just because critics are always praising it (and rightfully so), so I’m going to go with another actress that has to play multiple roles: Nina Dobrev. Even though Dobrev plays Elena, Katherine and Katerina, I can always tell which character she’s playing before she ever speaks. I think she’s really grasped each character’s subtleties in movements and actions this year. I can say that for John Noble, but I’m not exactly sure if I can tell which Olivia Anna Torv’s playing if each were just standing next to one another.

  37. Grace says:

    I’d say the lead in A GIFTED MAN and HUGH LAURIE.

  38. Carol says:

    Jim Caviezel is quietly stunning on Person of Interest. Mandy Patinkin is just plain great on Homeland. Alan Cumming is terrific on The Good Wife.

    Can’t get enough of these compelling actors.

  39. Ana Muller says:

    Evan Peters is an incredibly gifted actor, the way he walked that thin line between sociopath and misunderstood heartfelt boy really messed with my moral compass, I knew he was the personification of evil but still couldn’t help feeling affectionate towards Tate.
    And I’m so happy to see Britta on the list! She is my favorite character and I thought I was the only one who was a more then little pissed with all the “Annie is the new leading lady” business, I really don’t find Annie that appealing… or Allison Brie for that matter. #savecommunity #sixseasonsandamovie

  40. gaby says: q?..shane west? nikita is THE most underrated show

  41. Grace says:


  42. Amber says:

    Good pick with Gillian Jacobs. Britta has really grown on me this season. I have gone from finding her to be very bristley to having quite an affection for the girl, and my facebook profile now reflects own similarities to Britta. For example, About Me just says Anarchist cat owner. It’s really all you need to know and says everything. I freaking love Britta.

  43. Angela says:

    Ha, you know, when “Community” first started, I wasn’t sure about Britta, either, she kinda put me off. But I think my feelings mainly were the result of the fact that I was jealous that she got to make out with/get hit on by Joel McHale/Jeff.

    Now, all this time later, I love her. I can relate to her in some respects. I love all the characters on “Community”, I can’t imagine this show without any of them. The chemistry between everybody is just the perfect mix of sweet and funny-when I find myself with a big smile on my face and a warm feeling after they do something for each other, or to help each other, you know the show’s done something right. So kudos for a mention of Britta, the goofball that she is.