Year in Review
best tv performances 2015

The 20 Best TV Performances of 2015

They made us howl. They frightened us. They broke our hearts.

No, we’re not talking about the field of 2016 presidential candidates, but rather the TV performers whose work made an indelible impression on our hearts and minds over the last 12 months.

Yes indeed, get ready for TVLine’s picks for the 20 Best TV Performances of 2015!

Narrowing our list was no easy task — not with the number of mind-bending scenes we witnessed in 2015 — but after much debate and deliberation, we’re confident the 20 performances we selected are nothing less than worthy (even if the Emmys and Golden Globes somehow managed to ignore a good percentage of them).

Check out the gallery below for our full lineup — or click here for direct access — then tell us which performances knocked your socks off in 2015.

Comments are monitored, so don’t go off topic, don’t frakkin’ curse and don’t bore us with how much your coworker’s sister-in-law makes per hour. Talk smart about TV!

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  1. Ralph says:

    Amen on Grant Gustin and Vera Farmiga. Nobody from Walking Dead though?

  2. Eric7740 says:

    Grant Gustin
    Taraji P Henson
    Viola Davis
    Applause, Applause, Applause!!!

  3. Mary says:

    I would add Melissa Benoisst in Red Faced and Hostile Takeovver to the list.

  4. TVPeong says:

    Such a good list – Anderson Cooper (Blackish), Grant Gustin (Flash), Viola Davis (HTGAWM).

    I also loved FitzSimmons (Elizabeth Henstridge and Iain De Caestecker) who were the heart of Agents of Shield this year.

  5. wrstlgirl says:

    Nothing against any of your choices, they all did fantastic work but Cameron Monaghan blew my friggin’ mind on Gotham.

  6. Ummm says:

    Um, why is Ellen Pompeo always forgotten by you guys?

  7. Mr. Tran K says:

    Miranda Otto deserves to be on that list because her performance in this season’s Homeland was outstanding and should get Emmy nominated.

  8. Ghjklo says:

    Thanks for including Sam Heughan, so deserved.

  9. Dee says:

    Jean Smart was great in FARGO–as was everyone. But the glue that held that whole thing together was the quietly strong and compelling performance of Patrick Wilson.

  10. Chris says:

    Jennifer Morrison for her performance of an emotionally train wrecked Emma during Hook’s sacrifice in the Once Upon A Time fall finale this year deserves some attention

    • Jax&Juice's Girl says:

      I agree with your choice I also LIKE……
      Viola Davis
      Jean Smart
      Taraji P. Henson
      Richard Cabral
      Joelle Carter
      Rami Malek

  11. Lisa Wo says:

    How about Iain de Caestecker from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.? Outstanding in every single episode.

  12. spindae2 says:

    Thanks for the Grant, Constance and Viola love.
    Grant delivered so many great moments last season that this season doesn’t feel right.
    Constance Wu has such a great comedic moment and deserves much more recognition. I hope she snatches a GG.
    Viola is just out of this world.

  13. trololo says:

    Jean Smart over Kirsten Dunst? Insanity.

  14. Simon Jester says:

    If there’s nothing for Eva Green on Penny Dreadful, it can only be because TVLine isn’t actually watching. (And if so, for shame.)

  15. Hollie says:

    Big fat yes to Grant Gustin!! I am so happy that he proved everyone who said he wasn’t right for The Flash wrong! Fast Enough brings me to tears every. Single. Time.


    was it that you just couldn’t choose his best one or what? (I’ll help, it was in ‘Laws of Nature’)
    He’s just such a good actor it makes me sad when he doesn’t get the recognition he deserves.

    And should I even mention Elizabeth Henstridge in 4,722 Hours?

    • Lola says:

      Not Just Laws of Nature, Iain should be recognized for Purpose in the Machine, Aftershocks, Chaos Theory, Closure, Maveth, Many Heads One Tale, and Frenemy of My Enemy… All 2015 performances that were just as good if not better than some of the performances here, yet didn’t even get a POTW mention like Laws of Nature did. TVLine and sites like it are the only places where Iain gets any of the love he deserves (because AoS is a genre show and the general public still thinks it sucks after the first season wasn’t what they wanted) and it disappoints me when he isn’t recognized nearly enough.

      • Jenna says:

        Yes! No one seems to see that Iain puts so much detail into his performance every week! Like how many of the critics noticed how he still stutters from his injury in 1×22 when he’s in high-pressure situations? He really plays Fitz wonderfully and honestly I can tell I’m not the only one who’s frustrated by how few people know it.

  16. Jenna says:

    * quietly adds Iain DeCaestecker in Agents of SHIELD 3×01 to list*

    • murley says:

      Yes. This is a great list and while I haven’t seen all the performances mentioned, I couldn’t agree more with those I have. But no Iain DeCaestecker seems like a big omission. Maybe it should have been the 21 best performances 🙂

  17. lori says:

    Ben Mendelsohn in Bloodline is awesome. I started out feeling sorry for him and by the end, I wanted him dead too.

    Grant Gustin is great in The Flash, never miss it.

    Sam Heughan in Outlander is truly superb. I bought the series but don’t think I can ever watch the last two episodes again. They were so traumatic and you felt truly horrified and sad for Jamie. The actor should have been nominated for an Emmy and a Golden Globe. To me, he truly inhabited the character. The actor who plays Randall and Frank is also fantastic, but I feel that Heughan went above and beyond.

    I agree about Fitz and Simmons on Agents of Shield also deserving recognition.

    • Marcella says:

      Absolutely concur about Sam Heughan. He was incredible. His performance was heartbreaking and gut wrenching. Never been so emotionally drained and traumatised by a performance before.

      • Shelia Pace says:

        Agreed! Love Sam Heugan’s Jaime! Can’t wait for next episode! Outlander is my favorite show from this year! He should have gotten nominated for Golden Globe and won!!!

  18. Lisa says:

    Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys on the Americans. Too many moments to count…maybe the tooth pulling scene, or when they told Paige…

  19. Mak says:

    Incredible List Tvline…
    Grant Gustin – I still watch that finale when I’m feeling emotional and need to have a cry
    Viola Davis
    Vera Farmiga
    Shiri Appleby
    Anthony Anderson
    Aya Cash

  20. You forgot Sophia Bush on the Chicago PD episode where she testifies at Nadia’s murderer’s trial, definitely an emmy worthy performance! And Jonathan Jackson & Hayden Panettiere’s acting has been incredible on Nashville!

  21. Fangirly says:

    *cough* Iain decaestecker *cough* Elizabeth Henstridge *Cough* *cough*

  22. ANGELY says:

    Para mi la de Sam Heugant fue y será brutal, destrucción y resurrección todo en un descarnado y desolador homenaje al actor….Me encantó adoro Outlander.

  23. Breton Nancy says:

    Une scène choquante et en même temps tellement triste et aimante.L’amour!

  24. Mickie says:

    Sam did such a fantastic job of keeping it real that I couldn’t watch the last episode of season 1 of Outlander without a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach.

  25. Susanne says:

    Knocked my sox off!!! But hate that he was at times upstaged by lesser, but more flamboyant roles.

  26. Christine Hallett says:

    Sam Heughan in the last two episodes. Best acting I have ever seen. He was superb.

  27. Dora Carbone says:

    The depth of the artistry displayed by Sam Heughan in this episode was beyond anything we’ve witnessed before and words cannot do it justice. Truly amazing on a subject I do not recall ever having seen portrayed on TV in the way it was on Starz. Watching him was our gift!!

  28. tigersmurfette says:

    impressed and happy to see bates motel. disappointed but not surprised to see hannibal neglected. the whole darn cast(almost) can be up there, glad to see the critics choice awards recognized some of them(2).

  29. Janet Colton says:

    Sam Heughan as Jamie Fraser in Outlander is the most amazing actor I’ve ever seen. His performance was stunning and perfect

  30. Nerissah says:

    Yes! Cameron Monaghan was freaking amazing.

  31. jenni lennox says:

    Not Kirsten Dunst on Fargo?

  32. zuzanka says:

    Sam Heughan wins by far. The entire cast of Outlander is great but the emotions he brings are fantastic

  33. Ros says:

    Have to agree on Sam, Viola and Ben M. all brilliant.

  34. Sandra Galvan says:

    Sam Heughan is sooooo gorgeous! I do really love his Jamie Fraser performance.

  35. Mary Hatfield says:

    Sam Heughan made me cry and feel the pain and desolation of his abuse. He didn’t have to speak, his facial expressions and body language. How brave award winning.

  36. Philip says:

    The majority of these performances were spotlighted all this year in the “Performance of the Week” section of TvLine. Interesting!!

  37. Christina says:

    Sam and Tobias made that episode so believable. You forgot you were watching a show and felt like you were a fly on the wall (who could not help nor look away). What most actors aspire to

  38. RealityEngineer says:

    It is unfortunate that Tatiana Maslany is left off of such a list again, especially when seeing the vastly overrated Viola Davis yet again beat her out for something again when her performance isn’t in the same league. I keep wondering if many people are emotionally tone deaf and need to be beaten over the head with Davis’s perpetual overacting on that show and are incapable of appreciating the nuanced performance Maslany gives. With Maslany when one clone impersonates another, you can sometimes identify one of her clones and see the clone “acting”. You can similarly see Davis consciously “acting” at times which seems to place her performance at the level of one of the clones Maslany plays, not at the level of Maslany herself.

    • Dude says:

      I don’t think Viola’s performance on HYGAWM is that great but Viola is one of the best actresses alive today.

      • RealityEngineer says:

        Her TV performance at least is vastly overrated. I eventually had to give up on the show in part because I couldn’t take the overacting to be “dramatic!” too consciously. Perhaps she is better in other roles, but I can see her too obviously consciously trying for dramatic effect.

  39. Judy says:

    Sam Heughan….deserved a GG nomination for his remarkable work in Outlander.

  40. ninamags says:

    I’ll agree with Richard Cabral.

    You were rooting for him to get that chance to change his life and be a good person for his son.

    Thank you for recognizing him.

  41. TJ says:

    Sam Heughan all the way…..Bravo for his performance In Outlander….NO ONE could have played his role……

  42. You obviously never saw Rachel Nichols in the series finale of Continuum, “Last Hour”. Again, like Second Opinion in 2013, there’s this performance, and then there’s everybody else.

  43. matty says:

    No Amy Schumer on this list? no Julianna Margulies?

  44. Lena says:

    Marcia Gay Harden’s performance in Code Black, every week, has been beautiful. poignant, devastating and at times, hilarious. I’m surprised at the lack of attention the show’s been given, but even more so at the lack of love for MGH here. She’s been wonderful to watch, in all of her scenes, not just on special occasions.

  45. Cari says:

    Sam Heughan did an awsome performance come on peeps who was the best?? Yeppers that would be Jamie ! Lets Rock this OUTLANDER Peeps

  46. DarkDefender says:

    I would add Miguel Angel Silvestre from Sense8. Episode was “Death Doesn’t Let You Say Goodbye.” As his character Lito spiraled out of control over a devestating break up, he portrayed many levels of depression, desperation and frustration as he contemplated suicide. The performance was THE best I have seen all year, bar none. Witnessing Lito’s pain was palpable and Miguel had me in tears.

  47. D Noel says:

    Sam Heughan is the best actor to come along in many years.

  48. lshoemaker says:

    I would love some recognition for Hayley Atwell’s work on “Agent Carter.” I feel like she’s getting lost because her series started so early last year.

  49. Kim says:

    Sam Heughan’s acting in Outlander is the best acting I’ve ever seen. He brought so much to the role of Jamie through his eyes and emotions in the last two episodes, it ripped my heart out! He deserves all the recognition for his talent! Not to mention the acting throughout season 1.