It takes a certain something to portray Veep‘s ruthless chief-of-staff-turned-campaign-manager Amy Brookheimer. Commitment? A lot of caffeine? A withering stare? Whatever it is, Chlumsky has it in spades, making her one of the reasons we can’t look away from Selina Meyer’s weekly trainwreck of a presidential bid. We’ve never had so much fun watching someone thrive in the vicious world of politics.
Laverne Cox, Orange Is the New Black
No one rocks Kool-Aid lipstick, a serenely sassy attitude and a heartbreaking backstory better than Cox, whose turn as the transgender prison hairdresser Sophia in the Netflix dramedy’s first season was a thing of stately beauty. Cox’s quiet fierceness provided a dramatic counterpoint to her fellow inmates’ raucous antics, and her scenes with her long-suffering wife and distant son made us ache. Still, it was Cox’s ability to find the punchline in such a dreary existence that makes us excited to return to her beauty-shop chair in Season 2.
Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting, The Big Bang Theory
In previous seasons of The Big Bang Theory, Cuoco-Sweeting’s Penny had been quick to provide puzzled looks and snarky one-liners. What we loved about the CBS sitcom’s latest go-round, though, was that it gave the actress an opportunity to bring the laughs and also to navigate her character confronting difficult, decidedly adult decisions. As usual, Cuoco-Sweeting dazzled us with her charm and comedic timing, but she also provided some of the season’s most touching moments.
Cheryl Hines, Suburgatory
As the materialistic, often ridiculous Dallas Royce — who in Season 3 dated herself on the advice of a matchmaker and taught a “tanning” class to local high-school seniors, among other absurdities — Hines never failed to score big laughs. That she also managed to show us her character’s heart and vulnerabilities in Suburgatory‘s heightened, parodied world, however, made Hines’ performance a thing of underrated beauty. In the wake of Dallas’ heartbreak at on-again-off-again lover George’s ambivalence in the series finale, an Emmy remains the only hope for a happy ending.
Zosia Mamet, Girls
"Sometimes I wonder if my social anxiety is holding me back from meeting the people who would actually be right for me instead of a bunch of f—ing whiny nothings as friends," Mamet’s Shoshanna Shapiro seethed at her shallow, professionally inert friends in Season 3’s seminal “Beach House” episode. That Mamet could make us laugh and cheer at her character’s moments of brutal, hilarious, undeniably meta honesty — and yet leave us utterly crushed when Shosh’s academic and romantic dreams began to crumble — made hers one of the most complicated, fascinating performances of the TV season.
Niecy Nash, Getting On
She may be an HR nightmare — just ask poor Patsy about that “joke” — but Nash’s nurse DiDi was a dream to watch on the first season of this truly underrated HBO comedy. As DiDi artfully navigated the inherent insanity of her new setting, Nash walked the show’s fine line of humor and poignance with incredible precision. Just don’t ask either of them to pronounce anything in Cambodian. It won’t end well.