Whether you like the golden age label or not, it’s undeniable that TV is flourishing right now. But for every hit series that your timeline stays spoiling for you on Twitter, there are several others that fly under the radar. By the same token, there are a ton of great actors whose performances deserve to be mentioned during the live documentation of this era, but who aren’t getting their due.
Underrated has multiple meanings. Some of the actors on this list are on shows that just concluded their debut seasons, and are thus just warming up. Others are doing fantastic things on series that Emmy boards, and maybe even critics, will never recognize or give props to. Still others have both notoriety and acclaim...with nary a statue or nomination even, to show for it. Of course, hundreds of great actors go unnoticed by the voting board, but the sting is worse when there’s a bevy of fans and critics alike all clamoring for it.
Those main three categories comprise the bulk of this selection, which is focused on actors who are currently on a series. To clarify—dramas that are on now, recently concluded this year, or are on hiatus, set to return soon. A collection of men and women who are next to blow, have been criminally overlooked, and/or grossly snubbed in the past. It’s time to take notice. Read on for the 25 Most Underrated TV Drama Actors Right Now.
Notable TV roles: Dean Winchester, Supernatural (The CW); Jason Teague, Smallville (The CW, The WB)
Supernatural used to be one of the most entertaining shows that you weren’t watching. It’s since become another show that The CW won’t let die a dignified death, because the network is that thirsty for a loyal fanbase. Through the ups and the downs Jensen Ackles has endured as a reason to watch.
The show is a weird mash-up of tones. Whether Ackles is playing the hero in a horror movie, crying through a super-serious revelatory monologue, or being a goofball, he’s great and has been acting circles around co-lead Jared Padalecki since damn near day one. (It’s a somewhat fixed fight—Padalecki isn’t very good to begin with, but at a certain point the show started doing everything it could to make you side with Ackles/Dean against Padalecki/Sam, even when Dean is wrong.)
On a show that routinely gets away from itself with over-sized plots (the civil war between angels in heaven, say no more) Ackles is the anchor that keeps the human element in place. But the series’ best years have given him meaty material that’s so well-acted we find ourselves wishing the impossible for him, i.e. Emmy recognition. Instead, we’re hopeful of a more realistic outcome—leading man on a more deserving series.
Notable TV roles: Fiona Gallagher, Shameless (Showtime)
Shameless doesn’t know whether it’s a drama with ample moments of levity, or a comedy that can get very dark. The show’s lone Emmy nomination (for guest star Joan Cusack) went drama, and so will we. It can be funny, sure, but it can also be crushing. Holding down both tones is the talented Emmy Rossum, often the straight woman to her family’s buffoonish antics, often the anchor in the show’s heaviest moments. William H. Macy is the show’s big name, but on the low, she’s the real star.
Olivia Munn (I don't care what people think about her, she's great in The Newsroom)
Notable TV roles: Sloan Sabbith, The Newsroom (HBO); Leigh, Perfect Couples (NBC)
Economist and journalist Sloan Sabbith marks Olivia Munn’s, of G4 and Daily Show fame, first high-profile acting gig—and she’s killing it. A little neurotic and socially awkward, Sabbith deserves credit for being the least frustrating character on a series full of people who tend to do dumb things. Awkward or not, we don’t buy her character’s inability to find a good date in New York City, but everything else is solid. Most figured Munn would go on to do sitcoms; instead she dared to take on Sorkin’s infamously fast-paced, layered dialogue, and met the challenge.
Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Because he's awesome and a fellow Dane)
Notable TV roles: Jaime Lannister, Game of Thrones (HBO)
Game of Thrones season three will go down as a classic, in large part for that moment. But season three also marked the year that Jaime Lannister went from reprehensible, spoiled, incest-abetting pretty boy to damn near the most sympathetic character on the show—all praises due to Nikolaj Coster-Waldau for pulling off that feat.
Jaime’s trauma could’ve played like a douchebag getting his just desserts; instead, the writers teed things up perfectly for one of the most well-acted monologues on TV this year. From swaggering swordsman in season one, to sarcastic prisoner in season two, and now the emotional vulnerability on display in season three means its time for this guy to graduate from winter-time horror movies to leading-man status.
Notable TV roles: Several clones, Orphan Black (BBC America)
The buzziest new show of the TV season has a premise that calls for an actress capable of intense heavy lifting. Orphan Black went with a relative unknown, and the result is one of the most surprising performances of the year. Plenty of actors have pulled double duty playing twins, doppelgangers, or in this case, clones—but Maslany played seven on the first season of this upstart. That she's able to give each and every one a distinct personality is remarkable, and as the show gains more popularity, so will she. This is the show your geeky friend (read: us) has been telling you to check out for the past few months. Hop on the bandwagon.
Thought this was appropriate since there were many outcries on who was included/excluded from the best actor/actress lists. But I'm sure you'll find some blasphemous inclusions/exclusions here too, so protest away my loverlies.