Alan Cumming Eli Gold on The Good Wife
Why we love him: On a show that’s all about repressed emotion (c’mon, Alicia, Kalinda, somebody — crack a smile!), Cumming is a tour de force of agitation as the screaming, swearing, wildly gesticulating image consultant. Anytime Eli’s raging about something (Osama bin Laden! Santa Claus!), Cumming’s face is so extraordinarily expressive, his eyebrows should win their own Emmy.
Best moment: Having a meltdown while watching children vomit up cheddar cheese on television. Wisconsin State Dairy Guild rep: ”I’m worried this is going to keep people from purchasing cheese.” Eli, arching those eyebrows: ”Ya think?” —Melissa Maerz
Retta Donna Meagle on Parks and Recreation
Why we love her: Retta, a stand-up in real life, has made Donna the Zen master of deadpan zingers — riffing on everything from sex (”You gotta dangle the carrot, literally and metaphorically”) to acupuncture (”Needles in your face, pleasure in your base!”). Whenever Pawnee gets a little too warm and fuzzy, she’s the voice of reason, always there to roll her eyes and nuh-uh! everyone back to reality.
Best moment: Teaming up with Tom (Aziz Ansari) for their annual orgy of shopaholic indulgence that has just one rule: ”Treat. Yo. Self.” —Melissa Maerz
Max Burkholder Max Braverman on Parenthood
Why we love him: A mere 14 years old, Burkholder has the difficult role of playing a boy with Asperger’s syndrome. While maintaining a blank affect and the repetitive behaviors common to the disorder, Burkholder nevertheless lets his TV family — and us — in on Max’s inner life. The actor makes the most of Max’s dramatic moments, sure, but he also knows how to play the boy’s lighter, more playful side.
Best moment: In season 2, Max is told for the first time he has Asperger’s. ”Will I always have it?” he asks in a husky voice. Then, promptly: ”I wanna go play Bug War online!” —Ken Tucker
Norman Reedus Daryl Dixon on The Walking Dead
Why we love him: Daryl was introduced partway through the first season of AMC’s zombie series, but he swiftly became a fan favorite thanks to his enthusiastic slaying of walkers and no-nonsense redneck ways (one Daryl devotee even sent Reedus a box of bumper stickers that read ”If you’re riding my ass, you’d better be Daryl Dixon”). While many characters on AMC’s postapocalyptic zombie show love to make conversation, Reedus’ motorbike-riding, crossbow-carrying survivalist would rather make a necklace — out of zombie ears.
Best moment: On the Nov. 13 episode, ”Chupacabra,” Daryl yanks out an arrow from his own torso and fires it into a zombie’s skull. (Hey, even in the postapocalypse, it’s important to recycle!) —Clark Collis
Mayim Bialik Amy Farrah Fowler on The Big Bang Theory
Why we love her: When Bialik signed on as a potential love interest for Sheldon (Jim Parsons), we had no idea how central she and the rest of her unlikely girl trio (Melissa Rauch’s Bernadette and Kaley Cuoco’s Penny) would become to Big Bang‘s male-dominated geekosystem. And now that we’ve gotten to know the harp-playing neurobiologist even better, we’re not sure how we got this far without her deadpan quips, chronic oversharing, and awkwardly blunt sexual observations. Here’s hoping there’s a ”never leave us” clause in Amy and Sheldon’s recently notarized relationship agreement.
Best moment: ”If it makes you feel any better, the only person who signed my high school yearbook was my mother: ‘Dear Amy, Self-respect and a hymen are better than friends and fun. Love, Mom.’ ” —Sandra Gonzalez
Jack Huston Richard Harrow on Boardwalk Empire
Why we love him: Richard Harrow may conceal half of his face with a painted mask, but there is no hiding the talent of the man playing him. With his facial tics, raspy delivery, and longing stares, Huston packs an emotional punch as the disfigured war veteran-turned-bootlegger. He may look gruesome, but we just can’t look away.
Best moment: After gazing at before-and-after images of his face, Harrow heads out to the woods, slices himself an apple, and sticks a shotgun in his mouth, only to be snapped out of it after a dog runs off with his mask. —Dalton Ross
Madeleine Stowe Victoria Grayson on Revenge
Why we love her: It’s hard to decide what to adore most about Stowe’s ”Queen” Victoria: her devastating one-liners (”What part of ‘get out’ are you having trouble with?”)? Her death stares, which could flatten even Alexis Carrington? Or her ability to add an instant chill to even the happiest of occasions? Oh, hell, all of the above help make Ms. Grayson one of the most divine — and most watchable — bitches on TV right now.
Best moment: On the Oct. 19 episode, ”Guilt,” Victoria icily embraces her frenemy Lydia (Amber Valletta) and whispers: ”Every time I hug you, the warmth you feel is my hatred burning through.” —Tanner Stransky
Jim Rash Dean Pelton on Community
Why we love him: Most academic administrators are there to help their students, but Dean Pelton is one big bald-headed cry for help. His entrances are the stuff of wonder: Clad in outrageous costumes (Vegas showgirl!), he announces himself with a painful pun (”Dean-a-ling-a-ling!”) and then shares some ridiculously random ”news” (puppy parade!). Plus he earns extra credit for his elaborate and thoroughly unrequited man-crush on Joel McHale’s Jeff Winger.
Best moment: Blackmailing Jeff into singing a schmaltzy karaoke duet version of ”Kiss From a Rose.” —Dan Snierson