And Pants to Match

June 13, 2009

Top 10 must unappreciated television actors of the decade

Filed under: Uncategorized — pbrl @ 10:38 am

I’ll slip the flowery introduction and just say I was inspired to write this list by watching the #1 choice on my list yesterday, realizing the decade was almost over, and combining the two ideas. So this is a list of the most underappreciated actors of the decade. That doesn’t mean the best, nor does it mean every great show has to be represented. It just means people who aren’t given enough credit for what they do. And since everyone loves a good top 10 list, here we go.

I must say in advance there are a few high profile shows I’ve never seen, including The Sopranos, The Shield, Buffy, Firefly, and Grey’s Anatomy. So if no actor from those shows are represented, it’s not because I didn’t like them. I also tried to avoid any huge starts unless it was clearly warranted.

Honorable mentions first: Clancy Brown (Justin Crowe on Carnivale, Kelvin Inman on Lost), Michael K. Williams (Omar Little on The Wire), Jaime Hector (Marlo Stansfield on The Wire), John Amos (Percy Fitzwallace on The West Wing),

10. Rob Lowe (Sam Seaborn on The West Wing, other stuff I haven’t seen)

Lowe is one of those guy who people think is such an ass that they just dismiss the actual work he does. Much was made of Lowe’s discontent at not being the main character on The West Wing, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t do fabulous work as Sam, the idealist proto-Bartlett who could craft a speech like the best of them. In a show with a ton of acting talent, Lowe never got his due. Watching the stirring season 2 episode Somebody’s going to emergency, somebody’s going to jail to really see what he could do.

9. Polly Walker (Atia of the Julii on Rome, Susan Collins on State of Play)

I assume most people reading this (all 12 of you) have never seen the BBC version of State of Play, the much superior source material for the Russel Crowe vehicle recently released. But I’m sure many of you have seen Rome, where Walker plays the scheming, brilliant mother of Octavian. The show was very theatrical, and it made people like Kevin McKidd and Ciaran Hinds much more visible (as it should have), but Walker carried the load as the female lead of the show and never gets the credit for it.

8. Keith Carradine (Wild Bill Hickock on Deadwood, Frank Lundy on Dexter)

My only bit player on the list, Carradine only did 16 episodes of television between the 2 roles I’ve listed him for. But he does it brilliantly, bringing a methodical, calculating energy to both shows. Why he doesn’t get more work, I’m not sure, but he’s fantastic.

7. Aiden Gillen (Mayor Carcetti on The Wire)

I had to resist the urge to populate this list mostly with actors from The Wire. The show is famously obscure, if there can be such a thing, so nearly every actor could qualify. But I chose Gillen because I think even fans of the show don’t give him the credit he deserves. He created such a slimy and unlikeable character without ever going over the top, and you completely bought him as an American urban politician, without a hint of his Irish accent ever coming out.

6. Michael Hogan (Saul Tigh on Battlestar Galactica)

Galactica was never a show known for its great acting, though it should have been. When the theatrics of the show are mentioned, the credit usually goes to Edward James Olmos and Mary McDonnel as the male and female leads of the show. But it’s Hogan who is a revelation as Tigh, running his audience through all the highs and lows of the brutal experience of being on that ship with life on the line every day. From his barking order on the brilliant “33” to the final scene of the third season, he never failed to completely sell the character. And yet, no one ever talks about him – maybe because he refuses to do interviews, insisting that the acting should speak for itself. Indeed it does.

5. Kyle Chandler (Eric Taylor on Friday Night Lights)

Continuing the pattern of great shows with small audiences, I won’t spend my time trying to convince you to watch Friday Night Lights – its been renewed for 2 more years, so frankly I don’t need to grovel anymore. But I will just say that this man is the cornerstone of the greatest sports-related television show ever made, and the head of the most realistic family ever put on TV. He’s brilliant.

4. Matthew Fox (Jack Shephard on Lost)

Everyone hates Jack. People think he’s a boring, narcissistic, jerk. And he basically is. But Fox is the guy who sells it. In a show where he has to share screentime with Terry O’Quinn and Michael Emerson, people forget that Fox is the de facto main character of one of the most popular and critically acclaimed TV shows ever made. And he carries it. You buy him as a leader. You buy him as a self-destructive addict. You buy him as a guy who would be insane enough to risk everything and everyone for an obsession with a woman. You buy it all, and Fox is the reason why.

3. James Callis (Gaius Baltar on Battlestar Galactica)

The only show with 2 entries on the list, Callis was the single greatest acting revelation on Battlestar Galactica. I don’t need to say much since if you’ve seen the show I don’t need to convince you – how many actors could convincingly play a sympathetic, genodical Jesus figure, beard and everything? But being relegated to the Sci-Fi network, I fear he was never taken seriously. Hopefully that will change.

2. Jessica Walter (Lucille Bluth on Arrested Development)

Her? Yes, her. The single funniest female character in TV history. There’s really no one who even comes close. In most TV comedies, the women aren’t given much funny to do. Sitcoms have traditionally used women as the straight man, reacting to the idiocy of the men around them. But Walters was given everything to do, and in a show with as many brilliant comedians as actors cast, she stood out. That…BITCH!

1. John C. McGinley (Dr. Cox on Scrubs)

The absolute, unquestioned #1 on this list. It should be obvious to anyone who has seen Scrubs. Here’s the basic question I have never been able to figure out – why did House make Hugh Laurie into a huge star, but Johnny C. never get a single nomination for his role on Scrubs? No one can seriously tell me that Laurie is better. (I don’t think he’s worth either – they are both brilliant in their roles.) But McGinley pulls off the greatest combination of humor and pathos that any sitcom has ever attempted, crafting an utterly unique individual where his entire personality comes from the acting. McGinley takes the scripts given to him and turns it into magic. This man should be famous beyond belief, with 5 Emmys sitting at home. And he’s never even been nominated, while his co-stars get the fame. Still confuses me.



  1. John C. McGinley is banned from all awards ceremonies due to his appearance in “Wild Hogs”. That explains it.

    Comment by Bill Gates — June 13, 2009 @ 2:46 pm | Reply

  2. Are there any “unknown” actors from shows that you didn’t bother to watch? We now know your lineup of faves consist of 5 TV shows out of how many? We know you love The Wire but can it compare with The Shield? CCH Pounder was great as the overlooked detective handed the captain’s position. Jay Karnes was magnificent as “cerebral” detective Dutch.

    You are far too limited to be attempting to write a column on television. Go back to your VCR and don’t came out until you are called.

    Comment by Lee451 — June 13, 2009 @ 3:38 pm | Reply

  3. House and Cox are almost the same role, but McGinley is completely outclassed. Sorry, but the reason McGinley doesn’t get as much recognition is that Hugh Laurie is an astronomically better actor.

    Comment by gf — June 13, 2009 @ 3:43 pm | Reply

  4. Keith Carradine will be reprising the Lundy role on Dexter’s upcoming 4th season

    Comment by pat — June 13, 2009 @ 5:32 pm | Reply

  5. Coulsn’t agree more on both BSG actors. If Hogan’s return to the Galactica after escaping New Caprica isn’t completly heartbreaking than you have no heart or feelings. Callis, well just watch the series, I just can’t pick a favorite scene with him.

    And yes Matthew Fox needs more Props.

    Comment by DAVE ID — June 13, 2009 @ 7:56 pm | Reply

  6. Hugh Laurie was a star before House, so that whole argument is moot. What you probably MEANT to say was ‘House made Laurie a name in America to complement the work that Laurie has already done, and is known throughout the rest of the English-speaking world for it.’

    Comment by ben edwards — June 13, 2009 @ 10:07 pm | Reply

  7. Kyle Chandler was The BEST thing about an entire season of Grey’s Anatomy–as the bomb export who was blown literally to pieces–his guest appearance was memorable–unlike the rest of the series. Yeah, we watched for the blood and guts, a fleeting guilty pleasure. Oh for the days of BattleStar ingenuity…..

    Comment by 47whitebuffalo — June 14, 2009 @ 12:00 pm | Reply

  8. I was hoping to see James Cromwell listed. OK, he also does movies (Zephraim Cochrane in “Star Trek: First Contact”) but I saw him in an early episode of “Star Trek: The Next Generation” as the prime minister of a planet, and of course he was in “Angels in America” and “Six Feet Under.”

    He just seems to be everywhere.

    Comment by Vincent F. Safuto — June 14, 2009 @ 12:01 pm | Reply

  9. Kyle Chandler is awesome. I loved him on Early Edition.

    Comment by maureenlynn — June 14, 2009 @ 1:03 pm | Reply

  10. Couldn’t agree with you more about John C. I always expected to see him get an Emmy nomination, yet he never even got a mention. Most people don’t even know who he is. He was my favorite character on Scrubs, yet everybody became famous but him. I don’t understand it either. Thanks for pointing it out.

    Comment by JFjM — June 14, 2009 @ 6:28 pm | Reply

  11. Ben Edwards, your comment only holds water if you consider the UK to be the rest of the English speaking world. Few people in Australia knew who Hugh Laurie was before House.

    Comment by Keith — June 15, 2009 @ 1:12 am | Reply

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