The Best of Television Performances of 2012

PopMatters highlights some television performers who stood out in 2012, but aren't likely to find themselves among nominees for annual awards.

Politicians and tragedies. It seemed like you couldn’t turn on your TV this past year without seeing one or the other, both disturbing, albeit in different ways. Vast monies were spent as a result of both, leading to more annoying political ads than ever before and an abundance of telethons and charity concerts. Still, the US presidential election did provide the comedic moment of the year, when Fox commentator Karl Rove refused to believe that Barack Obama had been reelected and the camera turned from him to follow Megyn Kelly down a long hallway.

With perseverance, though, you could find other worthy moments on television. New stars emerged, even if some raised questions concerning our collective taste (yes, we're looking right at you, Honey Boo Boo). Some former teen stars found new fame (Claire Danes, Kristen Bell, and Lisa Whelchel), while some adult veterans returned in both good and bad shows (Sam Waterston, Lily Tomlin, and Ricki Lake). Fans of daytime TV know that everyone who didn't get a talk show last year got one this year; those who watch morning talk shows -- and those who don't -- know too well that Today experienced major shaking up. And, as happens every year, some old favorites left the air, while critics seemed to drool over the usual suspects.

With that in mind, PopMatters aims to look at some performers who stood out but aren't likely to find themselves among nominees for awards. We recognize that Damian Lewis (Homeland), Lena Dunham (Girls), Louie C. K. (Louie), Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad), and Jim Parsons (The Big Bang Theory), among others, are brilliant, but they have received plenty of critical acclaim. We want to know why Kaley Cuoco hasn't gotten as much notice as her costar Parsons.

The performance of the year goes to an Emmy winner, but one who's been overlooked recently. As crime solver Brenda Lee Johnson, Kyra Sedgwick spent seven seasons impressing us with her ability to ferret out the truth from suspects. During The Closer's final season, her primary story arc concerned her attempts to catch a repeat offender, but as Johnson dealt with her father's cancer, Sedgwick was unforgettable. In "Last Rites," all of these issues came to a boil, with a surprise twist ending.

Sedgwick wasn't the only lead actor to excel this year. Charlie Hunnam has been consistently great on Sons of Anarchy, but the addition of Drea de Matteo has helped to elevate the show. She wins our Best Pleading to Not be Destroyed by Evil Men Award, which she previously won for her work on The Sopranos. Patrick Wilson wins the Most Deserving of a Show Worthy of his Talent Award, after the short-lived A Gifted Man. Runner up for that award is Scott Speedman of the shorter-lived Last Resort.

Lewis and Danes have both had to build additions to their homes to hold their awards, but Morena Baccarin has been overlooked as Nicolas Brody's longsuffering wife Jessica. Previously best known as an alien warrior on V and an intergalactic prostitute on Firefly, Baccarin this year wins the How Nice to Get to Play Vulnerable Award.

Over on Dexter, Jennifer Carpenter also played a new part, as her cop, Debra, turned co-conspirator with her serial killer brother, played with new energy this season by Michael C. Hall.

The jump from murder to this year's slew of bad new sitcoms isn't as broad as it should be. On one of the lamest shows, Guys with Kids, Zach Cregger stood out, balancing the irresponsible frat boy element with that of the loving father. The addition of Rondi Reed as Mike's mother Peggy on Mike and Molly earns her our Mother from Hell Award. Among sitcom guest stars, Kate Hudson was hot on Glee, Melanie Griffith and Wilmer Valderrama were equally shallow on Raising Hope, and Dean Winter was appalling, albeit hilarious, on 30 Rock.

Like the sitcoms, 2012'2 music competition shows were too frequently predictable, with numerous tributes, honoring everyone from the victims of Sandy to the late Whitney Houston and -- again -- Michael Jackson. One of the most moving tributes was The Voice's ability to breathe life into the overdone "Hallelujah," honoring the victims of the shootings at Sandy Hook.

Still, the musical performance of the year belonged to Pink, whose performance of "Try" on the American Music Awards kicked ass, literally, and offered one of the best dance performances as well (kudos also to fellow performer Colt Prattes). Pink wins our This is How It's Done, Watch and Learn, Kids Award.

Along with this good work, TV in 2012 also delivered some very bad work. Nothing was more irritating than Matthew Moy's one-note performance as Han on 2 Broke Girls. Is it too much to ask that the show find something worthwhile for the great Jennifer Coolidge and legendary Garrett Morris to do?

Looking toward the new year, we can already be grateful for the lack of political ads, even if politics will still dominate cable and broadcast news. And we can hope that there are few reasons for telethons, charity concerts, and tributes. Further, we can hope that the new year brings exciting TV.

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