Let us praise those in our television shows who cause a squeal of excitement or a quiet nod in acknowledgement of quality from the viewers, but who usually fail to break into the award nomination categories or the unschooled conversations about these shows. This first list is entirely comprised of women on current shows whose performances deserve your praise but who, perhaps, are not getting enough of love right now.
Without further ado, Screen Siren’s MVP women on current shows are…
1. Mae Whitman as Amber Holt in Parenthood
Parenthood is one of only two shows on network television in the US right now that could conceivably be called ‘great’. Perhaps there may be howls of disbelief at quite how much time and energy the Braverman family expends on itself, but there can be no doubt that the emotions the show evokes and the relationships it has built are uniformly compelling. No one really gets singled out for their performance on the show too much, but Mae Whitman as Amber, daughter to ex-Gilmore Girl Lauren Graham’s Sarah, brings out depths from a character who could so easily collapse into basic troubled youngster tropes. Amber is following in the footsteps of her equally damaged mother and causing havoc and upset to the family at near every turn, but Whitman imbues the character with a soulful, delicate edge that makes her travails feels eminently, heartbreakingly relatable. Quite possibly the best performer in one of the best ensembles currently working.
2. Sarah Rafferty as Donna in Suits
Suits is so very, very nearly a good show. It’s fun. It’s breezy. It’s a classic USA Network show. But it’s building into something more interesting in its second season so we’ll give them the benefit of the doubt. Pound-for-pound, the best character in the show thus far is Donna, the secretary to super-lawyer Harvey Specter. Her beginnings are just as a witty, omnipotent secretary in the vein of a modern-day Joan Harris, but she shifts gears later in the season when she steps in to save Harvey’s career and, since then, has had numerous moments to shine in her delightful scenes with co-workers Gina Torres and Meghan Markle and with her torturous seduction-teasing of Louis (Rick Hoffman). Rafferty’s character looks like to grow, but she’s already created a likeable, fun character with depth in a show where the majority have the first part down, but are severely deficient in the second.
3. Morgan Saylor as Dana Brody in Homeland
The majority of the females on this list are here because they’ve managed to bring depths to characters that could easily be stock. Morgan Saylor, the daughter to Damien Lewis’ Captain Brody in the best new show of last year, takes a character that in other hands would be just another daughter angry at her father and finds new ways to explore that dynamic. Homeland‘s great quality as a series comes partly through its twists and turns and power dynamics, but as with most great television, the home and psychological lives of the characters is where it excels. If for only one moment, when she unknowingly talks her father down late in the season, Saylor represents an important component of Brody’s home life and a serious reason why this show is so unmissable.
4. Carolyn Hennesy as Barb on Cougar Town
Barb is a remnant of the vastly different show that Cougar Town originally was picked up as. She’s an oversexed oversharer, not so far removed from a bawdy 1970s sex comedy. But as the show has pleasingly shifted from focusing on ‘cougars’ to become a show about friendship and hanging out and drinking shitloads of red wine, Barb’s song has remained the same. Her not-frequent-enough appearances on the show are well-judged, super-filthy innuendo-packed delights that, without her delivery, could just seem low rent instead of gloriously, hilariously cheap.
5. Pamela Adlon as Pamela on Louie
Louie is as close to a one-man deal as you can get on TV right now. It’s a truly auteur-led project from the mind of Louis CK. Yet, for all his brilliance and growing effectiveness as an actor and director, his scenes with Pamela Adlon are a notable highlight. Better known for her voice work, Adlon has been a consistent highlight on Californication for years and was great on CK’s unfortunately cancelled 50s-sitcom riff Lucky Louie. On Louie, she rebuilds the comedy partnership the two of them shared on that other show and, despite ripping Louis a new one often times, there is a warmth and love that runs through their scenes that she appears to be drawing out of him, adding another layer to an already stellar show.
Coming up in the future: the men of the same ilk, plus men and women from shows no longer on the air… Comment and add to our list!