20) Bonnie Plunkett
Actor: Allison Janney
It takes a certain kind of laugh-track, multi-camera sitcom to successfully introduce serious storylines and pull them off; Mom may be the best in recent memory. The show’s baked-in emotional streak (the premise is built off alcoholism, domestic abuse, and recovery) generated a show frothing for some sucker-punches and Allison Janney gave ’em to us in 2015, with some gulp-inducing sequences that occurred after a popular recurring character met their surprise end earlier in the year.
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Bonnie cried, daughter Christy (Anna Farris) helped all she could, and the Chuck Lorre elephant in the room gained some much needed heft thanks to jokes that felt all the more gut-busting due to the unspoken sorrow wallowing below the surface of every punchline. Ultimately, Bonnie grieved and grew, and her slow road to recovery felt all-the-more impactful thanks to Janney, who infused Bonnie’s occasional traditional sitcom mom-ness with some much needed alacrity.
19) Rachel Goldberg
Actor: Shiri Appleby
“This is what a feminist looks like,” declares down-and-out reality TV producer Rachel Goldberg’s dingy T-shirt in the premiere of UnREAL. Rachel’s feministic approach to life includes such gems as having an on-set meltdown in the middle of filming an episode of her uber-popular dating show “Everlasting,” and then returning to work a few weeks later to Jedi mind-trick a gaggle of giggly women into performing borderline unethical actions all in the name of network ratings.
It’s the reason she’s so fascinating to watch: she’s audibly obsessed with being taken seriously as a functioning adult, but so relentlessly self-destructive she practically comes with her own detonator switch packed-in. Shiri Appleby gave the character a tangible grit (inside-out, two day underwear and all), her spectacularly manipulative scheming excited more than most superhero TV that bookended the show’s summer run, and the back-and-forth conversational hot potato dialogue with boss Quinn (Constance Zimmer) fueled a show already overflowing with electric zip.
18) Liza Miller
Actor: Sutton Foster
Age is a prickly subject, doubly so for women, triply so for women in the workplace. Leave it to Sex and the City creator Darren Star to craft a comedy series around a 40-year-old pretending to be a 26-year-old and make it work. Foster’s gangly, awkward turn as Liza Miller – divorcée turned plucky publishing assistant – fuels Younger‘s effervescent charm. Her sarcasm runs thick, her hair dye thicker, and just when you think the show is going to turn into some big vomit-inducing kumbaya age-is-just-a-number billboard for millennials angry at their parents, Foster clotheslines you with the whiz-bang energy of, well, a 26-year-old.
17) Emma Swan
Actor: Jennifer Morrison
Show: Once Upon A Time
It was easy to go into Once Upon A Time‘s fifth season with a bit of trepidation. The season four Frozen arc was blatant corporate synergy, no matter how much Elsa reflects the show’s inherent murky morality themes, and the subsequent “Queens of Evil” outing was ultimately little more than a reason for Rumpesltiltskin to turn evil… again. Thank the heavens (or Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz) for steering the ship straight this year, and giving its lead actor a suitably juicy spotlight.
Emma’s Dark Swan twist felt actually menacing and strange thanks to Jennifer Morrison’s freaky visual alteration. She lurked and schemed and plotted like the best of ’em, and the show’s set-a-timer-to-it predictability (amnesia flashbacks!) got a bit of renewed energy once her evil scheme came to light. The Disney-friendly show couldn’t risk going there with her, so true darkness was only ever a cover for secret heroism – not to mention that happy ending winter finale could be seen leagues away – but Morrison embodied her Dark One persona so well while it lasted that she could easily top an OUAT villain list as much as a hero one.