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Best TV of the '00s: Dramatic Actress

by Allison Waldman, posted Jan 1st 2010 11:02AM
allison_janney_west_wingMore of our best of the decade coverage, which started on Tuesday. You can read the other posts at the link above. Here, we talk about the best dramatic actresses of the decade.

Television has always been good to the ladies. Actresses have flourished in dramatic series, and in the past decade, we've seen some amazing performances. There have been lawyers, cops, a U.S. president, nurses, doctors, judges, mothers, daughters and even a real housewife from New Jersey whose husband was in the waste disposal business.

Many of these women have already been honored with Emmys and Golden Globes... and now they get the recognition of TV Squad.

Here, then, without further vamping, the best dramatic actresses of the past ten years:

Allison Janney, The West Wing

Allison says:
Currently, Bravo shows reruns of The West Wing and I have watched over and over again the brilliant performance by Allison Janney as C.J. Cregg. It wasn't just that among all the president's men C.J. was one of the guys. It was that she was better than that. She played just as hard, was just as smart if not smarter, and never once was a stereotype of a press secretary (and later chief of staff). C.J. was a fully-realized character, and that was as much Aaron Sorkin's work as it was Allison Janney's portrayal.

Bob says: I have to agree with Allison (Waldman, not Janney). I guess Janney could also be picked for the Best Comedic Actress category, since she's quite funny in many of her scenes as C.J. But the dramatic moments stand out to me too, from her crying to Nancy about women people beaten in a foreign country to talking to Toby about her father, stricken with Alzheimer's. What a great character C.J. was, and what an awesome performance by Janney. Sure, Aaron Sorkin and others wrote the words that she said, but Janney truly put her stamp on it.

Mary McDonnell, Battlestar Galactica

Mike says: If the major award shows were kinder to sci-fi, then Mary McDonnell would have at least one Emmy or Golden Globe sitting on her shelf. Amid all the sexy Cylon action, the Starbuck drama, and Adama's emoting on Battlestar Galactica, McDonnell was a standout as President Roslin. She played a confident leader who showed strength and integrity while facing death. McDonnell, a two-time Oscar nominee, always knew when to act subtle and when to spit fire as the leader of a race on the edge of extinction.

maura_tierney_nbc_ERMaura Tierney, ER

Joel says: Just like with Lauren Graham, I've had a crush on Tierney going back to her days on NewsRadio. But it was her turn as nurse-turned-doctor Abby Lockhart on ER that really made me realize how good an actor she really is. Abby's such a deep character -- the alcoholism, her bipolar mother and brother, authority issues, her trying romances with both Carter and Kovac -- and Tierney was able to make playing her look easy. She was able to carry all of Abby's emotional baggage and still make her look like the strong, sympathetic, persevering character she is, and she would have fit in well with the vaunted original cast... if she wasn't on a certain comedy at the time.

Oh, and I do appreciate the irony that my choice as best comedic actress of the decade (Graham) is replacing Tierney on Parenthood. It's almost like I'm replacing my favorite pizza place with my favorite hamburger joint. Let's hope Tierney gets well soon and comes back to TV with more knockout performances.

Sandra Oh, Grey's Anatomy

Michael P. says: Sandra Oh gives a solid performance week after week on Grey's Anatomy. Christina Yang is a good counterbalance to all the high school drama of the Grey's Anatomy world. She is someone who has the biggest drive to succeed, but has foibles with love. Watching her evolve in five seasons from her abortion in the first season to her relationship with Owen now is a believable and bright storyline, compared to the drama involving Izzie.

glenn_close_damages_FXGlenn Close, The Shield/Damages

Jason says: When Glenn Close joined the cast of The Shield, she immediately injected a new sense of energy to the show, and made us TV fans wonder why she'd been "slumming it" in the movies all those years. Television is the perfect showcase for her brilliantly intense performances. But if we loved her there, we were in for a real treat when FX gave her her own show and Damages knocked us out of our seats from the first episode. Close is so intense, mysterious, brilliant and diabolical you can't decide whether to root for her or against her. But one thing you do know: she elevates every scene she's a part of, as well as the actors she shares the screen with.

CCH Pounder, The Shield

Danny says:
The actress and supporting cast member of the long-running FX series only got one Emmy nomination in her seven season run and the shame of it isn't that she didn't win, but that she didn't earn more of them. Her performance as the proud and moral homicide detective Claudette Wyms made a perfect protagonist for the scheming Vic Mackey because she was a schemer herself, even if her motives for doing so were much different. And unlike Capt. Acevada, she was never "The Barn's" savior. She stood for something greater than herself and the duality of her own mortality in the later scenes just made her performance better since she wanted to do something good for the Earth before she left it by getting Mackey and his gang off the streets. Her work was so deep and inspiring that she can be forgiven for Brothers.

S. Epatha Merkerson, Law & Order

Nick says: If IMDB.com is right, Merkerson has appeared in 381 episodes of Law & Order dating back to 1991. That means that Merkerson has anchored this show since I graduated high school. Her supervisor character, Lt. Anita Van Buren, has outlasted countless pairings of detectives, district attorneys, and district attorney's assistants. She could be noted here just for endurance alone, but she's also been wonderful in a strong role, the one who says "no" to the flashier characters (the detectives) and now we're getting a little more of her personal life, as Van Buren has revealed she has cancer. Which may mean her streak is coming to an end, but hopefully not before she gets a good story of her own.

Kristen Bell, Veronica Mars

Kona says: A teen detective? Seriously? When I first heard about a show called Veronica Mars coming to UPN, a network that I had never found the need to watch, I didn't exactly predict greatness. After the pilot aired, however, I heard such good things about it that I had to tune in. Yes, the writing was amazing -- funnier, smarter and sometimes sadder than just about anything else on television -- but it was Kristen Bell as the title character that really made Veronica Mars great. She could go from fierce to vulnerable in an instant, and every line she said drew you deeper and deeper into the world of Neptune; the world that Kristen Bell made you a part of.

jennifer_garner_aliasJennifer Garner, Alias

Jonathan says: You might view this as an odd pick and I'd agree with you to some extent. Alias wasn't exactly a groundbreaking show and it crapped out slowly over its last two seasons. Jennifer Garner's performance as super-spy Sydney Bristow wasn't exactly award-worthy either. However, that's due more to the content of the show and not meant to knock Garner at all because you can't deny one thing -- week in and out, she knocked it out of the park in this role. From a sly raise of her eyebrow to a skull-crushing roundhouse kick as she leveled some bad guy to the ground, I looked forward to seeing Sydney Bristow in action each week. Garner's performance was why Alias worked and it easily stands out as one of the most memorable female roles in the past ten years.

Did we leave out some worthy actresses on our list? No doubt. Edie Falco, Kyra Sedgwick, Mariska Hargitay, Michelle Forbes, Rachel Griffiths, Felicity Huffman, Sally Field... many more, I'm sure. So, please, tell us your choices in the comments below.

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Maura Tierney was the reason why I kept coming back to ER. She made the show. I know the show puts a lot of emphasis on the original cast, but I think she was the best character on the show.

January 04 2010 at 4:31 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I was just going to say I was kind of surprised Sarah Michelle Gellar was left off the list too considering some of the other choices.
although I've got a feeling the person who said it before me was being sarcastic??
But yes, Jennifer Garner and Kristen Bell but not SMG... pffft.

January 02 2010 at 9:51 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I agree with some of your choices; Close, McDonnell, and Tierney, but the others are mostly overrated, especially Oh and Bell. With names like that, I'm surprised you don't have Sarah Michelle Gellar on that list. But how could you leave off Patricia Arquette, who beat both Garner and Close for the Emmy in 2005? Or what about Kyra Sedgwick? Get real, people.

January 02 2010 at 9:14 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I think that Allison Janney is the BEST!!!

January 02 2010 at 1:32 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Catherine Tate as Donna Noble on Doctor Who - In one series she went from a ditzy, abrasive temp to a mature, level-headed companion who didn't spend half her time mooning over The Doctor. Her fate is still widely mourned - here's hoping this week's finale does something about it.

Sharon Gless as Madeline Westen on Burn Notice - When the show started, her character had all the earmarks of the whiny, clingy mother. Since then, she's proven herself to be tough as nails, more capable than most suspected, and willing to do anything she has to for her son's safety, even if they don't see eye to eye.

I'm sure there're others, but those're the first two that came to mind.

January 02 2010 at 12:46 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

All of them are great choices.

Note to Michael P.-Christina was going to have an abortion but had a miscarriage before it happened (per Wiki-while in surgery with Burke she collapsed from an ectopic pregnancy).

January 01 2010 at 6:27 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Yes, you did leave Mariska Hargitay off your list, and I'm pretty sad about it! SVU was one of the best shows of the decade, spanning from 1999 until present. Mariska has been nommed for an Emmy six times in a row, plus other SAG, Golden Globe, and People's Choice awards. She's given such strong performances as Olivia Benson - one of my fav lady cops ever! Come on, Allison - she was definitely deserving of one of those spots on the list!

January 01 2010 at 4:29 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Veronica Mars! Another great show brought down far too quickly. Thank you for recognizing Kristen Bell. That show was truly one of my favorites of the 00's and I haven't watched The CW since they cancelled it (not that there's really anyting on that channel to watch).

January 01 2010 at 4:11 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I don't think your pick of Garner is odd at all. I would, however, say that Alias was an excellent show. Yes it did have it's down moments, but overall was a very enjoyable and exciting show. Garner was a breakthrough star at the time and carried the show. Originally, i didn't buy that someone who looked like her would be able to kick some major ass like she did, but she made it believable and pulled it off.


January 01 2010 at 3:47 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
David Cook is my Idol!

I'm glad you added Maura Tierney. She is a brilliant comedy actress too. She may be more well-known for her role on ER, but she will always be Lisa Miller from NewsRadio to me.

January 01 2010 at 12:42 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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