These are the new primetime actors you can't get enough of this season:
Andrew Rannells's Bryan Collins in "The New Normal"
I know this is technically redundant—patting a gay guy on the back for playing a gay man is like applauding Sophia Vergara for playing a hot woman. But Rannells has really succeeded in pushing past the usual stereotypes. Sure, his character Bryan is judgmental, feminine, and style-fixated, but he's an eager dad and loving husband first and foremost. That's not to say that he shies away from embracing his homosexuality. A gay advocate on primetime television hasn't been this vocal since "Will & Grace" was at its peak in the early 00s. And I for one am happy that television is finally starting to reflect reality instead of Middle America's truncated fantasy.
Aubrey Anderson-Emmons's Lily Tucker-Pritchett on "Modern Family"
Five-year-olds don't have comic timing. Therefore, what Aubrey does is unnatural. One-liners from children are rarely if ever tweeted—and if so, they are adorable or naive, not insulting and hostile. This girl's got a mouth on her. You often wish you were that clever at your age, let alone her's. And you definitely wish you could get away with saying half the things she does. She's your youngest idol.
Bobby Cannavale's Gyp Rosetti on "Boardwalk Empire"
Sigh. I don't even know where to begin. I mean, I know where I want to begin—the dog collar sex scenes—but I feel like I might need to preface that with something. Let's see…you have never, ever, ever seen Bobby Cannavale like this before. Or, at least I haven't. The first time I saw him was as Will's boyfriend on "Will & Grace." So hunky, so dreamy, and—that voice!—so macho! It was a while before I saw him again trying to be eccentric in the short-lived "Cupid" reboot, and failing to be supportive in the indie drama Win Win. So when he popped up on Martin Scorsese's HBO drama with an Italian accent and a hot temper, I thought, Man! He was born to play a mobster. It wasn't even like he was playing pretend. You believed he was a killer. An easily offended, insecure animal who had to be chained and beaten to be aroused. He was like a mobster's id come to life—the uncivilized, untamed, primal incarnation. The difference between him and the rest of the gangsters is that they're driven by money and he's driven by the desire for respect. But who can respect an animal? It's a recipe for disaster. Every episode you sat on pins and needles, waiting to see what would set him off next as if any of the backlash could ever fall upon you.
Brett Gelman's Mr. K in "Go On"
Mr. K is an essential component to what makes Matthew Perry's latest sitcom work. He pushes the sanity envelope just enough to make the audience wonder if they did in fact hear or see what just happened, without annoying them so much they turn the channel. It's evident from ensemble sitcoms like "Community," "The Office," "Parks and Recreation," and "Happy Endings" that there's always one guy who's a litttttle off. Mr. K puts them all to shame.
Clare Bowen's Scarlett O'Connor on "Nashville"
This young Aussie plays a mousy songwriter/singer who doesn't give herself half as much credit as she deserves. She's the kind of singer who doesn't need the revealing wardrobe or a gossip-worthy public lifestyle to impress an audience of music lovers. She snuggles under your skin with every crooning note, and changes the rhythm of your heartbeat with every tear-inducing lyric. Taylor Swift wishes she was this good.
Jake Lacy's Pete on "The Office"
Pete is a godsent. This workplace sitcom has been gradually boring the hell out of its fans for the last few seasons and it has nothing to do with Steve Carrell's departure and everything to do with the core love story between Jim and Pam dissolving into a boring marriage. They were the heart of the series and now it's just odd behavior initiated by Ed Helms, as if starring in The Hangover has now given him some sort of free reign over hogging most of the screen time. Thankfully though, there is a romance brewing between the new employee Pete and Andy's on-again-off-again girlfriend Erin that mirrors the love triangle that Jim, Pam, and Roy were entangled in. A sweet, under-appreciated receptionist is secretly wooed by an underachieving fellow employee, who patiently waits for her to realize that she must dump her undeserving, inconsiderate boyfriend. Thank you Pete. For keeping me awake on Thursday nights.
Jared Kusnitz's Lou on "Underemployed"
It's easy to get distracted by all of the other characters on the series. There's the ladies' man Miles, the newly lesbian Sophia, the high-energy Daphne, and the mopy new mom Raviva. So someone as ordinary and chill as Lou could easily fade into the background. But I think he's the easiest to relate to of the entire gang. He works in an office. He hates his job. He wishes he was doing something more productive with his life. He feels like a failure in his parents' eyes. He's hit with more responsibility than he's ready for. And he easily gives into temptation. He encompasses everything this generation is facing in a very realistic manner. Now if only he were real. Teehee.
Kate Hudson's Cassandra July on "Glee"
The rom-com queen has been unsuccessfully trying to remake herself for many years now. Her core audience, romantics, have basically been ignoring her attempts. Oh you want us to see a horror movie? (Skeleton Key) No thank you. You want us to watch a Broadway musical adaptation with Penelope Cruz and Nicole Kidman? (Nine) We're going to pass. A crime thriller with sex and intrigue? (The Killer Inside Me) Nahhh. Could you maybe kiss Matthew McConaughey again? Oh he's busy trying to win an Oscar? I think John Krasinski's free (Something Borrowed). As you can see, it's been tough. But somehow some way, Ms. Hudson snuck past all of those pigeonholing bitches to play a bitter Broadway hasbeen who can out-dance and out-seduce Lea Michele every week, making you both hate and love her. She doesn't even seem out of place like Sarah Jessica Parker. You almost forget she's the mother of two and Hollywood royalty.
Nick Robinson's Rowland Smith on "Boardwalk Empire"
He may have only been in one episode, but it was an unforgettable character. This kid had not only stolen from one of the most respected mobsters in Atlantic City, but he also gloated about it—to his face! He was an enterprising opportunist. He had more potential at his age than most of Nucky's goons will have in their entire lifetime. You admired him. Rooted for him. And mourned him. Oh and by the way, for those of you who've never seen Nick Robinson in anything else, he sounds like that in real life. He wasn't pretending to have a 40s gangster accent. That's his voice. I know, right.
Ray Romano's Hank Rizzoli in "Parenthood"
"Everybody Loves Raymond" fans remember Ray as this deadpan goofball who was constantly exasperated by his family. After 9 years of tuning in for the Raymond family hijinks, very few of them signed on for a more solemn and tormented Ray in TNT's "Men of a Certain Age." He understandably wanted a change of pace, but that was as smooth as Michael Jackson going from black to white—little tough to take. His character in "Parenthood" is a more comfortable mixture of melodrama and humor. He's still this depressed fuck-up, but with the equally damaged and stalled Sarah as his love interest, and his sardonically humorous one-liners, he becomes this character you're rooting for, enough to make Mark+Sarah-shippers finally release Jason Ritter from his contractual obligations.
Zach Cregger's Nick on "Guys with Kids"
I love Jimmy Fallon, but this show isn't as funny as he is—or at least as his writers are on "Late Night." I endure it though because I like watching men suffer. (Read into that what you will.) Cregger though breaks up the monotony—and the stilted sitcom acting—with some much-needed harsh candor that only a sarcasm lover like myself could appreciate. He makes me want to watch his other short-lived NBC series "Friends with Benefits" again. Kidding.