Now that the 2011-2012 TV season is over, we’re looking back at the best in drama. Here are my 15 favorite lead actors.
#15 Dustin Hoffman, Luck
Focused and driven, Hoffman gave a mysterious performance as the ex-con desperate to take down those who crossed him.
#14 Patrick J. Adams, Suits
As a brash genius who stumbled into a legal career, Adams brought a fun, youthful exuberance to this show that only made it even more enjoyable.
#13 Charlie Hunnam, Sons of Anarchy
The biker equivalent of Hamlet was finally forced to make tough decisions as he began the season trying to get out of the club for good, but wound up in charge of it by the end.
#12 Michael C. Hall, Dexter
Dexter’s religious awakening this season gave him a new direction as he struggled to understand someone else’s dark passenger.
#11 Steve Buscemi, Boardwalk Empire
You can’t keep Nucky Thompson down, and Jimmy learned that the hard way as Buscemi captured Nucky’s brilliant ability to rise to any challenge.
#10 Peter Krause, Parenthood
The core of the Braverman family had a big year as he started a new business with his brother, had a brief flirtation with an employee and had a new baby. Krause’s performance, much like the show itself, has an emotional punch that feels truly authentic.
#9 William H. Macy, Shameless
At times it feel like Macy’s Frank Gallagher is on his own show, but it’s one I’d gladly watch. When it comes to drunken political speeches, there’s no one better on TV than Macy to deliver them.
#8 Timothy Olyphant, Justified
Raylan found himself targeted on all sides, but he still went about his business with a calm voice and a loaded gun.
#7 Nathan Fillion, Castle
I’m pretty sure there’s no one on TV with as much pure charisma as Fillion, but even if you ignore his goofy, charming character, Richard Castle has darker, more emotional moments that Fillion is able to play every bit as well as he does the comedic ones.
#6 Damian Lewis, Homeland
Lewis’ former PoW was a fascinating portrait of misdirection and confusion. All season long he played the character so perfectly ambiguous that I was never totally sure what side he was on.
#5 Gabriel Macht, Suits
Harvey Specter is a dick. He’s a rich, successful lawyer who never gets emotionally invested in his clients and generally assumes everyone else is stupider than he is (which they are). Yet somehow Macht finds the humanity and realism in him. This could easily have been a stock, boring show about lawyers, but Macht has a devilish sense of timing that makes us love Harvey even as he insults his associate.
#4 Hugh Laurie, House
In the final season House went from prison to faking his own death. The struggles in dealing with new rules, new colleagues and his best friend’s fatal illness helped send the show out with a bang. After eight seasons, it’s impossible to understatement the magnitude or brilliance of Laurie’s performance.
#3 Kelsey Grammer, Boss
Relentlessly evil, even in the face of his own mortality, Grammer was able to make me completely forget about Frasier Crane for the first time in his career. His ruthless Chicago mayor could have easily been a triumphant character, vowing to do good after being diagnosed with a deadly disease. But instead he became even more committed to protecting himself and his legacy at any cost.
#2 Bryan Cranston, Breaking Bad
Walter White won. Over the course of four seasons we’ve seen the dying chemistry teacher transform himself into a truly terrifying criminal. But nothing quite prepared me for how far he’d take it, and by the end of the year, Cranston had successfully turned Walter into one of the most menacing figures on TV.
#1 Jon Hamm, Mad Men
Jon Hamm is so good that it’s sometimes easy to forget he’s acting. But this season Don Draper got to do some of his best reacting as the world around him changed. Don became lost and complacent with his life, unable to see that the world was about to leave him behind. In small, often silent moments throughout the season we saw Don trying desperately to find his place in a world he thought he had already conquered.