The Breakout TV Performances of 2015


An abundance of quality series produced an inevitable increase in good roles for actors, and a list of breakout performances as varied in terms of platform – and geography – as it was style and tone.

Settling on criteria wasn’t easy, but the scope went beyond unknowns and supporting characters to actors who stepped up in class, through a leading part that showcased them in a way they haven’t been before, or at least in a while. (Apologies, for example, to those who think Krysten Ritter already “broke out” in “Don’t Trust the B—- in Apt. 23.”)

The selections wound up representing a dozen networks or streaming services and a number of different countries. As for how the choices were made, there was unanimity on some (Rami Malek, come on down) and one fervent champion for others. Then again, since when do two critics ever agree entirely on anything?

So with that disclaimer, here are the breakout players of 2015, from Al Massri to Zissis.

USA Network

USA Network

Rami Malek (“Mr. Robot”): Malek’s character, Elliot Alderson, has trouble relating to people, which could have made this remote, emotionally troubled hacker difficult for the audience to root for. But thanks to Malek’s nuanced, subtle and empathic performance, Elliot became much more than a chilly tragic figure. In “Mr. Robot’s” bravura first season, Malek made Elliot sly, amusing, self-aware and spectacularly flawed, but also strangely sympathetic.