Best of the Year: The Top 10 Guest Performances of 2015

There were so many great performances on TV this year that we couldn't contain our appreciation to one feature. Case in point, if you haven't yet, please check out our ode to 10 underrated great performances from series regulars. In this one, we're spreading the love to performers who weren't around too much, but made quite the impact nonetheless. These are some of our favorite guest performances of 2015. As always, don't be shy about dropping your own picks (and telling us why ours are garbage) in the comments below.


TIMOTHY OLYPHANT, THE GRINDER

No matter what drek like Entourage or The Comedians wants you to believe, it's not exceptionally cool for actors to play themselves (or "themselves") on TV. Most of the time, performers try far too hard to riff on their public personas as a way to appear in on the joke and the results are mixed at best. But in the proper setting and with the proper performer, it can work. The Grinder, a sitcom that quickly morphed into one of the better sly Hollywood riffs this fall, and Justified's Timothy Olyphant was that proper combination. Olyphant's turn as himself existed not just to make fun of his public persona, but instead as a support system for the charming deluded Dean (Rob Lowe). From giving Dean pep talks on the beach about male objectification to the button promoting The Grinder: New Orleans, the former Justified star successfully immersed himself into the show's world and once again illustrated that he can do more than look good and Stetsons. 


STEPHANIE CORNELIUSSEN, MR. ROBOT

Talk about one tough mother. Mr. Robot is a show jam-packed of standout performances, but few people in the cast were as electric as Stephanie Corneliussen. Though it helped that she's otherworldly beautiful, Corneliussen's Joanna also commanded the screen through her efficient, minimalistic intimidation tactics, usually applied to her own creepy husband Tyrell. This was one of those performances where you could see the show discovering, almost in real time, the excellence they stumbled into and subsequently giving the actor more to do. 


MARISA TOMEI, EMPIRE

Marisa Tomei's Mimi has been around a handful of times during Empire's fall run, but our heads are still spinning from her otherworldly appearance in the Season 2 premiere. Her facilitation of Anika's twerking was one of the most .GIF-able moments of the year and other performers wish they could do something as over-the-top boss as the chair spin in the Empire boardroom. Empire was a giant mess, but one of its best strengths was that it gave people like Tomei the chance to play more than a docile love interest or—ugh—basic mom. 


FELICIA DAY, SUPERNATURAL

Ah yes, a performer who would have deserved to be on this list had we done it each of the last three years. Felicia Day's Charlie grew into one of the most beloved and important characters in the always-small Supernatural universe, which of course meant that it was time for the show to kill her off. The show's historically dumb treatment of its female supporting characters aside, Day and Charlie had quite the swan song in 2015. First, she starred in one of the more ridiculous and enjoyable Supernatural episodes in recent memory with the Wizard of Oz-riffing "There's No Place Like Home," and then her involvement in Sam's botched plan to save Dean led to her unfortunate but very meaningful death. Along the way, Day demonstrated why she offers such a bright screen presence, and why Supernatural desperately needs more characters like Charlie to continue to be interesting. 


MAISIE WILLIAMS, DOCTOR WHO

​Maisie Williams proved years ago that she was incredibly capable as fan favorite Arya Stark on Game of Thrones, and she channeled Arya's same courage in her guest-starring role on Doctor Who as the woman who lived, Ashildr. Unable to die thanks to some alien technology in her head, her character eventually took on a larger-than-life role in the series' long-term narrative, and as she "aged," Williams portrayed Ashildr as both jaded and wise, but powerful and independent, too. Williams' ability to infuse her young female characters with a fearless inner strength and resilience is quickly becoming her calling card, and we can't wait to see what she does next.


JON HAMM, UNBREAKABLE KIMMY SCHMIDTWET HOT AMERICAN SUMMER: FIRST DAY OF CAMP

We couldn't decide which Jon Hamm guest stint we wanted to praise more, so why not shout out both, right? As Reverend Richard Wayne Gary Wayne on Kimmy and Falcon on Wet Hot, Hamm exhibited his willingness to go as big as necessary, creating two lasting characters in the process. Hamm has become such a game and flexible comedic performer that if you're a promising new sitcom and you don't ask him to guest on it, you're doing something very wrong. In a year where he finally won the Emmy for his historically great work on Mad Men, it's these two roles that signal how lucky we are to have Jon Hamm in our lives.


LOIS SMITH, THE AMERICANS

Smith, who you may remember as Sookie's nana in True Blood, stole one of The Americans' best episodes with a quiet performance as a woman in the wrong place at the wrong time. When Elizabeth went to sabotage the CIA's mail robot while it was in for repairs, Smith's Betty just happened to be pulling a late-night on the books there, and after Elizabeth revealed she was a Russian spy, Betty knew she wouldn't make it out of their interaction alive. Dem's the breaks. What followed was two women opening up to each other about their lives that at any other time would have been endearing, but here was an unsettling self-recital of an obituary. And Smith swallowed it whole.


SHOUKATH AND FATIMA ANSARI, MASTER OF NONE

Who better to play the parents of Aziz Ansari's Dev than the actor's real parents? Master of None and its star smartly utilized Shoukath and Fatima Ansari over the first season's 10 episodes, to both tremendous comedic and dramatic effect. Dad Shoukath has gotten most of the love from the Internet and the late-night talk show circuit, and he's wonderfully funny as Dev's charismatic and warm father. But Fatima Ansari shouldn't be disregarded by a long shot. Her reactions to her goofball husband and occasionally clueless son were the glue that held the family scenes together. They're hilarious and completely Mom-like, signaling a woman who absolutely loved these people but can't believe she had to hang out with them all the time.


CHRIS DIAMANTOPOULOS, SILICON VALLEY

Douchebags shouldn't be this entertaining. Chris Diamantopoulos' Russ Hanneman was the seminal money-hungry techbro stereotype that Silicon Valley was born to critique, and, while the show did just that throughout its second season, Russ got his fair share of great moments along the way. In fact, his obsession with the meek Jared (Zach Woods) and the ever-present assertion that "This guy fucks" was one of the most quotable, funny scenes of the year. The other funniest scene of the year? Evaluating his self-worth by how his car doors opened. Everything else—from "tres commas" to the bad billboard decisions—was just a bonus.


CAMERON MONAGHAN, GOTHAM

It can't be easy to play characters like Gotham's Jerome. The show tried so hard to wink and nod its way to other, better portrayals of the Batman universe that it was clear from his Season 1 appearance that Cameron Monaghan's Jerome had something to do with The Joker. Yet, in his multiple-episode run at the beginning of Season 2, Monaghan made the cackling criminal mastermind-to-be character his own, playing Jerome with gleeful reckless abandon and legitimate menace. His performance was so good that even Gotham's lunkheaded explanation for the character's connection to The Joker couldn't ruin it.

What guest performances in 2015 stood out for you?

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Jan 08, 2016
John Hamm - Umbreakable... / Wet hot american summer
Mare Winningham - American Horror Story: Hotel
Anjelica Huston - Transparent
Beau Bridges - Masters of sex
Allison Janney - Masters of sex
Stephanie Corneliussen - Mr Robot
Lois Smith - The americans
Bob Newhart - The big bang theory



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Jan 01, 2016
Jon Hamm needs to be on a comedy!
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Dec 31, 2015
Still can't beleive they killed CAMERON MONAGHAN in Gotham.
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Dec 31, 2015
They didn't. They killed his character, Jerome. They likely felt it was too early to introduce the Joker.
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Jan 02, 2016
Why too early?
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Dec 30, 2015
Jerome on Gotham all the way! He played the joker wannabe magnificently and I'm still highly disappointed in how it ended. Hopefully from what they were showing at the end of the mid-season there is a chance anyone that had a horrible fate has a chance at a return!
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Jan 06, 2016
I think I must have missed something - in the article above they mention 'Gotham's lunkheaded explanation for the character's (Jerome's) connection to The Joker'
How did they connect Jerome to the Joker again?
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Dec 31, 2015
There's always the Lazarus Pit. They aren't likely to do an Arrow crossover but it's still part of the Batman universe.
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Dec 30, 2015
"Felicia Day's Charlie grew into one of the most beloved and important characters..." - Who the hell are you guys kidding?? Paris Hilton was a better guest performance on Supernatural than Felicia Day ever was. Completely blatant attempts at fan service with Day were a headache by the end of her first appearance, then got worse with every single unnecessary appearance afterwards. The fact her run was ended by the ham-fisted style woman-in-a-refrigerator trope serves as compelling proof even the writers and producers couldn't have cared less about her character.
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Dec 31, 2015
The character of Charlie had good potential, imo...and I liked the chemistry of Day with Dean & Sam as a sort of sister...but her lines were horrible.
I mean, "Smell you later, bitches"? Who wrote that shit...some 12 year old?
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Dec 31, 2015
I don't even know that her character had that much potential. They had a great opportunity for a sister of sorts in Jo Harvelle, but capped her and her mom off just the same. At this point, I think Jody is about the only female character with any chance of longevity left.
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Dec 30, 2015
Hamm just missed a potential third guest-star nominee for the 2014 Black Mirror special. He just exudes mildly charismatic slime.
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Dec 30, 2015
When Cameron Monaghan left Gotham - it turned to shit again

Lois Smith was a big highlight in an otherwise boring Americans season

Chris Diamantopoulos was awesome in Silicon Valley

Felicia Day's Charlie was a highlight for a lacklustre season of Supernatural - i don't care what all the Charlie haters say

I hated every scene with Tyrell and his wife so ya know (God that show is sooooooooooooooooo overrated)

How could you forget
Hugh Laurie in Veep - he was so good
Richard Schiff in The Affair - such a underrated actor
Steven Williams in The Leftovers

and the biggest snub on this list

Richard Armitage as Francis Dolarhyde in Hannibal - his scenes were better than all of those in this list combined
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Jan 04, 2016
That opening scene of Hannibal where he doesn't even talk though. That alone is enough.
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Dec 30, 2015
Felicia Day's character changed and it is true that in her final episodes in Supernatural she performed at her best but in overall, Charlie was completely pointless and annoying.
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Dec 30, 2015
I would have argued even in her final hour she was pretty pointless and their killing her off as a lazy plot device only helped emphasis her uselessness.
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Dec 30, 2015
Cameron Monaghan, Maise Williams and Lois Smith were all awesome.
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Dec 30, 2015
Was absolutely enthralled with Stephanie Corneliussen on Mr. Robot. She had this sinister aura about her that felt like it was always just bubbling under the surface waiting to explode. Throughout the whole season I kept waiting for her to outright murder someone. Instead the murder happened by another character..... Hope she returns for the next season :)
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Dec 30, 2015
Timothy Olyphant, The Grinder; Yeah, love it so.
Maisie Williams, Doctor Who; Definitely interesting character and brought something to Doctor Who
Chris ...., Silicon Valley; Oh God, "Douchebags shouldn't be this entertaining" lol Beautiful.
Cameron Monaghan, Gotham; The brilliance of a psychopath.

Because I love her so I have too;
Christina Aguilera (Jane St. John); Nashville
"The Real Thing" is fun song and "Shotgun" is a beautiful one.
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Dec 29, 2015
Chris Diamantopoulos was good. Not sure about the others. It wouldn't have occured to me to include Stephanie Corneliussen, but now that you mention it, she was pretty good. The same goes for Lois Smith.

The first episode with Maisie Williams may have been the worst episode of any show I watched this year. I saw her in two more episodes, and she was always OK, but she was never able to make the episode significantly better.

The best guest appearance this year was probably Nick Offerman in Fargo. His character was rather unremarkable in all but one of the episodes, but when he got called in as the butcher's lawyer, he was fantastic.

I don't like Penny Dreadful, but this guy was really great:

Margo Martindale is doing a really good guest spot on The good wife.

Oh, and I almost forgot Paul Walter Hauser, Kingdom's Keith.
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Dec 29, 2015
I don't get the assertion that Supernatural treats it's female characters poorly, this isn't the first time it's been mentioned here and I'm calling bullshit. Everyone that gets close to the brothers eventual bites it, male or female, this is brought up every time a female character dies but nothing is said when a male character dies, which happens more frequently. I've been keeping track most episode since this was brought up some time ago and in every episode I thought to do so the male body count overwhelmed the female one by a wide margin.
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Dec 30, 2015
Most (Like 90%) of the recurring cast are male. Female cast has a tendency to get killed of with each new storyline. Yes men get killed too but I don't think there are too many female recurring rolls that have lasted more then a single storyline.
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Dec 31, 2015
I say this as someone who personally—as a fan—doesn't get involved in this argument because I watch the show for the brothers' bond, but as a critic of TV and a woman: yes, the show has a problem with the way it treats female characters. Not only are there fewer recurring women on the show, but they do tend to die (and they die ugly). On the one hand, this can be viewed as the show making a statement about how lonely the Winchesters' lives are and how they really, truly only have each other. There is no one else. Which is a fine bottom line, but it still doesn't change the fact that the few women who've appeared on the show have also died (Lisa barely escaped with her life and it was only because Dean sacrificed that relationship and had her memory wiped, which is typical Dean). Saying that just as many men have died doesn't really change that fact or make it okay. The problem is that women are already crazy underrepresented and then they're shuffled off either in service of the brothers' storylines or like they don't matter. They've also brought women back to kill them off in the name of the Winchesters (Sarah, Season 8), which is also uncool.

But the problem also lies with fans because most of the women the show has introduced have been disliked for one reason or another. The CW requested a second female lead be added in Season 3 after Ruby was added to the cast, which is why Bela was such a big presence that year. But no one liked Bela. And people (I think) tend to like Jo now, but at the time, they hated her. So the problem is complex and has roots in the writers' room but also in fan expectations.
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Dec 30, 2015
yes! Thank you!!! glad someone else notices this too
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Dec 29, 2015
This list was the absolutely best. Silicon Valley is still on my "to watch list" so i can comment on that.

What guest performance stood out for me ?


Bob Newhart AKA Professor Proton.

I don't watch the show anymore on a regular basis. But because this was the first time Amy and Sheldon had coitus (as Sheldon likes to call it) i made an exception.

He already won an Emmy for his Guest appearance on the show so let's give him another one. If they make him a regular i consider watching the show again. But unfortunately considering his advanced age (86!) this is not going to happen.
Kudos Mr. Newhart. You still make me llaugh

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Dec 31, 2015
I have to agree. I love it every time Professor Proton makes an appearance
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Dec 29, 2015
Chris Diamantopoulos was great on Silicon Valley, and Episodes...
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Dec 29, 2015
Stephanie Corneliussen is the definition of cold calculating bitch. And i loved every bit of her. Simply amazing. And she'll be Valentina Vostok in DC's LoT, can't wait to enjoy her.
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Dec 30, 2015
ooooo! I did not know this! Loved her on Mr. Robot so really excited to see her on LoT.
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Dec 29, 2015
Stephanie Corneliussen was certainly one of the most positively surprising things about Mr. Robot. And that show was basically a positive surprise for me completely (sort of accidentally stumbled on it, missing all the hype miraculously).

The scene with her character "innocently" asking Elliott a few questions on the street (scene's seen on her picture on the article) was absurdly tense. The directing had a lot to do with it as well but her eyes were so piercing that watching the scene made me feel like I was caught watching porn or something. As a man, staring at Corneliussen for uncomfortably long periods should be an easy task... But watching her move and actually act made me feel uncomfortable to the point of having to almost break eye contact with the TV.
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Dec 29, 2015
I agree. stare at this gif as long as you can... You can't do it, can you?


Thank you, Ollie (shiver)

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Dec 29, 2015
Maisie Williams was amazing. On her own she made Dr Who's episodes better.
But I do agree here: Danish Stephanie Cornelussen is not only scary beautiful but incredible sexy.
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Dec 29, 2015
Grinder: New Orleans: The Big Easy just got hard.

Funniest line on TV all year.
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Dec 29, 2015
Adam Baldwin as Detective Ethan Slaughter on Castle. He's absolutely perfect in this role. And it's fun to see him and Nathan together again!


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Dec 31, 2015
Yep. I loved seeing them together again too.
I'll be in my bunk.
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Dec 31, 2015
Don't hurt yourself...
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Dec 29, 2015
This was the 2nd in a row of two decent episodes this season on a show that has lost it's way. The smell freak was the other one.
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Jan 01, 2016
Sorry it took so long to actually say something here. That episode was hilarious. I was literally torn between choosing between these two. They seem to get a few guest starts every year that hit a home run. I still remember Jon Polito as the gangster who was stuck in the 70's from last year (maybe the year before?). Whenever he called Beckett 'sweet cheeks' I cracked up...
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Jan 02, 2016
Yeah, that one was good too.
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