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The Best Breakthrough TV Performances of 2017

With these extraordinary talents taking over TV in 2017, the future is in good hands.

Breakthrough D'Arcy Carden Jimmy Tatro Pearl Mackie

NBC / Netflix / BBC America

Aisha Hinds, “Underground”

Aisha Hinds is hardly a newcomer to television or film, but it was 2017 that gave her the role of a lifetime, and an helluva showcase for it. Embodying the legacy of Harriet Tubman on WGN America’s “Underground,” Hinds was a force to be reckoned with, especially in “Minty,” which basically became a one-woman show spotlighting built around one of Tubman’s famous lectures, and as directed by Anthony Hemingway was a true tour de force. It’s always thrilling to see a great performer get the limelight he or she deserves.

Damson Idris, “Snowfall”

SNOWFALL Damson Idris Season 1 Episode 1

As the drug dealer at the center of John Singleton’s look at the rise of the crack epidemic in 1980s Los Angeles, British-born Damson Idris was flawless as Franklin Saint, whose complicated inner life was as compelling and detail-rich as the series around him. When the show returns for a second season next year, one of the highlights will be watching Franklin grapple with the complicated and dangerous world he inhabits. Both youthful and experienced, Idris has created a character torn between two worlds with the authenticity of a kid who doesn’t know where he belongs. His accent is one thing. His command is another. Both make for a promising start for an actor we can’t wait to see keep growing.

Manny Jacinto, “The Good Place”

THE GOOD PLACE -- "Existential Crisis" Episode 205 -- Pictured: Manny Jacinto as Jianyu -- (Photo by: Colleen Hayes/NBC)

“The Good Place”

Colleen Hayes/NBC

One of the things that makes “The Good Place” one of the most satisfying shows on TV is that the show never turns its characters into mere winners and losers. Even though Jacinto’s Jason Mendoza doesn’t have the sharpness or wide knowledge base of his compatriots, his time in “The Good Place” has still made him one of the show’s enduring pieces. As his friends obsess about the ethical implications of their actions and scheme about avoiding eternal punishment, Jason’s blissful ignorance shows that he’s truly living his best afterlife. Jacinto makes him far more than the dumb bro he could have easily slid into, bringing a warmth and care to someone who occasionally becomes the voice of simple reason. (And there’s truly no one else on the planet who could have put the same vocal spin on the name “Blake Bortles.”)

Pearl Mackie, “Doctor Who”

WARNING: Embargoed for publication until 00:00:01 on 13/06/2017 - Programme Name: Doctor Who S10 - TX: 17/06/2017 - Episode: The Eaters of Light (No. 10) - Picture Shows: ***EMBARGOED UNTIL 00:01HRS 13TH JUNE 2017*** Bill (PEARL MACKIE) - (C) BBC/BBC Worldwide - Photographer: Simon Ridgway

Pearl Mackie, “Doctor Who”

Simon Ridgway/BBC America

It’s a daunting enough task to be a new Companion on “Doctor Who,” but it’s almost cruel to have to join the series for only one season, with only one shot at making a mark in the long history of memorable Companions. And yet, Mackie does this within her very first episode playing Bill Potts, a brilliant woman who befriends The Doctor (Peter Capaldi in his final season) at college. Mackie made Bill into one of the most positive and delightful characters we’ve met in a long time, whose curiosity and slightly sideways view of the world kept this decades-old series fresh. But just as the actress could make viewers’ hearts sings, she could also wring them for all they’re worth as well. A dejected Bill is just a tragedy, as if the colors had faded from a particularly vibrant butterfly. Every moment that Mackie is on screen is a gift in which she acts from every hair follicle naturally, effortlessly. As she leaves the Whoniverse behind, we can’t wait to see where she’ll pop up next.

Aparna Nancherla, “BoJack Horseman”

BoJack Horseman Season 4

Perhaps best known for her stand-up, Aparna Nancherla proved capable of breaking our hearts as Hollyhock in Season 4 of “BoJack Horseman.” Nancherla’s unique voice was the perfect fit for the role, giving her a wry self-awareness combined with a youthful vulnerability that made Hollyhock feel truly real (which, given that we’re talking about an animated series about a talking horse, is quite an achievement.

Frankie Shaw, “SMILF”

SMILF Season 1 Frankie Shaw

Beyond proving herself as a capable one-woman band, able to write, direct, and star in her own series, the titular SMILF of “SMILF” also established herself as a incredibly watchable performer. As Bridgette, a single mom trying to make a life for herself while raising her son and attempting to get by, Frankie Shaw really got a chance to shine on Showtime — an ideal showcase for her multi-hyphenate talents.

Amy Shiels, “Twin Peaks”

This is a sequence of physical comedy

of modern equivalency

to a scene in “Modern Times.”

Brava, Ms. Shiels.

Jimmy Tatro, “American Vandal”

American Vandal Dylan Maxwell Jimmy Tatro

Singling out a solitary member of the expertly cast “American Vandal” is like picking out your favorite string of thread from an elegant tapestry. But few performances in this series helped boost this show to bingeworthy prominence more than Tatro’s, bringing to life a protagonist in Dylan Maxwell that was everything “American Vandal” needed to be at all times. A shady stoner bro when the audience needed to question his motives, a decent boyfriend when the show needed to make him sympathetic, and a YouTube weirdo through and through, Dylan was the star subject that nearly every great true crime doc needs at its center. Tatro spun aloof teenage bro-dom into gold, which shone brightly in the middle of the year’s most pleasant TV surprise.

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