More and more celebs found success on the small screen in 2015

By Drew Mackie
Updated October 18, 2016 03:16 PM
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Credit: Suzanne Tenner/FX

It’s been a good year for TV – and by TV, we mean those serialized shows you probably watch on your computer or smartphone. Regardless of the technology you use to watch it, however, television has been growing bigger, better and more daring in recent years, to the point that it’s the go-to format for people who want to tell a story in greater depth than they could in a movie.

In 2015, shows such as Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead, Empire, Fargo, The Americans, Jessica Jones, and the dear, departed Mad Men demonstrated not only TV’s willingness to venture into territory unheard of just a decade ago, but also its ability to do it well. And as a result, a handful of celebs that we previously didn’t think of as “TV stars” have become just that.

Here are some of the TV turns that we think deserve shoutouts and yes, they all happen to by female performers. Make of that what you will.

1. Lady Gaga on American Horror Story: Hotel

This list has to kick off with Gaga’s big foray into television, not only as an actress on a popular show but also the actress tasked with filling the vacancy left my series mainstay Jessica Lange, who opted out of the show’s fifth season. Lady Gaga is one of the biggest pop stars working today, and it’s interesting that she would jump to TV, even if the Countess seems like she was tailor-made for Gaga. Her involvement alone lent AHS: Hotel a buzz factor the previous season lacked.

2. Patricia Arquette on CSI: Cyber

How’s this for an unusual way to celebrate an Academy Award win for Best Actress: starring in a CBS crime procedural. Arquette, who took home the Oscar for her role in Boyhood in February, started as the lead on this third spinoff to the original CSI in March. That might seem like a curious transition, but don’t forget that Arquette previously starred in the supernatural procedural Medium and that, based on her Oscar speech, she’d probably have some thoughts to share on the opportunities available to movie actresses over 40.

Meryl Streep Reacts to Patricia Arquette’s Call for Women’s Equality

3. Jane Fonda on Grace and Frankie

Fonda had never previously starred in her own TV series. She has played a recurring role on The Newsroom, sure, but we’re calling her role on the Netflix series Grace and Frankie a major step because it re-teams her with her 9 to 5 star, Lily Tomlin. (Tomlin, meanwhile, has had a few regular TV gigs such as Murphy Brown and all season one of Malibu Country, even if Grace and Frankie marks her first regular TV role of note since Laugh In.) That just goes to show you how TV today is drawing a more cinematic model than it once did. For what it’s worth, it’s a kick watching Fonda and Tomlin make the most of their chemistry once again, and the fact that it’s a TV series means we get to spend that much more time with them.

4. Kirsten Dunst on Fargo

Dunst’s last recurring TV role was on the third season of E.R. This year, an all-grown-up Dunst brought her A-game to the crime drama in order to play Peggy Blomquist, an unassuming hairdresser who finds herself in the center of a crime war. Here’s the thing about Peggy, though: She’s kind of a dingbat, and a lesser actress might have left her at that level, but Dunst find something noble, tragic and very human in this character. The result was one of the more interesting seasons of a TV show in recent memory.

5. Jamie Lee Curtis on Scream Queens

The casting of one of cinema’s best-ever scream queens on a show titled Scream Queens was a slam dunk, and Curtis proved game for the role, wholly embracing all the aspects to her character, Dean Munsch: sly, weird, often raunchy and just a little psychopathic. Curtis hadn’t appeared in a regular TV role since the 1989-1992 sitcom Anything But Love, and should Scream Queens not return for a second go-around, someone should put Curtis’s comedic talents to good use on some other small-screen effort.

6. Marisa Tomei on Empire

If you told this writer one year ago that Marisa Tomei would be playing an opportunistic lesbian venture capitalist named Mimi Whiteman among the mostly black cast of Empire, I probably would have said “That doesn’t sound like a thing that would happen.” But danged if Tomei isn’t right at home with the Lyons clan. Tomei hasn’t had a regular TV role since her 2006 turn on Rescue Me, but TV viewers are better off for her return.

7. Sissy Spacek on Bloodline

Spacek has had a long film career, but aside from five episodes of Big Love, she hasn’t had a recurring role on a TV show since a short stint in 1972 on The Waltons. The Netflix drama Bloodline offered Spacek her first chance to sink into a role as a regular on a TV series: as the Rayburn family matriarch, Sally. As Spacek explained to the Los Angeles Times earlier this year of her decision to make the switch, “The template has changed for television,” she said. “I go where the good work is being done.”

8. Keisha Castle-Hughes on Game of Thrones

Back in 2003, Castle-Hughes picked up a surprise Best Actress nomination for Whale Rider. She’s acted since, appearing in a few movies, but her role on the most recent season of Game of Thrones as Obara Sand, one of the deadly “Sand Snakes,” is her first recurring role in a major television show. For anyone wondering what happened to that little girl from Whale Rider, she turned into a badass; that’s what happened.

9. Priyanka Chopra on Quantico

While new to many American viewers, Chopra has been a major star in India for years. This former Miss World winner has appeared in many films, so the fact that she’s now playing the lead on the ABC drama Quantico is remarkable enough, but it also happens to make her the first South Asian woman to ever play the main role on an American series.

Honorable mention: The cast of the second season of True Detective

Okay, so the second season of the HBO crime series didn’t light the Internet on fire the way the first one did. All that said, you can’t say that it didn’t mark a major career departure for a cast we’re more accustomed to seeing on the big screen: Colin Farrell, Rachel McAdams and Vince Vaughn. But may we suggest a do-over for them all if there’s a season three?