Top 40 Most Valuable Actors Rankings [#30 to #21]

As the VORA countdown continues, I think it’s interesting to consider some relevant facts regarding gender in the rankings (for a primer on VORA, click here). Sixteen women grace the top 40. Five of those women are in the top 10. People can issue complaints about gender issues on television (and be right to do so), but the fact remains many of the top shows going on television rely on superlative female performances to push them over the top. Our top anti-hero dramas remain about the bad boys, but female performances are getting their due, and they don’t have to be riding on the coattails of a man to do it. Television may have its problem with women on occasion, but it is light years ahead of movies. Diane Kruger took a role on The Bridge specifically for this reason. She grew tired of playing the Helen of Troy roles. Her pursuit of a multi-layered performance led her to television. The discussion of gender and television is for far brighter minds than mine (and for more than the 100+ words I’ve devoted to it here), but the prospects of female leads on television seems brighter than ever. With more people willing to take risks and try new things (always scary prospects in TV land), there’s no reason to imagine TV’s most talented women getting the roles and credit they truly deserve.

All that being said, the second 10 in the VORA top 40 is a straight up bro hang (with one charming exception). Don’t worry ladies. Your turn will come soon enough.

(Note: In case you want to work it out for yourself, the formula for an actor’s VORA score is Range(Star Power + Awards Points) + Ratings Against Average (RAA))

For numbers 40-31, click here.

30. David Duchovny – Californication (VORA Score: 8.64)
 

Range: 2.5
Ratings Against Average: -0.94
Star Power: 3
Awards Points: 0.83

There’s really no reason for Californication to still be on the air. It has become the Howard Lyman of Showtime: It’s around because it’s a legacy name. The one bright spot about the show continuing to chug along is getting to see more of David Duchovny. Even Duchovny’s Hank Moody has passed the point of absurdity by now, but Duchovny’s ability to occasionally lift himself above the proceedings prove he’s capable of far more than a one-liner. Add in the fact that the people who run the Golden Globes have an unhealthy obsession with him, and you have a recipe for a valuable actor.

29(tie). Mark Harmon – NCIS (VORA Score: 8.77)
 

Range: 2.5
Ratings Against Average: 1.22
Star Power: 3
Awards Points: 0

Come on, you knew the man at the front of the most watched television series in the world was going to make the list. Though fans of prestige television sneer at the network procedural standard-bearer, Harmon’s value cannot be denied. As opposed to CSI where the process is the star, NCIS folds whenever Harmon decides to hang it up. By no means is Harmon the greatest actor in the world, but he’s a guy with legit chops who keeps afloat a television monster. His lack of awards nominations keep him in the 20s, but his value is indisputable.

29(tie). James Spader – The Blacklist (VORA Score: 8.77)
 

The Blacklist Episode 6 Gina Zanetakos (12)

Range: 2.5
Ratings Against Average: 1.27
Star Power: 3
Awards Points: 0

The Blacklist has become a pretty healthy success for NBC. Whether it holds up once The Voice goes off the air remains to be seen, but its current success cannot be denied (just check out the RAA). When you watch the show, it’s not hard to understand why: James Spader is let loose on our television screens, and it’s glorious. Without Spader chewing up every ounce of scenery to be had, this show would have very little to offer. Your mileage on Megan Boone may differ, but she can’t carry this show. This is Spader’s show, and it’s probably his largest role to date. He’s always worked with a safety net in his other projects, but this show lives or dies on Spader’s performance, and the show has smartly tailored the role directly to Spader’s strengths. He can be creepy, charming, funny, or composed, sometimes within the same scene. It’s hard to imagine his performance on this show garnering him some award nominations, but there is plenty of Spader fans out there, and they’re getting exactly what they want.

27. Charlie Hunnam – Sons of Anarchy (VORA Score: 8.83)
 

Range: 2.5
Ratings Against Average: 1.33
Star Power: 3
Awards Points: 0

The man who could have been Christian Grey seems to take a little better to the biker aesthetic. Charlie Hunnam does not suffer from a lack of costars like James Spader, but he still manages to stand out on Sons of Anarchy. Hunnam definitely needed time to grow into the role, but now he dominates his part with a swagger and a depth that supersedes the narrative issues the show has as it brings its sixth season to a close. Watching the many different iterations over the character for nearly 6 seasons shows the level of depth and skill of Hunnam. The show never did get its due from the Emmys, but Hunnam’s performance does not go unnoticed from those who are truly paying attention.

26. Johnny Galecki – The Big Bang Theory (VORA Score: 8.95)
 

Range: 2
Ratings Against Average: 3.29
Star Power: 2.5
Awards Points: 0.33

No, I don’t like it. Yes, I understand why The Big Bang Theory people do so well in this thing. Let’s just move on.

25. Ed O’Neil – Modern Family (VORA Score: 8.99)
 

Modern Family Season 5 Episode 6 The Help (15)

Range: 2.5
Ratings Against Average: 2.11
Star Power: 2
Awards Points: 0.75

The patriarch of one of the top rated shows on television, Ed O’Neil has made quite a career out of being a curmudgeon. Instead of a crass, vulgar curmudgeon, he’s now playing a far more cuddly, kind curmudgeon. Normally this wouldn’t make for a spectacular range rating, but watch some Modern Family episodes carefully. He’s really solid in the majority of his scenes, and his ability to deliver the sweet moment at the end of the episode is really strong. On a show with people who alternate between grating and maddening with plenty of regularity, it’s O’Neil who keeps the show grounded. That being said, he’s shown a willingness to dive into the crazy end of the pool with the rest of the group. His flexibility within the show is one of the best assets the show has at its disposal (insert your own Sofia Vergara jokes here), and it merits his admittedly inflated range rating.

24. Julie Bowen – Modern Family (VORA Score: 9.11)
 

Modern Family Season 5 Episode 5 The Late Show (7)

Range: 2
Ratings Against Average: 2.11
Star Power: 2
Awards Points: 1.5

Of all the actors on Modern Family, Julie Bowen’s Claire Dunphy has swung back and forth more violently than anyone else. After the first season, the show lost the ability to correctly calibrate her. She’s a hyper control freak, but the show turned her into an emasculating shrew. For the better part of seasons 2 and 3, Claire seemed to exist only to crush Phil’s spirit and dreams. Somehow in season 4, the show managed to reign her back in, and Bowen has proved she knows what to do with good material. I don’t believe she’s as important to the show as O’Neil, but all those Emmys sitting on her mantle may suggest otherwise.

23. Simon Baker – The Mentalist (VORA Score: 9.42)
 

Range: 3
Ratings Against Average: -0.57
Star Power: 3
Awards Points: 0.33

My editor Americ is going to be upset. I all but promised a top 20 slot for Simon Baker. Sadly, the numbers didn’t let me get there. Baker is the guy who makes me realize I need to figure out a way to quantify the talent of an actor’s supporting cast. I’ve loved Baker’s performance as Patrick Jane from the jump. He has good command of his American accent, and he’s shown great dramatic, comedic, and emotional chops. He can do almost anything on the screen. However, his supporting cast is a complete travesty. Without Baker, the show would be completely unwatchable. There has to be a way to quantify that fact. Until we do, he’s stuck here.

22. Timothy Olyphant – Justified (VORA Score: 9.75)
 

Raylan - Justified

Range: 3
Ratings Against Average: -0.45
Star Power: 3
Awards Points: 0.25

Dammit, now I’m upset. Timothy Olyphant has long been one of My Guys, so I was beyond excited to see him really make good on Justified. As with most FX series, the show is littered with quality character guys capable of giving incredibly strong performances. Still, the swagger in Olyphant’s performance is truly something to behold. I’ve stated it in several places, and it bares repeating here: Nobody could play Raylan Givens as well as Timothy Olyphant. It’s the perfect match of character and actor. The perfect match allows Olyphant the freedom to flex his considerable acting chops. There has been several sides to Raylan Givens through the first four seasons of the series. He’s certainly been bolstered by the strong work around him, but Olyphant’s performance has delivered in every respect.

21. Andrew Lincoln – The Walking Dead (VORA Sore: 9.95)
 

The Walking Dead Season 4 Episode 4 Indifference (2)

Range: 1.5
Ratings Against Average: 6.95 (!!!!)
Star Power: 2
Awards Points: 0

Consider this the Andrew Lincoln middle finger to me for calling him replacement level. However, when you take a look at the numbers, it’s pretty easy to see how we got here. The Walking Dead’s RAA doubles that of any other show on television. It draws a preposterous amount of viewers. That being said, if you told me you tuned into The Walking Dead to watch Andrew Lincoln’s performance, I’d call you a liar. Still, respect must be paid to the biggest show on television. Andrew Lincoln is the front man for it, so here he is.

You may question Lincoln’s Star Power rating of 2 given that he is the nominal star of the show (all solo leads get a 3 rating). He only gets a 2 because the stars of The Walking Dead are zombies and soul-crushing despair. I will accept no arguments to the contrary.

We’re halfway through the countdown of the 40 most valuable actors on television. Who are you expecting to see in the top 20? What do you make of numbers 40-21? Is the formula churning out fair ratings. Let’s here some feedback in the comments below.