It's a tough call when there are so many great female performers on tv these days, but these are the stars that made the cut. With so much to choose from, here was my top 10 from 2011:
#1: Amy Poehler, Parks and Recreation - It's tough to beat a Leslie Knope. The plucky, good-hearted, endlessly positive deputy director of the Pawnee Parks Department has kept her love of local government while growing immensely in the past four seasons. She's truly one of the all-time best characters on television, and Amy Poehler infuses such real light into the character.
#2: Laura Dern, Enlightened - She seems to rarely work in these past few years, which is a true shame. A great talent in film in the '90s, she's returned with a vengeance in a the wonderfully fleshed-out character of Amy Jellicoe, the crazed working stiff turned mellow do-gooder who can't quite figure out where to place her anger or her love. Dern is wonderfully neurotic and infuriating, as well as strangely endearing.
#3: Connie Britton, Friday Night Lights - Sure, she's moved on to F/X territory, but the superior Ms. Britton will always be her long-suffering coach's wife Tami Taylor. She's a great mother, a great wife, a smart cookie, and a major bull deflector. For five seasons Britton has been the backbone of the FNL crew, and with such an understated character, the actress works wonders in the final, entirely satisfying season, even with just a handful of 2011 episodes to contend.
#4: Laura Linney, The Big C - Like Dern, Linney's another who's turned to the recently creative space that has been television, and she hasn't disappointed. Though The Big C's second season might not've lived up to its spectacular first season, Linney kept anchoring the show with good humor, well-chosen emotional moments, and the energy she never ceases to bring in any of her great performances.
#5: Lisa Kudrow, Web Therapy - She's come a long way since Phoebe Buffay. Kudrow continues her uncanny abilities in comedy with a polar opposite character based on the popular web series. Fiona is snarky, self-serving, and incredibly funny. And in this limited format - the entire series takes place via her web therapy desktop - she is clearly having a great time with her many guest stars. And Kudrow doesn't falter for a second.
#6: Toni Collette, United States of Tara - It pained me so to eliminate Toni from the top 5, particularly on the amazing Tara's final season, but it's one competitive category. Then again, Collette's performance in the sadly canceled gem of a show this year was a return to the form she had in the early episodes of season one. Now can we all agree this woman needs to get another stab at an Oscar? Clearly she's got some newfound time on her hands, so get cracking writers!
#7: Jeanne Tripplehorn, Big Love - The show has had its ups and downs, namely the erratic fourth season, but it wasn't until this final one that Barb, the first wife and the level-headed lady of the bunch, got her chance to shine. She was relegated to the background throughout the series, but this past year, Tripplehorn was finally given some meaty material, as she began to question her place as a subservient within the church.
#8: Claire Danes, Homeland - It could've been just another crime drama or just another military drama. But instead the expertly written Showtime series gave its star Claire Danes an incredibly layered character in the unbalanced, driven Carrie - a female character unlike any other on television, really. Coming off of a big year thanks to Temple Grandin, Danes has found a possibly superior place to play in Homeland.
#9: Jenna Fischer, The Office - Though The Office has undergone some major changes in this past year, it's important to note that its core cast, namely Fischer, has kept the series honest. Pam's gone through plenty of changes since her mumsy, innocent beginnings, and this new Pam - the one with a little bit of an edge and a new position within the office hierarchy - is better than ever. Fischer is a quiet talent, but it's important not to forget that she's a talent nonetheless.
#10: Madeleine Stowe, Revenge - The show is a delicious sudser that is endlessly entertaining. Sure, it has its flaws, but you're completely forgetting about them thanks in large part to the fantastic actors involved. And the ship's captain is clearly veteran Stowe, who makes a startlingly ice queen performance as the vindictive Victoria Grayson, the yin to Emily Thorne's yang. The Count of Monte Christo is back, ladies and gentlemen, and Ms. Stowe is playing it with claws.