For all we said above about Lena Headey as one of the best villainesses around, she's had some serious competition, in the form of an actress who we'd seen all too little of recently. ABC's "Revenge" has been the great guilty pleasure of the past season, a trashy soap -- about a woman, Emily Thorne, who returns to the Hamptons under an assumed identity to wreak vengeance on the Graysons, the family who framed her father for treason and put her into foster care -- that's written, directed and performed well enough that it never feels like it's a trashy soap. And the most towering performance on the series is Madeleine Stowe, the one-time big-screen staple of films like "The Last of the Mohicans," "12 Monkeys" and, ironically, Tony Scott's "Revenge," who's been mostly absent from screens in the last decade. Stowe plays Victoria Grayson, the ice-queen matriarch of the Grayson family who perhaps wasn't as complicit in her husband's evils as Emily suspects (indeed, she was in love with her father), but will also go to any lengths to protect her own children. It's a great villainous part, a truly memorable screen bitch, and Stowe has torn into it with absolute relish, but never making Victoria a caricature; she's a broken-hearted mother just as much as she's a scheming, Machiavellian power-player. Despite enthusiastic reviews, and a Golden Globe nomination for the role, Stowe isn't deemed to be a likely nominee this time around. If she survives the plane crash from the finale (and given she's the most entertaining thing on the show, it's unthinkable she won't), we hope she gets more traction in future years.
"Scandal" is, by no means, a good television show. Created by "Grey's Anatomy" mastermind Shondra Rimes, and revolving around a Washington D.C. crisis management firm, it's a ludicrously plotted, soapy blend of "The West Wing" and every procedural ever, with irritatingly frantic, glossy direction, scripts written by and for dimwits, and a supporting cast who might as well just be furniture. But there is one reason to give the show a watch, and that's the superlative, star-making performance by Kerry Washington, who plays Olivia Pope, the ex-White House staff who's the head of the crisis management agency. The actress has impressed in the past with film parts like "Ray," "Lakeview Terrace," "The Last King Of Scotland" and "Mother And Child," and will soon be seen in a key role in Tarantino's "Django Unchained," but she's never had a showcase like this one; it's her show first and foremost, and it dips every time she's not on screen. It's less showy than some of the other performances on this list, but from the moment she walks on screen, there's a quiet confidence and sheer charisma that shines through even the stupider moments of writing (she's in love with the president!). It's not going to get any traction with the Emmy voters, due it being, you know, dumber than a rock, but if its second season can equal Washington's performance, she might have a chance down the line. Or if nothing else, get some more interesting movie gigs than she's had to date.