By Oliver Lyttelton | The Playlist June 12, 2012 at 12:40PM
At the end of season four of "Mad Men," viewers were flung something of a surprise, as lead character Don Draper proposed to his secretary, a character only introduced a couple of episodes before. Over the long, long hiatus before season five, it wasn't clear if Megan Calvet would be back, but she certainly was, as Megan Draper, and over the course of Season Five, she's become one of the key figures on the show, indeed, arguably the most prominent female character (Peggy had a strong season, but was mostly absent in the last few episodes). And while the character's been a little divisive among fans, we'd argue that 31-year-old Jessica Paré has done a smashing job in the role. The Montreal-born actress has been working for over a decade -- she led "Stardom" in 2000 for "The Barbarian Invasions" director Denys Arcand, and made several films in Canada before breaking into the US with Paul McGuigan's "Wicker Park" and TV drama "Jack & Bobby." She's been working consistently ("Hot Tub Time Machine" being her most recent), but without quite matching her early success, but "Mad Men" has certainly meant that she's turned heads. She's neatly represented the younger generation, and a kind of bohemian ambition that her husband will never understand, with a slightly offbeat, goofy beauty that makes hera tremendously compelling screen presence (see: "Zou Bisou Bisou"). But her skills go beyond her mere presence -- she's managed to make the new Draper marriage seem like it could be the real deal, while still instilling levels of ambition that could end up sewing the seeds for it to crumble. And her struggles with step-motherhood -- caught between being a mother and a friend to Don's daughter Sally, have been some of the most compelling moments of the series. As best as we can tell, Paré doesn't have anything lined up over the show's hiatus, but with showrunner Matthew Weiner making a movie over the break, it could be a while before season six, so we're sure a decent role will come around before too long.
Perhaps something of a cheat here as he’s already made a bigger name for himself than most of our other picks, Chris Pratt makes it onto our list for two main reasons: firstly, “Parks and Recreation” [spoiler alert] is not going to feature in our forthcoming top ten TV shows, despite having occupied the number 1 spot the season before. Now, while we all did feel the quality slipped a few notches this time out, that summation could seem unduly harsh on a show that we all are still rooting for -- so we wanted it to feature in some capacity somewhere. And secondly, there are perils and pitfalls associated with this kind of listmaking, and Chris Pratt, with a prominent upcoming role in Kathryn Bigelow’s “Zero Dark Thirty,” following on from scene-stealing turns in “Moneyball” and "Five Year Engagement” is, frankly, as close to a banker as we’ve got. If you need reminding of why, you just need to look at his impeccable change of gear from adorable doofus Andy Dwyer in ‘Parks’ to obnoxious asshole in ‘Engagement’ to sweet but sad and broken ball player in “Moneyball.” Most of all, perhaps it was his performance in the latter film that really made us realise the kid’s got chops - it’s a small role, but perfectly balanced and heartbreakingly understated, that culminates in one of the most satisfyingly earned triumphal moments in a sports movie, ever. We really can’t wait to see what he does in “Zero Dark Thirty” and to see if, as we suspect, it gives him a leg up into the big leagues, but prior to that we’ll be seeing more of Andy Dwyer, which is absolutely fine by us -- very little is as funny as that human Golden Retriever of a man throwing himself into something. He's sharper than he looks too -- the show's writers credit one of the finest ever jokes on the series (Andy looking at WebMD and diagnosing a colleague with 'Network Connectivity Problems') to an adlib from Pratt. Maybe we'll see him pen a whole script before too long?
Nepotism can understandably be frustrating for those caught on the outside, but it's sometimes hard to argue that there must be a gene for talent. The latest evidence that some people just have funny bones is Damon Wayans Jr, the son of comedy legend Damon Wayans ("The Last Boy Scout"), and the latest offspring of the prodigious Wayans family to head towards the big time, thanks to his hysterical role on ABC sitcom "Happy Endings." The 29-year-old Wayans appeared in a plenty of his father's work as a younger man: he played the younger version of David Alan Grier in his father's film "Blankman," and would later appear in a recurring role in his sitcom "My Wife And Kids," as well as being a regular on his short-lived Showtime sketch comedy series "The Underground." Furthermore, his first lead role was in 2009's "Dance Flick," the parody of films like "Step Up" that Wayans Sr. directed. But the younger Damon had also been carving out a career as a stand-up and a writer away from the family, and broke out on the big screen as part of a high-testosterone double act with Rob Riggle in "The Other Guys." Soon after, Wayans Jr. became a series regular on "Happy Endings," which began airing in the spring of 2011. It was initially unpromising -- another "Friends" rip-off in a season that was already full of them. But after a few episodes, it found its feet as a snappy, gloriously weird and very funny show, that features a cast of serious ringers -- we couldn't decide between Adam Pally, Eliza Coupe and Casey Wilson for this slot, and even Elisha Cuthbert has proven herself to have impressive comic abilities. But Wayans Jr. takes the prize on the merits of the last couple of season: as Brad, one half (with the excellent Coupe) of an aggressively sexual, blissfully happy, enormously neurotic married couple, he's been consistently brilliant, wringing belly laughs out of even the show's weaker episodes. He was almost on a bigger show -- he shot the pilot of Fox's monster hit "New Girl" in second position, but had to bow out when "Happy Endings" was unexpectedly renewed. But with the ABC show gaining more and more fans, that may not turn out to be the worst thing in the world. As far as we can tell, Wayans Jr. doesn't have any movies lined up, but it's surely only a matter of time.
Without doubt, had we given birth to a female human child during season 1 of "Game of Thrones," Daenerys would have made it onto the shortlist of baby names. But were we to pop one out right now, she’d be Arya, no contest. Aside from clearly demonstrating that we are too fickle to be anyone’s parent, this also proves just how thrillingly Arya Stark’s storyline developed over this season -- so much so that, in a cast packed with great chewy female roles featuring dragons and monster childbirth and being 7 foot tall and wrongly accused of murder, it was little Arya’s often more prosaic adventures that somehow left the most indelible mark. And probably the very primary reason for that is young Maisie Williams, an actress so brilliantly suited to this, her first role, that it’s almost too much of a wrench to imagine her playing anyone but the scrappy, uppity, doggedly loyal but ferociously prickly pint-sized Lady of Winterfell. And yet not so, because just to watch her go toe-to-toe with a seasoned pro like Charles Dance in their scenes together (some of the most oddly touching in the show to date) is to recognise how spot on her seemingly intuitive instincts as an actress are; she’s conflicted, resilient, resourceful and wonky all at once -- she’s a wonder. And so we have to believe she’ll be enriching a variety of roles with that crooked intelligence and fantastically expressive face before too long. As of now, the 15-year-old Williams has only one more role lined up, in a 3-part TV ghost story airing in the UK in October “The Secret of Crickley Hall,” but frankly, if she doesn’t have a whole lot more on her dance card by this time next year, well, we may have to shut up shop for a while here and write her a goddamn lead ourselves.
-- Oliver Lyttelton, Jessica Kiang