It happens every fall.
Established TV shows and familiar actors may continue to hog space in our DVRs, but there are always a few fresh faces worthy of attention. Think of them as the Joe Paniks of prime time – standout rookies who soak up the spotlight and wow us with their considerable skills.
From a tenderhearted “virgin” to a computer geek-turned-improbable-action-hero, here are five who thrive:
▪ Gina Rodriguez (“Jane the Virgin,” The CW): The season’s No. 1 breakout star absolutely shines in a role that requires her to quickly swivel between comedy and drama. That she does so while nailing all the nuances and coaxing viewers to invest in the show’s harebrained, telenovela-inspired premise makes her performance all the more impressive. Bursting with radiant energy and a natural charm, Rodriguez is simply a joy to behold.
▪ Robin Lord Taylor (“Gotham,” Fox): “Batman” fans all have an image in their heads of how the notorious Penguin should look and act. That poses a major challenge to Taylor, who nonetheless brings his own brand of demented charisma to Oswalt Cobblepot. Cold and calculating, this Penguin-to-be commits violent acts that can freeze your blood, yet he’s also oddly funny and even sympathetic. When Taylor is on the screen, you just can’t take your eyes off him.
▪ Cristela Alonzo (“Cristela,” ABC): Alonzo’s semi-autobiographical comedy is too broad and cliche-ridden to completely win us over. Still, we see signs of hope, and they’re mainly embodied in the stand-up-comedian-turned-lead actress. She brings boundless energy to the show and is so warm, funny and likable that you just can’t help but root for her. Meanwhile, we’ll root for “Cristela” to get better.
▪ Alfred Enoch (“How to Get Away With Murder,” ABC): Frankly, we find most of the young students in the Viola Davis legal thriller to be dull and annoying. The happy exception is Enoch, who plays Wes Gibbins. He initially won us over with his compassion and wide-eyed earnestness as the shy underdog of the bunch. But now he’s displaying the kind of grit it takes to go toe-to-toe with the formidable Davis. Enoch made the shift smoothly, without crunching any gears.
▪ Elyes Gabel (“Scorpion,” CBS): We were somewhat surprised when “Scorpion” became one of the biggest new freshman hits of the season, but maybe we shouldn’t have been. The London-born Gabel excels as Walter O’Brien, an eccentric genius who, with a team of brilliant misfits, works with Homeland Security to fend off high-tech threats. Gabel has great chemistry with his co-stars and helps to assure that viewers get a big bang out of the revved-up drama.
▪ Honorable mentions – Here are some other fresh faces that we’ve been keeping our eyes on so far this season: Matt Ryan, the caustic leading man in “Constantine”; Griffin Gluck, the narrator and teen patient in “Red Band Society”; Grant Gustin, the former bit character in “Glee” now starring in “The Flash”; and Yara Shahidi, the rebellious teen daughter in “Black-ish.”