A sampling of top-tier guest-star performances that shined.
Why: As Mimi, aunt of Steve Zahn’s Davis McAlary, Ashley delivered one of the absolute highlights of season two when she jumped onto a speaker-phone call at the office of the lawyer representing hip-hop artist Mannie Fresh and raps him into contributing to Davis’ new record label.
Why: In her second season guesting as no-nonsense Jo Bennett, owner of the company that swooped up Dunder-Mifflin, Bates is a character-and-a-half, owning every scene she’s in without chewing any scenery. She was equally adept at playing straight woman or dishing out dry put-downs.
Why: As Sue’s mom, Doris Sylvester, Burnett let it be known she has quite a dramatic streak. With her remarkable 1970s Saturday night variety show, no one made anyone laugh harder, and now Burnett continues to prove she’s a genre-shifter as well.
Why: A widow with a heart for an ex-con, Carroll’s character June rents out part of her mansion to Matt Bomer’s Neal Caffrey. Carroll has segued nicely on several TV projects in recent years, including an Emmy-nominated stint on “Grey’s Anatomy.”
Why: Caught between trying to do right thing by the band he fronts and being there for his kids, Corbett brought another element of familial angst to the Bravermans, who are never in short supply.
Why: Being a Chicago native and the series taking place in the Windy City, the role fits Cusack perfectly. The similarities may end there, however, unless the actress is also psychologically damaged and has a sexually active daughter who befriends a drunk.
Why: While Damon could easily put TV in his rearview mirror, he gets in on the joke that is Liz Lemon and has a plenty of fun with it. An airline pilot who keeps his passengers grounded, Damon’s career — on the big and small screen — is flying higher than ever.
Why: Always striving to be taken seriously as a drug king to be, but clearly not the having smarts to pull it off, Davies’ Dickie Bennett was clearly more wounded by mother’s constant disapproval than anything Raylan could have done to him.
Why: As Dr. Webber’s wife, Adele, who refuses to believe she’s in the early stages of Alzheimer’s, Devine has been on ABC’s longtime hospital drama since 2006 and never fails to convince.
Michael J. Fox
“The Good Wife”
Why: Playing a cunning attorney as sly as a, er, fox, the vet thesp was terrific as a nemesis to Julianna Margulies. Alicia is pretty sharp herself, though, and, realizing her courtroom savvy, Fox offers her a job at his newly opened firm.
Why: Note to self: Never make an appointment to see a doctor with a wicked sense of humor. Gervais’ jabs at Louis C.K.’s expense were laugh-out-loud funny, especially when Louis strips down for an exam.
Jennifer Love Hewitt
“Law & Order: SVU”
Why: Hewitt had one of the more memorable guest stints on “SVU” this past season — a victim hiding in fear of being attacked by the rapist who has stalked her for years.
“Sons of Anarchy”
Why: The 86-year-old Holbrook isn’t slowing down a beat. He was compelling as Gemma’s suffering father, ravaged by Alzheimer’s and wondering why his long-deceased wife wasn’t by his side.
C. Thomas Howell
Why: Coming out of rehab, Howell’s rogue cop tries to get his life back together. However, his colleagues on the street are tired of his 12-step preaching and just want to see him do his job without the spiel.
Why: Came out of almost nowhere to deliver what might have been the most unforgettable and certainly heartbreaking performance of the first season of “Boardwalk” as Richard Harrow, the hoarse ex-military sharpshooter who wore a mask to cover his mostly blown-off face.
Why: Irwin’s memorable three-story arc as Laurence Fishburne’s serial-killer nemesis brought a new kind of creepiness to “CSI,” which has seen its share of villains.
Why: Whether covered in chocolate or running around with barely a scrap of clothing, Leachman was as brave as nearly any actress out there in completely committing to a character. And at 85 years old, no less.
“How I Met Your Mother”
Why: It takes something, or someone, extraordinary to get Barney to get a bit ferklempt, and Lithgow did just that as the lothario’s long-lost father. So it seems Bob Barker wasn’t Barney’s dad after all.
Why: Completely convincing as a masseur and bon vivant who wins over Cameron and Mitchell (Eric Stonestreet and Jesse Tyler Ferguson) but actually turned out to be homeless and living in the backyard playhouse. Who wouldn’t like a guy like that around?
“Law & Order: SVU”
Why: Mitchell gave piano teachers a bad name when she is accused of molesting and murdering one her students. The scene in which she’s praying in the interrogation room, asking God for forgiveness, was a shining moment.
Why: Smoldering with sensuality, Mol fit in perfectly with Terence Winter’s Atlantic City prohibition-era vibe. She has an affair with Lucky Luciano, who receives a shocking bit of news when he finds out he’s sleeping with his nemesis’ mother.
“Parks and Recreation”
Why: Mullally goes all in playing Tammy, the second ex-wife of real-life husband Nick Offerman’s Ron Swanson. No one plays the sexy evil deputy director of library services better.
Why: After starring on two iconic sitcoms, one of TV’s all-time faves has segued to some great dramatic roles of late. His turn on the CBS hit procedural as a former medical examiner suffering from Alzheimer’s gave auds a chance to reflect on his decades-long career.
Why: Our substitute teachers back in high school weren’t anything like her. She brought a spark and post sexiness to the Fox dramedy, and a singing voice that was nothing to be ashamed of.
Why: Just because he doesn’t drive a Trans-Am anymore doesn’t mean Reynolds has lost any of his cool. He arrived on the USA Network set as a legendary CIA operative now retired, whose character’s predicament served as a cautionary tale for ex-spy Michael Westen (Jeffrey Donovan).
“Dexter”Why: Stiles filled the void of Dexter’s female attraction following the bloody death of wife Rita (Julie Benz) at the end of season four. Actress, who has leaned more toward theatricals of late, was a strong addition to the Showtime series.
“The Big Bang Theory”
Why: Maybe they should have titled her episode “Play Myst for Me.” Walter entered the geek world of “Big Bang” as a wealthy university benefactor who wants a little somethin’ somethin’ from a naive Leonard (Johnny Galecki).
Why: With Betty Fever hitting its apex, White did not disappoint as an anthropology professor who was sweet enough on the outside but trained to use apparently every mortal weapon invented by man in the past 3,000 or so years.
Why: Winkler is Eddie, the Lawsons’ absentee father who left his kids when they were quite young, and he comes out to the Hamptons to try to make amends. It’s a difficult reconciliation but eventually both sons make room in their lives for him. Staying close will be hard, though, as Eddie heads off to jail.
• Guest star business not an easy one