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Julie Taylor appeared on all five seasons of the late, great “Friday Night Lights.” The teenage daughter of the show’s main characters, the indelibly decent and charismatic Mr. and Mrs. Coach (or, fine, Eric and Tami Taylor), Julie (Aimee Teegarden) had more screen than almost any of “FNL’s” players except her parents. She wasn’t, at first glance, obviously, abjectly terrible, but she was tremendously opaque and flat: the lackluster nature of her performance was quietly mediocre. Whereas everyone else on that show seemed, almost effortlessly, to embody a real, identifiable, understandable and believable person, Julie never even fully registered, except in rare, fleeting moments.
TV is very kind to bad actors. In a movie, when someone is bland or dull or hammy that’s all they have time to be. On TV, as a bad actor appears again and again, you begin to rationalize the badness, their under-, over-, or just plain wretched acting. Maybe this performance is inexpressive and uncharismatic because the character is inexpressive and uncharismatic. Some people are! Maybe it’s not January Jones who can’t put over emotion of any kind, it’s Betty Draper who is so flat!
Enter the Julie Taylor Test, an easy way to identify bad TV acting: Ask yourself, is it possible to imagine the inner life of this character? If no, is it possible to imagine the inner life of the characters surrounding him or her? It was all too possible to imagine the inner lives of every character on “Friday Night Lights” but Julie. Ditto every character on “Mad Men” but Betty. (Ditto every character on “The OC” but Marisa.)
Evaluating acting is, obviously, subjective. Some people find Kalinda on “The Good Wife” to be a Julie Taylor-ish cipher. I think, one can, from time to time, get a glimpse inside her mysterious head. Others feel this way about some of the girls on “Girls,” particularly Allison Williams’ Marnie, who I think is perfectly good, and just had to contend with a lot of whiplash writing this past season. Jeremy Piven has been way over-the-top on “Mr. Selfridge,” but you can imagine his inner life — the problem is it’s all in neon. Here are three actresses I think fail the Julie Taylor Test with flying colors. Please, add your own and know that actors are not exempt.
Willa Paskin is Salon's staff TV writer.More Willa Paskin.