When the pilot for the new Fox series Touch aired as a special preview this week, we got to see a subtle performance by a child actor who has to serve as the centerpiece of an emotional, complex series... without ever saying a single word. But David Mazouz, who plays Jake, the son of Kiefer Sutherland's character, effortlessly brings his autistic role to life. It's a challenge, but he's not the only underage actor out there who is turning out a scene-stealing performance. While we can't put him on this list after only one episode, we can salute these other kids and tweens who are currently capturing our attention:
10. Chandler Riggs (Carl, The Walking Dead)
The kid got shot and had to lie still in bed for the majority of the show's fall season, and yet he still exhibited more emotion than half of the adult actors that are on this series. He's got expressive eyes and we're glad that he didn't get turned into a zombie. Maybe for his next gig, he can find something a little more lighthearted.
9. Tyree Brown (Jabbar, Parenthood)
The kid is mostly stuck with plotlines where he plays dumb to the tension between his parents, Crosby and Jasmine, but he's pretty adorable while doing it. Most importantly, when Jabbar didn't want to constantly hang out with his cousin Max, Brown acted his little heart out as a tyke coming to understand how important maintaining a healthy relationship with your family members are, even if they can annoy the heck out of you (a lesson the entire Braverman clan can use). Given that Brown's too cute to not work, we can easily picture him a few years down the road starring in a MTV teen drama as the sensitive, soul-pining hero who's after the head cheerleader.
8. Atticus Shaffer (Brick, The Middle)
Back in the day on Malcolm in the Middle, people were gaga for Frankie Muniz, but we always had a soft spot for the dimwitted Dewey. So we fell instantly for Brick, who has a similar look, but is a lot smarter, but flighty. When he whispers words, we get totally creeped out and want more of his oddball brand of humor. And there's always room for awkwardly weird characters on comedies -- just look at Sheldon on Big Bang Theory or Abed on Community.
7. Bayley & Rylie Crecut (Hope, Raising Hope)
We don't usually give baby actors a lot of credit, since they mostly just have to look cute, but after we've seen how bad a toddler actress can be (we're talking about you, Lily on Modern Family), we have newfound respect for the twins that bring the utterly captivating Hope to life. We're so grateful that the producers found a clever way to age her, without taking away from the humor of the show. Not sure what Bayley and Rylie will do in the future, but we're hoping it's more along the lines of Tia and Tamara and less like the Olsen twins.
6. Skai Jackson ( Zuri, Jessie)
There are a lot of cookie-cutter kids on the Disney Channel and Nickelodeon, so we mostly ignore them until they get a clothing line at Target or start having singles on the airwaves. But Skai Jackson is quite the little charmer, reminding us of Raven-Symone from back in her Cosby Show days, with sassy one-liners and a grin from ear-to-ear. We just want to squeeze her, and if she sticks with Disney, she'll likely have a solid career for years to come.
5. Nolan Gould (Luke, Modern Family)
Manny gets all the attention for his too-mature-for-his-age attitude, but Gould actually succeeds in playing a realistic kid. He's not all that smart -- except when he sometimes surprises us with an amazing insight -- and Gould's adorable and really sells the character in his own subtle style. His scenes with Ty Burrell are some of the best this show has to offer, and with those curly tresses and affable personality, he might be the next Jason Segel or Seth Rogen.
4. Jared Gilmore (Henry, Once Upon a Time)
There's a lot of flip-flopping between worlds, but Gilmore's Henry is centered firmly in "our" universe (though if he's got a fairy tale alter ego, we'd bet it is equally adorable). He's the only decent person in Storybrooke who has a clue about what is going on, and all of the constant harping about his book would get quickly grating in the hands of a less capable actor. He was great on Mad Men (as Don's son) and works really well here, so he'll likely have a successful career so long as he maintains that impish grin.
3. Donis Leonard Jr. (Roscoe, House of Lies)
This show is filled with outlandish behavior and so much sex and impropriety that it's shocking that a child is allowed within a thousand feet of the set. But Roscoe is the heart and soul of this show as a kid who likes to dress in drag, has a crush on both a guy and a girl and would have made a fantastic Sandy in Grease (though he rocked it as Rizzo). He grounds Cheadle's smarmy management-consultant and gives him a heart, which we might otherwise have thought didn't exist. So far, Leonard is better than most of the cast on Glee, so maybe he could bring some life to that show in a few years -- assuming it hasn't been cancelled by then.
2. Kiernan Shipka (Sally Draper, Mad Men)
Most normal child actresses don't have to play drunk, convincingly sell a scene about getting caught masturbating and go from adoring daughter to obnoxious brat. And none of them usually have to do it while maintaining a period-appropriate sensibility. It's quite impressive. We've got a feeling that Shipka can take over the world when this series ends, but we hope she stays on cable where she can keep pushing the boundaries instead of heading to the Disney Channel.
1. Maisie Williams (Arya, Game of Thrones)
Game of Thornes has a large ensemble cast of adult and child stars, but Williams more than holds her own. She's fantastic as our favorite little tomboy in all of Westeros -- so convincing with her wide-eyed stare and pretty talented at wielding a weapon to boot. Once Thrones finally ends, we have a feeling she'll have her pick of follow-up projects.
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