Emily Deschanel is the least known of her Hollywood family - her parents are actress Mary Jo (Twin Peaks) and cinematographer Caleb (The Passion of the Christ), and her younger sister Zooey is Elf's Jovie - but she could be its most talented member. Few move through decidedly showy scenes with such little outward effort as Deschanel does in the CSI-inspired drama Bones. As Dr. Temperance Brennan, a forensic anthropologist and novelist (inspired by the real-life Kathy Reichs) with a gift for finding clues where no one else can, she teams with law-enforcement types to crack tough cases. This requires her to deliver lines like, "My most meaningful relationships are with dead people." Somehow, Deschanel manages to minimize their oh-gag-me corniness.
It's no fluke. Deschanel was one of the best things about the awful horror film Boogeyman, and she turned in great scenes in the indie flick Easy, playing a woman so anal she cleans her house with a toothbrush. Still, she's an unlikely choice to headline Bones; leads in dramatic procedurals traditionally go to men, due to a perception by producers and network heads that testosterone fills the screen with a more powerful presence. Deschanel kicks this notion to the curb, with a deceptive energy that comes across as a form of restless intelligence. In the process, she gets from television what supporting parts in films haven't provided: a breakthrough role.
Gabrielle Union, The Night Stalker, ABC
Gabrielle Union, with those deep-as-poetry dimples, has been a cinematic come-on for a few years now, but largely in modest roles in modestly good to god-awful films. That could change with The Night Stalker, the remake of the cult-classic horror series Kolchak: The Night Stalker about a newspaper reporter investigating deaths that seem touched by the supernatural. Union isn't the reporter out to catch demons - she's the Scully to Stuart Townsend's Mulder.
But this could nevertheless provide the breakout material she craves. She's asked to play a skeptical but hard-driving reporter who feels she's seen it all. No problem for Union, whose arsenal of facial expressions, from come-again cynicism to oh-no-you-didn't threat, appears to be limitless and summoned with little effort.
Let's hope The Night Stalker doesn't make the grave mistake of boxing her in. She could easily turn out to be the helper who always arrives too early to be saved by the hero or too late to have much to do. That said, her performance in the pilot offers the right mix of drama and humor; Union has a way of bringing a feistiness to her characters that isn't always on the page. That was certainly true of her most notable role so far, the no-nonsense cheerleader Isis in Bring It On. She used her supporting role to steal the movie from Kirsten Dunst. Imagine what she could do with an ongoing presence.