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17 Breakout Stars of the Fall TV Season

Ricky Gervais' partner, James Spader's fixation and the former Bob Benson could be the next big names

It wasn't so long ago that you'd never heard of some of the stars anchoring TV shows this season. Before they were old hands, Robin Williams was a weirdo with a girl's name and James Spader was the jerk in "Pretty in Pink."

But every star comes from somewhere, and we have a few guesses who the TV veterans of the future may be. Here are 17 actors we suggest keeping your eye on this fall season.

Also read: 20 Shows Not to Miss This Fall, From 'Mom' to 'Dads'

Show: "Sleepy Hollow"
Why: Beharie, who also starred in this year's Jackie Robinson biopic "42," nicely grounds a fantastical tale of Ichabod Crane coming out of a long sleep to stave off the apocalypse. Just when we've settled into the idea that she's the constant to his man out of time, we find out that she has almost as wild a backstory as he does.

Show: "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D."
Why: Bennet is the freshest of the fresh faces in this "Avengers" offshot — she has only a few credits and Chinese/English pop single to her name. But as an outsider to the espionage team, her character is the closest we have to an audience surrogate, and she brings a mix of innocence and unflappable cool to the show.

Also read: 8 of Fall TV's Biggest Questions: Can NBC Reclaim Thursdays? Will Robin Williams Deliver a Hit?

"The Birthday Boys"
Why: Because Bob Odenkirk and Ben Stiller think they're funny. The two comedic icons are executive producing the IFC show starring the seven members of the sketch comedy group: Jefferson Dutton, Dave Ferguson, Mike Hanford, Tim Kalpakis, Matt Kowalick, Mike Mitchell and Chris VanArtsdalen. Odenkirk, on a well-deserved hot streak thanks to "Breaking Bad," is an honorary eighth member. We have such high hopes they'll be the next sketch comedy heroes that we feel guilty about listing them all as one entity.

Show: "The Blacklist"
Why: Perhaps best known for a short run as Deputy D.A. Lauren Stanton on "Law & Order: Los Angeles," Boone will now play Elizabeth Keen, an FBI agent who's singled out by a criminal (James Spader). He turns himself in to help catch a terrorist, on the condition that he only speak to her. This high-profile role could make audiences similarly fixated with Boone.

Show: "Masters of Sex"
Why: Caplan has done great film work before in "Mean Girls" and "Bachelorette," but this is the first time she's anchored a TV series. She plays the real-life Virginia Johnson, one half of a team doing groundbreaking sex research. Her romance-free attitude about sex makes her the perfect partner to Dr. William Masters (Michael Sheen) — but of course he wants more. Caplan is smart, funny and sympathetic as a woman ahead of her time.

Show: "Dracula"
Why: The Australian actress stalked American audiences as The Huntress on The CW's "Arrow." Now she's the one being pursued. And her pursuer is a bloodthirsty tracker named Dracula (Jonathan Rhys Meyers).

Show: "The Originals"
Why: Davis is the man standing between Klaus (Joseph Morgan) and the New Orleans that the hybrid vamp wants to reclaim. Good thing he has the confidence and charisma to pull it off.

Show: "Sean Saves the World"
Why: She's co-starring with over-the-top Sean Hayes and comedy vet Linda Lavin, which might make any actor feel insecure. While Isler doesn't necessarily steal scenes, she does more than keep up. That's admirable with this company.

Show: "Reign"
Why: The CW show's mix of history, romance, and a soapy sensibility may be a hard sell, but it chose a great Mary Queen of Scots. The Australian actress combines a regal bearing with the pluck we demand of today's heroines.

Show: "Brooklyn Nine-Nine"
Why: We could have picked anyone from the strong supporting cast of the Andy Samberg-Andre Braugher comedy, but went with Lo Truglio for the sweetness he brings to his role as a nervous, lovestruck cop. You know Lo Truglio's face — you've seen him in "Superbad," "Reno 911!" and "The State" — but the sense of decency he brings to this role may make it his most memorable.

Show: "Once Upon a Time in Wonderland"
Why: The British-born Australian actress plays the key figure on this "Once Upon a Time" spinoff: Alice herself. She has the fresh-faced look for the role. Now to make sure her scenes aren't stolen by CGI performers like the White Rabbit and Cheshire Cat.

See photos: 41 New Shows of the 2013-2014 TV Season

Show: "Hello Ladies"
Why: Merchant is well known on the other side of the Atlantic as the co-creator of the original "The Office" (with Ricky Gervais) and "Extras." He's also appeared on those shows and on "Life's Too Short," but this time he's finally the lead. HBO will let him do the dark humor he does best, including an awkwardly funny "Roe v. Wade" quip in the pilot.

Show: "Sleepy Hollow"
Why: How to play a Revolutionary War veteran who's just awakened in modern times to battle demons? How about as the most sensible person in sight? Mison shrewdly plays Crane as a quick-learning modern man, sparing us from any scenes where he says things like "Why is your horse made of metal? And why does it have tires for hooves?"

Show: "We Are Men"
Why: As a relative newcomer in a cast that includes veterans Tony Shalhoub, Kal Penn and Jerry O'Connell, Smith has the best chance to distinguish himself. Smith plays Carter Thomas, who moves into an apartment complex occupied by divorced men after his wife leaves him at the altar.

Show: "Dads"
Why: Song is a known quantity among the Disney set thanks to her starring turn on "The Suite Life of Zack and Cody." Now the former child star will gain exposure among an older audience in this blunt (and, some have argued, racist) Fox comedy from "Ted" team Alec Sulkin, Wellesley Wild and and Seth MacFarlane.

Show: "Hello Ladies"
Why: Woods has appeared in a run of short-lived shows including "Go On" and "Perfect Couples." But the loose, improvisational feel of Merchant's comedy should give her more opportunity to stand out. You always hear that acting is reacting, and she'll have plenty to react to playing his roommate and straight woman.

Show: "The Crazy Ones"
Why: You could say he already broke out by nearly stealing the latest season of "Mad Men,"  even acting across from heavyweights like Jon Hamm. But his new CBS sitcom with Robin Williams may expose him to a much bigger audience. He's still playing an ad man, but this time he gets to dress and behave like it's 2013.