In an effort to highlight even more of the best TV of the year, I’ve added a Best Ensemble category. I spread the love a little bit this year, partly because there was a lot of turnover in my favorite shows that didn’t come back for one reason or another, and because there were a lot of newcomers worth highlighting.
Best Actor in a Drama Series
Dan Stevens in Legion
When Stevens asked for his character to be killed off on Downton Abbey, many asked why he’d get off the gravy train so early, let alone to try something as fickle as American movies and TV? It took a while, but this year the gamble finally paid off. In addition to being in the year’s biggest movie (Beauty and the Beast), as well as two low-key charmers (The Man Who Invented Christmas and Colossal) among others, Stevens gave one of the best performances of the year as David on FX’s X-Men-adjacent series. Stuck with a mind that might either be the most powerful on earth, or just afflicted with mental illness, Stevens handles all the complex emotions brilliantly. This is a show obsessed with psychology and identity, and he kept it from ever feeling repetitive.
Best Actress in a Drama Series
Elisabeth Moss in The Handmaid’s Tale
In a grand bit of irony, Moss brilliantly plays a woman trapped in a cult, while she’s trapped in one in real life. As Offred, the formerly independent wife and mother forced into sexual slavery, Moss carries the quiet rage on her face, and every act of defiance (whether that be kindness, deception or having an honest-to-God orgasm) registers even deeper.
Best Supporting Actor in a Drama Series
Chris Sullivan in This Is Us
It’s no surprise this show includes a tissue box emoji in its official hashtag, because the show is here for the express purpose of giving you a good cry every week. (Lord help all the newbies who get blindsided with its post-Super Bowl episode in 2018.) And while the core trio is doing the heavy lifting with the big storylines (fostering for Randall, a pregnancy for Kate and addiction for Kevin), Sullivan is quietly doing the best work on the show under that fat suit. In Kate’s story, which – spoiler alert – ended in a miscarriage, Sullivan underplayed every moment, saving the big emotion for his powerful speech to Kate (Chrissy Metz), letting her know that he’s in just as much as pain as she is, and to deny him that is cruel. It’s stellar work.
Best Supporting Actress in a Drama Series
Aubrey Plaza in Legion
Plaza was magnificent (as was everyone) on Parks and Recreation. But since that show went off the air, no project has managed to capture her mix of dark humor, sass and allure. That is, until Legion. She begins the show as one of David’s only friends, until the season slowly reveals that not only is she not flesh and blood, she’s actually the (literal) demon that’s haunted him for most of his life. Most shows would turn her into an actual scary witch at this point, but Legion would rather tease out the horror, leaving room for her captivating dance to “Feeling Good.”
Best Ensemble in a Drama Series
Orange Is the New Black
By this point, there’s not a whole lot that can be revealed about long-time characters on this show. Yet all their history that we’ve seen over the course of four seasons comes to a head this season as the inmates take over the prison, demanding justice for Poussey and basic improvements in their daily lives. Their alliances are fraught and their motivations not always pure, but together their stand feels greater than any one individual performance.