2018 in Review: The Best Performances – Television

While some performers could have held their titles from last year, I’m opting not to do any repeats. Better to spread the love.

Actor in a Drama Series

Jason Bateman in Ozark
Jason Bateman, Ozark
The king of snark isn’t really showing a new gear in Netflix’s addictive drama. All he’s doing is applying his particular set of skills to it. Part of what keeps the show from feeling too similar to Breaking Bad (and other prestige dramas) is that Bateman’s Marty Byrde never drops his sarcastic veneer, even when mobsters and rednecks are threatening the lives of the people he cares about.

Actress in a Drama Series

Jodie Comer and Sandra Oh in Killing Eve

Sandra Oh and Jodie Comer, Killing Eve
While most awards-giving bodies have opted only to honor Sandra Oh, I simply can’t leave off Jodie Comer here. Both are equally great in vastly different roles. The show wouldn’t work if they both weren’t doing their own things exceedingly well. Comer is the most vibrant villain in years. We don’t have to see her agonize over her bad deeds; she revels in them. Oh finally gets a character whose flaws seem real and not picked off a dartboard. Together, they’re the best pair on TV.

Supporting Actor in a Drama Series

Noah Emmerich in The Americans

Noah Emmerich, The Americans
In the parlance of our times, Stan is a cuck. No, his wife isn’t cheating on him. But for five seasons, he’s been duped by his best friend and neighbor. He’s spent most of his career trying to root out a couple of Soviet spies and they were living across the street the entire time. When he realizes that late into The Americans’ final season, the betrayal feels palpable. No wonder his confrontation of the Jennings’ in the finale is year’s best moment.

Supporting Actress in a Drama Series
Yvonne Strahovski in The Handmaid's Tale
Yvonne Strahovski, The Handmaid’s Tale
In the first season, Serena had a tendency to be a one-note bitch, an icy foil for Offred and nothing more. In its often stellar second season, the show not only offered empathy for Serena, but exposed her role in the foundation of Gilead. While this revealed how much she bought into the group’s lies, it also showed how the monster she helped create came back to bite her. People who enable oppression never think it will be used against them. But used against her it was, as her one small act of rebellion had devastating consequences.

Ensemble in a Drama Series

The cast of This Is Us
This Is Us
This is not a show that will ever make the leap to truly great television. It is not a show that will be among the best of the decade. But I will continue to watch it because its ensemble is so strong and so real, they make even the most preposterous turns of events feel believable.

Actor in a Comedy Series

Bill Hader in Barry
Bill Hader, Barry
Bill Hader was the only cast member of SNL (of recent years) whose characters I never got sick of. He’s created his best character yet in Barry: a hitman whose dull existence is shattered when he catches the acting bug. But his deadpan hilarity is just the tip of the iceberg, as his desire to keep his violent night job a secret have deadly consequences.

Actress in a Comedy Series

Kristen Bell in The Good Place
Kristen Bell, The Good Place
Season Two of the show was truly an ensemble piece, but with Season Three forcing Eleanor to get them all back together on Earth, she took the reins once more, reckoning with her platonic affection for her pals and her deepening attraction to Chidi. Watching her try to kill the old Eleanor (an “Arizona dirtbag”) was a beautiful struggle.

Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series

Henry Winkler in Barry
Henry Winkler, Barry
Another Arrested Development cast member taking his ineptitude to new heights, Winkler finally won a long-overdue Emmy. As vain acting coach/con man Gene Cousineau, he loves acting and teaching acting, he’s just not that good at it. And his genuine affection for the police officer investigating a death in his class added another layer to a character that could have been one-note in the wrong hands.

Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series

Stephanie Beatriz in Brooklyn Nine-Nine
Stephanie Beatriz, Brooklyn Nine-Nine
While I love the ensemble – I’ll get to that in a minute – I have to shine a spotlight on Stephanie Beatriz. This season saw Rosa Diaz grapple with her bisexuality and her mortality, in a riveting episode where she’s called to deal with an active shooter situation. It was yet another time this show has dealt with “very special episode” material in a way that feels genuine and urgent, without feeling too corny or too serious.  

Ensemble in a Comedy Series

Melissa Fumero, Andre Braugher and Andy Samberg in Brooklyn Nine-Nine
Brooklyn Nine-Nine
Allison Jones knows how to cast ensemble comedies like no one else. Michael Schur knows how to craft ensemble comedies like no one else. But it’s the actors who bring the shows to life, and for five seasons, the 99th precinct has felt like the best place to go to work. In its often dramatic final season on Fox, the cast came together during frightening moments, supported each other during challenging moments, and rooted for each other during loving moments. If the world outside sometimes seemed cold, these people made it a little warmer.

Actor in a Limited Series

Richard Madden in Bodyguard
Richard Madden, Bodyguard
Though Chris Ryan’s impression of David Budd was solid, it’s a little reductive. His extreme emotions are the point. As an ex-soldier suffering from PTSD, he’s ill-equipped to deal with the stresses of being on the protection detail of a controversial politician who’s getting death threats. But he’s also the most devoted to his job, even at a high personal cost. Madden is one of the first actors to prove there’s life after Game of Thrones.

Actress in a Limited Series

Amy Adams in Sharp Objects
Amy Adams, Sharp Objects
When you’ve got a show as dark and (early on) opaque as Sharp Objects, it would help to not have a protagonist as prickly as Camille. But Amy Adams, in one of her best performances ever, carries you along her wounded journey until everything starts coming into focus, and you see why she pushes away even people who actually care for her. She’s not the hero of the story or even an antihero. She makes mistakes with enormous consequences. But Adams’ performance is so good, it refuses to let us write Camille off.

Supporting Actor in a Limited Series

Paul Sparks in Waco
Paul Sparks, Waco
I’m still buying up any Paul Sparks stock you have. After a run on House of Cards that ended last season in ridiculous fashion, he’s popped up for a guest spot on The Crown and on-screen in Thoroughbreds and The Greatest Showman. But he’s exceptional in Paramount’s Waco, playing the more common-sense right-hand man of Branch Davidian leader David Koresh. A true believer who still has a practical side, he loses faith not in his religion, but that it’s worth dying for. It’s a tricky role, but he’s the glue of the show.

Supporting Actress in a Limited Series

Eliza Scanlen in Sharp Objects
Eliza Scanlen, Sharp Objects
Patricia Clarkson will get all the awards attention, but I never quite appreciated her Tennessee Williams Cranked Up to 11 shtick. Scanlen on the other hand, all of 19, proved to be the most interesting character week after week, drawing attention to herself in dangerous ways. She was so compelling a throwaway line ended up being the key to the entire mystery.

Ensemble in a Limited Series

Patricia Clarkson, Eliza Scanlen and Amy Adams in Sharp Objects
Sharp Objects
Obviously, it’s the women of Wind Gap that are the most important part of the show, but the men – almost all of them duped by their respective acts – are key to its success, too. There’s the detective (Chris Messina), too blinded by desire to see that he can’t help. There’s the sheriff (Matt Craven), too hung up on an old flame to see the damage she’s done. And there’s the husband (Matt Czerny), too into to booze and audio fidelity to acknowledge his own enabling. These are all damaged people sweating their asses off, which, to be honest, is pretty familiar.

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