2019 in Review: The Best Performances – Television

It was another strong year for TV, but as usual I gravitated toward comedy, which made some of these picks difficult, while trying to fill out the other categories was a challenge to find enough worthy candidates. Once again, I won’t be repeating winners from previous years, even if they were terrific.

Ensemble in a Comedy Series

The cast of Fleabag accepting their Emmy
Everyone rightfully focuses on Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Andrew Scott as the “Hot Priest.” But everyone in this cast upped their game, delivering heartbreaking monologues and side-splitting looks and one-liners. Even cameos from the likes of Kristin Scott Thomas and Fiona Shaw are phenomenal.

Actor in a Comedy Series

Tim Robinson in I Think You Should Leave
Tim Robinson, I Think You Should Leave
Robinson rarely got a chance to shine on Saturday Night Live. But here he can let his freak flag fly, regularly playing characters committed to making awkward situations even more awkward. In sketch after sketch, he makes himself the butt of the joke, delivering solid laughs every time.

Actress in a Comedy Series

Natasha Lyonne in Russian Doll
Natasha Lyonne, Russian Doll
Russian Doll certainly has a fascinating, if familiar, hook. But the show absolutely wouldn’t work without Lyonne, with her acerbic wit and self-destructive tendencies. She sells the befuddlement and dedication equally well.

Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series

Anthony Carrigan in Barry
Anthony Carrigan, Barry
I could go on and on about the saga of the No. 2 Chechen mobster and his quest to rule organized crime in Southern California, or I could just share this dance.

Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series

Edi Patterson in The Righteous Gemstones
Edi Patterson, The Righteous Gemstones
For the first half of this year, I was going to give this award to Sarah Goldberg in Barry. But then came The Righteous Gemstones and Patterson blew me away. She’s magnificent as the most ignored child of the Gemstone clan, and takes that out on everyone. In the finale, when she gives the best sitcom monologue since George walked into the ocean, she took more than earned this.

Ensemble in a Drama Series

The cast of Watchmen
I’m not sure who had the harder job: Muhteen, Irons and Smart playing characters we knew, or the rest of the cast playing characters we didn’t. Either way, they all played characters with obsessive singular pursuits that drove them to extreme decisions. That made for some of the most compelling television of the year.

Actor in a Drama Series

Holt McCallany in Mindhunter
Holt McCallany, Mindhunter
McCallany served mostly as comic relief, a by-the-book counterweight to Holden’s (Jonathan Groff) bold tactics. In Season 2, he was straight-up ordered to rein him in. But with problems mounting at home, he could barely do his own job. That world-weariness showed in every flip of the page, every sip of the drink, every puff of the cigarette.

Actress in a Drama Series

Regina King in Watchmen
Regina King, Watchmen
What a 2019 for her. She won a much-deserved Oscar for If Beale Street Could Talk, then turned around gave probably the best performance on television. As Angela Abar, aka the vigilante Sister Night, she hid things from the audience and herself. The revelations of that and the insane conspiracies around her worked because she was so grounded, even a little naive.

Supporting Actor in a Drama Series

David Harbour in Stranger Things
David Harbour, Stranger Things
“BuT hE wAs SuCh A jErK.”

There were few things more wonderful this summer than seeing Harbour pull it all off: overly concerned dad, burly enforcer, sacrificial lamb. And what a fit icon for us larger fellows. If his final voiceover didn’t make you tear up, you’re a bigger monster than anything that’s destroyed Hawkins.

Supporting Actress in a Drama Series

Jean Smart in Watchmen
Jean Smart, Watchmen
Smart gave us the clearest picture of what it might be like to be an ex-superhero. Your skills are probably only good for law enforcement, but you don’t get any satisfaction from it. Your lover left and you’ll probably never see him again. But at least it’s given you a good bullshit detector and zero fucks left to give. The show’s third episode is one of the best introductions to a character ever.

Ensemble in a Limited Series

The cast of Chernobyl
Every cast member from the main trio on down to the defiant dairy farmer who refuses to leave her farm and its contaminated cattle was pitch-perfect, showing us characters with full lives who just want to move on with them, even though this event has changed them in extreme, painful ways.

Actor in a Limited Series

Mahershala Ali in True Detective
Mahershala Ali, True Detective
As both the young, increasingly jaded detective and the weary old man plagued by guilt and visions, Ali was the right man to bring this series back to its glory days. But a little bit of the credit has to go to the make-up artists who made him look so convincing in the latter role.

Actress in a Limited Series
This is partially on me, because of the small number of limited series I watched this year, but none of those had strong lead parts for women. So take your pick of Caitlin Dever (Unbelievable), Joey King (The Act) or Michelle Williams (Fosse/Verdon).

Supporting Actor in a Limited Series

Stephen Dorff in True Detective
Stephen Dorff, True Detective
And just as Matthew McConaughey had an equal in Woody Harrelson in the first season of True Detective, so did Dorff. Equally filled with regret by more lucid (and possibly closeted), he was the perfect contrast. A good ol’ boy who wanted the truth but knew not to rock the boat, he carries plenty of baggage, but at least found bliss at the end with his dogs.

Supporting Actress in a Limited Series

Emily Watson in Chernobyl
Emily Watson, Chernobyl
Standing in for the many scientists who tried to keep the area as safe as possible after the explosion, Watson was often the voice of reason in a room full of shouting men. And as usual, she was magnificent.

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