Performers of the Year
December 19th, 2009
I am not capable of working magic, so I shall not attempt to rank every single amazing television performance of the past year and boil them down to only ten selections. It’s an impossible task that the Emmys are incapable of doing correctly even when they have numerous categories in which to highlight particular nominees, so who am I to try to cover all of my bases with just ten names?
The purpose of this list, rather than trying to represent every great performance, is to highlight those that had an impact on me, and to some degree to highlight those which might not be represented elsewhere on the list in terms of particular episodes or the series themselves (and since I limited it to one performer per show, in some instances I refused to make a decision and chose to represent them elsewhere). In some cases, this means singling out the one part of an ensemble that I enjoyed, and in others it means singling out obvious candidates because there may not have been room for their shows on other lists (although I could just be messing with your heads, who knows?).
Now, in selecting this list, I had two basic rules:
- If they won an Emmy or some other major award, chances are I didn’t include them.
- If I didn’t see it (e.g. Breaking Bad), I can’t award them for it.
The second rule is there for an obvious reason, but the first is a bit more complex. I know that someone like Toni Colette gave a great performance in United States of Tara this year, no doubt, but I also know that she already got an Emmy for it – I don’t really need to tell you she gave a great performance, and I am more likely to give her spot to someone who hasn’t won an Emmy, or who should have won an Emmy, or who might some day win an Emmy. This isn’t to say I’m avoiding all buzzworthy individuals, but rather to suggest that I tried to avoid the usual suspects (so, no Tina Fey and Alec Baldwin, for example).
So, without further ado, let’s discuss the Top 10 Performers of the Year (in alphabetical order, by the way).
Alison Brie (Community/Mad Men)
As Trudy Campbell on Mad Men, Alison Brie proved she could handle comic material, including a fantastic dance sequence and some great offstage work in the season three finale. But on Community, she has become the show’s breakout star by deftly controlling the balance between Annie’s upbeat attitude and the defeatist environment of community college. The result has been a hilarious, charming and often emotional performance that has inspired adoration, infatuation, obsession and, in the case of this list, appreciation.
Jeremy Davies (Lost)
Michael Emerson won an Emmy for the show’s fifth season, and as per usual the entire cast put together a set of great performances, but Jeremy Davies deserves special consideration. Daniel Faraday is a quirky and complex character that at times feels like an expositional tool, but Davies managed to sell both the important time-shifting exposition and the emotional conclusion of “The Variable” without compromising the socially awkward qualities that define the character.
Enver Gjokaj (Dollhouse)
I will miss a number of things about Dollhouse, but not being able to see just what else Enver Gjokaj was capable of within that universe is perhaps what I will miss the most. While he, like Dichen Lachmann, is great at capturing the blankness of the actives, he has turned into a chameleon, mimicking other characters (and creating entirely new ones) with a precision that’s almost uncanny. If he doesn’t move onto big things in the year ahead, I will be truly shocked.
Neil Patrick Harris (How I Met Your Mother/Tonys/Emmys)
His work on How I Met Your Mother this year has been as good as it’s ever been, but Neil Patrick Harris had a particularly banner year based on his work hosting two of the year’s award shows. Whether singing his heart out at the Tony Awards, or turning being robbed of an Emmy into comedy gold, or riding a New York subway train I happened to be on (he killed his exit), NPH continues to be one of the best performers working in television today.
Jane Lynch (Glee/Party Down)
Hilarious as Constance on Party Down early in the year, news of Jane Lynch’s decision to leave that Starz comedy in order to do Glee, of which we had only seen the pilot, was devastating. And while the verdict is out on how Party Down will survive without her, it’s clear that Glee couldn’t survive without Lynch’s Sue Sylvester. A blistering one-liner machine, Lynch has excelled at selling a fundamentally filterless character in both pure comedy and, demonstrating her range, in a pair of storylines that speak to an inner humanity.
Elisabeth Moss (Mad Men)
Picking just one person from Mad Men’s cast becomes a near impossible task, but something about Peggy Olsen keeps drawing me back in. While Jon Hamm, January Jones, and everyone else are stunning, there is something about Moss’ work this season that left me wanting more even when we got a substantial glimpse into her character’s world. There was an assertiveness to Peggy in this set of episodes, and Moss perfectly captured someone who smokes marijuana or picks up a college boy not to be part of that culture, but rather to prove she can.
Jim Parsons (The Big Bang Theory)
This is the year when I realized that, despite my initial frustrations with this series, Jim Parsons’ Sheldon Cooper was more than enough reason to tune in. Sheldon brings out the best in every other character, especially Kaley Cuoco’s Penny, and Parsons has taken a character which could be inherently unlikeable and transformed him into someone that fans love more than anyone in the show’s universe ever could.
Rico Rodriguez (Modern Family)
While Ty Burrell is doing great work as “Michael Scott, Father Edition,” and Eric Stonestreet is the show’s most consistent performer, Rico Rodriguez deserves this spot because this character shouldn’t work. The overly mature pre-teen is a cliché waiting to happen, but Rodriguez is consistently funny in a way that never feels too precocious, and paired with Ed O’Neill he has emerged as the show’s breakout performer even with his established co-stars doing fine work.
Katey Sagal (Sons of Anarchy)
As the hardened matriarch of the Sons of Anarchy Motorcycle Club, Sagal was the essence of the vindictive and dangerous “old lady” in Season One, perfectly willing to smash a girl’s face in with a skateboard when it suited her. In Season Two, however, Gemma became a victim of the world she dominated a season earlier, and seeing her negotiate that victimhood with the “big picture” of protecting the men she loved was a season highlight thanks to Sagal’s tremendous dramatic work.
Merritt Wever (Nurse Jackie)
On a show that was too inconsistent and meandering for me to truly get behind, no one made a bigger impact than Merritt Wever. While the doe-eyed nurse could be a cliché, there is something about Zoey that’s downright infectious, and when she abandons her normal “pretty” scrubs for grey during a period of mourning it both makes us laugh (as she adopts a hilarious defeatist attitude) and makes us yearn to see her back the way she was before, unquestionably my favourite part of the show’s ensemble.
Your Turn: You clearly have to disagree with me here, so feel free to tear down one of my picks or add one of your own (I’d obviously prefer the latter, but give ‘er with the former as well).