In my second to last installment of the Best of 2014, I want to take a moment to celebrate the brilliant work that so many actors did on TV this year. It was a year full of talent and it could be found everywhere you looked, across all networks and platforms.
Jeffrey Tambor (Transparent) I’m sure that Jeffrey Tambor has been in a great number of things but until this year, I only knew him as George Bluth, Sr. Within just a few minutes of meeting Maura Pfefferman, all images of George Bluth were erased in my mind. Jeffrey Tambor has been rightly praised for his work in Transparent. He captures the vulnerability, the strength, the fear and the relief that comes with being the person you always knew you were supposed to be. There is a gentleness to his portrayal of Maura, a sense of trying to relearn everything you thought you knew about the world while holding onto sometimes (like family) you don’t want to leave behind.
Allison Tolman (Fargo) The casting department found gold in Allison Tolman. Without the warmth and dedication she brought to her role as Molly Solverson, Fargo would have been far less memorable to me. Whether it was her relationship with her father, her growing relationship with Gus and his daugher, or her pursuit of Lorne and Lester, there was an emotional and moral base to all she did. I sincerely hope this becomes a breakout role for her and we see much more of her in the future.
Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys (The Americans) I’m cheating and picking two people for this spot. Each of them are fantastic on their own and definitely shine in their individual scenes but it’s the combination of Russell and Rhys that makes the acting on The Americans so compelling. The Jennings are complicated characters, torn between their loyalties to their mother country and their children who are still unaware of who their parents really are, and every bit of that conflict and complication comes through in these two performances. Whether it is a quieter moment, like Elizabeth reaching out to Emmett and Leanne’s son and deciding to not tell him the truth about his parents or a louder moment like Philip’s meeting with Paige’s pastor, you don’t want to take your eyes away from them.
Eva Green (Penny Dreadful) Eva Green is nothing short of spectacular on Penny Dreadful. Whether she’s the very calm and in-control Miss Ives or the fighting to contain the demon within her or at her best when the demon breaks free, your eye is immediately drawn to her. There is a stunning physicality to her performance on this show and you entirely believe that this woman could be possessed by the devil. She is 100% committed to this portrayal and the result is brilliant.
Tatiana Maslany (Orphan Black) By now, it’s no secret that Tatiana Maslany is incredible. She plays such a range of characters on Orphan Black and makes them all feel distinct and real. There were two scenes this year on Orphan Black that I’d like to single her out for. First, the scene where Helena rescues Sarah from Rachel. Maslany’s acting as Sarah would have been exceptional on its own because she was able to make Sarah’s fear in that moment so palpable. But add in the other two clones and it really becomes a masterful scene. Second is the dance party, which I was surprised to learn wasn’t universally popular. To me, this scene captured what makes her acting great. She infuses so much life and depth into each character and to see them all represented by their very fitting dance styles seemed like the perfect example of that.
Peter Dinklage (Game of Thrones) If the 3rd season of Game of Thrones was about Nikolaj Coster-Waldau’s performance as Jaime, the 4th season was all about Tyrion. It’s no surprise that this popular book character seems even more beloved on screen and that’s largely due to Peter Dinklage’s great work and his ability to deliver scathing comebacks and monologues. Tyrion lost what little power and control he had this season only to get it back at the end of the season in dramatic fashion. The speech in “The Laws of Gods and Men” was spectacularly delivered as were the cell scenes between Tyrion and both Bronn and Jaime.
Matthew McConaughey (True Detective) I don’t watch many movies so I missed Matthew McConaughey’s reinvention of himself as an actor, making True Detective my first introduction to him as a serious dramatic actor. For the contrast alone, I was impressed by his ability to fully inhabit the character of Rust Cohle. In order for Cohle to be an effective character, McConaughey needed to be able to not only say the more philosophical bits of dialogue with conviction but he also needed to embody the nihilistic views behind them. There is a deep dissatisfaction and disbelief in the idea that humans are good and the pinnacles of creation and that comes out in everything Cohle does.
Abigail Spencer (Rectify) In the years that Daniel was in jail, Amantha lost who she was. Her identity become wrapped up in her brother and his case. In season 2 of Rectify, she finally comes to the realization that she needs to move on as best as possible. Watching the growing schism between Amantha and Daniel was heartbreaking. She had always been his fiercest defender and advocate but at some point, it just became too much. Abigail Spencer captures this character who never really got a chance to grow up and live so well. She’s stuck and you feel it with everything Amantha does.
Mads Mikkelson (Hannibal) In the world of villains, it’s always the most controlled that I find terrifying. They don’t act out of emotion or impulse but rather as a result of careful planning and foresight. They are masters of manipulation. This describes Hannibal Lecter as portrayed by Mads Mikkelson. Always in control and always looking like a respectable individual, Dr. Du Maurier described him best by saying he wore a human mask and Mikkelson makes me believe every moment of it.
Andre Braugher (Brooklyn Nine-Nine) Just give this man an Emmy already. Everything he does on Brooklyn Nine-Nine is hilarious and he’s just a fantastic comedic actor. While a lot of humor around Captain Holt’s character derives from his lack of visible emotions, some of the funniest moments have been mined from situations where he breaks that stoicism. His “hot damn” response to having correctly guessed why Amy was late and his outburst at Deputy Chief Wuntch had me rolling on the floor with laughter as did his flustered reaction to Diaz being in his house.
Honorable Mentions: Jennifer Morrison, Stana Katic, Juliana Marguilies, Adan Young, Billy Bob Thornton, Amy Poehler, Chris Messina, Samira Wiley, Andy Daly, Adelaide Clemmons, Jim Parsons, Erika Christensen