It’s been an interesting year for television, to say the least. Not only are we seeing programming that rivals (if not trumps) the quality that films have been putting out, we are also seeing new avenues for television series to shine. Arguably, the biggest story on the television front in 2013 is just how successful Netflix has been in the infancy of its original programming. Between Arrested Development, House of Cards, and Orange is the New Black, the streaming site has made a case for online programming legitimacy.
We also saw the triumphant finale of one of television’s best shows (Breaking Bad), saw a merciful end to a former heavy hitter (Dexter), and even said goodbye (again) to a cult favorite (Futurama).
To kick off the month of wrap-up lists, myself and the resident TV expert of the site, Mark Myers, bring you our lists for TV’s Best Performances in 2013.
If I had watched Breaking Bad and Orphan Black this year, it is more than likely that both Bryan Cranston and Tatiana Maslany would make this list. But I wanted to be fair and list those performances that I have witnessed. Without further ado:
Johnny Lee Miller, Elementary
Two of my choices are obviously linked, but they are completely different in terms of quality. After witnessing the success of both the Robert Downey Jr. films and the U.K. series (we’ll get to that), CBS decided to give the go ahead to a Sherlock Holmes series in America. While the premise of the show fit perfectly into the CBS line-up, it was Miller’s turn as Sherlock that surprised me. He portrays him with the right amount of arrogance; it made me forget all about Zero Cool.
Michael J. Fox, The Michael J. Fox Show
Another performance that was a pleasant surprise came from the highest risk-reward new series this fall. Everyone knows that Fox’s condition could easily be a hindrance to the show, but as he’s done his whole career, Fox overcomes any limitation with his charm and comedic timing.
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, Sherlock
As mention previously, the U.K. series involving Sherlock was met with great acclaim in England and America. The performances of both Cumberbatch (Holmes) and Freeman (Watson) are on another level and they are more than worthy of the fantastic writing on the show. If you haven’t seen it, stop reading and watch the first season right now, I’ll wait.
Lea Michele, Glee
I’ll admit that I watched Glee when it first came on, but I checked out about midway through season one. After the tragic death of Cory Monteith, I tuned-in because I was curious how the writers and his on/off-screen girlfriend, Michele, would handle the goodbye episode. She was fantastic and the best example is her tribute song in the episode.
James Spader, Blacklist
When an actor’s performance exceeds your expectations, it is a special thing. Spader hit the ground running with his portrayal of Red Reddington, and has never stopped. He is one of the few actors that I will watch anything that he is in, and he rarely disappoints.
2013 was a year in which lots of television was watched. I binge-watched Orange in the New Black over a long weekend. I rewatched the first half of Breaking Bad Season 5 in prep for the final eight episodes. I even burned through season after season of the Canadian family show Heartland with my girlfriend. TV was a much bigger part of my 2013 than movies were.
It’s interesting, to me, that this list does not include two of my most-watched shows of the year: Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead. Perhaps it has to do with the ensemble casts, but no one performance really stood out for me. Unless we’re talking about terrible performances, because that one goes to Andrea from The Walking Dead.
Honorable Mention: Tatiana Maslany, Orphan Black
The only reason that Tatiana Maslany does not make it into my official top 5 TV performances is because I’m only three episodes into the BBC America show. In case you aren’t aware of Orphan Black, it tells the story of Sarah, a woman who assumes the identity of the woman she saw kill herself; a woman that happened to look just like her. It’s a pretty cool show, but I don’t want to give too much away. Besides, I’ve only seen three episodes so far.
I first saw Tatiana Maslany in her arc on the Canadian show Heartland (which I wrote about here), but her performance in Orphan Black is pretty incredible. Not only does she have to play multiple characters, she has to deal with multiple accents and sometimes has to deal with playing her own antagonist. It’s a pretty special performance and one that should be seen.
Dean Norris, Breaking Bad
I could probably make an entire list of TV performances that was completely made up of Breaking Bad characters, in all honesty. For me, however, up until he meets his untimely end (spoilers), Hank Schrader was the most dynamic character of season five. I’d say that I couldn’t have been happier with the way the show wrapped up, but before everything came to a close, I was not-so-secretly pulling for Hank in the Hank vs. Walt arc.
Taryn Manning, Orange is the New Black
My girlfriend and I burned through all of Orange is the New Black in about four days just last week. Early on in the series, I thought this place would go to Crazy Eyes, but Taryn Manning’s performance as Pennsatucky, the meth-head, religious freak took control of the last handful of episodes. She became the perfect antagonist to just about all the other inmates and brought the worst out of everyone around her. That’s why she’s the character you love to hate.
Amy Poehler, Parks and Recreation
Parks and Recreation has come a long way since its uneven first season. Now, it’s arguably the best comedy series on television, and while a lot has to do with the ensemble cast, the series undoubtedly revolves around Leslie Knope.
Few television comedies accomplish the feat of creating a character as complete as Leslie. She’s been fully transformed from a plucky, annoying workaholic to a confident councilwoman juggling her job and relationship, all while having her entire city calling for her head. I don’t think Amy Poehler gets as much credit as she deserves for the work she has done in Parks and Recreation. While Ron Swanson may be the easier sell for viewers, you can’t keep Leslie Knope down.
Jessica Lange, American Horror Story: Coven
Essentially, Jessica Lange is THE reason to watch American Horror Story: Coven. The show is one of the trashiest things I’ve ever been a witness to, but the veteran actress has such poise and screen presence that she’s worth coming back for each and every week.
In this season’s arc, Lange plays Fiona Goode, the Supreme Witch in what is possibly the last witch covens left in America. She’s a drunk, she’s selfish, and she’s not above digging up bodies that are nearly two hundred years old. Some of the best moments are when she goes toe-to-toe with Angela Bassett, the head of the voodoo clan that the witches are at odds with. It’s two veteran actresses chewing scenery and it doesn’t get much better.
Jon Hamm, Mad Men
I wouldn’t say that Mad Men, as it starts to wind down, is anywhere near as good as it once was, but it is still plenty watchable. It sometimes gets frustrating to see the story go around in circles we’ve already seen, but Don Draper is still an enigmatic character.
The inconsistency lies more in story and writing than in character. Sure, Draper continues to be the lecherous drunk that he was back in season one, but at this point, he’s barely keeping it together. His past is becoming more and more of a problem and where we were left off promises to dig even deeper into his sordid history.