Naturally, I couldn’t list every performance I loved from this season. This article would be a hundred pages long if I did that. So I cut it down to my very favorites.
Walton Goggins as Boyd Crowder, Justified
Boyd Crowder was supposed to be a one-off character, meant to die at the end of the first episode. But Walton Goggins did such masterful work making his genius racist criminal so engaging and charismatic that test audiences wanted to see more, and Boyd was kept alive. Boyd became the main antagonist of the season, though not quite the villain. After his near death, he claimed to have “seen the light”, starting a church and vowing to clean Harlan of meth. But throughout the entire season, we’re never really sure if Boyd’s conversion is genuine or not. But either way, Goggins managed to make Boyd both sympathetic and compelling. At the end of the season, we discover that his conversion was genuine, but the things that happen to him reveal this are so heartbreaking we almost wish that it wasn’t. I can’t wait to see what happens with Boyd next season. With his father dead, the entire Harlan crime empire could be his for the taking.
The cast of Community
It really would be wrong to single out one or two actors from Community. While they all give excellent performances that are worthy of individual recognition, the show is as wonderful as it is because of the chemistry between the actors and how well they work as a group. Joel McHale, Gillian Jacobs, Chevy Chase, Alison Brie, Danny Pudi, Donald Glover, and Yvette Nicole Brown create brilliant group dynamic, and the show is funnier for them being able to play off of each other. Each character is wonderfully drawn as their own person, with their own consistent habits and quirks, but it’s the way those habits and quirks clash and interact that makes the show so funny.
Deborah Ann Woll as Jessica Hamby, True Blood
True Blood has a large cast, and for the most part the show is really well acted. But in season two the real stand out was Deborah Ann Woll as the newborn vampire Jessica. There was something surprisingly human about Jessica adjusting to living as a vampire. It’s a double edged sword for Jessica. She loves the power and the strength, but misses her family, and with Bill taking care of her, she feels almost as trapped as she did back home with her firmly religious family. It’s also adorable and kind of heartbreaking watching her fall in love for the first time, having to deal with these new feelings not just as a 17 year old girl, but also as a vampire. Woll is wonderful in the role, hilarious as the bratty teen, menacing as the vampire who can’t yet control her impulses, and heartbreaking as the young woman who has no idea who she is.
Jordana Spiro as PJ Franklin, My Boys
My Boys isn’t a well loved show. Which is sad, because it’s really, really funny. It has a great cast, but the best of the cast is the show’s lady, Jordana Spiro. I can say this as someone as a girl who grew up with mostly guy friends – television hasn’t done the best job at capturing the girl whose friends are all men. They so often fall into the stereotype of tomboy, or they’re trying desperately to prove themselves as a girl. Jordana Spiro gives PJ a beautiful middle ground – she’s a tomboy all right, who can spout sports stats like a second language, but that’s combined with her struggle to assert some kind of femininity, even when she has no idea how to do that. She also gives PJ a special, unique relationship with each of her boys, making the group dynamic feel so completely honest.
The cast of It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia
You probably won’t find five people on television more horrible than Mac, Dennis, Charlie, Frank, and Sweet Dee. But there’s something so lovable about that horribleness, thanks to its talented cast. They’re awesome on their own, but they’re at their best when they all end up together, scheming and hating each other just a little bit and trying so hard to be cooler than they are. No other cast makes being pathetic so funny.
Matthew Fox as Jack Shepherd, Lost
Matthew Fox has done solid work on Lost for six seasons, but since the end of season three, his work has been flat out stellar, and in the show’s final season, he did his best work. After so many seasons of denying his destiny, Jack became a man of faith, a man who comes to embrace that destiny, if for no other reason than the idea of that destiny is the only thing he has left. It was almost cathartic to see Jack finally find and accept his purpose, and the show’s final moment was both heartbreaking and uplifting because of it.
Timothy Olyphant as Raylan Givens, Justified
Natalie Zea’s character Winona said it best in the show’s series premiere – “You do a good job of hiding it, and I suppose most folks don’t see it, but honestly… you’re the angriest man I have ever known.” Raylan Givens is a quiet cowboy, a man with a strong sense of decency and what’s right. But lurking beneath all that is a layer of anger – an anger that, as the season goes on, we come to find out mostly comes from his upbringing – that he tries to stifle. It frequently comes out, but that’s usually in the line of duty and can be explained away as doing his job (he does seem to shoot people an awful lot). The balance between the two sides of Raylan, and especially the quiet anger just simmering beneath, might be completely misinterpreted and misplayed by anyone but Olyphant, who manages to not just portray those aspects of Raylan beautifully, but who also manages to make him so damn charming while doing it.
Michael Sheen as Wesley Snipes, 30 Rock
This year’s biggest Emmy injustice is Michael Sheen being totally snubbed for his work as Liz Lemmon’s love interest/nemesis on this season of 30 Rock. Overall, the season was really uneven. But Sheen’s storyline and performance managed to make the it worth something. This completely baffling man (“Popcorn? At the cinema?”) who is basically the polar opposite of Liz Lemmon being pared with her, and her HATING it, was so brilliant. It was so amazing, in fact, that the season finale kind of sucked because they shucked it. The idea of Liz ending up with this guy is jut so this show, so the fact that she found someone else is just disappointing.
Lea Michele as Rachel Berry, Glee
Those of us familiar with the popular and brilliant musical Spring Awakening were already familiar with Lea Michele before Glee made her a huge star. We knew she was talented, but I don’t think most people realized what a gift she had with comedy. Some have said she’s so good at the role because Michele basically is Rachel, but there’s an absurdity to the character, certain lines and body movements, that don’t come just from being like a character, they come from a very special and natural sense of comedic timing.
John Noble as Walter Bishop, Fringe
Fringe is getting a lot more recognition than it did in its first season. However, it’s mostly for its crazy sci-fi-ness and nutso storyline. But the very best part of the show is John Nobel and his performance as Dr. Walter Bishop, the insane genius who’s just barely hanging on to the sanity he has by a thread (a thread that looks suspiciously like his son, Peter). The second season gave Walter more reason to be emotional, not just nuts, and Noble more than rose to the occasion, being both hilarious in his crazy moments, and completely heartbreaking. I don’t think any actor on television has managed to be more expressive with their face, and the look in Walter’s eyes, the feeling that haunts him, it all Noble.
Jackie Earl Haley as Guerrero, Human Target
Yeah, the whole cast of Human Target is awesome. Mark Valley is jut flat out charming, and Chi McBride is funny as always. But Jackie Earl Haley steals the show. He’s just so charismatic as Guerrero. He has the loosest morals, is the least friendly of the team, and yet he’s the one you constantly want to see more of. Haley plays to role with so much nonchalance that it’s almost a situation of wanting what you can’t have. But we did get a few moments to look into Guerrero’s life and emotions, and Haley play the moments so well, doing just enough to let the viewer know he’s affected, but not overreacting and chewing the scenery.
The Braverman Siblings, Parenthood
I am a sucker for sibling relationships, so Parenthood is kind of like catnip to me. And while Craig T. Nelson and Bonnie Bedelia are excellent, the strength of the show lies in the four actors playing their children – Peter Krause, Lauren Graham, Dax Shepherd, and Erica Christensen – that make the show as good as it is. And there wasn’t even an adjustment period to get used to these actors together. They just clicked automatically, and jumping right into the action, we get the sense that these four people have an entire lifetime of history between them.
Nick Offerman as Ron Swanson, Parks and Recreation
There’s a moment in the episode of before the season finale where anti-government government employess Ron Swanson is told that the government of Pawnee is about to be shut down. A look of complete glee crosses his face. The simple moment, just a quirk of the lip and a brightening of the eyes, was one of the funniest moments of the series, and that’s thanks to Offerman’s performance. Ron Swanson is a quiet, serious man, who tends to find himself in ridiculous situations, like refusing to seek treatment for a hernia. But throughout the show’s second season we’ve gotten a chance to see Ron Swanson’s soft side, both in his growing soft spot for Leslie (it’s gotten to the point where he’ll do just about anything for her) and in his mentor role to Aubrey Plaza’s April.
January Jones as Betty Draper, Mad Men
When Mad Men first started, I had huge problems with Betty. She seemed whiney. She wasn’t a very good mother. But all those things I disliked about her grew into this fascinatingly complex character, a woman who feels stifled but doesn’t understand why, a wife who finally decides it time to stand up for herself. Like all the characters on the show, some of Betty’s actions are infuriatingly frustrating, but Jones is able to so quietly and subtly show us the reasons behind her character’s actions, and she always reminds us of how truly confused Betty really is.