The Top 15 Television Performances of 2014

27 Dec


Welcome to the first installment of my 2014 Year End series. Over the next week, you’ll see the following: The Top Television Performances of 2014 (down below), The Top Television Episodes of 2014, and The Top Television Shows of 2014. My year end movie lists will be out in a month or so, as I still have quite a few movies to see. For now, enjoy this list! I only have one performance from each show in the top 15, but I added some shout-outs in certain places.

Honorable mentions: Amy Acker and Sarah Shahi for “Person of Interest”, Manu Bennett for “Arrow”, Julia Louis-Dreyfus for “Veep”, Andre Braugher for “Brooklyn Nine-Nine”, Julianna Margulies for “The Good Wife”, Samira Wiley for “Orange Is the New Black”, Louis CK for “Louie”, Pedro Pascal for “Game of Thrones”, All four “The Affair” folks (for the record, either Maura Tierney or Ruth Wilson would be #16 on this list)

15. Clive Owen, “The Knick”

I’m not as big a fan of the show as many others are, but there’s no doubt that without Owen’s wonderful performance, the show would be missing something essential. As Dr. John Thackery, Owen gave one of the best portrayals of addiction and withdrawal that I’ve ever seen on television.

14. Lizzy Caplan, “Masters of Sex”

In season 2, Virginia Johnson once again struggled to balance her work life and personal life, and the internal conflict threatened to tear her apart. It all culminated in the season finale, which featured a heartbreaking and impeccable performance by Caplan.

Shout out: Michael Sheen

13. Jon Hamm, “Mad Men”

Jon Hamm better win that Emmy next year. He’s been consistently giving us incredible moments as Don Draper, and season 7a was no different. From Don’s relationship with Sally in “A Day’s Work” to his slow dance with Peggy in “The Strategy”, Hamm once again proved that he’s one of the best actors on TV.

12. Noel Fisher, “Shameless”

Normally, I’d be singling out Emmy Rossum or Jeremy Allen White, but Noel Fisher was one of TV’s dark horses this year. In season four–the show’s best to date–Mickey finally came out, and he did so in a sad, yet rousing, fashion. That was due largely in part to Fisher.


Shout out: Emmy Rossum

11. Allison Tolman, “Fargo”

Tolman’s performance was my favorite in a show filled with great performances. Although she could’ve used a better payoff than she got, Tolman was excellent as Deputy Molly Solverson, crafting an endearing character of her own…even if at first, it seemed as if she would just be a follow up to Marge Gunderson.

Shout out: Billy Bob Thornton

10. Aya Cash, “You’re the Worst”

I’m not sure if I can think of many TV characters who are more fun to watch than Gretchen. Aya Cash was one of TV’s best surprises this year, and whether she was making you laugh or cringe or even tear up–see “Finish Your Milk”–she was giving an insanely good comedic performance. The energy she brought was infectious, and she was endearing from the start.


9. Andrew Daly, “Review”

Daly’s performance as Forrest MacNeil anchored one of the funniest and most unique shows on TV, and while he’s certainly a fantastic comedic actor, he was even better when Forrest wasn’t in a great place. He brought pathos to a role that we weren’t expecting much of at first, and the show was amazing as a result. Daly’s performance? 5 stars.

8. Matthew Rhys, “The Americans”

Philip Jennings was an incredibly compelling character in season 2, and as much as he might’ve seemed like a cool, loving dad, Rhys also found a darker side and portrayed it with aplomb. Philip could be terrifying to watch at times, and his scene with Pastor Tim in “Martial Eagle” ranks among the best of the year.

Shout out: Keri Russell

7. Tatiana Maslany, “Orphan Black”

Maslany was as good as ever this past year, and if it’s not clear by now, this woman is talented as hell. The Helena-Sarah scene in the shower–no, not like that–was one of her finest acting moments thus far, and that’s saying something. Also, clone dance party.

6. Carrie Coon, “The Leftovers”

Between this and her role in Gone Girl, Carrie Coon has had a stellar year. As Nora Durst in The Leftovers, she took us on a fascinating journey through an intriguing character, and her showcase episode, “Guest”, is pretty much an Emmy highlight reel in one hour.


Shout out: Christopher Eccleston

5. Jeffrey Tambor, “Transparent”

Tambor will always have a special place in my heart due to Arrested Development, but his role as Maura in Transparent highlights a very different side of his acting ability. We saw the pain and frustration in every facet of Maura’s being, and her attempts to connect to her family made for a very moving and beautiful show.

4. Mads Mikkelsen, “Hannibal”

As Dr. Hannibal Lecter, Mikkelsen is refined, affecting, brutal, scary, and sad. He was endlessly watchable this season, and every time he was on screen, he commanded the room; whether he was simply sitting there or whether he was completely unleashed, Mikkelsen was phenomenal.

Shout out: Hugh Dancy

3. Eva Green, “Penny Dreadful”

The show was already great, and Eva Green was even better. She set a whole new benchmark for horror performances this year, and her high points came during scenes that, in horror movies, are normally more silly than scary: possessions.


2. Aden Young, “Rectify”

The whole cast was perfect this year, but Aden Young’s performance still found a way to stand out. Daniel Holden had to deal with a town that was out to get him and a past that haunted him, and his journey so far has been one of the most gripping and poignant on television. Special kudos to Young for his work in “Donald the Normal” and “Unhinged”.

Shout out: Abigail Spencer

1. Matthew McConaughey, “True Detective”

Rust Cohle was fascinating from the very first scene, and McConaughey continued his streak of excellence with a compelling eight episodes of badassery, enigmatic monologues, and, at the end, moving catharsis. It was an eye-opening, award-worthy performance that will be tough to live up to in season two. Time is a flat circle, ladies and gents.

Thanks for reading! Agree? Disagree? Leave your thoughts below.

Photo credit: FXX, You’re the Worst, HBO, True Detective, Showtime, Penny Dreadful, The Leftovers, Shameless

7 Responses to “The Top 15 Television Performances of 2014”

  1. JustMeMike December 28, 2014 at 12:12 am #

    Nice List.

    I’ve not seen enough of your picks to argue in favor for of removing any of the 8 that I didn’t see. But I would have included Kevin Spacey for House of Cards. I’m shocked that he didn’t even make Honorable Mention.

    From the Honorable Mention list – I will admit that until sometime in last month, November, I had not seen even one episode of The Good Wife. I saw two episodes in November and then decided to watch the series from it’s beginning.

    Over the last 3 days, I ‘ve managed to watch the first 18 episodes, a fact made possible because each episode runs only 42 minutes and change rather than a full hour.And Margulies has done a fabulous job.

    She goes with the less is more style of acting. The kind where she says nothing but you can see her inner wheels turning as she reacts to what some one else has said.She sure has that look down pat – and her directors and cameramen know it, and work it, again and again.

    • polarbears16 December 28, 2014 at 12:20 am #

      Yeah, Margulies is fantastic. I decided to give other people a mention this year, but she definitely deserves a spot on any top 10 list.

      As for Kevin Spacey, I stopped watching House of Cards after the season 2 premiere, so I couldn’t really judge his performance. I’ve never been a big fan of the show, anyway, and I thought Corey Stoll did a better job than him in season one.

  2. Matthew Thompson December 28, 2014 at 7:56 am #

    Great list. McConaughey would be my top pick as well. Maslany and Aden Young would be close behind. You’ve covered a lot of other great choices here. Even though I didn’t care much for The Leftovers, I thought Carrie Coon was excellent. Matthew Rhys had another great year on The Americans too.

    To add someone a little off the board here, I’d say Ursula Parker on Louie. Child actors are such a roll of the dice, but I’ve always been impressed with her and that was true again this season.

  3. Anonymous January 1, 2015 at 7:54 am #

    No Nathan Fielder mention?

  4. Mel January 2, 2015 at 7:51 pm #

    Eva Green in Penny Dreadful (She saved that show for me… outstanding)

  5. Hepburn3 January 3, 2015 at 4:51 pm #

    Tatianna Maslany is AMAZING! It is a joy to see someone who is good at their job and makes it looks so easy. Orphan Black is a great show!

    And of course I would have to add the whole cast of Person of Interest, especially Bear!
    I am excited to see PoI this January 6th! I am stoked for the show and for your review!

    • polarbears16 January 4, 2015 at 4:14 pm #

      These next two episodes are going to be epic, I can feel it.

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