My Top 15 Television Performances of 2015

21 Dec


Note: As always, I limit myself to one performance per show, plus shoutouts for other cast members. Even with this limitation, you can see that I cheated a bit with the top three on the list (if you watched those shows, I’m sure you understand). In the end, this top 15 is most likely a top 30 because we are blessed with so much good acting these days. The fact that Tatiana Maslany is in “honorable mentions” should tell you all you need to know.

Haven’t Seen Yet: Jane the Virgin, The Flash, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Empire, American Crime, Fresh Off the Boat, Catastrophe, Casual, Getting On, Looking, Halt and Catch Fire, Wolf Hall, Agent Carter

Honorable Mentions: Tatiana Maslany (Orphan Black), Ellie Kemper/Titus Burgess (Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt), Eva Green (Penny Dreadful), Jeffrey Tambor (Transparent), Julia Louis-Dreyfus (Veep), Amy Poehler (Parks and Recreation), Will Forte (The Last Man On Earth), Colin Farrell (True Detective), Andre Braugher (Brooklyn Nine-Nine), Tiffany Doggett (Orange Is the New Black), Cameron Monaghan (Shameless), Aziz Ansari (Master of None), Louis CK (Louie), Nathan Fielder (Nathan For You), Clive Owen (The Knick), Maura Tierney (The Affair), Julianna Margulies (The Good Wife), Tony Hale (Veep), Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp cast, Wagner Moura (Narcos), Justin Roiland (Rick and Morty), Will Arnett/Olivia Wilde (Bojack Horseman)

Everyone in “The Leftovers”: Last year, the standouts were Carrie Coon and Christopher Eccleston. This year, how the hell do I choose? You’ve got that brilliant Carrie Coon-Regina King scene at the end of “Lens”, another Eccleston showcase in episode five, Liv Tyler becoming a terrifying villain, and Justin Theroux and Ann Dowd turning in excellent performances as their characters spar with each other. Also, Amy Brenneman and Kevin Carroll.

Everyone in “Fargo”: We’ve got a similar situation here, and I won’t even bother naming them all this time because I don’t think there’s a less-than-good performance in the bunch. I will, however, single out Kirsten Dunst for giving a performance that we didn’t know she had in her.

Everyone in “Justified”: These cast members seem to have an insane amount of chemistry with each other, and that shows in the final season of this fantastic show. Sam Elliott and Mary Steenburgen make scary good villains here, Joelle Carter and Timothy Olyphant continue to shine, and Walton Goggins remains the most underrated television actor of the last decade.


Aya Cash, “You’re the Worst”: You might not expect such a heart-wrenching performance from the lead in a comedy, but man, Aya Cash can make you laugh and then devastate you right after. It’s also an incredibly accurate depiction of depression. Shoutout: Kether Donohue

Oscar Isaac, “Show Me a Hero”: This is the coolest guy on the planet right now, and his performance in the newest David Simon series is yet another addition to his growing resume. As Mayor Nick Wasicsko, Isaac does a great job of conveying the struggle of a man faced with mounting pressure on all sides, a struggle eventually culminating in the miniseries’s masterful final scene.

Ben Mendelsohn, “Bloodline”: He’s the anchor of season one of the show, and you can rightfully direct both your sympathy and your hatred at his character. It’s a layered and fascinating performance.

Rami Malek, “Mr. Robot”: He’s done great work in the past, but this is his breakout role. Everything is set in place for an overly showy performance–drug addiction, paranoia, Fight Club-esque mind games, mental illness-but Malek plays it all perfectly. His reaction at the end of episode six is one of the finest acting pieces I’ve seen all year.

Richard Armitage, “Hannibal”: Let’s be honest: this could easily be another of those “Everyone from” entries (the same goes for Rectify and The Americans). However, I’ll single out Armitage, as he’s a new character introduced halfway through the season who still manages to make a huge impression. He delivers a creepy, showy, and yet still nuanced, performance, and he plays well off of Rutina Wesley as they help make the final arc of the show compelling. Shoutouts: Mads Mikkelsen, Hugh Dancy

Aden Young, “Rectify”: Over the last few years, he and Matthew Rhys have been the missing two in the Best Actor Emmy conversations. For the third year in a row, Young gives an incredible and affecting performance, and watching Daniel interact with the world is one of television’s most wondrous pleasures. Shoutout: Everyone


Shiri Appleby, “UnREAL”: In the biggest surprise of the year, a Lifetime show ends up being great, and at the center of it all is Shiri Appleby’s Rachel. Appleby does such a good job of conveying both a knack for and complicated feelings about manipulation, and her dynamic with Constance Zimmer’s Quinn is so damn intriguing.

David Tennant, “Marvel’s Jessica Jones”: What a great villain. The show would definitely stumble in less capable hands, and I will direct you to “AKA WWJD?” to illustrate just how good both he and Krysten Ritter are.

Bob Odenkirk, “Better Call Saul”: First off, shoutout to Jonathan Banks. Second off, Odenkirk does an impressive job of both giving us the character we know and introducing layer after layer, and it’s truly an entertaining–yet heartbreaking–performance.

Holly Taylor, “The Americans”: Okay, maybe Taylor isn’t on the Rhys-Russell acting level yet, but she’s without a doubt getting there. I’m singling her out this year due to her character’s difficult but compelling storyline, and Taylor is a huge part of why it works. Rhys and Russell are key, too. Emmys, please. 😦 Shoutout also goes to Lois Smith.


Andy Daly, “Review”: Speaking of difficult roles, how about this one? Watching Forrest MacNeil is equal parts hilarious and terrifying, and out of the wreckage arises a genuinely human performance from Daly. When Forrest goes nuts, Daly can also do that with aplomb.

Jon Hamm, “Mad Men”: Your much deserved Lead Actor Emmy winner, ladies and gents. There really isn’t much to say about this man and his performance that hasn’t been said before. I’ll miss him as Don Draper.

Photo credits: Comedy Central, Review, HBO, The Leftovers, UnREAL, Lifetime, FXX, You’re the Worst

4 Responses to “My Top 15 Television Performances of 2015”

  1. robbinsrealm December 22, 2015 at 4:42 pm #

    Banks, Isaac, and Maslany from the honorable mentions list.

  2. Matthew Thompson December 23, 2015 at 12:12 am #

    Great list here. My favorite TV performances this year were Rami Malek and Aya Cash. They really blew me away. Hard to pick after that, but I’ll go with Aden Young as a third. You can never go wrong with Aden Young. Looking forward to your other lists!

  3. peggyatthemovies December 28, 2015 at 12:43 am #

    Sorry..but have to give a big “OUCH” to at least 1/2 this list!! 😀

    • polarbears16 December 28, 2015 at 1:05 am #

      Haha no worries! I expect people to disagree. 🙂

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