The Top Television Performances of 2016

19 Dec


Once again, I’ll be counting down the best of the year, and I might even add songs and albums to the list of lists. Stay tuned.

Honorable Mentions: John Lithgow and Claire Foy from “The Crown”, Kristen Bell and Ted Danson from “The Good Place”, Rami Malek from “Mr. Robot”, Wagner Moura from “Narcos”, Will Arnett from “Bojack Horseman”, Eva Green from “Penny Dreadful”, the ensemble of American Crime, Millie Brown from “Stranger Things”, Gillian Jacobs from “Love”, Hugh Laurie from “The Night Manager”, Hugh Dancy and Aaron Paul from “The Path”, Brian Tyree Henry from “Atlanta”, Lena Headey from “Game of Thrones”, Maria Bamford from “Lady Dynamite”, Ellie Kemper and Tituss Burgess from “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”, Alia Shawkat from “Search Party”, Rashida Jones from “Angie Tribeca”

Top 5 Ensembles (in no particular order – doing “best ensembles” because it’s hard to single people out from these shows and because they truly deserve ensemble recognition)

Rectify: At the beginning of the series, it was Abigail Spencer and Aden Young who stood out, but at the end, it was a fully realized group of characters driven by incredible performances all around. One conversation between any two of these characters could reduce you to a puddle of tears.

The Americans: Rhys and Russell were as brilliant as ever, but there were also some great supporting performances that shone through. Alison Wright in particular, who delivered a stunning and heartbreaking performance as a woman faced with the unraveling of life as she knew it.


The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story: Special shoutouts to Courtney B. Vance, Sarah Paulson, and Sterling K. Brown, all of whom were phenomenal as attorneys involved in the trial of the century. From their fiery back and forths to their moments of vulnerability, they conveyed what it took to win (or lose) the case, as well as the toll it took on them.

Horace and Pete: Particularly due to the nature of the show, each episode was a performance showcase of some sort for veteran actors. Buscemi and Alda were terrific, and Laurie Metcalf’s monologue in episode three was easily one of the best acting moments of the year.

Person of Interest: Speaking of monologues, just look at Michael Emerson in “The Day the World Went Away”. This show featured arguably the most under-appreciated ensemble of the last few years. Who would’ve thought that what started as a typical CBS procedural would end up having some of the most compelling characters on television? Who would’ve thought that we would care so much about the relationships that made up the Machine Team?

A Couple Great Pairings


Riz Ahmed and John Turturro, “The Night Of”: Turturro and Ahmed carried the miniseries as a lawyer and as a man arrested for murder, respectively. It was particularly impressive to watch Nas’s (Ahmed) transformation from a naive, terrified individual to a hardened, terrifying individual.

Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Mackenzie Davis, “Black Mirror”: In the most uplifting episode of the series, these two actresses created a beautiful and believable romance that spanned decades and various realities.

Individual Performances


Performance of the Year – Riley Keough, “The Girlfriend Experience”: Okay, I might put Aden Young above her, but I really do want to single her out. She had a tough task because her character was the embodiment of cold and steely; however, she was absolutely hypnotic in the role, and when her character’s life came crumbling down around her in “Blindsided”, it was amazing to watch.

Rachel Bloom, “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend”: She can sing and dance, and she gives an accurate portrayal of depression? What more can you ask for?

Thandie Newton, “Westworld”: She always owned the room and scene she was in, and in a series with a more compelling mystery/setting than characters, Maeve intrigued us all. Also: shoutout to Evan Rachel Wood for her performance.

Desmin Borges, “You’re the Worst”: Aya Cash and Chris Geere were great as always, but it was Borges who stood out with the devastating “Twenty Two”. The more portrayals of mental illness like this, the better.


Phoebe Waller Bridge, “Fleabag”: This was undoubtedly a multi-faceted performance that blended fourth-wall breaking with dark comedy and brutal honesty.

Julia Louis-Dreyfus, “Veep”: She’s past the point of needing recognition, but her performance in “Mother” was one of the best things I saw all year.

Tatiana Maslany, “Orphan Black”: Another person who is past the point of needing recognition, but I have to list her every year because what she does is truly astounding.


Kyle Chandler, “Bloodline”: The end of “Part 20”, when his wife figures it all out.

Rhea Seehorn, “Better Call Saul”: Odenkirk was great, but Seehorn owned the show this year. Such an intricate and wonderful performance.

Melissa Benoist, “Supergirl”: I haven’t seen the show, but she’s too great not to list.

Haven’t Seen/Haven’t Seen Enough Of: Baskets, The Get Down, This Is Us, Insecure, Quarry, Better Things, Luke Cage, Jane the Virgin, Catastrophe, Casual, Speechless, Halt and Catch Fire, High Maintenance, Broad City, Peaky Blinders, One Mississippi, black-ish, Preacher, Gomorrah, People Of Earth, Happy Valley, The A Word, Queen Sugar, Easy, Documentary Now!, Steven Universe, Ash vs. Evil Dead, Supergirl, The Flash, Outlander, RuPaul, Agent Carter, Superstore, Arrow (did not watch this season), Vice Principals (I’m sure Goggins is great)

Photo credits: Netflix, FX, Starz, Amazon, HBO

7 Responses to “The Top Television Performances of 2016”

  1. Hepburn3 December 19, 2016 at 1:45 pm #

    Hi PB!
    Wishing you a wonderful Holiday Time!
    Some of the shows you mentioned I do not watch but the ones that i do I checked.
    Have you seen Pitch? I really enjoyed that show it is fun to watch and it is well acted and cast. Also there is Schitts Creek which is just really funny.
    Take care and all the best to you as always and a stellar 2017 to you! 🙂

    • polarbears16 December 20, 2016 at 1:33 am #

      Hey, nice to see you again! Haven’t seen Pitch but have heard good things.

  2. Sam December 19, 2016 at 2:39 pm #

    Did everyone in Hollywood get an honorable mention?!

    • polarbears16 December 20, 2016 at 1:33 am #

      Pretty much, yeah. That’s how I roll.

  3. Matthew Thompson December 19, 2016 at 4:04 pm #

    If I had to pick one, I guess I’d go with Aden Young. I haven’t seen The Girlfriend Experience. Might have to check that out. I love seeing people’s year-end lists because they always tips me off to some shows I missed. I’m hoping to do a year-end music post as well with some favorite albums/concerts. Would love to see your favorite albums of the year. I don’t even know what kind of music you like. Would be interesting.

    • polarbears16 December 20, 2016 at 1:34 am #

      I probably would go with Young as well. Looking forward to that year end music post.

  4. JustMeMike December 20, 2016 at 4:33 pm #

    Hi PB – Happy Holidays

    I’ve not seen too many of your picks – Bloodline, Horace and Pete- I gave up on after a few episodes, Fleabag, and The Night Of were the ones I watched.

    I did take a look at the first of Black Mirror where the PM had to have public sex with a pig but only because I heard it discussed on NPR’s Fresh Air radio Show.

    I watched a few of your many Honorable Mentions like The Night Manager, The Crown, and Mr. Robot.

    But since I always enjoy your posts and in this case your selections, I read this one with interest.


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