Friday, December 31, 2010

2010: My Favorite TV Performances

I hope you've read Jane's post from yesterday on her Top Ten TV choices from this year. It's a terrific and well-reasoned list, and after such a wonderful look-back, I need to do something different. I agree with Jane on all her choices, But I can't just repeat the wonderful things she said about Louis C.K., for instance, or all the other accurate shout-outs she gave to our favorites. How about I offer my favorite performances from this past year? Firmly believing that TV is all about personalities, here's a selection of the actors and actresses I loved best -- my top seven. (Who needs a Top Ten when seven will do?)

Charlie Day as Charlie on It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, on FX: All Hail crazy Charlie, King of the Rats! Though I don't think this was the series' best year, Charlie Day is a constant delight. He's not only hilarious -- a great physical comedian as well as a plucky actor with truly funny bones -- he's also able to convey an almost hapless melancholy that brings his performance into a special place. Charlie's some kind of a savant living life as a dope, he's the butt of everybody's jokes, he puts mittens on cats and keeps a dream journal, and you can't wait to see him appear in every episode. Whether it's his unique voice or his lithe form in his Greenman costume, Charlie always rules the Day! He's an absolute delight.

John Slattery as Roger Sterling on Mad Men, AMC: Though Slattery has been superb all through Mad Men's run, the blue note he often played this season really got to me. Roger's got everything -- money, prestige, a doting wife, all the liquor he can possibly imbibe -- except the things he wants most. Respect...he doesn't have that, just remember how the creepy tobacco heir Lee Garner (played so well by Darren Pettie) smooshed his ego flat when Roger asked for a little time to break the news about the loss of his account. Yikes, so cold, such a wake-up call, and not the only blow Roger would face this season. The wise and eternally sultry Joan sees his desperation and calls off her sometime fling with him, too, over that debacle. And even worse, his dictated memoirs get nothing but giggles from Don and Peggy when they surreptitiously listen to them. In terms of Slattery's comic chops, anytime we saw him working on his memoirs was pure gold, always funny, often bitter and ultimately more sad than anything else. Dyspeptic, often cruel, ultimately heartbroken, John Slattery showed us the rue this year, plus he stepped into the director's chair a couple of times. So talented! I'm even okay with his car commercials...

Randee Heller as Miss Ida Blankenship on Mad Men, AMC: Don Draper's idiosyncratic fill-in secretary was a special treat, at first a tad annoying but then a treasure. We learned, via Roger's memoirs, that she had been a sexual vixen back in the day, and she had lost none of her tartness as she served up wry and cheeky observations which usually left Don speechless. We figured that her sudden death in the 9th episode ("The Beautiful Girls") meant a dark shift for the last few episodes of the season, and we weren't wrong. We really missed Miss Blankenship after that, and kudos to Randee Heller for playing much older (and virtually in disguise) with such heart and humor.

Betty White as Elka Ostrovsky in Hot in Cleveland, on TV Land. Betty White had a golden Renaissance this year, not that she needed one. The TV comedy veteran has never had a dull or a non-working moment, but it was extra nice to see her co-starring on TV Land's successful new sitcom alongside the talented Wendie Malick, Jane Leeves and Valerie Bertinelli. Yeah, so her character is maybe a little cliched -- a man-hungry senior lady -- but nobody does it like Betty White. Her comedy timing is unsurpassed, as we also saw with her great guest hosting appearance on Saturday Night Live in May. She's always the funniest one on whatever stage she's on, and we love her.

Julia Stiles as Lumen Pierce in Dexter, on Showtime: I've been cool on Julia Stiles in the past, but she won me over as the disturbed gang rape victim turned avenger in Dexter's 5th season. Damaged almost beyond salvation yet brought back to life, through death, by Dexter (Michael C. Hall), Lumen turned out to be courageous, resourceful, necessarily savage but ultimately human again as she finally found her peace. I'll miss the down-to-earth sneakers that she always wore, the perfect choice of footwear for a woman teetering on the edge episode after episode.

Martin Freeman as Dr. Watson on Masterpiece Mystery! Sherlock: The always perfect Freeman (The Office, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy) was a wonderful sidekick to the icy idiosyncratic genius of a modern day Sherlock Holmes, played by an equally skilled Benedict Cumberbatch. There's something about Freeman's everyman looks and essential kindness that makes him so tremendously watchable. He was charming, bemused, intelligent and brave as Watson, a troubled Middle East war veteran medico who brought humanity and friendship to the prickly Holmes. Definitely check out this three-part presentation if you missed it. If you did see it, you know what I mean -- Martin Freeman was terrific.

Matt Smith as Doctor Who, on BBC America: It's not like the franchise needed or wanted a new Doctor; everybody loved the wonderful David Tennant as the 10th Doctor, but Tennant wanted to move on. Big shoes to fill, there; Tennant was nothing less than superb. But now we have the 11th actor to play Doctor Who, and the youngest one yet. Matt Smith is only 26 but has proved to be a terrific choice to carry on the whimsical, intelligent, wise and humane legacy of The Doctor. Smith's Who is exactly right, with a manic energy and humor befitting his age and the sensibility of these times we're in, plus a brilliant mien that clearly takes much from the actor himself. If you want to see an actor put his heart, mind and soul into a part, in a way that you simply don't see here on American TV, I urge you to watch Matt Smith as Doctor Who. He was my favorite new face of 2010, hands above anything else on the tube, anywhere.

Here's to many more sensational performances and break-out personalities in 2011!

Happy New Year from The Flaming Nose!


Toby O'B said...

Whenever I start reading a list like this, I anticipate that I'll find fault with either entries or omissions. But I can't argue with any of your choices.

Although a word of warning - 2010 was the year of Betty White. 2011 will be the year of the Betty White backlash.....

Happy New Year!

Jane said...

Excellent list Lisa! In retrospect, I'm surprised that neither one of us mentioned anything about True Blood, which was one of our perennial favorites. I think it got off track this season and got too gory. All blood and guts, no romance humor or glory. But I would vote for Erik the vampire's butt early in the season as a great TV moment. Alas, it was all downhill from there!

Dean Treadway said...

This list clued me in to a lot of things to keep an eye out for. But I'm with ya on Ms. Blankenship, all the way. Can't wait to see Martin Freeman as Watson!