As we near the end, Willa asked us to identify some of our favorite performances, and she’s already named some of mine, like Henson (at this point, the only reason I’m watching the increasingly nonsensical Empire) and Dunst. To that, I’d add yet another Fargo-er in Patrick Wilson, who managed to turn Lou Solverson’s quiet decency and assured competence—traits that fly against most of what Quality Drama has taught us make for interesting characters—into riveting TV, in a leading-man performance I didn’t know Wilson had in him. (Hey, Tony Soprano, here’s what happened to Gary Cooper.)
Others: On each season of Rectify, Aden Young has gotten to reveal more and more of what his stoic character’s personality was like before he went to prison, this year layering on a wicked sense of humor. This season was also a great showcase for Abigail Spencer, whom I’m finally able to look at without immediately thinking of her turn as Don Draper’s cuckoo bananas schoolteacher fling. Aya Cash and Chris Geere both dazzled in different ways during You’re the Worst’s depression arc as Gretchen and Jimmy: her mix of extreme emotion and a stunning lack of them, his grudging acceptance of his own feelings.
I love almost all The Leftovers’ performances, but none was more stunningly good than Liv freaking Tyler turning into such a terrifying big bad at the end of the season. (Maybe she and Patrick Wilson need to do an underestimated actors’ team-up.) Between Casual and another Transparent flashback role, Michaela Watkins had herself a hell of a fall in half-hour dramas that we still call comedies for some reason. Constance Wu is a delight week in and week out on Fresh off the Boat, and because Anthony Anderson is the Black-ish star and the kids are all so good, it can be easy to overlook how gracefully Tracee Ellis Ross escaped the shackles of disapproving sitcom wifedom to become the craziest person in that family. (In a more dramatic version of that, look at how Kerry Bishé stole Halt and Catch Fire out from under her male co-stars.)
I’ve had my eye on Rami Malek since he had a small role in The Pacific, and Mr. Robot was every bit the star-making vehicle he deserved; that show doesn’t work without someone that committed and watchable. Ditto Oscar Isaac in Show Me a Hero: How many actors could have kept you not only watching but interested in all that exposition about municipal housing codes, the federal appeals process, and the Yonkers city charter? And as Willa mentioned, Kimmy Schmidt would have been dragged down by the darkness of its premise without the jubilance of Ellie Kemper at the middle of it.
It should be routine at this point to praise the magic of Andre Braugher’s delivery of each and every bit of Brooklyn Nine-Nine dialogue, or to sing Nick Offerman’s praises one last time as Ron effing Swanson (the Leslie-Ron two-hander near the start of the final Parks and Rec season was lovely), but just because it’s expected doesn’t make it less great. Ditto Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ explosion in the Veep finale as the election results started to go against Selina, Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys continuing to kill it on The Americans (now with more help than ever from precocious young Holly Taylor), our final glimpses of that great Mad Men cast (“The king ordered it!!!!”), Tim Olyphant and Walton Goggins’ Justified farewell work, and more.
We said goodbye to a lot of great shows and characters this year. Yet as I write this, my desk is filled to bursting with early episodes of 2016 shows, old and new, and I can’t wait to see which ones will thrill me and which will frustrate me enough to joke about them at this time next year.
Time to screener-binge,
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