In the previous two parts of this series, I discussed at length the shows I considered to be particularly strong or otherwise from the 2012-2013 television season. For your convenience, you can find both parts via the following links if you’re interested: Part 1 | Part 2.
In this third entry, it’s time to take a look at the performers within the many shows that took place over the course of the season, and which ones in particular stood out in the crowd. From the wife of a reputable meth king to Dr. Lecter himself, and even an actress playing around seven different characters, the list of exceptional performers that you’ll see below is a relatively varied bunch. But of course, I’d love to hear your own thoughts after reading the rest of this post, so feel free to get involved in the comment box below.
Olivia Pope – Scandal
Over the course of Scandal’s ridiculously superb second season, the show’s central character–and actress–rode out the storm of political intrigue, sex scandals and presidential trysts with rarely a moment of unfaltering brilliance. Whether it was a moment where Olivia got to demonstrate just how much of a HBIC she is, or whether it was one of the many emotionally charged sequences between her and Fitz (complete with that oozing, toxic chemistry that keeps this ship alive even when it’s not healthy for the characters involved), Washington dealt with the material at hand swiftly and effortlessly. She is Olivia Pope, and Scandal would be nothing without its white-suit-wearing Queen.
There are many performers in Scandal that would be deserving of an Emmy nomination, but out of them all, I’d say that Kerry Washington, as the face and focal gravitational point of the show, has the best chance of clinching that well-deserved nomination come July–and I hope that it happens.
John Cooper – Southland
John Cooper went on a journey in the recently cancelled (crying) Southland’s fifth season. He went to visit his deplorable father, was subjected to the problems of being a gay man in his profession, struggled to accept the legacy he would be failing to leave behind, and ultimately a terrifying encounter with drug-addled captors pushed him to breaking point, and ostensibly death–and Michael Cudlitz was there every week, smashing the material with as much force as a wrecking ball going through a treehouse.
Of the many reasons I’ll miss Southland, losing Michael Cudlitz for a while is among the worst. He gave depth to John Cooper, he was easily the show’s MVP for a long time, and his performances in season five would be more than deserving of the Emmy nomination he won’t get. That being said, he did win the category he was nominated for in the Critics’ ChoiceAwards, so I can be rest assured that his incredible work this season won’t be completely ignored.
Sister Mary Eunice – American Horror Story: Asylum
It would’ve been very easy for me to talk about the performances of both Jessica Lange and Sarah Paulson–arguably the two most talked-about actresses of AHS’s second season–in this post. But, out of all the excellent performances in American Horror Story’s second season, Lily Rabe’s portrayal of a sweet, innocent, mousy nun possessed by a monstrous demon was easily my favourite.
Of all the reasons I adored Rabe’s occasionally alternating display of innocence and malevolence, one of the biggest would be just how much fun she made the whole situation seem. I felt sorry for Mary Eunice being held prisoner in her own body by something that wanted to rip her, and everyone around her, to pieces, but I’ll be damned if Rabe didn’t make me love how evilly cruel and wicked the demon-y side of the character was.
For a role that was, for all intents and purposes, ludicrous even by AHS’s standards, Lily Rabe sure did make it one of the most exciting, immensely enjoyable parts of the season. Sometimes it’s just fun to watch a character get transformed into something that’s the complete antithesis to what they originally were, even if it’s a demon that’s the driving force behind it–and sometimes, with an actress like Lily Rabe, the ridiculousness of it all is outweighed by how exciting it can be.
Jonny Lee Miller
Sherlock Holmes – Elementary
You can leverage criticism towards Elementary (heck, I spent enough time doing that myself), but one thing about the show remained exceptional all throughout the season that rarely paused for breath with how strong it/he was: Jonny Lee Miller.
While Benedict Cumberbatch’s portrayal of the famous sleuth is known for his rabid, maniacal eccentricities, Miller’s version of the same character was a more sedate, even normal version. He still held those same quirks and mannerisms to make the character the odd one out, but it was more of a collected brilliance rather than an overt display of it. And while Miller was excellent at playing Sherlock when he was unravelling the most complex of puzzles, it was during the moments when the character’s vulnerability was exposed that he truly shone. (That scene when Sherlock discovers Irene Adler alive, well and painting remains one of my favourites from the whole television season.)
Jonny Lee Miller’s depiction of Sherlock Holmes was, to me at least, a deeper and more engaging affair than Cumberbatch’s, which focuses mostly on Sherlock > everyone else. Miller made me believe in Sherlock as a world-renowned investigator, as a human being, and when sharing that brilliant chemistry with fellow co-star Lucy Liu, an excellent choice to lead Elementary into the future.
Skylar White – Breaking Bad
Every year it is always Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul that (deservedly) become the actors most lauded for their work in Breaking Bad. They’ve both won numerous Emmy awards and they both also regularly provide compelling, excellent performances to deserve the attention they get every year. But this year, however, I would wager that Anna Gunn, who plays the long-suffering wife to Cranston’s meth kingpin, will join that roster–and I am thrilled beyond measure to see that.
Breaking Bad’s fifth season was Gunn’s chance to truly shine, as Skylar’s frustrations with her husband’s newfound sense of power and control provided several phenomenal, award-worthy scenes. In particular, the scene in the bedroom where Skylar looks visibly terrified of Walt stands out, as does the moment she steps into the swimming pool and doesn’t get back out, willing to drown in order to escape the husband who refuses to part company.
Skylar’s journey in season five was one of utter turmoil. Her husband was becoming a cruel, vicious monster, and her family was collapsing as a result of that. But Anna Gunn came to the table more forcefully than ever before and demonstrated just why that inevitable Emmy nomination coming her way in a few weeks needs to become her first victory.
Jaime Lannister – Game of Thrones
Jaime Lannister is a peculiar character. For all of the heinous, deplorable acts he has committed, it’s still difficult to see him as a villain that we should all hate. And as such, Jaime’s character went on a significant journey in Game of Thrones’ third season, and one that Nikolaj Coster-Waldau made sympathetic. This for a character who, in the past, has thrown a child from a window, fathered children with his own sister, and killed hundreds of potentially innocent people.
Anybody that, for some reason, needs evidence as to Coster-Waldau’s acting abilities should simply watch that brilliant bathtub scene from the fifth episode of the most recent season. In one single sequence, he manages to make Jaime a sympathetic character. Even with strong writing it’s not easy to make a character typically seen as a villain into somebody we could actually root for, but Coster-Waldau took the material he had to work with and spun it into gold.
If we’re being honest, the only person from Game of Thrones likely to even be nominated for an Emmy is Peter Dinklage, but as good as he was in the third season, Coster-Waldau usurped him. Jaime is one of the strongest characters the show has and Coster-Waldau one of its most valuable acting assets. The Kingslayer won’t get the Emmy nomination he deserves, but he’d still get my vote.
Carrie Matheson – Homeland
Anyone who watches Homeland shouldn’t be surprised to see Claire Danes’ name in this post because, to put it as simply as possible, she’s incredible. She did sublime work in the show’s first season (and won the Emmy she rightfully deserved), but her successes in the second season were of a calibre even I didn’t expect of her.
I’m not going to deny that I found Homeland’s second season to be a mess. However, Claire Danes refused to let the shaky material she was working with drag her performances down. Just take a look at that fifteen-minute, uninterrupted scene from “Q & A” that involves just her and Damien Lewis breaking their characters’ relationship to pieces and rebuilding it in a different way. It was almost as if Danes and Lewis were just saying “here’s why I won that Emmy” to the audience for fifteen minutes–and hell, it worked.
Despite Homeland’s inconsistent second season, Claire Danes was one of the best television performers of the entire season. Although the aforementioned scene was arguably the strongest from the show’s season, it was by no means the only demonstration of her incredible talent. She’ll inevitably be nominated for an Emmy again this year, and after scenes like the one in “Q & A”, I’ll say just give the damn thing to her already and have done with it.
Matthew Rhys, Keri Russell and Noah Emmerich
Phillip Jennings, Elizabeth Jennings and Stan Beaman – The Americans
I clumped all three of the above actors from The Americans into one segment for two reasons: A, because as a collective unit they represented the finest of acting talent from the show’s debut season, and B, because I wanted to save space. But don’t mistake my desire to keep my word-count from being astronomically high as a sign that each actor wasn’t worth mentioning on their own, because each one provided wonderful performances that I would gladly see them earn Emmy nominations for come July 18th.
If there’s one thing about The Americans that I loved as much as the interesting story, it would be the relationship between Rhys’ and Russell’s respective characters, Phillip and Elizabeth. Both were thrown together as two halves of a forced marriage but somehow managed to fall in love with each other in spite of that, but the same profession that threw them together got in the way of that marriage multiple times during the season. Whether they were in scenes of their own, with each other or otherwise, both Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell were compelling both apart from each other and as a single unit.
In regards to Noah Emmerich, his work as the troubled Stan Beaman deserves recognition for how he gave Stan a dark, disturbed edge, particularly noticeable in the episode where he puts a bullet in the head of the suspect he has captive. It was the first time such a side to his character had been witnessed so brutally, and it was a true demonstration of Emmerich’s acting abilities that, combined with the two aforementioned actors and also the might of fellow actor Margo Martindale, made The Americans a fantastically exciting show to watch in its first year.
Sarah, Beth, Alison, Cosima, Helena, and more – Orphan Black
Plenty of actors impressed me over the course of the most recent television season. But if there’s one person that impressed me more than any other, it would be Tatiana Maslany–an actress who, before watching Orphan Black, I had never heard of and likely would never hear of. Why did she impress me so much? Because one actress playing over half a dozen different characters, with widely different mannerisms and personalities, and still managing to make each one distinguishable from the rest is a phenomenal achievement that needs to be seen to be believed.
Orphan Black’s central premise is one that demands Maslany to play over two-thirds of the show’s entire cast, often in scenes comprised of her and her alone. It’s a gargantuan task that I dare say any other actor would collapse under the weight of, but for Maslany, it seems effortless. We’ve seen actors playing multiple roles on shows before (the most recent example being Anna Torv on Fringe), but playing so many roles in such a short space of time is unusual given how improbable the concept seems. But with Maslany, improbability isn’t a concern.
The fact that Maslany manages to play so many different roles and make each character feel totally unique and separate from the rest is, frankly, mind-boggling. I often spent many a time wondering who the actress playing Cosima, Alison etc. was before I remembered that it was all Maslany. That is not an easy thing to do, and it most definitely requires a level of talent simply unfathomable to comprehend. I highly doubt she will even be nominated for an Emmy considering the voters’ avoidance of anything even remotely resembling sci-fi, but she deserves to win not just one award, but all of them. In every category. For every character.
Zooey Deschanel and Jake Johnson
Jess Day and Nick Miller – New Girl
I adored New Girl’s magnificent second season. So many things that were problematic in the show’s first year were either repaired or done away with entirely. And some, like the romance between Jess and Nick, were brought forward to become more of a focal point–and boy did it work.
I had never cared much about Jess and Nick as a couple before season two. Sure, I never objected to their potential hook-up, but it wasn’t something I was actively rooting for to happen. But Deschanel and Johnson made me appreciate their characters so much more during season two. I despaired when it looked like they were going to get together before it was cruelly ripped away, I smiled when they shared semi-intimate moments, and I nearly screamed when the kiss finally happened. Both actors work amazingly well together, and while the stronger material they were working with obviously helped, it was perhaps their combined performances that impressed me the most about New Girl last season.
Now, can we get around to giving them Emmy nominations, please? I won’t be held responsible for my actions if they fail to secure them.
Dr. Hannibal Lecter – Hannibal
It’s quite obvious that any character that kills and eats people in his spare time is bound to be something along the lines of terrifying, but there’s something else to the character of Hannibal Lecter. In Mads Mikkelson’s depiction of the character that the show is named after, the exterior image of normalcy and charm disguises the rotten core of what lies underneath–and Mikkelson was excellent at making that facade give an infinitely stronger sense of horror to the legendary villain.
The fact that Mikkelson plays his character to appear more normal than the rest of the show’s characters, despite the fact he eats people and serves them to his dinner guests, is what contributes to his portrayal of the character being genuinely unnerving. An antagonist that you have to go exploring into to get a clear picture of who they are is an immeasurably more interesting thing to watch, as opposed to one who is simply maniacally evil without a clear motive driving their intentions. Mads Mikkelson gave Hannibal several layers to cover what was inside, each one expertly crafted, and to say that I was impressed with his performances over the show’s first season wouldn’t be giving it enough justice.
Guillermo Diaz (Scandal), Ryan Hurst (Sons of Anarchy), John Noble (Fringe), Corey Stoll (House of Cards), Michelle Fairley (Game of Thrones), Tony Goldwyn (Scandal), Jim Rash (Community), Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad), Hugh Dancy (Hannibal), Damien Lewis (Homeland), Andrew Lincoln (The Walking Dead), Jennifer Carpenter (Dexter), Bellamy Young (Scandal), Elisabeth Moss (Mad Men), Sarah Paulson (American Horror Story: Asylum), Jessica Lange (American Horror Story: Asylum).