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The Best TV Performances of 2017

Veteran performers reinvented themselves and new faces turned into national favorites in another astounding year for small screen performances.

Best Performances 2017 Rachel Brosnahan Kyle MacLachlan DeWanda Wise


Kathryn Hahn, “I Love Dick”

Kathryn Hahn is one of those performers who fits so flawlessly into whatever she’s assigned that it’s almost sad she can’t be in everything. But in Jill Soloway and Sarah Gubbins’s Amazon series “I Love Dick,” she’s given the spotlight she deserves, delivering a performance so flawless and haunting that it seems to defy the word “bravery.” Instead, Hahn embodies the concept of “honest,” and it proves key to making “I Love Dick” one of the year’s most out-there but unforgettable episodic experiences.

Freddie Highmore, “The Good Doctor”

THE GOOD DOCTOR - "Mount Rushmore" - Dr. Shaun Murphy's attention to detail complicates his first day at St. Bonaventure Hospital. Meanwhile, Dr. Claire Browne learns a valuable lesson about honesty when confronted with a difficult diagnosis for her patient. "The Good Doctor" airs MONDAY, OCTOBER 2 (10:01-11:00 p.m. EDT), on The ABC Television Network. (ABC/Eike Schroter)BRITT LODER, FREDDIE HIGHMORE

Hey, awards voters, what more could you possibly want from Freddie Highmore? For years, he’s been delivering an absolutely chilling but sympathetic take on Norman Bates on “Bates Motel” and brought the series home in its final season this year. Sadly, despite critical acclaim, that wasn’t enough to translate into a significant nomination over its five seasons.

Fine then. Try ignoring him now. Playing Shaun Murphy, a doctor with autism and savant syndrome, on ABC’s surprise hit medical drama “The Good Doctor” gives him yet another opportunity to embody a person who may not always be fully understood. While hiring an actor with autism would’ve been the ideal way to go, it’s hard to argue with Highmore’s casting because he’s so damn good. It’s not just that he’s able to portray a person with autism convincingly without making it a cringe-inducing caricature, rather he’s able to do that and somehow still convey a wealth of emotion through the somewhat restrained exterior. Despite criticism leveled against the show, Highmore’s performance is the key factor that makes it all work.

Orlando Jones, “American Gods”

Screengrab pulled by EPs Orlando Jones

Of all the mythological heavyweights that made their way through the opening season of “American Gods,” few characters blended the spirit of immortality with such ferocity as Jones’ version of Mr. Nancy. In a scene set aboard a slave ship, Jones’ gradual, incremental progression from trickster deity to a fiery stoker of rebellion is the fuel for one of the series’ (and the year’s) standout TV moments. Clad in a bespoke suit with sharply polished delivery to match, Jones became one of the tethers in a season that demanded the audience follow along. Toss in an impressive turn as an enigmatic cult leader on “Room 104” and Jones had quite the year.

Shazad Latif, “Star Trek Discovery”

As Lieutenant Tyler, a POW who quickly found a place for himself on the Discovery after his escape with Captain Lorca (Jason Isaacs) from a Klingon jail, it wasn’t clear what to make of Shazad Latif, since his character was such in flux. But over the weeks given on screen during the first half of the season, Latif gave Tyler an identity, a presence, beyond his established role as a shellshocked soldier. There are ongoing questions about how he fits into the future narrative, but we remain impressed by what he added to the narrative.

Kyle MacLachlan, “Twin Peaks”

Kyle MacLachlan, "Twin Peaks"

Perhaps lost in the Twins Trend of 2017 is the fact Kyle MacLachlan played at least three, possibly four, parts in “Twin Peaks: The Return,” and they were all very, very different. Even the arrested development version of Dale Cooper was a marked change from the Dale Cooper fans got to know in the first two seasons. Throw in Dougie Jones — short-lived, but unforgettable — and the ominous, unflinching Mr. C., and suddenly MacLachlan is making up a quarter of the series’ main cast.

That’s quite a responsibility, but it’s also quite the juggling act. Bouncing between the benevolent stupor of Dale Cooper and the stoic evil of Mr. C. alone requires a deft touch and deep understanding of one’s physicality. But within all these men, MacLachlan helped create iconic moments while building distinct personalities. He’s an essential element of David Lynch’s dreamscape, but he’s no pawn; MacLachlan adds to the surreality with deliberate choices that pay off big.

Michael McKean, “Better Call Saul”

Honestly, we’re might just be mentioning Michael McKean here out of spite, because the Emmys should have nominated him for at least the last two years, but never managed to do so. While fellow castmate Jonathan Banks is a tremendous performer, McKean has been the platonic ideal of a Best Supporting Actor since Season 2… and yet, the Emmys are dummies. That doesn’t at all detract from McKean’s amazing work over the past few seasons, but we still hope there’s some sort of chance for him to get recognized for his dramatic chops, down the line.

Aubrey Plaza, “Legion”

Legion Season 1 Episode 1 Aubrey Plaza gif

Argh! For everybody who never got around to watching “Legion,” the holidays are upon us, and therefore you have time for an entertaining binge full of trippy mindscapes and nightmarish imagery. To match that realm of the bizarre is Aubrey Plaza, who we first meet as the buddy of David Haller (Dan Stevens), a man who might be schizophrenic. Tasked with playing Lenny, a character whose every move is a strike against David’s psyche, Plaza gets to play by the fluid rules of cartoons. Lenny shows many faces: strung-out addict, grandiose rock star, alluring siren, intense confidant, and madcap monster. Though the role is tinged with malevolence and danger, she still manages to make the entire Lenny experience a helluva lot of fun.

Justin Roiland, “Rick and Morty”

Voice actors take on a lot of challenges while executing their unique line of work. But when was the last time one man basically ruled an entire episode of television. The answer is Justin Roiland in the “Rick and Morty” episode “The Ricklantis Mixup,” a mind-bending and jaw-dropping installment that entirely relied on Roiland as a performer. Fortunately, the co-creator of the show was more than able to execute. All season long, “Rick and Morty” demanded the best of its voice cast, but this was definitely Roiland’s crowning achievement.

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