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The Best TV Performances of 2018

Television was bursting with talent in 2018, and these performances will leave a mark for many more years to come.

Susan Kelechi Watson, Donald Glover, and Hong Chau best actors 2018

Susan Kelechi Watson, Donald Glover, and Hong Chau

NBC / FX / Amazon

Hong Chau, “Forever”

The breakout star of “Downsizing” had a very stealthy and very amazing fall. After appearing in the best episode of Amazon’s “Forever,” in which Chau’s best qualities shine through as she plays one-half of a heartbreaking love story, she also steals multiple scenes away from the voice cast of “BoJack Horseman.” Pickles Aplenty could have been a joke of a character, but Chau brings empathy and humanity to her voice work, making it impossible not to root for her. And then “Homecoming” places her in the thankless role of secretary… which she once again explodes into something profound. Watch out for Chau — she’s not capable of doing something ordinary. – LSM

D’Arcy Carden, “The Good Place”

Made to serve The Good Place and hold information, Janet is neither human, demon, nor robot. (Really, she’s not a robot.) With that confusing and ill-defined description, Carden has created a wholly unique character whose open, inner light shines through even as she delivers the most stilted, inhuman lines. In the show’s 2018 midseason finale, Carden has the task of dampening that inner Janet to play four other versions of herself: Janet on the outside, but her human friends Eleanor, Chidi, Jason, and Tahani on the inside. It’s a great sight gag since they’re all as visually distinct as you can get, yet Carden is able to channel each character just enough to offer a whiff of their essence without devolving into exaggerated caricatures. No matter what creator Michael Shcur throws at Carden, she’s clearly up for the challenge. – HN

Julia Roberts, “Homecoming”

Homecoming Trailer Amazon Julia Roberts

Julia Roberts in “Homecoming”

Amazon

It’s on our list of the year’s best moments, but for your consideration: There might not be a finer piece of acting all year than at the end of the season’s eighth episode when Heidi (Roberts) goes to call Walter (Stephan James) back and catches herself before she does so. The subtlety needed to make a simple, wordless mouth movement become one of the most emotionally affecting beats in all of 2018 TV takes an untold amount of control and craft. Given how much Roberts internalizes Heidi’s ongoing grappling with the truth behind her job, those tiny peeks into the audience’s consciousness give an unexpected sense of momentum to the whole show around her. – SG

Hayley Atwell, “Howards End”

Taking the role of a beloved literary figure is often a daunting task, causing some performers to indulge readers’ ideas of who the character is and leaving others to veer so far in the opposite direction that it seems like A Choice. Atwell finds a third avenue, bringing an unmistakable vibrancy to Margaret Schlegel that still acknowledges the thematic constrictions of the source material. Even in the face of an unusual relationship, drenched in tragic memories, Margaret remains a beacon of hope for old and new family alike.  – SG

Rob McElhenney, “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”

Rob McElhenney has always enjoyed playing with his persona of Mac on “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” but in Season 13, he really challenges and expands the audience’s understanding of a crass, oft-drunk door guy. After shedding weight to become problematically ripped, Mac’s arc culminates in an epic and beautiful performance that lets the blunt-speaking security guard express his innermost thoughts through the art of dance. Complicated and confounding, rewarding and riveting, the number does a number on Frank (Danny DeVito), and its indefinable affect translates to the audience, as well. Viewers know Mac better at the end of his seven-minute dance than they did before he started, and that alone is worth celebrating after 13 years. – LSM

Brandon Victor Dixon, “Jesus Christ Superstar”

Stealing the spotlight from John Legend — much less Jesus Christ — is no easy feat, but the “Hamilton” alum easily commands the stage in NBC’s fantastic spectacle of a musical. As the fiery Judas Iscariot, Dixon vibrates with a fury and conviction that is only matched by his swagger. His incredible vocals match the power of his rangy movements, all of which exude an effortless yet powerful stature. Dixon gives the depth that is needed for the complex role, creating such a charismatic and sympathetic character that would convert any viewer into a disciple. – HN

Jim Carrey, “Kidding”

Jim Carrey in "Kidding."

Jim Carrey in “Kidding”

Showtime

“Kidding” is one of the most striking performances Jim Carrey has delivered in decades, as the Showtime series about a troubled children’s show host gave him the opportunity to explore a rich realm of roles. Jeff Pickles, as a character, has a well-polished veneer of lightness, but the ways in which his inner darkness surface are unexpected and haunting. Watching Carrey both hide and reveal that intense sadness and grief is some of the year’s most fascinating viewing, even from an actor whose range has been unquestioned since “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.” If this is what he’s been storing up, than the wait was worth it. – LSM

Sandra Oh, “Killing Eve”

Sandra Oh stole every “Grey’s Anatomy” scene she was in, which is what makes her long-awaited leading role in a series so very satisfying. She gives MI5 agent Eve Polastri – who goes on the hunt for a flamboyant international assassin Villanelle (Jodie Comer) – a restless air. She’s quirky, perpetually hungry, and not just a little obsessed, and Oh pulls all of this together beautifully to create a wholly fascinating woman. In a year when actors of Asian descent have been getting the spotlight on the big screen, Oh has been owning that space on the small. She redefines what a leading lady looks like – not just for her ethnic background, but also for a character whose self-destructive flaws could be her own undoing.

Justin Theroux, “Maniac”

What more is there to say about this performance? A would-be refined intellectual trapped inside a mad scientist’s body, Justin Theroux’s Dr. Mantleray is the purest expression of whateer this bizarre TV experiment is chasing. Snipping a bonsai tree with enamored delicacy, while within close proximity to a hysterical blindness freakout is the kind of versatility that Theroux rarely gets to showcase in the same role. It’s the weaponized goofiness you’d expect from the writer of “Zoolander” and the specificity he brought to that HBO show he was on for a few years. If anyone doubts that “Maniac” was actually a comedy, kindly submit to them a montage of Theroux’s scenes to clear up any confusion. – SG

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