Great performances stay with you, and in 2017, there were dozens that we can’t stop thinking about.
There were so many exquisite performances on TV – in leading roles, supporting roles, and guest roles – that it’s impossible to pick a handful as the best. But we narrowed it to the top 21.
Some of the outstanding dramatic performances of the year include Nicole Kidman’s best work of her career on “Big Little Lies,” Elisabeth Moss’ work on “The Handmaid’s Tale,” and Cameron Britton’s creepy portrayal of serial Ed Kemper on Netflix’s “Mindhunter.”
Comedy also had a great year, with multiple performances on “The Good Place” that brought heart, soul, and many, many laughs to the clever afterlife comedy. Comedian and podcaster Marc Maron brought his loveable snark to his bitter character on the Netflix comedy “Glow,” and Rob Delaney showed he has a dark side in season three of “Catastrophe.”
A note: We couldn’t include everyone on “Big Little Lies” and “The Handmaid’s Tale” because it was important to us to showcase smaller, less talked-about performances that you might have missed.
Here’s our list of the best TV performances in 2017:
21. Rob Delaney — “Catastrophe”
20. Zach Woods — “Silicon Valley”
Woods, who comes from an improv background, has had the best laughs on “Silicon Valley” with his subtle and often very dark comedy. Many fans of the show point to T.J. Miller’s Erlich Bachman as the funniest character in the show, but he’s been outshined by Woods’ character Jared for a while now.
19. Maggie Gyllenhaal — “The Deuce”
Maggie Gyllenhaal is the highlight of HBO’s “The Deuce.” She brings her prostitute-turned-pornographer character Candy to life by being both fierce and vulnerable. It’s clear in her performance that Gyllenhaal understands her character more than anyone, and believes in her, too. Gyllenhaal’s confidence in Candy’s ability as a businesswoman in an unconventional business translates into her performance.
18. Marc Maron — “Glow”
Marc Maron plays Sam Sylvia, a smug director with an endless list of clever insults on the tip of his tongue. This is a role the comedian was probably more destined to play than he was destined to make a podcast. Maron is so good that it’s hard to tell that he’s acting. Sylvia could just be Maron’s personality, but either way he’s excellent here.
17. Rachel Bloom — “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend”
16. Alex Jennings — “The Crown”
David, The Duke of Windsor, is not a great guy. He’s self-centered and doesn’t think about consequences. He famously abdicated the throne he was born to take, but doesn’t seem to care about the effect it had on the country and on his family, including his niece, Queen Elizabeth II. In season two, Elizabeth finds out about David’s deep Nazi ties. But Alex Jennings is so good at his role that his ignorance and relentlessness is somewhat charming. You’ll feel bad for him, hate him, feel bad for him, then hate him again, all in one scene.
15. Sterling K. Brown — “This Is Us”
On a show that is filled with striking, emotive performances, Sterling K. Brown stands out among them all. Brown won an Emmy for best actor in a drama for his role, and continues to pull at viewers’ heartstrings (but not in a manipulative way) well into season two.
14. Ewan McGregor — “Fargo”
13. Angela Bassett — “Master of None”
Angela Bassett was only in one episode of “Master of None,” but her presence had massive impact. Lena Waithe, who wrote “Thanksgiving” (and won an Emmy for it), had Bassett in mind for the role of her character Denise’s mother. The episode focuses on Denise’s strained relationship with her mother after coming out to her as a lesbian. Bassett fits comfortably into this role, expressing concern rather than judgment over her sexual preference.
12. Ted Danson — “The Good Place”
The veteran comedy actor brings his never-fading charms to NBC’s “The Good Place.” His role takes a shocking turn in the season one finale’s twist that makes his performance even better when looking back on the whole season. His character’s evolution in the first half of season two is quite different from the work he was doing in season one, and proves that Danson can make an evil demon one of the most charming characters on TV.
11. Ann Dowd — “The Handmaid’s Tale”
Instead of portraying her character as a one-note villain, Dowd brings a certain empathy to this otherwise repulsive human being that no one else could’ve pulled off. In simple facial expressions and body language, Dowd gives a subtle, chilling performance that adds to the story by giving some perspective from the people who run Gilead.
10. Claire Foy — “The Crown”
Season two of “The Crown” was Claire Foy’s last season on the show. Her character loses some screen time to Prince Philip and other characters throughout the season, and Foy recognises that in her performance. She takes full advantage of every second she’s on screen, capturing the Queen’s loneliness, her fondness for tradition, and her desire to do her duty – to her country, herself, her family, and her marriage – from her delivery to her facial expressions. Foy also nails the Queen’s accent, which is actually very different from Foy’s.
9. Jessica Lange — “Feud: Bette and Joan”
Jessica Lange is good in everything, but she’s great in “Feud: Bette and Joan.” What most assumed would just be a fun, glossy show about old Hollywood and women fighting was actually an insightful look at the treatment of women in the film industry, especially older women. Lange didn’t hesitate in highlighting Joan Crawford’s flaws: she’s vain, selfish, and catty. But Lange plays her with so much empathy it makes the show and her feud with Bette Davis (played by Susan Sarandon) a believable, tragic, and exciting true story.
8. Aiden Gillen — “Game of Thrones”
How the fabulous Aiden Gillen managed to make everyone feel kind of bad for Littlefinger getting such a sudden, brutal death after all he has done to the Stark family will always be a mystery. But he did it.
7. Alexander Skarsgård — “Big Little Lies”
Alexander Skarsgård’s role on “Big Little Lies” was chilling. But in some moments, he was also completely charming. Skarsgård’s role as Perry could have easily gone a stereotypical route we’ve seen before, but he put a lot of thought and work into his role as an abusive husband to Nicole Kidman’s Celeste. Kidman and Skarsgård worked together to pull of an abusive marriage, and it was beneficial to both of their Emmy-winning performances.
6. D’Arcy Carden — “The Good Place”
D’Arcy Carden plays Janet, a robot assistant in the afterlife. Until the end of season one, Janet was just a helpful robot who provided a lot of visual comedy. But toward the end of season one and into season two, Janet progresses, gaining some humanity. Carden plays a robot developing human connection perfectly, and has sparkling chemistry with her co-stars, especially Ted Danson. Since Janet’s become more of a person, she’s become the heart of the show, and it wouldn’t be the same without Carden in the role.
5. Cameron Britton — “Mindhunter”
Cameron Britton is so haunting as real-life serial killer Ed Kemper that his performance will stay with you. Kemper is so charming and empathetic when he shares his troubled childhood that you might end up feeling bad for him, but you also might lose some sleep over his terrifying demeanour.
4. The kids on “American Vandal”
“American Vandal” wouldn’t have worked without its perfectly casting and acting. Each student – the main characters and supporting characters – fits perfectly into this world in looks, body language, and delivery.
3. Elisabeth Moss — “The Handmaid’s Tale”
Elisabeth Moss was phenomenal as Peggy Olson on “Mad Men,” a role that unfortunately never won her an Emmy. Her transformative role as Offred on “The Handmaid’s Tale” proved that she’s one of the best actresses alive, and she finally won an Emmy for it. She added vibrancy and personality to her character, which added layers to her performance as an oppressed woman.
2. Carrie Coon — “The Leftovers”
1. Nicole Kidman — “Big Little Lies”
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