25 Best TV Performances of 2022

TV kicked cinema’s ass this year, there’s no question about it. It wasn’t even close. While the movies offered a handful of great films, “television” offered excellent series after excellent series, continuing to expand the bounds and capabilities of the medium. Within it, there were some amazing performances. If I could, I’d make a Top 50 performances list, but alas, nobody would read it and I’d die from exhaustion writing it. So here are my Top 25 picks of the best little screen character portrayals…

1. Bob Oedenkirk & Rhea Seehorn – Better Call Saul

Picking a number one for TV performances was extremely difficult. Picking a number one for movie performances was an easy selection for me this year, but more on that in a couple of weeks when I release my Top 10 Films of 2022 and Top 25 Film Performances of 2022 lists. So who would I go with for #1 in television? Zendaya for consistently elevating a surface-level show like Euphoria? Ben Whishaw for making us love the thorniest “good guy” on TV this year? Maybe Jean Smart for Hacks, I sure do love Hacks! In the end I had to go with two leads of the greatest spin-off show of all time…excluding Frasier of course…Better Call Saul.

Bob Odenkirk has played Saul Goodman/Jimmy McGill for twelve consecutive years if you count his five year stint on Breaking Bad. Over that time, he’s managed to layer and contextualize this character to almost Shakespearean proportions. Of course much of this is due to the phenomenal work of Better Call Saul‘s writing staff, but the Mr. Show mastermind adds a crucial flavor to this character, making him such an endearing human, even if he’s a total piece of shit most of the time. Completely on Odenkirk‘s level is the seriously underrated Rhea Seehorn as Kim Wexler, Jimmy’s best friend and fellow lawyer turned eventual wife and co-conspirator. The role is wonderfully written, but much like Odenkirk, the magic is in the way Seehorn plays it or rather underplays it, making Kim into perhaps the most complicated and sympathetic character in the Breaking Bad universe. The best scenes of the show involve these characters’ dynamic with Odenkirk and Seehorn playing beautifully off each other. It’s maybe the single most interesting TV/Film romantic relationship of the last decade. After six seasons of god-tier television, both Odenkirk and Seehorn deserve fucking Emmys already. BETTER CALL SAUL IS STREAMING ON AMC+

Runner-Ups

Patricia Arquette – Severance 

As Adam Scott‘s corporate cultist boss, Harmony Kobel was one of the scariest and saddest villains on television this season. Obsessed with her company to the point of having a shrine to its founder in her home, Arquette succeeds in not only creating a choice antagonist but eliciting some sympathy from us along the way. SEVERANCE IS STREAMING ON APPLETV+

Zazie Beetz – Atlanta 

Van wasn’t a driving force behind the third or fourth seasons of Atlanta, but she did have some pretty incredible moments. Her best was Season 4’s “Work Ethic” which played like an absurdist comedy turned intense thriller centering around Van taking Lottie to go act in the new Mr. Chocolate movie (basically Tyler Perry) and almost losing her to showbiz. She’s always been the conscious of the show since Earn is too petty, Alfred is too cold and Darius is just too fucking weird, and in the final two seasons of the show, she really shined. ATLANTA IS STREAMING ON HULU

Jon Berenthal – We Own This City 

The perpetually underrated Jon Berenthal nails every ism you’ve experienced with every shitty encounter you’ve ever had with a cop. As Sergeant Wayne Jenkins, a real-life Baltimore cop who abused police resources to steal guns and money from drug dealers and even citizens, Berenthal creates the most unlikeable villain of the television year. Also one of the most richly detailed. Swilling Mike’s Hard Lemonade while swerving in and out of traffic, using excessive force on a regular basis and even at one point, gleefully proclaiming “We own this city!” to his cop buddies over beer and wings, Jenkins is a real son of a bitch. WE OWN THIS CITY IS STREAMING ON HBOMAX

Joshua James Bernard – The Rehearsal 

The Rehearsal is many things including a great vehicle for little known or completely unknown actors to deliver incredibly spot-on and effective performances opposite of real and unsuspecting humans. In Nathan Fielder‘s fucked-up little human dollhouse experiment of a show, The Rehearsal, former General Hospital actor Joshua James Bernard plays Teen Adam, Fielder and Angela‘s deeply troubled and drug-addled son. In the show’s best episode, Fielder returns home from a weeks long absence (but a years long absence in the “raising a child” simulation they’re all in) to find his son all grown up and happy to see him. Unhappy with how unrealistic this is, Fielder approaches Teen Adam and encourages him to be more upset and on-the-edge about his father’s absence. We see Fielder coaching the young actor on how to act through anger, resentment and a pill addiction by “thinking of a friend who has struggled with substance abuse issues.” Lol, does that make sense? I can’t fucking explain this goddamn show to you if you haven’t seen it, just know it is meta as fuck as Joshua James Bernard rises to the challenge of making this feel uncomfortably real. THE REHEARSAL IS STREAMING ON HBOMAX

Tony Dalton – Better Call Saul

SPOILERS…SPOILERS…The greatest villain ever in the Breaking Bad universe, Lalo Salamanca is a terrifying sociopath who will smile to your face while sticking a knife in your back. Played to chilling perfection by Tony Dalton, the character served as a catalyst for a lot of Season 4-6’s biggest moments. In the first part of Season 6, the character had his best moment, at least from an acting standpoint, traveling to Germany to kill(?) the wife of a guy who built Gus Fring’s meth lab, but ultimately had to be killed for breaching security. The whole episode you think Lalo is going to kill the wife, but it’s all done through him charming her in a bar conversation. The more this character smiles at you, the more likely he’s going to make you dead. It’s an unbelievably tense scene made all the more real by Dalton‘s commitment. BETTER CALL SAUL IS STREAMING ON AMC+

Bridget Everett – Somebody Somewhere

Burlesque comedian turned actress Bridgett Everett really hit it out of the park this year with her intensely lovable performance in Somebody Somewhere, one of the year’s best new shows. She plays a woman returning to her shitty home town after her sister died to work a shitty telemarketing job. She finds a community of lovable nerds along the way, while trying to mend tensions within her family. SOMEBODY SOMEWHERE IS STREAMING ON HBOMAX

Nathan Fielder – The Rehearsal

Who the hell even is Nathan Fielder? That’s the question Nathan himself is trying to answer in his groundbreaking follow-up to Nathan For You. To prepare for having kids of his own one day, because he’s afraid his bizarre nature might fuck the kid up (gee, ya think?), he tries to cohabit with Q-anon fundamentalist born-again woman raise a child who ages years every week. This is the strangest selection on my list because it took me a while to decide if what Fielder does on his show is acting. But it absolutely is, albeit the most unorthodox version of it. I both admire the courage and fortitude it takes Fielder to continually put himself and others in the most cringe-y of situations imaginable and am more than a bit put-off and morally confounded by it. What I’m trying to say is God bless him I guess and I can’t wait for Season 2. THE REHERASAL IS STREAMING ON HBOMAX

Colin Firth – The Staircase 

True crime dramatization series are a dime a dozen and most do it so by-the-numbers it’s ultimately depressing, but HBO’s The Staircase, based on the French docuseries on Netflix, was seriously good. Taking more than its fair share of liberties with real-life characters (I mean, come on, it’s a drama series not a documentary), it managed to create very complex and compelling characters. None more interesting than the central figure, Michael Peterson, brilliantly played by the great Colin Firth. Through his lens, Michael is a cold, calculating sociopath who goes to elaborate lengths to get what he wants no matter how it affects the people around him. While the show never flat-out says he did it, Firth‘s Peterson is 100% guilty of being a dick. THE STAIRCASE IS STREAMING ON HBOMAX

Sarah Goldberg – Barry

SPOILERS…SPOILERS…The long-awaited third season of Barry exceeded my expectations both in terms of quality and new (and way darker) directions it was able to take these characters. Each character got a great arc, but none more so than Sarah Goldberg‘s Sally, who got a crash course in how unfair the industry can be. Landing a major streaming series and then having it taken away from her because of a minor streaming algorithm discrepancy, only to be replaced by a far shittier show by her idiot friend, Natalie, Sally had a complete emotional break that lead to her being #cancelled. The way Goldberg portrays this is near magical, taking the familiar “built up just to lose it all” trope and making it seem fresh and new. It all culminates into a breathtaking shot of her disappearing into a background of pure darkness. Wicked shit, for sure. BARRY IS STREAMING ON HBOMAX

Paul Walter Hauser – Black Bird 

Exceptionally talented character actor Paul Walter Hauser is best known for Richard Jewell, I Tonya, and flipping out on Twitter over New York Times film critics giving awards to non-American Japanese movies – Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s Drive My Car and Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy. It blew up into a whole big thing and resulted in an embarrassed Hauser deleting his Twitter, and while I can’t condone this behavior, his work in Black Bird is undeniably brilliant. The AppleTV+ series follows Taron Egerton as a convicted drug dealer who must befriend and coerce a confession out of Hauser‘s serial child murderer. Ever since Hannibal Lecter and Silence of the Lambs, this genre has been overdone to death. While the series itself doesn’t break much new ground, Hauser‘s performance keeps bringing us to the edge of feeling bad for this monster before we have to remind ourselves he’s a monster. It’s truly spectacular in a show that sadly wasn’t. BLACK BIRD IS STREAMING ON APPLETV+

Brian Tyree Henry – Atlanta 

If there’s a main character in Donald Glover’s Atlanta, it’s probably Alfred “Paper Boi” Miles, a regular dude turned famous rapper trying to keep regular in the face of celebrity. Played by the remarkably versatile Brian Tyree Henry, a Yale University trained thespian, he’s the most tragically relatable character on the show, along with Zazie Beetz‘s Van. Season 3 and 4 of the show saw his character in some truly compelling situations that brought out the best in the actor, including meeting Liam Neeson at an actual brick and mortar Cancel Club and getting shaken down at a celebrity poker game in London. None was more rousing than the series’ penultimate episode which saw Alfred trying to “get away from city life” on a rural marijuana farm, only to be stalked and brutally attacked by a wild hog (the animal, not Tim Allen). This episode was a perfect showcase for the actor to display his comedic timing and intense presence while serving as a way to more or less say goodbye to a character we’ve been heavily invested in for the past six years. ATLANTA IS STREAMING ON HULU

Anna LaMadrid – The Rehearsal 

The third and final of my Rehearsal picks, and maybe the most notable. Actress Anna LaMadrid, who was more or less unknown at the time, is one of the actors attending Nathan‘s “Fielder Method” acting workshop in Episode 4, a problematic course where Fielder suggests students should straight-up stalk the subjects their emulating. Apparently he saw something in her, because he ended up casting her as ‘Fake Angela’ in the very next episode. Thank God he did because her in-character blow-up at Nathan over his role in raising their fictional kid is one of the absolute high points of the show. A great example of how you don’t need to be “a name” to deliver a harrowing and effective example. THE REHEARSAL IS STREAMING ON HBOMAX

Ken Leung – Industry

The crowning jewel of an already impressive cast of actors, Ken Leung (“Wipe yourself off, you’re bleeding” from Rush Hour) is outstanding in HBOMax’s British stock broker drama. He plays Eric Tao, a managing director at a prestigious London financial institution surrounded by a bunch of ambitious whipper snappers. Extremely insecure and debatably sociopathic, Eric is threatened by Gen Z up and comers, going as far to try and befriend/attach himself to the most promising of them in a desperate bid for control. INDUSTRY IS STREAMING ON HBOMAX

Michael Mando – Better Call Saul 

An invaluable asset of the exceptional Better Call Saul ensemble since Day 1, Michael Mando‘s Nacho Varga was the most sympathetic character in a show full of liars, assholes and murderers. He of course could be all three at times, but his main struggle of being a double agent within a crime syndicate while trying to protect his father made us really feel for him. Increasingly getting better scenes with his character getting more fleshed out as seasons passed, the final string of episodes saw him get his own episode in which he absolutely crushed. He was the main focus of arguably the best scene in the whole final season. BETTER CALL SAUL IS STREAMING ON AMC+

Kim Min-ha – Pachinko 

Speaking of sympathetic, Korean actress Kim Min-ha created perhaps the most sympathetic protagonist of the entire television season. As the young adult version of Minari‘s Youn Yuh-jung’s grandmother character on Pachinko, Min-ha managed to express so much of what her character was feeling with a single gesture or glance. It helped that her character was going through a wild range of emotions from getting impregnated by a local Japanese gangster, being shamed by her family into a random marriage to mask her “sin” and then uprooted from her home to live with a strange new husband in Japanese-ruled Korea. PACHINKO IS STREAMING ON APPLETV+

Edi Patterson – The Righteous Gemstones 

For my money, the absolute funniest performance on television these days is writer/actress Edi Patterson‘s portrayal of Judy Gemstone on HBO’s raunchy Dynasty riff, The Righteous Gemstones. The show is about the hypocrisy of evangelism seen through an exorbitantly wealthy televangelist family in the heart of the South where despite their best efforts to be righteous, their lewd behavior doesn’t reflect the image they put out to the masses. The middle child Judy is a real trip. Foul-mouthed, aggressive and overly ambitious, she’s just trying to get the respect the boys in the family do. She’s also delivered the best, most outrageous one-liners. THE RIGHTEOUS GEMSTONES IS STREAMING ON HBOMAX

Sam Reid – Interview with the Vampire 

The clear acting standout of Rolin Jones‘ excellent re-interpretation of Anne Rice‘s beloved classic is Australian actor Sam Reid as Lestat, the intoxicating but deceptive ol’ daddy vampire that turns our protagonist into a bloodsucker. Illustrated here as your standard abusive partner, Reid nails all the intricacies of the antagonist from his grand pomposity to his palpable fear of abandonment. He’s also able to deliver the kind of magnetic charisma this role absolutely requires. Needless to say, he blows Tom Cruise out of the water. INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE IS STREAMING ON AMC+

Amanda Seyfried – The Dropout 

So early in the year I almost forgot about this one, Amanda Seyfried is frighteningly perfect as the infamous blood testing fraudster and Theranos founder, Elizabeth Holmes. The limited series itself never quite reaches her level, but it creates a reasonably good house for the performance to live in. It’s not an easy show to watch because the character itself is so viciously unlikeable, but Seyfried never missteps. I will say this, the show manages to portray Holmes as an unequivocal villain while also showing the reason why many were so passionately trying to bring her down was because of some deep-seated misogyny. That’s not an easy balance to strike, but the show and Seyfried manage it. She’s so unbelievably cringe-y, especially when she’s obliviously dancing throughout her office complex to Lil Wayne on her iPod. Yikes x 1,000,000. THE DROPOUT IS STREAMING ON HULU

Jean Smart – Hacks 

What can I say about Jean Smart and her performance as Deborah Vance in Hacks that hasn’t already been said by every television critic and stan under the sun? Nothing really. She’s great, her timing is perfect and she manages to navigate the darkest depths of her character while still being funny. She allows us to empathize with her without ever undercutting how much of an asshole she can be. It’s also refreshing to see such a talented and for so many years, underrated and undervalued character actress finally receive her due. I’ve loved her since Frasier, my dad since Flashpoint. HACKS IS STREAMING ON HBOMAX

Megan Stalter – Hacks

As great as Hannah Einbinder is, the true second best performance of Hacks is given by sketch and improv comedian Megan Stalter as the absolutely goddamn ridiculous Kayla, Deborah Vance’s agent’s personal assistant. Acquiring her job because her father founded the company, Kayla is near mythic in her inability to properly perform her tasks. Stalter was excellent in the show’s first season, but Season 2 gave her a bit more to do, all culminating in a “quitting” scene so funny it made me cough up my soup. HACKS IS STREAMING ON HBOMAX

Tramell Tillman – Severance 

The second scariest character on Severance is Patricia Arquette‘s underling, Mr. Milchick, rivetingly captured by relatively new character actor, Tramell Tillman. You can tell I’m running out of adjectives to describe these acting feats, “rivetingly captured”, hahahaha, but he’s great. He doesn’t even have to say anything, he just has this intense stoic presence about him that’s wickedly undercut by his neo-optimistic corporate bullshit. He even has a dance scene that ends in assault, so of course, there’s that. SEVERANCE IS STREAMING ON HBOMAX

Ben Whishaw – This Is Going to Hurt 

WARNING: Embargoed for publication until 00:00:01 on 01/02/2022 – Programme Name: This Is Going To Hurt – TX: n/a – Episode: This Is Going To Hurt – Generics (No. n/a) – Picture Shows: Adam (BEN WHISHAW) – (C) Sister – Photographer: Ludovic Robert

This Is Going to Hurt nearly missed my Top 10 TV of 2022 list and its honorable mentions. A really good British medical show that really rode the line between comedy and drama. I’d say the show erred more on the side of drama than comedy, but others have disagreed. Far better than the show itself was Ben Whishaw (the voice of Paddington!) as a young and exhausted junior doctor having both a career and personal crisis. He’s equipped with a bunch of sharp one-liners, but Whishaw does an exquisite job at subtly conveying the pain his character is feeling underneath his facade. THIS IS GOING TO HURT IS STREAMING ON AMC+

Zendaya – Euphoria

The closest thing to a second place this list has, Zendaya receives much more than top honors for single-handedly elevating this show to prestige television. Without her it’s just a gawdy and near-exploitive soap opera fantasy about high school kids railing drugs and blowing each other. With her it’s basically the same, but you’re at least given a character in Rue that doesn’t feel like a one-dimensional, walking, talking cautionary tale. Rue has dimensions characters like Nate and Cassie simply don’t have, despite the show using jarring music stings and gritty cinematography to convince you otherwise. EUPHORIA IS STREAMING ON HBOMAX

Best Ensemble

Reservation Dogs

Paulina Alexis, Lane Factor, Gary Farmer, Funny Bone, Dallas Goldtooth, Elva Guerra, Devery Jacobs, Zahn McClarnon, Lil Mike, Sarah Podemski, D’Pharaoh Woon-A-Tai

RESERVATION DOGS “Satvrday’” Episode 8 (Airs, Monday, September 20) Pictured: (l-r) Paulina Alexis as Willie Jack, Lane Factor as Cheese, D’Pharaoh Woon-A-Tai as Bear, Devery Jacobs as Elora Danan. CR: Shane Brown/FX

There were many great ensembles this year from the young hot sociopaths of Industry, to the quirky DIY family of vampires in What We Do in the Shadows. However, for this I just had to go with the beautifully rendered characters of Sterlin Harjo and Taika Waiti‘s Reservation Dogs. Mostly played by unknowns or little knowns, everyone is perfectly cast in their roles and succeed in creating a world that feels uncommonly real, even for the world of television. Bear, Elora, Cheese, Willie Jack, the twins, William “Spirit” Knifeman. Too many to name, all very much responsible for bringing one of television’s best shows to thrilling life. RESERVATION DOGS IS STREAMING ON HULU

My Top 10 TV of 2022 w/ Honorable Mentions article is dropping this Friday!

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