The Best Performers on TV of the 2010s
Conclusion of the Series
A Character Actor in an Era of Great Ones
Baker has always been one the greatest character actors to watch no matter what medium he’s in. And he’s always been busy in TV. But in this past decade, the combination of the new Golden Age and his natural ability to play particularly shifty individuals has caused him to kick his natural talents into high gear.
His greatest role may involve his work as Colin Sweeney, the always marrying/suspected wife killer who has been at the center at so many great situations in The Good Wife as well as The Good Fight. Colin seems to be one of those men you always assume is guilty and the challenge for Alicia and company was to find him innocent mainly by getting him to shut up — something that he seemed to take pride in not doing.
There have been so many extraordinary roles for him this decade — the double agent on The Americans who seriously doubted his mission until the time came to give his life for it, the senator on Homeland who seemed determined to bring down the President — even though he knew she was innocent, Johnny Carson on I’m Dying up Here — but my favorite role that he played was probably one nobody saw. On the fourth season of Damages, he played Jerry Boorman, a ruthless mercenary and assassin who was determined to kill anyone who might expose his secrets or leave a trail back to him. Even his own lover. The fact that his real secret was something of an anticlimax doesn’t change the fact that it was still one of his greatest roles, and for an actor of his magnitude that says a lot.
He has not slowed down one iota — his next series is working with Al Pacino in the upcoming Amazon series Hunters. He’s a great actor; I just wish one day some series would show the logic to cast him as the lead.
The Women of Big Little Lies
Even If They Don’t Do Another Season….
Big Little Lies has been one of the great triumphs of HBO: first as an astonishing limited series that was one of the great accomplishments of the era, and then managing the impossible: doing a second season because of popular demand, and actually making it more than a gimmick. And all of the credit should go to the five extraordinary women who were the leads.
But even if you just count in the level of their performances (which earned Nicole Kidman and Laura Dern Emmys, and Shailene Woodley and Reese Witherspoon nominations), their level of work throughout the decade in television would also merit a fair level of excellence.
Of particular note is Dern. Starting the decade with that rarest of things — an undervalued and underwatched HBO comedy — Enlightened was one of those series that died way too soon. Her work on the incredible TV movie The Tale was worth another Emmy, and I will never forget her performance as Diane, the woman Agent Cooper dedicated all his tapes to, and had an unforgettable way of saying ‘Fuck you’ that made us all glad she came to cable.
Kidman’s body of work was less impressive, but also including an Emmy worthy turn as Martha Gellhorn in the HBO TV Movie Hemingway and Gellhorn, as well as impressive work on Top of the Lake’s second season. Shailene Woodley has broken so big over the last decade in films that it’s easy to forget she began the decade in a similar role in The Secret Life of the American Teenager — though Jane’s experience was far less positive than Amy’s was. And Reese Witherspoon’s unforgettable turn as Madeline apparently has led her to join the revolution. She became the lead on Apple’s debut series The Morning Show and is now the executive producer and lead in another series Little Fires Everywhere.
All of the actresses on these series have been so busy; it’s hard to imagine time for a third season of Big Little Lies. The thing is, I now really want to see what happens to the Monterey Five.
I have barely scratched the surface of the great performers of this decade. I haven’t dealt with Michael Emerson, who continually manages to stride the border between brilliant and creepy so many times, Chris Messina who managed to deal with so many roles that were romantic and flawed, to the Gummer sisters, who have managed to demonstrate they may someday be as brilliant leading ladies as their mother (I’ll just say she was in Big Little Lies this year, and leave it at that.)
Suffice to say, television has welcomed some of the greatest actors today in some of the most versatile parts ever. Of course, they couldn’t have done it without their writers — but that’s the next article.