The Best TV Performers of the 2010s
A Continuing Look At Some of Television’s Best from this Past Decade
Ted Danson and Kirsten Bell
Forking Incredible In Everything They Do
The Good Place is one of the great triumphs of the decade, an extraordinary comedy that deals with ethical issues that few other series, comedy or drama, would dare tackle. And much of the reason for its incredible success is due to the work of its two major stars, Ted Danson as Michael, a demon who undergoes some of the most remarkable evolution possible, and Bell as Eleanor, a horrible human being in life who ultimately has become the force for righteousness in the afterlife. If it were just for the work they did in this series alone, they would deserve mention. But both have done more.
One of the nicer dividends of the New Golden Age has been watching Danson, who spent the better part of fifteen years in comedy series playing off his affability in Cheers, completely shift his career in directions you wouldn’t have thought possible from the lead in Becker. There was his extraordinary work as Arthur Frobisher, the cuthrouat industrialist at the center of the first three seasons of Damages, one of the underwatched greatest series of all times. He did a marvelous comic turn in the droll detective parody Bored to Death. And as Hank Larrson, one of the few genuine forces for pure good in the second season of Fargo, he was a dry force of stability in a world of chaos. I’m even willing to forgive his by-the-numbers work in the later seasons of CSI — doing all that creative work, he had to find some way to pay the bills.
Bell hasn’t been quite as active, but what she has done has often been golden. She was one of the few really enjoyable things about another dirty, messy Showtime ‘comedy’ — Jeannie, the ruthless/love interest at the center of House of Lies. In a series that was frequently inconsistent in tone and writing, her steady hand was one of the few good things about it. Then while working in The Good Place, she returned to the role which put her map in one of the most beloved canceled series of all time — Veronica Mars, when it returned for a fourth season earlier this year. This role may have given her the most joy of any series, and I’m sure if Hulu can find a way to continue it, she will sign back up.
Is The Good Place one of the greatest shows of all time? We’ll have to wait to see how it ends in January. But its pretty clear that the work Danson and Bell have put in is magnificent.
Yes, She Is a Criminal, But….
This is not an article to defend Felicity Huffman for her role in the college scandals. I realize her illegal activity has put a black mark by her — a lot of people no doubt thought she is the epitome of celebrity privilege. But the fact is, despite her crimes, I can’t deny she’s been one of the strongest actress of this decade — hell, she was one of the greatest actresses the medium has ever seen.
In the final seasons of Desperate Housewives, Lynette may have been the one solid thing the series had going for it as it descended into the soap opera it had originally been imagined to satirize. But she more than redeemed herself in her extraordinary performances in American Crime. From the racist mother who tried to blame anybody but herself for her son’s murder, to the entrenched dean trying to deal with a homosexual rape that spirals out of control to the daughter trying to break free of a farm that relies on illegal slave labor, Huffman was consistently and frequently exceptional. Only the fact that the competition in the Best Actress/Limited Series may have the greatest it’s ever been stopped her from receiving at least one more Emmy.
And her work as Linda Fairstein, the NYPD detective who leads the ever to torture confessions out of the Central Park Five — and then, when their innocence is a certainty, deny that it is real — was among the most frightening work I’ve seen this year. Let’s face it, the college scandal put any onus on her getting a deserved nomination.
I don’t pretend that Huffman is a saint. (And considering how much I admired her as an actress before the scandal, this truly is painful to admit it.) But even if she never gets another acting job again (unlikely, this is Hollywood) she should still be remembered for who she was: one of the greatest thespians in TV history.
The Former Doctor Whos
These are The Good Doctors
No matter what your opinion of the current incarnation of Doctor Who (and really there are as many opinions of that as there have been regenerations) the men who played the Doctor so well in the first decade have some extraordinary work this past decade.
Christopher Eccleston upset a lot of people when he departed the current incarnation after its first season. Especially since he spent much of the next decade doing TV series and movies — mostly in Britain — that were far below his ability. Then in 2014, he took on the role of Matt Jamison in The Leftovers and touched greatness. A minister mentioned barely in passing in the original book, he became a character trying to find God in a post-apocalyptic world. In the final season, he found God — and found that he was just as lost as he’d ever been. It was an extraordinary performance that the Emmys, like they did with the entire series, felt fit to deny. While Eccleston was working in this brave world, he also worked in The A Word as a drunken Scottish grandfather of a family dealing with an autistic child. Here we got to see the comic side we rarely did.
David Tennant may be the greatest Doctor in history, and has spent his career since playing characters that go vehemently against the cheerful Doctor we once knew. The uncomfortable, prickly DI Alec Hardy in Broadchurch, the villainous Killgrave who haunted the title character in Jessica Jones even after he was well and truly dead, Crowley, the demon who helps misplace the Antichrist in Good Omens… all twisted characters where Tennant’s charisma made you appreciate their problems. And of course, those of us who had doubts about the new incarnation of Ducktales were immediately relieved when we heard who was voicing Scrooge.
And of course, Matt Smith spent the first half of the decade playing the Eleventh Doctor in such a way that its hard to associate him as anything else — until he took on Prince Philip in The Crown and put life into the stodgy old man we see beside the Queen. He earned the Emmy nomination he got.
They made an impact as the Doctors, one can’t deny it. What we can’t deny is just how great they are as actors of their own merits.