The Best TV Performers of the 2010s

An Ongoing Series

Michael K. Williams

May Not Be The King, But He’s Still One of the Best

Williams so inhabited the role of Omar, the stickup man with a code on The Wire that it’s hard to imagine what he could possibly do to make us forget it. If he hasn’t quite accomplished that, in the past decade he has demonstrated the ability he had to create some of the most memorable characters ever assembled.

He began the decade as ‘Chalky’ White, the African-American labor/crime boss who commanded respect even from Nucky Thompson on Boardwalk Empire, despite his own illiteracy and what would eventually be his own moral undoing. He took on the role of Leonard in Sundance’s undervalued Hap & Leonard series. A gay, black Republican who loved his Nilla Wafers, Leonard was the moral center of two friends who were constantly involved in chaos on either side of the criminal world. In the limited series, The Night of, he created a memorable, literate con who protected Naz in prison, and eventually became as much a burden as his own crime — a role that finally earned him his first Emmy nomination. He earned another this past year, playing Bobby McCray, the ex-con stepfather of Anton, whose experience with the police make him persuade his stepson to plead guilty, and whose lack of response both before and after his trial leads to the biggest guilt.

Image for post
Image for post

Williams has already created some of the most indelible character portrayals even among a medium and era that has been better than it ever has for African-American actors, something that probably wouldn’t have happened without Omar. I can’t wait to see what come next for him. I’m hoping an Emmy finally comes, but as Omar would put it, ‘the game is the game’.

Regina King

Started the Decade A Cop, Ended It A Superhero

Regina King was a good actress in her early years, who couldn’t find roles worthy of her. So, like so many other great African-American actresses would — Taraj P. Henson, Kerry Washington, and Viola Davis — she went to TV. And she’s never had to look for work for long since.

She began the decade as an LA detective on the critically acclaimed series Southland, a show that NBC dumped and TNT picked up for four seasons afterward. But network TV would launch her to her greatest heights. In the incredible limited series American Crime, the anthology series that was the closest thing network TV ever had to The Wire, she was by far its biggest star. Whether as the Muslim sister of an accused murderer, the middle-class parent of a teenage star accused of a homosexual rape, or a social worker trying to rescued young people from human trafficking, she made every role her own, and infused them with a humanity that could not be suppressed. She deservedly won two Supporting Actress Emmys for her work on that series.

Image for post
Image for post

Her next work was on Seven Seconds, a Netflix original series about a racially charged police shooting and the aftermath. The series was cancelled after one season, but her work didn’t go unnoticed: she won another Emmy, this time for Best Actress in a Limited Series.

While she was working on American Crime, she took on the role of a troubled mother of a disappeared family living in a small town that wasn’t affected by the Departure on The Leftovers. Her part was small, but it was indelible to Damon Lindelof, who has cast her as Angela, the cop/superhero at the center of Watchmen. And in between, she finally won an Oscar.

King is one of the great actresses I’ve ever seen in any medium. She has a vitality and a sexuality that doesn’t seem to have left her even as she heads towards 50. I already know there’s nothing she can’t play. And even if Watchmen is, as Lindelof has suggested, a one season series, I know that won’t stop this actress, who is definitely more powerful than a locomotive.

Katie Stevens

Normally They’re Not This Great, This Soon

It may seem a little soon to call an actress who hasn’t even reached 27 yet one of the greatest of this decade, even though this is one that has been kind to a lot of younger and talented actors. But Stevens in particular has already revealed that she may be in a once in a generation talent.

In 2014, the world became aware of her on the incredible MTV series Faking It. An astonishing piece of work, Stevens and Rita Volk played Karma and Amy, a pair of bestie teenagers in Austin who find themselves impersonating lesbians in order to try and become popular in their high school run by outsiders. Though the entire cast was outstanding, Stevens’ work as Karma, a girl who found herself in a bizarre triangle between her, Karma and Leon was fascinating because she was always at the center of it. Alas, the series’ premature cancellation after three seasons left everything unresolved, and a gaping hole in my heart.

But Stevens landed on her feet, on an even more brilliant series, Freeform’s The Bold Type. Playing Jane, the journalist at the fashion magazine Scarlet, she has gone through some of the deeper struggle of any of the characters, having to deal with a health issue that could damage any chance of being a mother. Again, all of the characters — especially the two other female leads — are outstanding, and it is credit to Stevens that she has landed on the series that Sex and the City and Girls tried to be, but never came close to pulling off.

Stevens is a hell of a find, and since it looks like The Bold Type could run for a while, there’s no chance she’ll be out of work soon. But I can’t wait to see where she lands next.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store