Part 2 of an Ongoing Series
The Madwoman of Gilead
I am in the distinct minority that most of what made Mad Men one of the best series on television took place in its initial three seasons. There were a lot of great moments for AMC’s initial premiere classic in the past decade, but I still feel that it peaked around Season 5. But the one thing that did was the work of the extraordinary women in the cast. And no one will argue that Elisabeth Moss’ performance as Peggy was by far the series greatest accomplishment, watching her go from timid secretary to the most professionally and sexually liberated member of the entire cast. All of the actors on Mad Men were shorted by the Emmys, but Moss by far was the most victimized. She didn’t let that bother her though — it took her less than two years to be at the fulcrum of another game changing series. While I question the unrelenting darkness behind The Handmaid’s Tale, I don’t argue for a single moment with Moss’ remarkable performance as Offred/June, the woman who stands at the heart of rebellion in Gilead. As if that were not enough of an accomplishment, in her spare time she plays a hypersexual, hard-partying New Zealand detective at the center of some perverse mysteries at the center of Jane Campion’s series Top of The Lake — which got her the first Golden Globe she’d ever win. There have been a lot of great female driven performances at the center of this decade. Few have been as memorable as the ones Moss has breathed life into.
The Epitome of Restraint
Of all the series at the center of the 2010s, I feel that Showtime’s Masters of Sex, the drama centered around the lives of groundbreaking sexual studies Masters and Johnson was by far the most underrated. Superbly written, directed and above all acted, it is among the contenders of greatest period piece ever. And one of the reason that I loved it so much was the work of Michael Sheen as Dr. William Masters.
Prior to this series, Sheen was known for being one of the most undervalued actors in the history of movies, known for his portrayals of such British icons as Tony Blair and David Frost. The role of William Masters fit him like a glove as he a man who wanted to break the boundaries of how we looked at sex, but couldn’t acknowledge — especially to himself — that he couldn’t control every element of the world around him, from his professional life to his troubled marriage to his relation with Virginia Johnson. It was a textbook performance in how underplaying a role deserves to measure, which is probably why he never received a single Emmy nomination for his work. Ever since Masters was prematurely canceled, Sheen has kept himself very busy — in 2019 alone, he played Azriphale, a restrained angel who misplaces the Antichrist in Good Omens, a showboat, boundary pushing attorney on Season 3 of The Good Fight, and a serial killer father on the new breakout hit Prodigal Son. I think the odds of his remaining underrecognized have dropped precipitously in the past few months, and I couldn’t be happier.
Long Live the Queen
It has now been considered a virtual given that Olivia Colman is going to get at least one Emmy for taking over the role of Queen Elizabeth II on Netflix’s incredible series The Crown, even though it doesn’t debut until November. This, however, will only serve as a overcorrection for a British actress who was definitely a regal presence — yes, even before she deservedly won an Oscar for playing Queen Anne in The Favorite.
She launched herself to stardom in the incredible British mystery series Broadchurch as Detective Miller, a woman who found herself out of her depth when a friend of her son was murdered in the first season, and would eventually learned that it was not the only connection. Over three seasons, her work was among the great performances I’ve ever seen, winning her a BAFTA prize for television. In 2016, she launched herself to American audiences in the incredible AMC adaptation of John Le Carre’s The Night Manager, playing a spy master so brilliant at her job, I was actually astonished when I learned that the writers had flipped her character gender for the part: she was so perfect in the role. And she has capped it off with two incredible seasons in Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s work Fleabag, playing Godmother, the woman who was the bane of the title character’s existence, and was so nice to everyone you couldn’t help but hate her. I’d say she was robbed of an Emmy, but there were a lot of good competitors in that race. She’s clearly one of the most gifted British actresses of our time — I feel absolutely no doubt about her ability to step into the shoes and handbag that Claire Foy handled so well for two seasons.