The Greatest Actors and Performers of the 2010s

An Ongoing Series, Part 5

Carrie Coon

Nothing Limited About Her Work

Considering that she is so much a part of the medium, it’s rather astonishing to realize that Coon’s entire career in acting pretty much spans this decade. It’s even more astonishing, given her body of work, that she only has one Emmy nomination for her entire career.

Coon burst on to the scene as Nora, essentially the female lead of The Leftovers. As a woman trying to somehow go on while her entire family has disappeared, Coon was by far the guts of the series. One of the biggest beneficiaries of the Broadcast Critics Awards, she grabbed three nominations and one Best Actress trophy for her work. And while her body of work was astonishing, it basically coalesced in one of the great moments of television in the final episode. Nora steps into a machine that will supposedly reveal to her what happened to everybody. Just as the machine is filling up, we cut to the Australian outback more than twenty years later — and spend almost the entirety of the episode on Nora as a recluse. The final ten minutes are essentially a monologue where Nora tells what happened and what she saw. Considering how badly Damon Lindelof’s series faltered in the finale, the only way this would work was if Coon was perfect. And she was.

Her next job came in the incredible third season of Fargo, where she played Gloria Burgle, the Minneapolis sheriff called to investigate a murder while her job is being phased out and its becoming hard to tell if she actually exists. The one force of goodness in a very bleak universe, the season’s final scene — where she finally confronted Varga, the epitome of evil was so astonishing that it never even occurred to me that writer Noah Hawley ended the season with no clear picture as to whether she triumphed or Varga did.

And last year, in what is rapidly becoming one of USA’s finest accomplishments, Coon played the head of a cult that was at the center of the murder of two adults by a child in The Sinner. Watching her go about ‘the work’, and try to lead an organization that was in no less chaos than the real world they were trying to shut out — was remarkable. She might have been the villain, but I’m certain she never saw herself that way.

Coon’s been migrated into high level films recently, but I really hope another great mind will put her at the center of another show, because she’s clearly demonstrated that she is one of the great actresses of the era.

Joshua Jackson

I Don’t Want to Wait For His Next Brilliant Turn

He hasn’t gotten anywhere near the Oscar buzz that his Dawson’s Creek co-star Michelle Williams has, or achieved the celebrity of Katie Holmes, but Jackson has demonstrated far and away that he is one of the most brilliant talents on television.

The decade began with his work as Peter Bishop, the con artist who was literally at the center of a war between two universes on Fringe. While much of that series’ success was understandably because of the work of Anna Torv and Joshua Noble (both of whose lack of nominations by the Academy was one of the Emmys greatest blunders this decade), Jackson’s ability to be the steadying force as apocalypses and alien invasions loomed was really astonishing, and allowed that series to be one of the few mythology shows that worked all the way through.

Jackson then moved on to the role of Cole, the betrayed husband of Alison at the center of The Affair. While much of the attention (and awards) went to Ruth Wilson and Maura Tierney, Jackson’s stoicism and steadying hand were brilliant. Considering all of the trauma that Cole went through in the four seasons he was on the show, it would’ve been easy to go into the level of melodrama that so often plagued the series. Jackson managed to make it work, and I’m actually sorry he decided to leave before the series ended. He’s been ever since, having a critical role as one of the attorneys in When they See Us. And I can hardly wait for his career to take its next step

Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman

They Reinvented Holmes and Watson… And So Much More.

It’s not exactly like these two were unknown before the decade began — Freeman had become a superstar in the UK version of The Office, Cumberbatch had been at the center of such films as Amazing Grace and Atonement, but in 2010 Steven Moffat chose to reinvent Sherlock Holmes for the New Millennium in Sherlock. The rest, as they say, is elementary.

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Sherlock Holmes and John Watson are probably the most recreated fictional characters in history, so when Cumberbatch and Freeman reinvented them in a way that no one had really tried before, certainly not in television (this was two years before Elementary) it’s hard to explain just how radical it was. These weren’t stodgy Victorian interpretation — this was an attempt to make Sherlock, a real human being, not a thinking machine, and John, an actual character, not someone Holmes just bounced ideas off of. And it was so alive with energy that the fact that we only got three episodes every two seasons made all us Baker Street Irregulars really irritated. Because it was joyous, and both men more than deserved the Emmys they got.

Cumberbatch since has been launched into the stratosphere, playing such cultural icons as Khan and Dr. Strange, and indelible legend like Alan Turing and Julian Assange. But he has time for the medium that launched. His best work came in the mini-series The Hollow Crown, particularly as Richard III, and in my opinion, another iconic Brit, Patrick Melrose. In a mini-series that was more flawed than brilliant, seeing Cumberbatch unplugged was a true joy.

Freeman has been more pressed for time — he was, after all, Bilbo Baggins and is in the middle of Marvel universe himself, but he found time to create another indelible character of his own, as Lester, the worn down salesman, whose encounter with Lorne Malvo leads to his become a sociopath of his own in the incredible first installment of Fargo.. Freeman was nominated for Best Actor in a Limited Series that year. He lost to Cumberbatch, which I’m sure he was fine with.

Both men have become incredibly busy for the last five years, demonstrating to the rest of the world what we saw in Sherlock. And I have no doubt they’ll come back to TV at some point. So, even though it really seems like you wrapped things up in The Final Problem, is it possible we could get another three episodes? Doyle did have to resurrect Holmes himself, you know.

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After years of laboring for love in my blog on TV, I have decided to expand my horizons by blogging about my great love to a new and hopefully wider field.

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