An Ongoing Retrospective of the Actors and Actresses Who Gave Some of the Greatest Performances in TV
The world of television has changed immensely in the past decade. But as much as the ways we watch TV have changed, we still recognize greatness when we see in, no matter how or where we watch it.
Over the weeks to come, I will be doing a general assessment of the series that made up the greatest TV of the past decade. But I feel I would be remiss in recognizing these series if I also didn’t pay tribute to those great actors and actresses who have, on multiple series, have portrayed some of the most memorable characters in the history of the medium. Some of them were former film stars who found new life in television. Others were actors who started out in this medium, but blossomed in a way that no film would’ve let them. And there are some who are only beginning their careers, but have already done astonishing work in multiple outlets. All of them have redefined what TV is capable of.
In most cases, I will be dwelling on actors who played different roles on different series. There will be some exceptions which will become clearer as I continue writing. Television has become the greatest form of art these days. And these actors are responsible for making this art even greater.
Showtime’s Greatest Lead
In all of the praise that was (deservedly) heaped on Claire Danes and Mandy Patinkin for their extraordinary work on Homeland, not enough attention was paid to Lewis’ exceptional performance in the first two seasons as POW/sleeper agent Nicholas Brody. In the first season, where it was unclear whether or not he really had been turned by Al-Qaida, his work was one of the more deeply layered performance of ambiguity. He was measured that we genuinely considered that Carrie was off her meds. And watching him deal with the conflicts between him — his loyalty to his country and Abu Nazir — was work that was definitely worthy of the two Emmy nods and Emmy he eventually got. The decision to kill Brody off at the end of Season 3 was the best decision the series could’ve made — not only was it free to go in other directions, but it freed Lewis to take up the role of another great antihero, Bobby ‘Axe’ Axelrod, the self-made head of Axe Capital in Showtime’s criminally underrated Billions. Even four seasons in, its still very difficult to see whether Bobby is the antagonist or the hero of the series, and part of that is due to Lewis’ unflinching charisma that we see as he walks through the halls of his kingdom in jeans and a sweatshirt. Lewis was no stranger to TV before this decade, but no one who saw his work in this series can doubt he’s one of television greatest discoveries.
She Was Great Before She Was Marvelous
Just for her work as Midge Maisel, the title character in the extraordinary Amazon Comedy series, Brosnahan was deservedly recognized as one of the greatest comic actresses we have yet to discover. What many people may not realize is that she was capable of going to even deeper depth than the Palladinos will let her go (not that Midge doesn’t have layers) When House of Cards was at its peak, she had a memorable role as Rachel, a call girl who had the misfortune to get caught up in the machinations of the Underwoods, and an obsession with chief lieutenant Doug Stamper — a battle for control that nearly ended up killing them both. After that, Brosnahan had a memorable stint in Manhattan, a criminally underwatched and underrated WGN drama about the Manhattan Project, as she played a wife to a physicist, trapped between the secrets her husbands had to keep and her own sexual instincts, one that were considered diseased in the 1940s. Brosnahan was a sparkling talent who the Palladinos released into the world. I can’t wait to see what she’ll be up to in the decade to come.
We Knew How To Spell His Name Before The Oscars
For all of those who spent much of the Oscars over the last three years trying to pronounce, much less spell, the eventual winner of two Best Supporting Actor trophies, those of us who spent their lives studying TV — and Netflix in particular — had been struggling with his name years earlier. Another House of Cards veteran, he played Remy Danton, the lobbyist/White House Chief of Staff/ political enemy whose career and life kept getting entangled with the Underwoods and his lover Jackie Sharp. After he left the show, he was by far the best thing about one of Netflix’s Marvel centered series — the villainous gangster Cotton Mouth in Luke Cage. It’s telling that when his character was gone, so was most of the energy of the show, which was canceled one season later. Not content to rest on his laurels when he became one of the movies greatest actors, this past year he added another feather in his cap in his brilliant portrayal of Wayne ‘Purple’ Hays, a detective trying to solve a twisted murdered and kidnapping in the third season of True Detective. As great as his performance was, just as it was with another great actor who won an Oscar the same year of his memorable stint in True Detective, the Emmys chose not to honor him for it. Then again, Cohle was mentioned in passing in Season 3. Maybe whenever Season 4 happens, we can have McConaughey and Ali leading the investigation. I know I’d tune in.