You can almost invariably find your favorite actor’s best performances in their TV gigs, lead or not. There’s something about either maintaining a personality or convincingly growing through a transformation that needs a unique commitment. And that’s something a lot of big names in movies are often intimidated by. The abundance of critically acclaimed shows in 2023 has made it even more of a challenge to limit my favorites on this list of the best. So I’d leave it up to you to imagine the kind of impact the following performances must have had.
Phil Dunster In ‘Ted Lasso’
Even if the saccharine-sweet vibe of Apple TV’s Ted Lasso is not something you dig, you have to admit that Phil Dunster’s performance in the latest season was nothing short of extraordinary. With his character Jamie Tartt having the best character arc in the entire show, Dunster got the opportunity to bring Jamie Tartt’s emotional evolution to life, and he pretty much knocked it out of the park. From the body language to Tartt’s accent, the actor got everything right. The obvious comparison with Manchester City’s Jack Grealish only added more zing to it all.
Aaron Paul In ‘Black Mirror’
You never really know what to expect when you’re about to watch something Aaron Paul has played a lead role in. All you do know is that it’ll be an experience that’ll only make you love the man more. Naturally, Black Mirror was no exception. Paul played an astronaut, Cliff, in an alternative version of 1969, where he had to go to space while a clone of his stayed back on Earth. Cliff’s hard-to-read, mostly intimidating personality wasn’t an easy thing to communicate in a narrative buzzing with very distracting external elements, but Paul pulled it off with ease. But that wasn’t even the best part! If I were you, I’d rather give the episode a watch before looking up more about it.
Bruce Greenwood And Zach Gilford In ‘The Fall of the House of Usher’
I could either pick Greenwood just for the lemon monologue or Gilford just for his remarkable rendition of Edgar Allan Poe’s Annabel Lee. But of course, both actors have done much more than those as the titular characters of Mike Flanagan’s delightfully dark The Fall of the House of Usher. While Gilford played the younger Roderick Usher, a romantic from the working class with an infectious innocence, Greenwood brought in a certain coldness for the older version, who, despite having everything, was doomed. Both the actors’ performances complemented each other, and they both deserve to share a place on this list.
Emma Corrin In ‘A Murder at the End of the World’
A Murder at the End of the World managed to do the unbelievable and give a new spin to the “whodunit” genre, and the show’s lead actor deserves a lot of credit for that. Emma Corrin, one of today’s most exciting acting talents, yet again proved that she is worth all the hype around her. Steering clear of the usual smugness and the tiresome “cool factor” you’d readily associate with TV’s detectives, Corrin’s Darby Hart is refreshingly human. Thanks to Corrin’s grounded performance, we finally have a detective who’s surprisingly relatable.
Pedro Pascal In ‘The Last of Us’
Casting Pedro Pascal as Joel was a risky move. The actor was way too exposed thanks to his roles in pop-culture favorites ranging from Narcos to Game of Thrones to The Mandalorian. Joel could have ended up being just another Pedro Pascal character in another genre show. But Pascal portrayed Joel so brilliantly by completely immersing himself in the role that you’d now take their names in the same breath. If that’s not the sign of a truly gifted actor, then what is?
Tom Hiddleston In ‘Loki’
Playing the same character for more than a decade is quite a tricky thing to pull off, as there’s always that dreaded possibility of things getting monotonous. The charm Tom Hiddleston brings to the table as the God of Mischief is undeniable, but before Loki gave him a stage, he didn’t really receive the kind of appreciation he deserves for his performance. In the latest season of Loki, Hiddleston finally got the chance to explore the human side of the character and find a way to reinvent it. He took a character—established and loved—and played around with it until his idiosyncracy was inseparable from it. If this was really the last time the actor played the role, I would say that Hiddleston bid farewell to his most popular role with a bang.
Nathan Fielder In ‘The Curse’
Nathan Fielder is passionately awkward in The Curse, the show he co-creates with Benny Safdie. Keep in mind that this is a show with a peculiarly subtle yet volatile supernatural backdrop. And for a character’s aura of discomfort to outweigh something like that and become the sole reason behind your trembling hands, the actor really needs to bring undeniable precision to it. Fielder does just that and more as the embarrassingly insecure husband to Emma Stone’s Whitney in The Curse, a show as unmissable as his performance.
Jamie Lee Curtis In ‘The Bear’
The Bear had a whole bunch of great actors delivering amazing performances throughout the second season, but no one was quite as magnificent as Jamie Lee Curtis. As the worn-out, deeply troubled mother of Carmy, Sugar, and Michael, Curtis was absolutely excellent whenever she got to be on the screen. Especially in the much-talked-about Christmas episode that is filled with all the popular actors you can imagine—from Sarah Paulson to Jon Bernthal to Bob Odenkirk—Curtis was the standout. I hope we get to see more of Donna in the next season.
Juno Temple In ‘Fargo’
Leave whatever impression Juno Temple’s character in Ted Lasso made on you behind before you see her come into her own in Fargo. Juno Temple is all shrapnel and spice as Dot, the woman keeping a horde of terrifying antagonists on their toes. I mean, to even be particularly noticeable in a show where Jon Hamm brings his signature bad guy to his weirdest and worst is a feat to achieve. As the woman fighting to sever her ties to a wretched past while defending the happy haven she’s made, Temple ensures your eyes are never off her.
Don’t even expect me to pick one single performance from the final season of Succession. Not only is the show one of the best things to have ever graced our screens, but every single actor was at the top of their craft this year. Even Brian Cox, who only got to appear in just three episodes of the season as Logan Roy, was successful at making an impact, and his towering presence was felt throughout. Every single actor, from Kieran Culkin to Sarah Snook to Matthew Macfayden to new recruit Alexander Skarsgard, knocked it out of the park, and all of them got to perform award-worthy scenes. It would be a crime to leave out Jeremy Strong, whose notorious method-acting made quite a headline this year; he was obviously as fantastic as ever as the self-proclaimed “eldest boy.”