We don’t all agree on everything, but I feel it’s safe to assume that the majority of us in this community of writers are under the rightful belief that this has been a stupendous year for performances. Especially where limited series are concerned. Vulnerability isn’t an easy emotion to master when acting, but the people who’ve excelled this year mastered it with impeccable and inimitable nuances. Some of these names are familiar ones, but a large majority of the performers in this category are new faces to Marvelous Geeks. Their performances have stood out beautifully throughout the year making my absolute honor to write about them.
1. Phoebe Waller-Bridge
I’ll be frank, I didn’t see the appeal in Fleabag while watching the first season, but the moment season two began, I was floored and ready to give every single award to Phoebe Waller-Bridge. Waller-Bridge is simply put, a mastermind — the brilliant meticulous decisions in her performances throughout the year have been strikingly moving and filled with flawless range. We see prodigious growth in Fleabag throughout the season, while Waller-Bridge ensures that her charm is stapled inflexibly and rightfully in every corner. The work she does in “Episode Four” alone is unparalleled and should stand as the very example of what it means to find the balance between comedy and drama. In Fleabag’s ways of breaking the fourth wall, Waller-Bridge enlightens viewers with brilliant ease that connects us further to the unbelievably relatable chaos inside her mind. It’s in her eccentric mannerisms and potent transparency that make her such a vulnerable character we’ve all found ways to connect to. Fleabag isn’t perfect, but Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s performances surely are and her expressive features deserve a category on their own, for the breakdown of every compelling look could result in a full length novel. Waller-Bridge leads the audience towards captivating profundities and astonishing pinnacles throughout the course of six episodes, which alone deserves continuous praise for its exclusivity in the world of television.
2. Michelle Williams
Michelle Williams won the 2019 Emmy for her exceptional performance of Gwen Verdon, but I still feel like she’s the most underrated performer of the year because there just aren’t many talking about the bars she set in FX’s limited series Fosse/Verdon. Williams is exquisite throughout it all, from her vocal changes to her mannerisms, and all the dazzle that came along with embodying a performer. From the moment she appeared on screen, it was impossible not to be entranced by the work Williams was doing to truly embody a woman whose story needed to be told for a long time now. If you’re not into theatre, it’s easy for names like Bob Fosse and Gwen Verdon to skip your radar, but when you know even a tiny bit, it’s Gwen Verdon’s story you want to hear about, it’s her struggles and pain and all the credible hard work she’s put out there that deserve to be at the forefront. I’ve always been a casual fan of Williams’ work in the past, but it was watching her bring Gwen Verdon to life that’s made me a lifelong fan and filled with gratitude to know how much she genuinely cared and mastered, never missing a beat, literally.
3. Regina King
Regina King has been one of my favorite performers since teenage me watched her call the shots in A Cinderella Story. King has been a renowned and somehow still an under credited performer for a while now, but knowing she’ll be landing herself in a number of these types of lists is giving me ease. She’s the sole reason I even gave Watchmen the chance to astound me, and it hasn’t failed thus far. It’s clear from the very first episode that Regina King is about to make history in the genre. King’s multifaceted and remarkably layered embodiment of Angela as she navigates through the events of her life are simply put, brilliant. The wide range of emotions carry on from one episode to another with seamless grace allowing King to explore bouts of anger, softness as a mother and wife, and sheer vulnerability in moments of disbelief and shock. Even when her entire face is covered but her eyes, King is able to evoke a myriad of emotions impeccably — when you look into her eyes, there’s a story being told, an emotion that’s felt, a reaction that’s taking place. King’s ability to deliver every moment with incomparable and organic embodiment is what continues to floor me and presumably everyone else who’s actually watching.
4. Gwendoline Christie
Game of Thrones
Gwendoline Christie has been the most joyous part of Game of Thrones throughout its eight season run, and in the final season especially, she was, without a single doubt, the series’ strongest performer, inadvertently solidifying Brienne of Tarth as the beating heart of Westeros. Brienne isn’t a difficult character to love in the brutal world of night battles and betrayals, but somehow Christie makes it even easier to adore her. Without Christie’s subtle and unwavering sincerity, Brienne is just words on a page. And in the final season especially, Christie gave us vulnerability in its most beautiful form. She brought a warrior to her knees and allowed her to open her heart in a way that actually brought light to Winterfell. Christie showcased Brienne’s heart and vulnerability with a gleam in her eyes impossible to break apart because it’s the most sincere embodiment I’ve seen on the show’s run. I’ve said this about Brienne in the past: “She’s a monarch of transcending goodness, a meritorious presence, from the moment we met her, proving not only that light in darkness is utter bravery, but that no one deserves their wishes granted more.” And all this is largely due to the heart Christie has carried Brienne with, behind the austerity of a commander –a knight– she has walked with kindness in her eyes and grace in her bones even the midst of the darkest battles.
5. Catherine O’Hara
There aren’t many characters I can just think of and burst into stomach gripping laughter quite like Moira Rose, and it’s entirely due to Catherine O’Hara’s intricate take on the character. O’Hara is an absolute class act and we’re blessed to exist in the same time as her, truly. It isn’t easy to become a meme when you aren’t a baby alien species from a Galaxy Far Far Away, we’d all be one if that were the case, but this Bebe Queen managed to do so, and it’s almost impossible to imagine a character topping her. O’Hara’s acting chops are legendary at the moment, giving us one relatable moment after another with all the dramatic emphasis necessary to always entail the moment feels organic and true to her character. “What a unanimously disastrous day this is turning out to be!” isn’t something a lot of actors can say and actually get away with in a moment of acute insanity. That said, this year especially, O’Hara excelled at showing us new sides of Moira, allowing her to grow, and in her astoundingly dramatic form, she makes it incredibly clear that there’s a great amount of faith in Moira towards her loved ones. When she says things like “you’re very very cool”, you know she means it with every fiber of her being, and O’Hara makes us believe every bit of her bedazzling, bizarre, over dramatic speeches because she’s subtly shown us tiny glimpses of the blossoming humanity and humility within Moira.
1. Jharrel Jerome
When They See Us
There’s a lot to unpack with When They See Us — so few performances are so good, it’s impossible to re-watch the episodes, and Jharrel Jerome’s as Korey Wise was one of those performances. When They See Us is full of talented young men, each uniquely gifted, which also made my choice for this category so difficult, but having “Episode Four” to shine as he did, Jerome broke us all with his frustration and the sheer torture Korey Wise unfairly lived through. The performances required by Jharrel Jerome are materials that could’ve easily been overdone by upcoming actors, but never once did the work manifested on-screen come off as anything but completely organic. Jerome embodied Korey Wise down to the t ensuring that he not only do right for such a crucial name in America, but that he embody someone falsely convicted of a crime he didn’t do. Each tear that was shed, each full-body shudder, and each spoken word that left his mouth was delivered with great weight and captivating vulnerability that’s bound to render viewers speechless.
2. Andrew Scott
We all talk a great deal about how hot the Priest is, and while Andrew Scott is incredibly easy on the eyes, this wouldn’t be something we’d talk about as fervently if his performances weren’t as compelling as they were. So much of the Priest’s appeal comes from Scott’s ability to convey a genuine sense of curiosity and goodness even in the midst of thoughts someone with his title shouldn’t have. There’s compassion in his hopeless longing and there’s compassion in his farcical demeanor. The Priest is as grey as characters come, but what’s so fascinating is that Scott never once loses the softness in his being — he’s good and he’s kind, and a statement as captivating as “Kneel” holds as much weight as it does because Scott’s vulnerability as the Priest comes out full force with a colossal amount of fortitude. Scott’s incredibly nuanced and poignant performance shines best in the finale when he responds “it’ll pass” to Fleabag’s “I love you”, which is not only advice to her, but himself as well, following the still but flustered, “I love you, too – okay” right before he leaves, which allows us to see just how profoundly she’s shaken him — layering the character in a way that gives a whole new meaning to holiness. There’s so much purity present even when it appears to be lacking because through every word, Scott was uttering a hundred more through his eyes.
3. Pedro Pascal
Pedro Pascal is no upcoming actor, he’s no stranger to captivating performances, but I’m in complete awe of what he’s done with the Mandalorian. To evoke emotions without a single facial expression visible to the audience is no easy feat, but Pascal has done so magnificently. For instance in “Chapter 4”, it’s almost painful to see just how infatuated the Mandalorian is with Omera — the vulnerability in his voice when discussing what’ll happen if he removes his helmet, the gratitude for the place to stay and the meal to eat. Pascal does all this without showing us a single expression, but his body language, subtle head tilts manage to convey a plethora of emotions impeccably. It’s only been a few episodes, and Pascal has managed to show us so much for a masked man, I’m surprised with my own investment in the show. And the genuine load of attachment he’s shown towards “Baby Yoda” has been lovely to watch, which is something I imagine will bring about even greater opportunities for Pascal to meet the challenges with an exemplary performance. How do I feel so much when I can see so little is greatly telling of the work Pascal’s put into this role.
4. Ted Danson
The Good Place
In all honesty, there’s probably nothing that can’t be achieved when given a pep talk from Ted Danson’s Michael on The Good Place. Somehow, four seasons in, and still, every word that leaves Michael’s mouth is executed with such vehement belief in what he’s saying that it’s never once not sincere. And Danson does all this with the comedic chops of someone who’s acquired a plethora of experience through years of hard work. Michael might not understand human beings to their core, but Danson understands how to portray a man, or in this case a “demon”, whose compassion for the humans has taken over his need to anything but faithful. Danson’s understanding of Michael’s compassion, gratitude, and genuine curiosity allow him to speak even when no words are said, for in his silence, Michael’s always listening, thinking, and trying to do everything in his power to be the encouragement his team needs. And so much of all that being believable without crossing a line into the world of clichés or cookie cutter one liners is Danson’s choice to continue outdoing himself in every episode by allowing the character to actually grow while showcasing the progression of that growth through worthwhile comedic chops.
5. Sterling K. Brown
This Is Us, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
I had to stop watching This is Us the past season because it became a little draining for my mental health, but Sterling K. Brown, three years in a row is my favorite performer in a drama series. And to have watched him in the latest season of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel only solidified the fact that there’s nothing Brown can’t do. Reggie and Randall are two completely different humans, each complex in their own unique way, allowing Brown to explore vulnerability in two different forms. Reggie comes off as passive, headstrong, and unshakeable, Randall is an anxious, wonderfully kind, and in his distinctness strikingly determined — through both characters, Brown presents the audience with a myriad of emotions where a whole lot of talking happens even his silence. Sometimes you look at a great actor and see only your favorite character in them, but with Brown, whoever he’s playing at the moment, that’s the roll I’m seeing him as. Whatever emotions he’s conveying, it doesn’t take much for his emotions to be incredibly palpable.
HONORABLE MENTIONS: Rachel Brosnahan (The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel), Anne Hathaway (Modern Love), Olivia Coleman (The Crown), Tobias Menzies (The Crown), Laura Dern (Big Little Lies), Hale Appleman (The Magicians), Rose Williams (Sanditon), Luke Kirby (The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel)
This time of year is my favorite for a number of reasons, but sharing these categories with remarkable writers like Heather over at TV Examined and Katie over at Nerdy Girl Notes is on top of the list. Be sure to check out their Best of the Year reviews, too!
Who are your favorite performers of the year?