Tuesday, June 20, 2006

My 10 favorite performances

Since I mentioned yesterday that Jeremy Piven was turning in one of my favorite performances on television right now, quite a few of you have e-mailed me, asking who, exactly, my other nine favorites are.

Well, I'm glad you asked. This probably won't be as substantial as many of you would like, but here are the ten performers I most enjoy watching. I hedged a bit and only chose one performer per show. For most of these shows, I could fill out the list with others in the cast, but I needed to draw the line somewhere. In no particular order.

Jeremy Piven, Entourage: This show would almost not be worth watching without Piven's character. The other actors are all fine, but Piven is able to ground the more dramatic moments of the series and turn in weird flights of comedic fancy. I've seen some people complain Piven just isn't as good this season, but, honestly, I don't notice a difference. Other castmates worth mentioning: Kevin Connolly, Kevin Dillon.

Mary McDonnell, Battlestar Galactica: She's giving the steeliest performance on television, playing the president of a dying race and never, ever succumbing to the sentimentality and jingoism that would be easier to play. The moment when the pilots dedicate the stealth ship to her and she takes a moment to compose herself, turning away from them, toward the camera, stifling her tears, was one of the finest acting moments I've seen on television in a long time. Other castmates worth mentioning: Edward James Olmos, Katee Sackhoff, James Callis.

Denis Leary, Rescue Me: This, perhaps, is too easy of a choice, but to the degree that this show works, it works because of Leary. He's able to play the bracing comic moments AND the dramatic monologues and make it all seem convincing. While the show becomes maudlin, Leary's performance never does. Just look at the moment in the second episode of the third season, when he realizes his brother is with his ex-wife. It's a minute of nearly silent acting, and it's impeccable, building to one of the most glorious climaxes of the young season.

Kristen Bell, Veronica Mars: Here's the female entry in the "making the whole show work" category. Even those who were disappointed in season two of this show were impressed with Ms. Bell, who makes playing a whipsmart, sassy platinum blonde who also happens to be a social outcast and an occasional damsel in distress look easy. No small feat, that. While she's another easy choice to make (and the ensemble of this show is full of underrated actors), the show just doesn't work without her. Hence. Other castmates worth mentioning: Enrico Colantoni, Jason Dohring.

Ian McShane, Deadwood: Here's the "HBO actors who deserve all the praise they get" part of the list. McShane has taken one of the best-written characters on television and made him even deeper and more interesting. McShane is playing a character never before seen on television: a crime lord who very slowly, through the pressures of society, becomes a politician (of sorts). McShane also handles some of television's toughest dialogue, letting David Milch's Shakespearean bon mots roll off his tongue. Not bad for someone who was the third choice for the role! Other castmates worth mentioning: The whole damn cast, but especially Robin Weigert.

Edie Falco, The Sopranos: Falco has been given less and less to do in recent seasons, but when David Chase and his writing staff give her a scene, she's going to take the wheel. She may be the only actress on television who could do a scene like the one in "Join the Club," where the whole thing was just her, the camera and a Tom Petty song and make it all work. Falco has won a host of Emmys, but she probably deserves one last trophy for her work in this final season. Other castmates worth mentioning: James Gandolfini, Lorraine Bracco, Michael Imperioli (pre-season six).

Jorge Garcia, Lost: Really, I could have thrown Terry O'Quinn in here (the man is giving a titanic performance) and none of you would have been surprised. But Jorge Garcia has done something much harder: He has taken a sideline character (who was conceived, it would seem, as a basic comic relief character) and made him something more essential: a tragic hero who has become the soul of a show that often teeters on the edge of being soulless. Few supporting players work as hard to give their show that extra breath of reality as Garcia does, and Lost is all the better for it. Other castmates worth mentioning: Terry O'Quinn, Yunjin Kim, Adewale Akinnouye-Agbaje.

Mary Lynn Rajskub, 24: I've talked at length about why Chloe works on the adreneline-soaked 24, but it's as good a time as any to mention her (especially with the Emmys coming up). Chloe is exactly the kind of person we want on the side of good in times of terror. And Rajskub never delivers a line exactly like how you expect her to, always giving it a bit of spin. Other castmates worth mentioning: Kiefer Sutherland, Gregory Itzin.

John Krasinski, The Office: A lot has been made about how great Steve Carell is in The Office, and I sort of agree (especially now that they've toned his character down). But I think that John Krasinski is what makes the show work. He's, in every episode, an everyman, a comic foil and a straight man. He's also got some of the most impeccable reaction shots on TV. Krasinski is unafraid to play his character like a workaday stiff you might meet walking down the sidewalk. In many ways, he's created the character who's been the MOST Americanized from the British version. Other castmates worth mentioning: Steve Carell, Jenna Fischer.

Sarah Chalke, Scrubs: Chalke is almost ridiculously underrated. She's in a great comic ensemble, and she holds her own with aplomb. Plus, she's a rare bird: A gorgeously hot woman who's completely funny. Chalke is unafraid to go after a pratfall, and she's allowed her character to take several goofy turns in keeping with the show's gleeful spirit. She's always fun to watch. Other castmates worth mentioning: Donald Faison, John C. McGinley.

Obviously, this list is far from complete. I really tried to go with less obvious choices in many cases. But here are other performances worth watching.

Hugh Laurie, House
Neil Patrick Harris and Jason Segal, How I Met Your Mother
Lauren Graham, Gilmore Girls
Michael Chiklis, Forrest Whitaker and CCH Pounder, The Shield
The entire cast of The Wire
Jamie Pressley and Ethan Suplee, My Name Is Earl
Ricky Gervais, Extras
Sandra Oh, Chandra Wilson and T.R. Knight, Grey's Anatomy
Wentworth Miller, Prison Break
Anthony LaPaglia, Without a Trace
Terry Crewes and Tichina Arnold, Everybody Hates Chris

And many others I'm sure I'm forgetting. What say you all?


Edward Copeland said...

Confining myself to characters that are still with us, I'd pick my 10 in this order:

1. Ian McShane (Deadwood). The fact he doesn't have two Emmys by now is a crime.

2. James Gandolfini (The Sopranos). It's amazing that he can still find new shadings to Tony after all this time.

3. John Scurti (Rescue Me). He's really become the series' MVP for me.

4. Edie Falco (The Sopranos). Picking one without the other is like picking Archie but not Edith.

5. Jaime Pressly (My Name Is Earl). Who knew she had such a brilliant comic performance in her?

6. John C. McGinley (Scrubs). It's a crime he hasn't been nominated for an Emmy yet while the Academy wasted time filling ballots with the same Frasier, Everybody Loves Raymond and Will & Grace knuckleheads time and time again.

7. Ken Jenkins (Scrubs). As good as McGinley is, Jenkins has never received the acclaim he is due.

8. Denis Leary (Rescue Me). He's grown into an actor with what essentially began as an extension of his standup persona in fire gear.

9. CCH Pounder (The Shield). At least she finally got a nomination, though she should have had a win by now.

10. Ginn1fer Goodwin (Big Love). Her character has really grown on me over the season.

wcdixon said...

Have covered a lot of the best ones, but there seems like there are so many more out there...what about your list be of best performances for past 6 mo's? 1 year? in feature films? I can't imagine it being near as long.