by Julian Spivey
10. Guest Actors (Reservation Dogs)
The cast of “Reservation Dogs” over its terrific three-season run on Hulu was pitch-perfect and it would be a crime not to call out casting directors Angelique Midthunder and Jennifer Schwalenberg for their job bringing the talented actors together. What truly blew me away in the show’s final season this year was the terrific guest actors the show brought forth – some who had appeared in the series briefly before and others who hadn’t. Whether it was Graham Greene as an eccentric recluse who believes in aliens and struggles with his mental health, Kaniehtiio Horn as Deer Lady, a spirit in the form of a beautiful woman who seeks revenge on bad men for horrors of the past, Lily Gladstone as Hokti, Willie Jack’s aunt who’s in prison but Willie Jack looks up to for wisdom or Ethan Hawke as Elora Danan’s estranged father the entire season was filled with these wonderful, lived-in performances that made every second of the final season mesmerizing to watch.
9. Ego Nwodim (Saturday Night Live)
We as a pop culture society should be talking about Ego Nwodim in the same way we did about past female greats on the iconic sketch comedy show “Saturday Night Live” like Kate McKinnon, Cecily Strong, Kristen Wiig, Amy Poehler and others but for some reason, her terrific body of work still seems to be a bit under the radar. Nwodim is consistently among the best cast members on ‘SNL,’ but had the greatest moment of her time on the show toward the end of season 48 in the spring when she debuted the ridiculously wild Lisa from Temecula, who expects her meat thoroughly cooked and won’t put up with any nonsense. It was the hardest I laughed at watching television in all of 2023.
8. Con O'Neill (Our Flag Means Death)
There are many standout characters in Max’s pirate, LGBTQ+ comedy “Our Flag Means Death,” with the flashiest role going to Taika Waititi’s Blackbeard and many of the laughs going to Rhys Darby’s Stede Bonnet and much of the series focusing on their relationship. But the performance I couldn’t take my eyes off of in season two was Con O’Neill’s bastard of a pirate Izzy Hands, who was Blackbeard’s longtime right-hand man who wound up on his wrong side early on in season two to the point where it damn near killed him. The range of emotions felt by Izzy during the second season and the way O’Neill was able to portray them from his eyes and his witty repartee throughout the season had me realizing it was the best performance on the show. I’ll never forget his performance of “La Vie en Rose” in “Calypso’s Birthday.”
7. Natasha Lyonne (Poker Face)
Natasha Lyonne is one of a kind. Nobody quite looks like her and nobody quite sounds like her. Much of the time it’s like she has an old-school energy to her that feels like she’d be more at home in the noir era of the ‘40s than today. But these aspects worked brilliantly for her performance as Charlie Cale on Peacock’s fun comedy mystery “Poker Face.” Lyonne’s Charlie is something of a modern-day Columbo but uses her unique knack for being able to determine when people are lying to solve crimes wherever she goes. Lyonne being the only regular cast member of the show also means she has to carry a lot of the show’s load and play off of guest actors every episode but she does it with aplomb.
6. Nick Mohammed (Ted Lasso)
There were a lot of questions going into the final season of AppleTV+’s Emmy-winning “Ted Lasso,” but the one that probably stood out the most for me was what this show was going to do with Nick Mohammed's character of Nate Shelley. Nate was one of the many likable characters on the show for most of its first two seasons going from the soccer team’s kit man to an assistant in that span but toward the end of season two the show turned him into a baddie and for reasons that weren’t all that clear. But “Ted Lasso” was always very human and humane to its characters and the redemption of Nate in the final season and watching Mohammed play him in all sorts of facets – from villain, to falling in love, to gaining some much-needed confidence and turning into the best version of him we’ve seen all series was a lovely way to finish off his run on the show.
5. Nick Offerman (The Last of Us)
I realize that Nick Offerman has done drama before but it’s not something I’ve seen him do before. I loved him as the manly man Ron Swanson on “Parks & Recreation” and he often seems to play a version of this masculine, blue-collar character and he still did that in the wonderful “Long, Long Time” episode of HBO’s “The Last of Us,” which earned him an Emmy nomination (something he stunningly never received for playing Swanson) for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series, but he also showed us a more loving, romantic and softer performance than we’re used to from him and was amazing at it. In the episode, Offerman plays Bill, a paranoid survivalist whose paranoia has led to him surviving and truly thriving in a world gone to hell when a fungal pandemic strikes and turns people into zombies. But it’s a lonely life to lead and when Frank, played by Emmy-nominated Murray Bartlett, stumbles upon Bill’s compound they strike up a lovely relationship that lasts for many years. I won’t spoil how their story ends but it’s one of the loveliest performances of the year on television and a true candidate for TV episode of the year.
4. Sarah Goldberg (Barry)
HBO’s “Barry” was filled with terrific characters but I felt like Sarah Goldberg’s struggling actress Sally Reed was always an unsung hero of the show and she truly was its shining star in the final season. At the end of the show’s penultimate season, Bill Hader’s Barry Berkman is arrested when the authorities finally realize he’s a hitman involved in multiple deaths. So, the final season begins with Sally realizing that her boyfriend who she recently broke up with wasn’t who she thought he was, while also being at the lowest point in her career. Goldberg plays all of these feelings perfectly but her true starring moment comes late in the season when she’s reunited with Barry and living life on the run as a waitress in the middle of nowhere using her acting skills to truly live within the role. She also has one of the funniest moments of the year on TV – and one that speaks to her character so well – when she’s trying to show her acting student how a scene should be done and realizing she’s knocking it out of the park completely tries to steal the role right in front of her. I will never forgive the Emmy Awards for snubbing Goldberg for this final season.
3. Jeremy Strong (Succession)
Truthfully, most of the cast of “Succession” could be on this list. Sarah Snook, Kieran Culkin and Matthew Macfadyen specifically all had standout seasons and moments in the HBO drama’s final year. But Jeremy Strong’s Kendall Roy was always the one viewers felt would be the succeeder of his dad’s media empire and via Strong’s much-talked and written about ways of method acting he at times seemed to truly become this character. Strong completely owned every facet of Kendall from the many struggles with substances and depression to the feeling of knowing exactly what he’s doing to truly being a complete buffoon without much of a clue. Strong could knock scenes out of the park with his character’s vicious wit, while also conveying so much without saying a word at all, as he does in the devastating final scene and image of the series.
2. Jessica Williams (Shrinking)
Jessica Williams’s performance as Gaby, a psychiatrist who works with the lead character Jimmy Laird, on AppleTV+’s freshman comedy “Shrinking” was the single funniest performance on television in 2023. I hadn’t been too familiar with Williams's work as I’ve never really been a viewer of Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show,” of which she was a longtime correspondent, but by God, she is a treasure. Her performance dealing with the grief of her friend Jimmy, who lost his wife about a year before, while also grieving herself as she was the best friend of said wife could’ve been super heavy – as could the show have been as a whole – but she’s able to pull so much joy out of the character with the greatest line readings and facial expressions of the series.
1. Ebon Moss-Bachrach (The Bear)
So, I had Ebon Moss-Bachrach’s performance as Richie Jerimovich on Hulu’s “The Bear” at No. 4 on my 10 Best TV Performances of 2022 list. I don’t typically like to feature the same performers and characters often on these lists – instead, hoping to showcase either new performances or unsung performances, but dammit if Moss-Bachrach’s performance as Richie wasn’t the best on TV this year. I can’t turn a blind eye to it. Richie for lack of a better word is a loser in season one of the show but at times he’s a lovable loser, one we feel is capable of more in life and we get to see that side of him in season two. In the flashback episode “Fishes,” we see Richie as a hopeful husband and future father wanting to better himself but never truly having gotten the opportunity or finding the right person to believe in him. That’s what’s led him down the road of becoming this loser and feeling sorry for himself. But in the very next episode, “Forks,” we see his transformation. He finds a group of people who believe in him – and ultimately it’s Carmy (Jeremy Allen White) who believes in him – and puts him through basically a crash course at a fancy restaurant to prove to him he can be a better man. It’s wonderful seeing this transformation through the performance of Moss-Bachrach and don’t worry, I’m sure Richie will always have some of that lovable loser in him. He just now has the confidence to go with it.