After last week’s Best English Shows of the year, it’s time for the Best Performances of 2018. Most of these performances are that magic of mix of great writing and perfect casting but these individuals bring something on board that make the characters jump out of the page and start living in our hearts for all the right – and wrong – reasons. This list is in no particular order.
Benedict Cumberbatch as Patrick Melrose in Patrick Melrose
A farcry from Marvel’s Doctor Strange or even Sherlock, Cumberbatch puts in what is his career-best performance as the titular aimless aristocrat battling his past which includes sexual abuse and heroine addiction. Needles to his left and right, as Melrose bathes himself in whiskey in his bath tub, you cannot help but take all the Cumberbatch avatars into account and get to see an all-new him in an all-new light. “Life’s not just a bag of shit, but a leaky one,” says Melrose. We’ll take it as long as the brilliant Benedict is in it.
Bill Hader as Barry Berkman in Barry
A hitman who wants to become an actor is the kind of premise that has all the makings of a loud farce but where Hader goes with it, has to be seen to be believed. The situations are comical but the man himself is a portrait of tragedy, as he wants to delete his past, pause his present and start a new future. Hader’s earnestness is a moving testimony to hope and optimism as Barry keeps on trying to pursue happiness, despite failing almost every time.
Sandra Oh as Eve Polastri in Killing Eve
Maybe after this, she won’t be only referred to as Grey’s Anatomy’s Christina Yang. She is now Killing Eve’s Eve as well. It’s been a while but for Oh to snatch a lead role is truly a wish fulfilment of sorts. Playing an MI5 agent in desperate search for an international assassin named Villanelle (the excellent Jodie Comer), Oh makes Eve such a buffet of interesting quirks that you simply can’t take your eyes off her. A TV series leading lady has not only been Asian in a long time but has also not been this compelling.
Darren Criss as Andrew Cunanan in American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versace
Remember Blaine from Glee? Well, that same sweet guy singing pop songs with a big smile transformed into the cold-blooded calculating killer Cunanan, who, at last count, murdered as many as five people! In Ryan Murphy’s terrifying interpretation of what happened to Italian fashion designer Gianni Versace, Criss is spellbinding as the homicidal psychopath with delusions of grandeur. The thrill of taking lives has never been sexier. Remember that butt flash?
Rhea Seehorn as Kim Wexler in Better Call Saul
This prequel to Breaking Bad was always going to be about the title character Jimmy McGill who would go on to rot his way into becoming Walter White’s lawyer Saul Goodman but this fourth season was largely turned into the heartbreaking saga of the gradual decay and imminent death of the Jimmy-Kim relationship. And that is a tribute to Seehorn’s deeply felt performance, which makes Kim so much more complex and layered than all the men in the show. The camera often just holds a fetching close-up of her face and you never quite know what’s going on in her head. Touche!
Michael Douglas as Sandy Kominsky in The Kominsky Method
At first you are just happy when he doesn’t ham his way through yet another scene but when you actually start seeing the man play a character after ages, it does feel good. As an acting coach in Hollywood who himself needs some coaching in relationships and maybe an acting assignment or two, Douglas is pitch-perfect, mixing vanity and vulnerability in a way only he can. And his love-hate buddyhood with Alan Arkin really warms the heart. Welcome back, Michael.
Matthew Macfayden as Tom Wamsgans in Succession
When you have a terrific ensemble and everyone is in top form, it’s difficult to pick one performance that stands out. But even in the middle of the scene-stealing crowd, Macfayden is the truest embodiment of the horrors of late-stage capitalism that this compelling HBO show captures. He plays the opportunist son-in-law of the all-powerful Murdochesque media baron Logan Roy and also features in a toxic bromance with Roy’s lackadaisical great-nephew Greg. It’s very difficult to like anybody in Succession given their bottomless moral rotting but Macfayden still manages to make you care for Tom.
Amy Adams as Camille Preaker in Sharp Objects
Perhaps the most difficult character on this page because Camille hardly talks about her problems with anybody and it’s only in her actions and body language that we get to see the emotional upheavals the character is going through. Largely reacting to her own memories that keep haunting her boozy brain, Camille is a drifter, trying to clutch on to pain even as she goes about investigating the mysterious murders in her home town. The brilliant Adams ensures that you feel the burn from every scar on her body and her mind.
JK Simmons as Howard Silks in Counterpart
When you have the same actor playing two characters, a lot of care is taken to make them look and sound different, from costumes to make-up to VFX. But in the sci-fi spy drama Counterpart, Simmons has no such crutch playing the two Howard Silks from two different dimensions of the universe. Yet you know which Howard it is, every single scene, every single time. Watch the show just for the acting masterclass by JK Simmons.
D’Arcy Carden as Janet in The Good Place
How to portray emotions in a character who started out as an on-call robot in a customised afterlife universe? In the first season, Janet was the original Alexa, just many times more resourceful but with fresh seasons came stale human instincts including that thing called love and Carden took up the challenge of portraying all those emotions but never letting Janet go. And now on earth, Janet has no power whatsoever and yet the gifted actor always keeps the artificial intelligence bit in play.