The 10 Best TV Performances of 2023

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A list of the 10 best TV performances of the year could be filled exclusively with actors from Succession, Reservation Dogs and Beef, the top three shows shared by both of our Best of 2023 lists. But what fun would that be? You already know that Sarah Snook and Devery Jacobs and Steven Yeun are great. Or you should.

That’s why, when Angie and I set out to do this list, we started with the simple rule: “Nothing from either of our Top 10 lists.” Those performances and those shows have been celebrated amply, and we wanted to cover as many of the year’s standouts as possible.

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Oh, and if it seems like most of our favorite performances of the year were from women? You don’t know the half of it. Had we had more time or space, we would have loved to write about Aunjanue Ellis (Justified: City Primeval), Sian Clifford (Unstable), the entire cast of Yellowjackets, Natasha Lyonne (Poker Face), Kristine Froseth (The Buccaneers), Bel Powley (A Small Light), Diane Morgan (Cunk on Earth), Allison Williams (Fellow Travelers) and MANY more.

Here, however, are 10 TV performances from 2023 that we truly loved (in alphabetical order).

Daisy May Cooper, Rain Dogs and Am I Being Unreasonable?

In a strong year for female creator-stars on British TV — see also Kat Sadler from Such Brave Girls and Sarah Goldberg and Susan Stanley in Sisters — Daisy May Cooper thrived as both creator-star and simply star, a breakthrough for American viewers and a confirmation for British fans. In Hulu’s Am I Being Unreasonable?, co-created with Selin Hizli, she plays a depressed mom with a secret whose life gets turned upside-down when she makes a new friend. In HBO’s Rain Dogs, created by Cash Carraway,  Cooper plays an economically depressed mom trying to do the best for her daughter and resist having their lives turned upside-down by a friend from her past. Big takeaway: At this moment, if you need a messy mom, nobody is messier or funnier than Daisy May Cooper. — DANIEL FIENBERG

Dominique Fishback, Swarm

Janine Nabers and Donald Glover’s murky cultural satire Swarm struggles (mostly by design, sometimes not) to reconcile all the aspects of deranged superfan Dre’s personality, which ranges from childlike to calculating, from virginal to temptress. Star Dominique Fishback has no such struggles. She takes every extreme that the scripts heap onto Dre and crafts eerie consistencies within the inconsistency. She’s hilarious. She’s terrifying. She’s uncomfortably delusional and even more uncomfortably self-aware. Swarm is conclusive proof that Fishback, a veteran scene-stealer who often pulled attention and sympathies from the bigger names in the ensembles of The Deuce and Judas and the Black Messiah, can and should be at the top of the call sheet whenever possible. — D.F.

Sarah Lancashire, Happy Valley 

Sarah Lancashire can currently be seen cooking up a storm as the cheery, larger-than-life Julia Child in Max’s Julia, a great performance in a complicated role that has lent itself more naturally to sketch-style parody. It’s all the more impressive because it’s only Lancashire’s second best performance of the year, following the completion of her three-season run as tormented, dogged police sergeant Catherine Cawood in the platform-hopping Happy Valley. The BBC One drama ran Catherine and Lancashire through the wringer, and over 18 episodes, the actress was able to showcase a career’s worth of range, from fiercely determined to touchingly maternal to torn to emotional bits to unexpectedly funny. It’s a performance that has earned its place in the all-time complicated TV cop pantheon, right there next to the likes of Andre Braugher as Frank Pembleton, Dennis Franz as Andy Sipowicz, Helen Mirren as Jane Tennison and Michael Chiklis as Vic Mackey. — D.F.

Luke Rollason, Extraordinary

On paper, Extraordinary‘s incredibly named Jizzlord is already one of the strangest characters 2023 has to offer — a man who, for superpower-gone-wrong reasons, has been a cat for so long that he’s forgotten how to be a man. But it’s Luke Rollason’s fearless work that also makes him one of the year’s most indelible. The British actor throws himself into the challenge with (sometimes literally) naked abandon, combining the skittishness of a rescue, the ferality of a stray and the bug-eyed curiosity of an alien arriving on Earth for the very first time. At the same time, he imbues all this strangeness with a soulfulness that, over the course of the season, transforms Jizzlord from mere comic relief to an offbeat hero worth rooting for in his own right. — ANGIE HAN

Keri Russell, The Diplomat 

Sometimes you want to watch an actor get all method and tear into a role straight to its marrow. Other times, though, it’s a pleasure to watch a star being a star, heaving a potentially conventional vehicle on their capable shoulders and saying, “Rise with me!” That’s what Keri Russell does in The Diplomat, a show that absolutely could have been — and I mean no insult here — a weekly CBS procedural, except that the Americans veteran brings a considerable arsenal to the role of Kate Wyler. Russell gets to make Wyler clever, manipulative, vulnerable, sexy and funny, especially in her battle-of-equals scenes alongside onscreen hubby Rufus Sewell, with whom she shares a chemistry that sizzles one moment and simmers with resentment the next. And she does it all without a single accent or dowdy wig. — D.F.

Adjani Salmon, Dreaming Whilst Black

The role of aspiring filmmaker Kwabena was literally made for Adjani Salmon, in that he’s not just the comedy’s lead but also its co-creator and co-writer. Even so, it’s impressive how deftly he flits between the character’s different facets. When Kwabena fantasizes about knowing just the right words to win over a crush or put an asshole in their place, Salmon is the very picture of confidence; when Kwabena returns to his rather more mundane reality, Salmon captures the barely contained frustration of an Everyman who cannot believe the crap he has to put up with, or leans into his lively, lived-in chemistry with the rest of the ensemble. In every mode, his magnetism leaves no doubt that he’s a star. — A.H.

Emma Stone, The Curse

Emma Stone’s performance in The Curse is in some ways a performance of a performance, since “good” white liberal Whitney is never not putting on a show — even when the only audience is her own self-regard. Hard as Whitney tries to put on a charming face, it’s always a little too obvious how empty her gestures are, how desperate she is for approval, how eager she is to pat herself on the back. By contrast, Stone holds nothing back in bringing Whitney’s ugliest impulses to the fore. It might almost be too excruciating to watch, if it were not simultaneously too arresting to ignore. (That The Curse comes in the same year as her work in Poor Things, hailed by our film-critic counterparts as one of the best movie star turns of the year, is a testament to Stone’s astounding range.) — A.H.

Juno Temple, Fargo 

Juno Temple’s performance as Dorothy “Dot” Lyon in the fifth season of Noah Hawley’s FX anthology starts from a superficial place. She’s doing possibly the most exaggerated sing-song Minnesota accent in the show’s history, which is saying a lot. But with each scene and each episode that passes, Temple mines something deeper from Dot’s tormented past, showing how the persona and the accent accompanying it are masks for a woman with a painful and violent past. Dot is a fighter, and when Temple gets to spar with the equally spectacular Jennifer Jason Leigh and Jon Hamm, it raises the season’s considerable stakes; when she plays more softly opposite Sienna King and David Rysdahl as this Lyon’s new pride, it raises the emotional stakes. And yes, it’s worth adding that however excessive and unwieldy the final season of Ted Lasso became, Temple’s Keeley was always a highlight. — D.F.

Rachel Weisz, Dead Ringers

Rachel Weisz’s work as either Mantle twin would be remarkable on its own. She embodies each woman so fully that their very postures speak volumes about the kind of women they are: Elliot saunters through the world like she owns the joint, while Beverly seems to shrink into herself. And with help from her scene partner Kitty Hawthorne, Weisz plays opposite herself so seamlessly that you’d be forgiven for forgetting there’s still only one Weisz. But it’s in the sisters’ frequent identity swaps that her acting goes from admirable to straight-up astonishing. She layers one performance on top of the other so that we can sense which sister is which, even when we can’t quite pinpoint the tell — which, of course, only makes their ultimate switch in the finale all the more disturbing. — A.H.

Tyler James Williams, Abbott Elementary

This year did not want for crush-worthy male suitors (see also Lewis Pullman in Lessons in Chemistry or Corey Mylchreest in Queen Charlotte) but none played lovelorn more endearingly than Tyler James Williams in Abbott Elementary. Williams was already a standout in a strong cast, with a particular knack for delivering broadcast TV’s funniest reaction shots since Jim Halpert. But as Gregory’s simmering flirtation with Janine boiled over into a mutual confession of feelings, Williams deepened the notes of tenderness and longing in his performance without losing any of his sweet, dorky humor. The long-awaited kiss may have been the big moment of the season, but for my money, it was his matter-of-fact delivery of “I take all your recommendations seriously” that cemented Janine and Gregory as a sitcom ‘ship for the ages. — A.H.

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