The Electric Eleven: THR TV Critics' Favorite Performances of 2015

11:29 AM 12/18/2015

by Tim Goodman and Daniel Fienberg

From 'The Knick's' Andre Holland to 'Show Me a Hero's' Oscar Isaac to 'Fresh Off the Boat's' Constance Wu, THR's TV critics weigh in on which actors stood out this year.

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    Jon Hamm

    Mad Men

    Michael Yarish/AMC

    Don Draper’s existential journey was a whole lot more than drinking to forget, screwing to feel something or merely hiding behind someone else. It was always going to be a painful journey with a series of bottoming-out moments. But it's when Don finally peels away the layers and sheds the various masks, lying gutted at rock-bottom that the return trip start — and Hamm brought all his character's small, interior victories and awful, exterior failures to glorious life in the final season. – T.G.

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    Andre Holland

    The Knick

    Paul Schiraldi/HBO

    As an African-American doctor in turn of the century (1900) New York, Holland’s character confronts not just overt racism and indifference to his professional skills, but also his own inwardly churning rage that puts all his accomplishments at risk. Holland is magnificent in his scenes with fellow marquee actor Clive Owen, giving director Steven Soderbergh and his camera seemingly endless dimensions to capture. – T.G.

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    Sharon Horgan

    Catastrophe

    Courtesy of Amazon Studios
    Co-creators and co-stars Rob Delaney and Sharon Horgan are, to some degree, equal partners on Amazon's Catastrophe, but while Delaney gets away mostly with playing charming, frazzled and befuddled, it's Horgan's performance that elevates the series. The unplanned pregnancy plotline is the stuff of farce, but Horgan nails the fragility of the moment. As funny as she and the whole series can be, there's a beat at the end of the first season's fourth episode, which finds Sharon learning there may be a chance her baby has Down Syndrome, that's shocking in its emotional heft. – D.F. 
     
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    Oscar Isaac

    Show Me a Hero

    Paul Schiraldi/HBO
    How do you turn a six-hour mini-series about public housing, local elections and city council meetings into gripping television? Well, it helps to have David Simon writing and Paul Haggis directing, but the real hero in this case was Oscar Isaac. A consummate character actor on the verge of Star Wars-driven visibility, Isaac went full Yonkers as crusading mayor Nick Wasicsko, capturing the character's pragmatism and conflicted idealism. However cloudy Nick's motivations or mindset are in Show Me a Hero, Isaac finds his conviction, his passion…and his funny mustache. – D.F. 
     
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    Rami Malek

    Mr. Robot

    Peter Kramer/USA Network
    Of all the excellent performances in 2015, this one truly is unique in that there would be no show without Malek’s otherworldly embrace of the character’s complexities: social anxiety disorder, addiction and, well, a mental secret of sorts. I wrote a whole column on how every great actor you can think of wouldn’t, in fact, work in this role — that to buy into the series, viewers needed to buy into the brain of Malek’s unreliable narrator, and the leading man needed to avoid overacting with tics and facial giveaways, or going too placid or blank. This casting had to be perfect and Malek is a singular, stunning triumph. – T.G.
     
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    Abigail Spencer

    Rectify

    Sundance Channel
    There is no doubt that this wonderful series has a solid ensemble cast, but Spencer’s Amantha has a particular dramatic responsibility as the audience’s surrogate in facing the travails of brother Daniel (played by the also-superb Aden Young). Spencer is also tasked with bringing much-needed humor (via sarcasm, or simply by donning the Thrifty Town uniform) to a series that often feels full of transcendental ache. – T.G.
     
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    Mary Steenburgen

    Justified, Orange Is The New Black, Togetherness, The Last Man on Earth

    FX
    Roughly 25 years after her Oscar-winning breakout in Melvin and Howard, Steenburgen had arguably the finest year of her career. She was smoothly villainous on the final season of Justified, meaningfully loopy on Togetherness, frivolously goofy on The Last Man on Earth and fit in perfectly with one of the medium's best ensembles on Orange Is the New Black. She was even fleetingly funny in HBO's 7 Days in Hell. That's such a powerhouse roster of programming, and such a wide assortment of roles, that we can smile and politely ignore that Steenburgen's year ended with the forgettable puppet-fueled telefilm Jim Henson's Turkey Hollow. – D.F. 
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    Jeffrey Tambor

    Transparent

    Courtesy of Amazon
    The transition of Tambor’s character from Mort to Maura is a well-documented feat of virtuoso acting, but what’s truly paying off — and shining an even brighter light on Tambor’s career-defining performance — is how he has taken the next step in unveiling Maura’s new world. There’s a scene early on in season two that finds Tambor looking at himself in a mirror, a face in the crowd, a mixture of proud strength and frightened uncertainty all at once. It’s absolutely stunning and should be on his Emmy reel. Of course, it’s just one scene among many as Tambor fearlessly marches Maura forward. – T.G.
     
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    Justin Theroux

    The Leftovers

    Van Redin/HBO
    A character put through hell both mentally and physically, Kevin Garvey has to be handcuffed to the bed because he sleepwalks and tries to kill himself, is seeing a dead woman and losing his grip on his family and then life itself — all before dying, living through a poison-fueled fugue state, becoming an international assassin, having to push a little girl down a well, and then emerging naked from a bathtub (in hell?). That’s just a little bit of what Theroux was asked to do, all while expressing confusion, rage, sadness, strength and helplessness. And yes, he crushed it all, leaving nothing behind. – T.G.
     
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    Bokeem Woodbine

    Fargo

    Courtesy of Chris Large/FX
    From John Turturro to William H. Macy to Michael Stuhlbarg, the Coen brothers often have perfectly utilized character actors in either lead or showcase supporting roles. And in his small-screen adaptation of the brothers' modern classic, Noah Hawley did the same with Bokeem Woodbine, taking the TV and film veteran and, in Mike Milligan, giving him the role of his career. Hawley provided the meaty monologues and verbose turns-of-phrase, but Mike Milligan's threatening swagger, off-putting erudition and disarming sweetness was the work of Woodbine. Depending on the moment, Mike was this season's looming adversary, its put-upon hero or its doomed romantic lead. The actor's next choices will be exciting to see. – D.F. 
     
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    Constance Wu

    Fresh Off The Boat

    Born in Virginia and only 33, Constance Wu was in many ways an unlikely choice to play Taiwanese mother-of-three Jessica Huang on ABC's successful new family comedy. Perhaps the slightly-off casting explains why the actress has been able to entirely avoid Tiger Mother cliches. Her accent is consistent and never exaggerated for easy comedic effect, but rather used to add a unique rhythm and punctuation to the strong Fresh Off the Boat writing. Jessica is tough and demanding, but Wu never overplays the severity and whether relating to her three kids, her husband, her sister or neighbor-and-friend Honey, the character never lacks for off-kilter, well-intentioned warmth. – D.F. 
     
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