Hollywood Reporter TV Critics Pick the Best Performances of 2018

6:15 AM 12/17/2018

by Tim Goodman and Daniel Fienberg

From Julia Garner shining on five shows to Jodie Comer kicking ass on 'Killing Eve,' J.K. Simmons' dual tour de force on 'Counterpart' to Mj Rodriguez's heartfelt work on 'Pose,' these actors delivered our favorite small-screen turns of the year.

Jodie Comer Killing Eve_JK Simmons Counterpart_MJ Rodriguez Pose - Publicity - H Split 2018
Photofest; Starz; Photofest

We're not offering a definitive list of the ten best television performances of 2018 here. Elisabeth Moss is still emotionally devastating on Handmaid's Tale. Everybody on The Americans delivered in the show's final season. Rachel Brosnahan still offers up Amy Sherman-Palladino's dialogue with aplomb. These are just 10 fantastic performances (listed in alphabetical order) from 2018 that we want to celebrate. Enjoy!

  • Christine Baranski, 'The Good Fight'

    I'm convinced that CBS All Access has no clue what The Good Fight is or how to sell it, because if you were to present this Good Wife spinoff as the genuinely frenzied and wacky dark comedy it is there aren't more than one or two actresses who could compete with Baranski's performance as the living embodiment of Trump Derangement Syndrome. On The Good Wife, Diane Lockhart was only occasionally funny. On The Good Fight, she's a Trump-hating, micro-dosing, increasingly paranoid fiend, and Baranski, already a national treasure, has never had more to play, fewer restraints and more evident fun. — Daniel Fienberg

  • Toni Collette, 'Wanderlust'

    It's shouldn’t be surprising to find Collette here. She can do anything. And she has, in multiple roles. But as a psychotherapist in this small Netflix series about a troubled marriage where the sex has gone missing, she's particularly effective. She's strong, vulnerable, funny, intelligent and tackles what it means to be sexual — and sexy — at a certain age (her character has kids who are 25, 18 and 16), without making that seem out of the ordinary. But the beauty of her work here is how it goes beyond the sex into the wanting, and into the rationalizing. This is a little gem of a series, and Collette’s marvelous performance is the unifying element that makes it work. — Tim Goodman

  • Jodie Comer, 'Killing Eve'

    Everybody loves Killing Eve, it seems. I love Killing Eve. Everybody loves Sandra Oh as a lead actress for that series as well. I love Sandra Oh. It's a love-fest! But here's the thing: There is no show without Jodie Comer. And don't you forget that. Most of the awards bodies have. But the real truth is that without Comer's delightfully unhinged Villanelle, the coquettish sociopath at the center of the series, there’s nothing there. There are assassins galore on TV. But none like Villanelle. And what could have been a bland badass becomes a magnetic, unpredictable, insanely dangerous one thanks to Comer, who takes real risks bringing out that personality. — Tim Goodman

  • Julia Garner, 'The Americans,' 'Ozark,' 'Maniac,' 'Waco,' 'Dirty John'

    With shortened episode orders and wildly expanded scripted programming slates, it's become less and less rare for actors to do multiple television shows at once, but Garner's year was, by any standard, remarkable. She was a valuable guest star on a great show (The Americans), a great supporting performer on a pair of forgettable miniseries (Waco and, especially, Dirty John), a vivid guest on a weird-ass limited series (Maniac), and she remains the one and only reason I watch and will continue to watch Ozark. No matter how big the ensemble, she always pops, and no matter how strange or uneven the show, she's always consistent and excellent. She's more than deserving of a full-on Julia Garner vehicle at this point. [Runner-up for The Julia Garner Excellence in Ubiquity Award goes to Justine Lupe, a standout in SuccessionMr. Mercedes and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel this year.] — Daniel Fienberg

  • Brent Jennings, 'Lodge 49'

    In a moment in which everybody gets giddy about each movie star deigning to dip their toes into the waters of TV, what gets me jazzed is when a network happily casts a 67-year-old African-American character actor without a clear "defining" role as a lead just because he's, you know, GOOD. In AMC's trippy, laconic, indescribable Lodge 49, Jennings' sense of weary warmth helps ground and elevate the entire series. He and co-star Wyatt Russell make for one of the year's great TV pairings and, on his own, he makes Ernie's dreams, seemingly easily obtainable and yet always just out of reach, feel worthy and epic. Before Lodge 49, Jennings had been in projects as big as WitnessMoneyball and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but would you have known what credit to put next to his name? Now you do! — Daniel Fienberg

  • Florence Pugh, 'The Little Drummer Girl,' 'King Lear'

    Amazon's adaptation of King Lear has been cut so tightly that Pugh's Cordelia is barely a well-played afterthought, but in AMC's latest John le Carre adaptation, she has a showcase which, paired with 2016's Lady Macbeth, make the strong case that this 22-year-old Brit is a force to be reckoned with in any medium. Her performance in Little Drummer Girl is impressively layered and introspective, an actress playing an actress playing a terrorist who is constantly thinking and rarely completely sure of herself. In Little Drummer Girl, Pugh is raw, sexy and sometimes very, very funny, and she thoroughly holds her own opposite co-stars Alexander Skarsgard and Michael Shannon. — Daniel Fienberg

  • Mj Rodriguez, 'Pose'

    Billy Porter has been deemed the easiest individual to honor in the remarkable Pose ensemble, which makes sense because his full name is Tony Winner Billy Porter and he's fantastic in Pose. But let it not be ignored that in Porter's defining episode, with its hospital musical performance, Mj Rodriguez goes toe-to-toe with him, singing her heart out and matching the Kinky Boots star note-for-note. If the first season of Pose had a true star/hero from the pilot through its eighth episode, it's Rodriguez and her resilient character, Blanca, HIV-positive founder of the upstart House of Evangelista. She's sympathetic, fierce and full of maternal realness. You'd never know this was Rodriguez's first regular TV role. — Daniel Fienberg

  • Scott Ryan, 'Mr Inbetween'

    Whereas Counterpart’s J.K. Simmons is a high-profile actor who should never have been overlooked by Emmy voters, it's more understandable that Ryan, the actor, writer and creator of the Australian series Mr. Inbetween, which aired on FX in this country, slid under the radar. FX ran double episodes (six total) for three weeks. No episode of the exceptional and surprising series is longer than 26 minutes. It's sneaky great and the whole thing is both held together and propelled by Ryan's stunning performance: It's hard to take your eyes off of his crazy-smiling face, bald head and very bad intentions (he's a fixer, so yeah, he kills people and does other bad things). Ryan gave him depth, dimension and believability. Find this show and this performance. — Tim Goodman

  • J.K. Simmons, 'Counterpart'

    I've hammered this home before, but it bears repeating: Simmons’ amazing performance in the brilliant first season of Starz’s Counterpart wasn't just an Emmy-worthy one, it should have been an Emmy-winning one. There was nothing like it on television, as he brought to life two identical yet different characters, with different ways of walking, of breathing even, of handling news, of reacting in conversations and of doing battle. It was a tour-de-force that went entirely overlooked. That's not just wrong, it's astonishing. And it tells me voters never even saw it. Do better next time. — Tim Goodman

  • Kurtwood Smith, 'Patriot'

    This Amazon series has a fantastic cast (I featured Michael Dorman last year and it could have just as easily been Terry O'Quinn or Michael Chernus or anyone else), but wow did Smith kill it in season two. On the surface an uptight business manager, Smith's character comes unraveled due to cocaine, painkillers and booze, and he goes to town with it in a hilarious but also heartbreaking portrayal that’s the sweet spot of the series anyway — but wow is Smith great as a man who held off his demons for ages and is now out on the town with them. Every time he comes on the screen it's funny. Unless it's tragic. Bravo! — Tim Goodman