Our Writers Offer Picks For The Best Performances Of 2016

As 2016 comes to a close, the Uproxx staff will be chiming in on some of its favorite things about television from the year. The selections will be presented in no particular order. Like lists, but also not. Today, we present our Best Performances of 2016.

Mahershala Ali, Luke Cage

If Jessica Jones finally solved Marvel’s so-called “villain problem” by turning David Tennant’s performance as Kilgrave into a lesson in extreme psychological trauma, Mahershala Ali’s turn as Cornell “Cottonmouth” Stokes in Luke Cage transforms this education into a far more subdued character rife with as much nuance as violence. Perhaps the only negative aspect of Ali’s Cottonmouth has less to do with the Moonlight actor’s stellar performance and more to do with the character’s shortened presence. After all, the bustling nightclub owner slash weapons dealer doesn’t make it past the first season’s midpoint. — Andrew Husband

Laurie Metcalf, Horace and Pete

There’s a charming lack of formality that accompanies Laurie Metcalf’s much-lauded appearance on Louis CK’s Horace and Pete. There’s no introduction and no confirmation as to who she is speaking with for the first nine and a half minutes of a forty-five-minute episode that she will anchor. For all we know, she’s a random bar customer or some kind of flashback. More than ever, it’s so refreshing to feel off-balance when watching TV.

Alone with Metcalf on our screens, all we can do is hear her words and read her face. She pauses a few times to consider her words and we wait. There is a sadness in her eyes, but at times she smiles as she guides us through a long and winding story that feels, at the end of it, like a spoken word novel that is erotic, true, and shrouded in shame — I can’t think of another actress who could draw me in so completely. It feels like I’m receiving her confession, but it’s not that. It’s just someone talking in a bar about the f*cked up things we do to each other and a reminder that guilt and a fear of consequences are often mistaken for each other. — Jason Tabrys

Chlyer Leigh, Supergirl

Supergirl’s Chyler Leigh tackled the difficult task of bringing her character Alex out of the closet as a lesbian on this season. Alex, to this point, has been Supergirl’s supportive big sister who just didn’t have any time for dating. Alex had to navigate the choppy waters of both realizing she was gay and discovering the uncertain boundaries of what it changed and what it didn’t. Leigh delivered an intimate, thoughtful performance that was about a woman opening up a side of herself she hadn’t realized she’d locked off, and dealing with the fact that it changes her life in ways she didn’t expect. It’s not quite what you’d expect from a show where the title character gets punched through walls, and her shapeshifting alien boss has a cyborg evil doppelganger, but that just makes it stand out all the more. — Dan Seitz

Issa Rae, Insecure

One of HBO’s freshmen series, Insecure, unfortunately got a bit overshadowed by the conspiracy theory winding Westworld. Luckily, creator and star Issa Rae snagged a Golden Globe nomination for her standout performance as Issa Dee, so hopefully the show will get the awards profile boost. The nomination is certainly well deserved, as Rae was relatable, frustrating, and compelling in the show’s first season. Born from Rae’s web series, Awkward Black Girl, Insecure gave us a fresh voice in Rae, and a more realistic look at early adulthood than most shows out there. In a television landscape that is constantly in need of diverse storytelling, Rae was unapologetically black, female, and complex. Even when it seemed like she was actively working against her own happiness, viewers couldn’t help but root for her success. In an effort to find even a shred of satisfaction in her career and her relationships, Rae gave us a protagonist that failed as often as she succeeded. I for one can’t wait to see what she does next season. — Alyssa Fikse

John Travolta, American Crime Story

I wrote somewhere in the neighborhood of 25,000 words about John Travolta’s bonkers/riveting/groundbreaking performance as Robert Shapiro this year, culminating with a big tribute to him. It feels like more would be overkill. To be honest, a big part of me thinks I should just scrap this and pick Rhea Seehorn for her work in Better Call Saul, because a) she was incredible, and b) apparently I only acknowledge performances by TV lawyers. But then I couldn’t post this promo image for the show again, and I’m sorry, but I just can’t pass up that opportunity. — Brian Grubb

Clayne Crawford, Rectify

Few television characters have evolved as much and as organically as Teddy Talbot, Jr. in SundanceTV’s brilliant, wistful Rectify. Positioned as a jerk-off good ol’ boy driven by petty jealousies and insecurity in the first season, Clayne Crawford’s Teddy has done an about face over the course of the series, transforming into the most relatable and empathetic character on the series. Emotionally bereft at the series’ outset, it’s taken the humility of his unraveling marriage to bring out the profoundly complicated man underneath. Crawford — who now brings a dose of levity every week to Fox’s action comedy Lethal Weapon — has been a revelation. Out of Teddy’s pain has come an identity crisis, and in Crawford’s performance, we feel every ounce of the devastation he experiences during his awakening. He’s an open wound, and he’s finally figured out the only way to treat it is by removing the band-aid and exposing all his vulnerabilities. Once one of TV’s biggest douchebags, now all we see in this character is a man in desperate need of a hug. — Dustin Rowles

Thandie Newton, Westworld

Watching Evan Rachel Wood and Sir Anthony Hopkins is almost always magical, and while they truly turned into their Westworld characters, it’s Thandie Newton who really impressed in the HBO series’ first season. As opposed to most of the other listless Hosts, Newton’s Maeve felt like a character from the get-go. Her brothel madam was already programmed not to take crap from anyone, and yet the jump to self-awareness proved to be more of a leap, creating even more strength in an already powerful character. Each week’s performance brought new questions about how much she knew and what her motives really were. Most of all: just what was this robot thinking and would we, the audience, applaud the outcome? Yes, it turns out we did. Along with Maeve’s outstanding and intense transformation, Newton also got to deliver some of the best lines of the season like, “Next time you go looking for the truth, get the whole thing. It’s like a good f*ck: Half is worse than none at all.” Newton got to lead the robot revolution and showed us that while Maeve did it for herself, she was also adept at getting others to join her cause. The “well-behaved women seldom make history” quote has never felt more apt for Newton or for Maeve. — Jill Pantozzi

Tom Hanks as “David S. Pumpkins,” Saturday Night Live

Tom Hanks moved us in Philadelphia. He became an icon in Forrest Gump. He signified heroism for an entire generation in Saving Private Ryan. Sadly, these performances now amount to a bucket of puke next to Hanks’ new defining role as David S. Pumpkins on Saturday Night Live. Any questions? Yes, several: What does the “S” stand for? How did he move his arms with a perfect combination of stiffness and fluidity? Is Pumpkins an allegory for an orange-skinned buffoon who emerged from the horror show that was 2016 presidential politics as the preeminent threat to humankind? Did Hanks get to keep the suit? Can we switch out the Emmy as a signifier of TV greatness and replace it with a statue of David S. Pumpkins? — Steven Hyden

Will Arnett, BoJack Horseman

Have you ever tried explaining BoJack Horseman to someone who’s never heard of the Netflix show? “It’s about this talking horse, and he starred on a TGIF-style sitcom in the 1990s, but now he’s a drunken nobody, and oh yeah, there are other talking animals who live with humans in Hollywoo — no, not Hollywood, but Hollywoo — and somehow it’s both the saddest and funniest thing on television.” That’s the part people having the hardest time believing: that this silly “cartoon” can emotionally wreck you. Well, take it for me, it can (I’m still not over the second-to-last episode of season three), and that’s largely due to Will Arnett’s outstanding performance as the titular horseman. He can go from cocky to tortured in a single gravel-voiced sentence. Arnett has been upfront about his battle with alcoholism, and he uses that experience to sympathize with BoJack when others would see him as a joke. He’s also one heck of a singer. — Josh Kurp

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