The best television performances of 2018 came from everywhere. Streaming shows, premium cable shows, basic cable shows, network shows. They ran the gamut from lead to supporting. There are newcomers and returning favorites, cartoons and humans, all-knowing afterlife beings that wear blue vests and… well, more humans. They showed us the struggles of aspiring southern rappers and female wrestlers and spies. And assassins. And more spies and assassins. It was a really great year for spies and assassins.
A list of great performances is always fun to make because it gives whoever is making the list a chance to shine a light on the individuals who deserve it. It feels good, to say “Hey, you know who’s pretty good?” and then explain who and why. We know because we did it, here, below. Our list is long and not comprehensive by any means. You probably have your own favorites. That’s great! Share them with us in the comments or yell them out your window. Again, it feels good to do it. We all deserve this.
Let’s do it.
The Entire Voice Cast, Big Mouth
Everything Maya Rudolph’s Connie says is ultra confident, wild, and irresistible. Nick Kroll’s Coach Steve is witlessly struggling with the long and winding runway to adulthood that he’s on, but there’s a kind of limping stray cat charm about him that makes you care. And David Thewlis, as the Shame Wizard, is unsettling for the glee he takes in delivering his whispered agenda of self-doubt to the children. There are other voice performances and characters of note on the show, but I just wanted to highlight a few. I also wanted to point out that, while Big Mouth’s surface appeal is that it lets us remember when we were annoyed, confused, and perpetually anxious kids beset by the plague of puberty, that mix of messed up adults and hormone monster mentors deserves as much credit for the show’s success. Specifically, because they’re the most show-y characters with the best lines and often make the point that Big Mouth has a secondary message about grown-ups: no one beats puberty, we just sort of get used to the damage. — Jason Tabrys
Florence Pugh, The Little Drummer Girl
The Little Drummer Girl was AMC’s second run at a miniseries based on a John le Carre novel, following The Night Manager and all of its Hiddleston swaggering and Hugh Laurie pastel-wearing. It was good. There were twists and turns and Michael Shannon in glasses and I will remember none of that because Florence Pugh was so great that it overshadowed everything. Her character, Charlie, was an actress who was recruited into spycraft by Israeli secret agents. She was surrounded by ciphers, people who held back and were not often doing what they said they were. The result: Florence Pugh got to shine. She had to shine. Without her breathing life into the show with charisma and color and serving as the audience’s representative in all the confusion, none of it works. It did, though. A lot. Because Florence Pugh is a star. — Brian Grubb
Travis Tope, American Vandal
The first season of American Vandal won a Peabody Award, and the second season proved nearly as good, but that didn’t stop Netflix from canceling the satirical true crime series. As much as this sucks, however, “Boardwalk Empire” alum Travis Tope’s performance as Kevin McClain, season two’s alleged “Turd Burglar,” is quite the opposite of sucking. On the contrary, the performance is as compelling — if not more so, though for different reasons — as Jimmy Tatro’s excellent work as supposed dick-drawer Dylan Maxwell in season one. From Kevin’s generally odd demeanor as a willful social outcast to his genuine devotion to his decidedly not-awesome band, Tope knocks it out of the park. It honestly makes American Vandal’s cancellation all the more distressing. — Andrew Husband