Thursday, 3 December 2009

Best Of the 00's: The Ten Best Male Television performances

To my mind, giving a truly great performance on a television show is almost more difficult then giving one in film. It requires much more consistency, a great deal more patience and ability to make bad writing into good writing solely on the back of your selling it. Because given the nature of the television beast, its time constraints don't allow the endless pontification and development of scripts that one can do in feature films. So even the greatest show is going to have a duffer moment that requires the actor to go above and beyond in order to save face. So, without any further ado, and I do so like the ado so consider my brevity a courtesy (Vocab alert.), the best television performances of the decade by those in possession of a Y chromosome. FYI There's an alarming amount of bald guys on this list. This amuses me.

10) Ricky Gervais, The Office

"You have to be a 100% behind someone before you can stab them in the back."

Call this a concession. I personally am left a bit cold by the UK office (Yes I know there's something wrong with me) but I know that the man did something great here, even if its not exactly up my alley. Masses, consider yourselves appeased.

9) Michael C Hall, Six Feet Under

"Yeah, I'll be the strong one, the stable one, the dependable one, because that's what I do. And everyone around me will fall apart. 'Cause that's what they do."

Hall has been one of the greatest contributors to television of the decade, giving two subtle, terrific character performances. One in a genuinely great show (Six Feet Under), and the other that sadly never became what it could have been (Dexter). The constant in both is Hall's excellence, but I'm going for his performance as David because during the course of its run, the range required of the man is amazing, and whats even more so is that he never missed a beat.

8) James Callis, Battlestar Galactica

" Aren't you Gaius Baltar? "

" I haven't done anything. "

Yes is a science-fiction show, but it transcended its humble beginnings into a critical sensation for a reason. The performances on this show are pretty much unanimously great, particularly Mary McDonnell, who shall soon be appearing on this lists opposite number. But for me there's one performance that stands out from the beginning, and it comes from James Callis as Baltar, playing a character that embodies self-preservation above all else. Its such a good performance because you find yourself unable to resist rooting for the guy who pretty much destroyed the human race, and its down to Callis talent that Baltar becomes such a complex, awesomely surprising invention.

7) Michael K Williams, The Wire

" I got the shotgun. You got the briefcase. Its all in the game, right? "

The Wire is chock a block full of fantastic understated performances, almost to the point where to pick one out from the ensemble is to commit a grievous crime. But if there's one character from the Wire who rose above the rest, even if by a minuscule margin, it would be Michael K Williams' Omar. Its such an effortless performance of cool, intelligence, humor and pathos that even the obscene amount of adjectives I just used doesn't cover how good he is.

6) Michael Chiklis, The Shield

"With a body count like this, the Aztecs and Mayans are squabbling about more than who invented the burrito. "

In which the guy from a below average sitcom called Daddio, went on to give one of the most iconic television performances that ever was. The Shield on the whole is a drastically under-rated show, with some drastically under-rated performances. Chiklis through all seven seasons is terrific, conveying the moral ambiguity of the character perfectly, always preventing Mackey falling off the ledge into all out villainy, but always making you slightly guilty for getting behind him.

5) Terry O Quinn, Lost

"I've looked into the eye of this island, and what I saw... was beautiful."

I'm sure many would go for Michael Emerson's also terrific performance as Ben Linus, but for me Terry O Quinn's performance as Locke has been the glue that held this show together even through its rougher times. Where as the younger cast members sometimes go through the genre motions, O Quinn earns his place because through thick and thin, he lends such a soulfulness and undertone of thoughtful tragedy to his character, that his screen presence is close to magnetic. He doesn't get the scene-stealing dialogue that Emerson gets, or the redemptive arcs of Josh Holloway or Matthew Fox, but he gave a performance here that didn't so much rise above the show, but took it with him.

4) Hugh Laurie, House

"So, um, if I need them, where exactly will Dr. Foreman be keeping my balls?"

House would be such a shit show without Hugh Laurie. Its preachy, sanctimonious and is under the impression that Olivia Wilde is the most fascinating actress that ever lived. But it has Hugh Laurie. And by the strength of performance, that is at once one of the best comedic performances of the decade and one of the best dramatic ones, makes a quite formulaic medical procedural into an endlessly riveting and endlessly entertaining hour of TV. Laurie certainly earns his accolades in this role.

3) Jason Bateman, Arrested Development

"You seem more villainous than usual, Mom; are you sober?"

In a show full of hilarious and quirky characters (and Michael Cera), why pick the straight man? Because quite frankly Bateman is one of the most hilarious straight men that ever lived. Few actors deliver sarcasm with such relish, and his never-ending stream of deadpanning one-liners and truly genius reactions to the wackiness around him. But what makes the character work so well is that Bateman never let go of the subtelty even in the face of some batshit insane ( but sill genius) writing in the later seasons, and Michael Bluth stayed a perfectly played self-superior saint to the end. The best comedic performance of the decade I'd have no trouble saying.

2) Bryan Cranston, Breaking Bad

" Is this just a genetic thing with you? Is it congenital? Did your mother drop you on your head when you were a baby?"

Watch this show If you're not watching it. Seriously. For all you Mad Men fans out there, Cranston has beaten Jon Hamm at the Emmy's two years in a row. That's how good he is. Another one in the list of great comedy actors that upon turning their attention to more dramatic work, is mesmerizing and mind-blowing. It would be easy to oversell the performance, certainly, but Cranston internalizes all the right moments and draws you in to a complex, painful transition from man to monster. Metaphorically Speaking. He doesn't turn into crappy monster thing like Mohinder on Heroes.

1) James Gandolfini, The Sopranos

"What fucking kind of human being am I, if my own mother wants me dead?"

I couldn't in good faith give the number one spot to anyone else. The Sopranos, isn't my favorite show, as it is many, many other people's, to me its always been the kind of show to appreciate rather then enjoy, although many times it was both. Gandolfini, though, is a force of nature from beginning to end. Adding more dimensions to Tony Soprano then it is possible to mention, or do justice to in critical review. He's so good it is likely that this is the performance that all future leading men will be judged by. If thats the case then a lot of very good performances are going to look positively workaday next to Gandolfini's.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"House would be such a shit show without Hugh Laurie. Its preachy, sanctimonious and is under the impression that Olivia Wilde is the most fascinating actress that ever lived. But it has Hugh Laurie."

What a wonderful assessment! I adore Hugh Laurie, but even I have given up on the show, for all the reasons you mentioned, plus other reasons as well.

And I watched Breaking Bad faithfully the first year. Plus I still watch Mad Men regularly. Yes, Bryan Cranston is wonderful, & Jon Hamm is too, but I still believe Hugh Laurie, with his nuanced comedy/drama performance has them both beat to flinders. And that's not even counting his incredibly sexy, flawless American accent.