10) James Wolk, Lone Star
Yes this show only lasted two episodes and that barely seems enough to accredit it in this way, but damn if this isn't my own blog where I can say what I want and be coherent only if I choose to be. The most intriguing, arguably the only intriguing new network show of 2010, this tale of a con man living two lives was anchored by a very solid and engaging performance by Wolk at its centre. I think it would have only gotten better.
9) Idris Elba, Luther
As you could probably deduce from many of the selections on this list, I'm not the biggest fan of most of what British television does or the way it does it, despite being British and all, but whereas Luther was I think just an exceptionally smooth, elegant rendition of the same old thing. Having Stringer Bell himself at its centre lent it a weight and an intensity one rarely finds, mostly because Elba is awesome, and the kind of actor you'd watch in anything.
8) Hugh Laurie, House
The show is a dinosaur. A preachy, cowardly mess leaning on lame internet 'shipping' to give it even an illusion of freshness, but Laurie's performance refuses to let the show die. In a way there's a serious argument to be made that Laurie's work on this show is the best performance by anyone of the last twenty years or so. He doesn't get the richly written material of a Gandolfini or a Hamm, yet crafts a character every bit as layered and subtle. He's single handedly the comedy and the drama of the show, and he does both excellently. He's made a thousand crass moments seem poignant and has never dropped his game. Just saying.
7) Steve Zahn, Treme
The hell with all of you, I liked this performance. Zahn was a likeable, warm presence at the show's centre and in a way an embodiment of the show's high on life mission statement.
6) Timothy Olyphant, Justified
In a way its nice to have an action hero on TV. Great drama is synonymous with complex, morally ambiguous leading men, so in a way watching Olyphant be an epic badass every week was a nice antidote. And the performance is no less substantial, with the character bearing a soft-spoken cool, and a deceptively intelligent side that goes beyond the cowboy hat iconography.
5) Michael C Hall, Dexter
Like Hugh Laurie, Hall is the sole reason Dexter isn't entirely unwatchable at this point. Fighting against the writers urge to simplify things and never letting the darkness out of the character. It's long since past the time for me that Dexter was in the running to be a great show, but there's no denying the greatness of the performance.
4) Steve Buscemi, Boardwalk Empire
This is a difficult one, because I think Buscemi's performance is almost the most subversive thing about the show and its something that people have pointed to as one of the failings of it. But Buscemi's not a pillar of masculine rage like Tony Soprano or Walter White, or even a relic of an age of a stronger male identity like Don Draper. The way Buscemi plays it avoids these trappings and allows it to become something potentially more unique. Something this shows very much needs.
3) Donal Logue, Terriers
Logue is not necessarily an actor that I had taken notice of before. I'd seen him in many things, but nothing ever really registered until this. Hank Dolworth plays like kind of a cross between The Dude and Philip Marlowe, capable of both coolly riffing and burning up the screen with intensity. Logue was the best thing about what turned out to be a very good show. If nothing else, this show should have bough Logue some pedigree.
2) Bryan Cranston, Breaking Bad
The most important Emmy win in TV history was Cranston's for that first season of Breaking Bad. Without it I doubt the show gets a second season, and we lose what has become one of the best shows in history. And what a centre Cranston is to this world. He's done a lot of great work o this show, but I'm tempted to say that the monologue he has in 'Fly' is amongst the best work he's ever done. And that's a high frickin standard.
1) Jon Hamm, Mad Men
But Mad Men had 'The Suitcase'. And in that episode was Hamm doing the best work he's ever done. On Mad Men. With past ravings, I've probably made my position clear on what show I prefer but there's not point denying that Hamm was the best actor on TV in 2010. I don't think you can.