10) January Jones, Mad Men
Facing all truths brutally and honestly in the face, it wasn't the best year for Ms Don Draper. Drawn a little too broadly, and a little too monstrously. But this being Mad Men, January Jones was still given her moments to shine, and its still a good performance even if its undoubtedly the character's weakest year.
9) Olivia Williams, Dollhouse
Joss Whedon sure does love to dip into the well of stiff-upper lipped British characters, but lends it a little extra by making them badasses. Olivia Williams probably always was a little too good for this show, but she lent her character, subtly named Adelle DeWitt, an awesome to the point efficiency in both her evil doings and eventual redemption.
8) Melissa Leo, Treme
In a role that could have been easily overshadowed, John Goodman was a force in this show, Leo is a strong enough actress to carve out not only a fully rounded character, but an almost similarly emphatic one, handling her missing persons arc with admirable restraint. Leo is one of the best actresses working today, and I look forward to her Oscar nomination for The Fighter. Regardless of whether its good or not.
7) Chloe Sevigny, Big Love
I'd like to preface this by saying this was a truly terrible year of Big Love, in which plotlines consumed each other in a fast-paced incoherent frenzy, but one thing that stands about this show is the quality performances. At times it felt like the very talented cast was trying to keep a ship that was determined to sink afloat, none more so then Sevigny, who has always been the brightest light in the mormon drama, cruelly overlooked for too many awards.
6) Kelly MacDonald, Boardwalk Empire
Boardwalk Empire has a lot in common with The Sopranos, but in a way it always felt a little more grand guignol then that show. Much happier to play things a little bigger and characters a little less realistic, so at first Kelly MacDonald didn't thrill me with her immensively beaten down mouse of a character. But the character grew, as did the performance and by the end she was one of the strongest aspects of the show.
5) Christina Hendricks, Mad Men
Mad Men mainstay Christina Hendricks tends to get maybe 2 episodes a year to take her character a little further then the standard 10 lines an episode role. This year was a strong one, as the world began to pass by Joan, or rather catch up to her. She got to appear a little more vulnerable this year, and as good as she is as the unstoppable Joan, it was nice to see the range Hendricks actually has.
4) Khandi Alexander, Treme
If people have one complaint about The Wire, people tend to throw out the female characters thing. And there's some credibility to that. But David Simon answered that in spades with Treme, arguably the place where strong female characters reined supreme in 2010. Alexander makes such a strong impression because in true Simon style, there's so much more to her character then at first it seems. A great performance.
3) Kim Dickens, Treme
But the strongest was Dickens, I think. Stuck playing the wronged woman on nearly every show known to man, I had no idea Dickens was capable of such an endearing yet somehow embittered performance. Playing a chef dealing with bad business in post New Orleans Katrina, she arguably didn't have the most fiercely dramatic role, but it ended up being so engaging to watch. Probably because of the mature and engaging performance Dickens gives. Standout work.
2) Katey Sagal, Sons Of Anarchy
Sagal's third year wasn't quite as bombastic as her second, much like the show really, which pondered its way into aimlessness. But Sagal's scenes with on screen father Hal Halbrook were up to the high standard she had previously set, even if the direction of the season wasn't. It really is one of the best performances on TV, and the fact that the Golden globe recognized her this year was very, very gratifying.
1) Anna Gunn, Breaking Bad
I promise that the next award won't be won by anyone from Breaking Bad, but this one has to be. The enriching of Skylar White's character in season three of this year may have been my favourite performance of the year by anyone. Skylar has always been a figure of fan hate, mostly because she doesn't roll over at Walt's feet. But the performance became so fascinating to watch, and is worthy of all praise anyone can bestow on it.