Day 2 of my personal best and worst of 2011 covers standout performances. The order is fairly random (with the exception of the top two slots).
Many of these performances have already been recognized with Emmys or Golden Globe nominations, but a few of them have been passed over.
10. Steve Carell, "The Office": The final couple of Carell episodes -- in which Michael Scott proposes to his girlfriend and then leaves to start a new life -- were among the best of the entire series, but I think the way "The Office" has floundered since Carell has left is actually more of a testament to what he meant to that series.
9. Ricky Gervais, host of the Golden Globes: You think hosting an awards show is easy? Ask James Franco and Anne Hathaway how good of a gig that is. The way those two floundered on this year's Oscar telecast shows just how good Gervais was with his bold series of jokes that left few in Hollywood unscathed. People talked about it for weeks afterward. The Globes did a smart thing to bring him back for next year after the people behind the Globes didn't want him to return because their feelings were hurt. Get over it, French journalists -- that's one awards show I look forward to next year.
8. Anna Torv, "Fringe": The task of portraying an FBI agent trying to solve unexplained phenomena is difficult enough in of itself. Now imagine trying to do it while playing the alternate universal, slightly (but not totally) evil version of the same character AND playing the character as possessed by Leonard Nimoy. Torv met the challenge with aplomb.
7. Zooey Deschanel, "New Girl": People seem to either love or hate Deschanel, but I think she's a riot playing the world's most awkward hot chick. Few women as beautiful as Deschanel have her comic chops.
6. Nick Offerman, "Parks & Recreation": Really, the whole cast of this show deserves praise, but Offerman's Ron Swanson is one of the most hilarious characters on TV. Maybe it's because I closely identify with Ron Swanson's level of disdain for people in general, but I just love this guy, whether it's trying to teach a group of scouts how to be men or avoiding one of the many women named Tammy who consistently wreck his life.
5. Katey Sagal, "Sons of Anarchy": One day, the Emmy voters will get off their lazy collective rear ends and do what is right -- namely nominate Sagal for the Emmy she so richly deserves. Every season, Gemma Teller gets put through the physical and emotional wringer, and every year, she rises to the challenge as the Lady Macbeth of Charming, Calif. I'm wondering if it's their association with "Married With Children," but how Sagal and Ed O'Neill of "Modern Family" are overlooked during awards season is an absolute crime.
4. Margo Martindale, "Justified": A career character actress who scored the role of her career, Martindale seemed to be an absolute lock for an Emmy when she first hit the small screen as the matriarch of a moonshine/drug-dealing Kentucky crime family. Martindale pulled off a rare feat in creating a villain the audience felt an empathy for one minute, only to be repulsed by her cold-blooded schemes the next.
3. Peter Dinklage, "Game of Thrones": One of TV's biggest performances this year was given by one of its more diminutive performers, as Dinklage managed to stand out even among one of TV's best casts. Between his quick-witted one-liners and the sympathy you felt for a character that was belittled because of his lack of height and not for the man he was, Dinklage getting the Emmy was a near slam-dunk even among a talented field of performers. Dinklage was the fans' original choice to bring Tyrrion to life from George R.R. Martin's books -- great call, fans.
2. Damian Lewis/Claire Danes, "Homeland": No doubt reader Zodin2008 is decrying the choice of Danes here, but both actors riveted me and perfectly complemented each other onscreen. Lewis' Brody needed to be investigated by someone as dogged as Danes' Carrie in order to create the confusion the viewer felt toward the character, and Brody was the perfect puzzle for the neurotic, emotionally disturbed Carrie. Superb performances from fellow actors Mandy Patinkin and Morena Baccarin helped flesh out the two main characters as well.
1. Giancarlo Esposito, "Breaking Bad": When all is said and done, I think Esposito created one of the all-time greatest villains in the history of TV. Esposito's Gus was the perfect balance of friendly exterior as a community-minded businessman masking a horrific interior of a ruthless, drug-dealing crime lord. Gus was the perfect intellect to challenge Walter White (Bryan Cranston), forcing the latter character to go a shocking depth of ruthlessness that was previously unimaginable. The almost-dignified way Gus managed to cut the throat of an associate, calmly vomit up poison he intentionally ingested to take out his rivals, or walk out of a room that just had a bomb explode in it left an indelible mark on the viewer.
TUESDAY'S BEST BETS: Reruns galore. The only new stuff is sports and the Kennedy Center Honors, which airs on CBS at 9 p.m.