2021 Calvins: Best TV Performer
By David Mumpower
April 1, 2021
We watched more television than ever this past year.
The Great Shut-In of 2020 kept people in their homes, which forced us all to rely on streaming media to keep us from losing our ever-loving minds.
Without Netflix et al., we wouldn’t have had Tiger King to get us through those brutal early weeks of the pandemic.
Somewhere along the way, BOP recognized that we must tip the scales a bit with our voting.
Without theatrical releases available, we leaned on television a staggering amount. Our rewards should reflect that.
So, we introduced a new category, one that proved to be among our most popular for voting purposes.
Oddly, while our votes in Best Television Show always scatter across 50 programs, BOP’s staff possessed tunnel vision with the new category.
Here are our choices for the top ten TV Performances of 2021, which come from only five shows.
Our category winner qualifies as the most savage remaining oversight from The Emmys each year.
Since the beginning, Rhea Seehorn has elevated Better Call Saul with her fascinating portrayal of a character who may yet break bad.
Kim Wexler has stolen our hearts as a fierce lawyer who acts drawn to Jimmy McGill but may prove a better fit for Saul Goodman.
Seehorn raised her game to another level during this past season as she squared off against the most malevolent character in the show's history.
After Wexler argued her point, it was the terrifying killer who flinched, not her.
Wexler plausibly seemed like the most intimidating person in the room. It was a master’s class in acting.
While our vote was close, especially within the top five, Seehorn clinched the category with her universal appeal. Now, if only The Emmys would figure out the obvious about Seehorn’s skills…
For more than a decade, Kaley Cuoco took the easy money from The Big Bang Theory. Along the way, she rarely challenged herself as a performer.
However, the instant that her show ended, Cuoco broadened her range and selected a daring new project for her next act.
No, I’m not talking about her voice work on Harley Quinn, although she almost received a nomination for that, too.
Instead, I’m referencing Cuoco’s role in The Flight Attendant, a passion project that reminded us of her acting chops.
Cuoco’s production company purchased the rights to this project in anticipation of her taking on the title role of Cassie Bowden.
If you haven’t watched the series, you’ll barely recognize Cuoco. The fun-loving, shallow character from The Big Bang Theory…well, she kind of translates here.
The story is substantially more adult in scope, though. Bowden’s a lost cause alcoholic who will sleep with virtually anybody after a few drinks.
That’s a problem because that cute guy in 3C seems fun heading to her hotel room, but he’s less exciting as a dead corpse in her bed.
The Flight Attendant embodies daring bravado as a story, and everything hinges on Cuoco’s masterful performance.
Something I love about our first vote in this category is that women dominate. Four out of the top five and five out of the top seven selections are female.
The first and second dudes on our list come from the same show. They’re longtime friends, Jason Sudeikis and Brendan Hunt, two of the leads on Ted Lasso.
Obviously, Sudeikis anchors the show as a football coach who suddenly throws away everything in his life to become a futbol coach.
Hunt’s character, the master strategist behind Ted Lasso’s success, follows his friend to England, where they embark on conquering a new sport and a new life.
We favor Sudeikis slightly as the shamelessly optimistic and innately decent leader.
Still, Hunt’s portrayal moves us, as he’s precisely the sort of friend everyone should have in life.
Our voters ranked Sudeikis as the third-best performer of the year, while Hunt finishes sixth.
Just to mess up the ordering a bit, I’ll go ahead and say that the show’s scene-stealer, Juno Temple, also finishes in seventh.
Temple portrays Keeley Jones, a model famous for being famous. While her character seems like she’ll be derivative in the pilot, Temple quickly stole our hearts.
Keeley isn't that tired cliché of a model/actress/whatever. She's an earnest, smart woman who cannot break the destructive cycles in her life.
As Keeley, Temple steals countless scenes throughout the season, including a two-person press conference that’s staggeringly romantic and wise.
The fact that she only finishes seventh functions as a tribute to how strong the TV Performance category is this year.
Circling back to non-Ted Lasso roles, two women round out our top five.
Zosia Mamet may have spent years receiving unfair training about how to become a top-tier talent, but at least she's using her powers for good.
Mamet dazzles as hardline attorney Annie Mouradian, a woman who is willing to go to remarkable lengths to help out her flailing best friend.
There’s a moment in this show where Mamet realizes her feelings about someone that I don’t think any other actress on the planet could have done as well as Mamet.
Anya Taylor-Joy earns the final top five selection for her star turn on The Queen’s Gambit.
BOP had already lavished praise on Taylor-Joy for some of her previous work, especially 2015’s The Witch.
We selected her second in Breakthrough Performance that year. Alas, few people saw The Witch, while seemingly everyone watched The Queen's Gambit.
We embraced the struggles of Taylor-Joy’s damaged character and felt connected to her throughout the mini-series. BOP’s all-in on Taylor-Joy as a talent.
I realize I’ve bounced around the order here since we favored three shows so much. Speaking of which, two of the final three entrants come from Better Call Saul.
Bob Odenkirk earns eighth place for providing the brick and mortar on the series. Meanwhile, Tony Dalton showed up and promptly wrecked the place.
We’ve seen some scary Salamancas before in the Breaking Bad universe. Something about Lalo makes the others seem tame by comparison. That’s a tribute to Dalton.
The only other standalone entrant is Catherine O'Hara, who just completed her memorable run as the matriarch on Schitt’s Creek.
BOP never fully embraced this Canadian series until it was at the end, but then we all fell in love with it almost overnight.
In fact, Emily Hampshire and Annie Murphy nearly earned nominations for Schitt’s Creek, too.
Speaking of which, the other almost-nominees include three voice actors from Harley Quinn: Cuoco, Lake Bell, and James Adomian.
We also loved Kieran Culkin in Succession, Joanna Kulig and André Holland in The Eddy, Sandra Oh in Killing Eve, and Issa Rae from Insecure.
Top to bottom, this may be the best top 20 we had at The Calvins this year. I’m kind of in love with our new category.
|| Rhea Seehorn
||Better Call Saul
|| Kaley Cuoco
||Flight Attendant, The
|| Jason Sudeikis
|| Zosia Mamet
||Flight Attendant, The
|| Anya Taylor-Joy
||The Queen's Gambit
|| Brendan Hunt
|| Juno Temple
|| Bob Odenkirk
||Better Call Saul
|| Tony Dalton
||Better Call Saul
|| Catherine O-Hara