The 16 best TV performances of 2022

The 16 best TV performances of 2022

The A.V. Club counts down the most stunning small-screen turns of the year

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Clockwise from left: Zendaya in Euphoria (Photo: Eddy Chen/HBO), Mandy Moore in This Is Us (Photo: Ron Batzdorff/NBC), Sarah Goldberg in Barry (Photo: Merrick Morton/HBO), Oscar Isaac in Moon Knight (Photo: Csaba Aknay/Marvel Studios), Lane Factor and Zahn McClarnon in Reservation Dogs (Photo: Shane Brown/FX)
Clockwise from left: Zendaya in Euphoria (Photo: Eddy Chen/HBO), Mandy Moore in This Is Us (Photo: Ron Batzdorff/NBC), Sarah Goldberg in Barry (Photo: Merrick Morton/HBO), Oscar Isaac in Moon Knight (Photo: Csaba Aknay/Marvel Studios), Lane Factor and Zahn McClarnon in Reservation Dogs (Photo: Shane Brown/FX)
Graphic: Rebecca Fassola

As we continue to toast a pretty damn good year of television—we’ve already unveiled the best shows and moments of 2022—let’s hone in on those essential what-makes-a-series-great ingredients: the actors. The last 12 months have gifted us a ton of fantastic turns, with artists taking on characters both refreshingly new and others familiar but with something new to express. So, from an initial list that ran … quite long, these are our 16 favorite performances of the year. (Oh, and like with those aforementioned lists, so long as a performance first aired in 2022, it’s eligible.) Bravo, all.

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16. Milly Alcock, House Of The Dragon

16. Milly Alcock, House Of The Dragon

Milly Alcock and Fabien Frankel in House Of The Dragon
Milly Alcock and Fabien Frankel in House Of The Dragon
Photo: Ollie Upton/HBO

Insomuch as this sprawling Game Of Thrones prequel has a protagonist, Rhaenyra Targaryen is it. Season one follows her over two decades as she grows from an insecure teen to a steely queen-in-waiting. Alcock plays the princess from the ages of 14 to 17; she’s struggling to find her place in her father’s (Paddy Considine) court as something Westeros has never seen before: a female heir to the Iron Throne. Rhaenyra is forced to grow up fast, and Alcock convincingly portrays her character’s evolution as she tests the limits of her power, both as a woman and a ruler. She learns when to lie in wait, listening to the men around her talk themselves out, and when to act, whether that means crashing into a tense standoff on dragonback or playing a perilous game of seduction with her uncle Daemon (Matt Smith). Emma D’Arcy has been getting well-deserved buzz for their turn as the adult Rhaenyra, but it would be a mistake to overlook Alcock in this dracarys of a breakout performance. [Jenna Scherer]

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15. Emma D’Arcy, House Of The Dragon

15. Emma D’Arcy, House Of The Dragon

Elliot Grihault and Emma D’Arcy in House Of The Dragon
Elliot Grihault and Emma D’Arcy in House Of The Dragon
Photo: Ollie Upton/HBO

Speaking of Emma D’Arcy ... wait, we’re following up a portrayal of Rhaenyra Targaryen with … a portrayal of Rhaenyra Targaryen? Yes. Yes, we are. In the back half of House Of The Dragon’s first season, D’Arcy uses the foundation Alcock laid to build Rhaenyra into a towering force. Following a 10-year time jump, we meet the adult princess while she’s actively giving birth to her third child. The actor’s visceral, primal performance in this scene tells us everything we need to know about who Rhaenyra has become: a woman who’s honed herself into a Valyrian steel blade to wield against anyone who would threaten her family or question her claim to the throne. D’Arcy is mesmerizing playing against any scene partner, whether it’s Considine’s ailing king or Smith’s calculating prince. But it’s pure wildfire when they trade barbs (and longing looks) with Olivia Cooke’s Alicent, Rhaenyra’s BFF-turned-nemesis. And it’s worth noting that the pair’s love-hate dynamic this season sets the stage for the civil war to come. It’s impossible to look away whenever D’Arcy’s expressive face is in the frame; even when the show itself drags, they electrify every scene they’re in. [Jenna Scherer]

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14. Jacob Anderson, Interview With The Vampire 

14. Jacob Anderson, Interview With The Vampire 

Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire - Official Trailer (Jacob Anderson) | Comic-Con 2022

And speaking of GOT, Jacob Anderson successfully moves away from Grey Worm, the character he’s best known for, with Interview With The Vampire. In AMC’s adaptation of the Anne Rice novel, Anderson is equal parts charming and heartbreaking as Louis de Pointe du Lac. The show delves into queer elements far more than the film did (sold thoroughly thanks to Anderson and Sam Reid’s chemistry). With his invigorating work, Anderson doesn’t just live up to the film’s take on Louis, previously played by Brad Pitt, but he arguably exceeds it. [Saloni Gajjar]

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13. Paul Walter Hauser, Black Bird

13. Paul Walter Hauser, Black Bird

Black Bird Season 1 Episode 6 Best Acting in a TV show

2022 was chock-full of true-crime dramas, but no one’s performance is as terrifying as Paul Walter Hauser’s in Black Bird. In Dennis Lehane’s six-part series, he plays Larry Hall in one of the best portrayals of a serial killer since Cameron Britton in Mindhunter. Black Bird’s lead stars, including Taron Egerton and the late-great Ray Liotta, are remarkable. But Hauser’s bone-chilling accent and unnerving facial expressions will be seared in your brain permanently. It’s a subtle yet methodical performance and a guaranteed stepping stone for Hauser’s career. [Saloni Gajjar]

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12. Stellan Skarsgård, Andor

12. Stellan Skarsgård, Andor

Stellan Skarsgård’s Monologue - Andor S01E10

Operating, as it does, at the desperate fringes of the Star Wars universe, Andor is a show all about calculation: Who can you afford to trust? Who needs to die? What are you willing to sacrifice? No one makes the weight of that deadly math hit harder than Stellan Skarsgård, who arrives in the series with the hero treatment—face-obscuring camera angles and all—and departs it having illustrated the mounting spiritual costs of the professional revolutionary. Skarsgård nails the show’s routinely lovely speeches as a matter of course, but he’s just as mesmerizing in moments of silence and stillness, the exhaustion of double lives and carefully cultivated paranoia warring with the iron resolve of a man who’s made grim peace with the sunless spaces of his mind. [William Hughes]

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11. Jeremy Allen White, The Bear

11. Jeremy Allen White, The Bear

Carmy’s 7-Minute Monologue | The Bear | FX

The Bear, The A.V. Club’s top show of 2022 and a series with one of the most stunning moments of said year, simply would not work without the right lead keeping all of it—the chaos, the comedy, the big-swing drama, the aesthetic ambition, the shot after shot of hunger-inducing food—glued together. And Jeremy Allen White is that right lead, playing Carmy, a hot-shot fine-dining chef who returns to run his family’s Italian beef joint, as both frenzied (from episode one, you can see this guy is on the verge of a breakdown) and lost in an almost childlike way. The actor nails both modes and several shades in between and delivers, in the show’s season-one finale, another stunning moment: a determined, open, seven-minute monologue (watch it above) at an Al-Anon meeting, his voice occasionally breaking and showing cracks in that tough-to-break facade. [Tim Lowery]

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10. Tramell Tillman, Severance

10. Tramell Tillman, Severance

Severance 1x07 - The Music Dance Experience

Yes, Severance has an ensemble full of award-worthy performances, including Adam Scott, Patricia Arquette, John Turturro, and Christopher Walken. So it’s kind of incredible how Tramell Tillman steals the show with his take on Lumon’s loyal employee Seth Milchik. With a never-ending grin plastered on his face, Tillman parades throughout season one as an unpredictable, intriguing character. And let’s not forget, he’s the reason for Severance’s unforgettable scene: that freaking music dance experience. It’s a succinct showcase for his seemingly friendly but actually menacing exterior. And it’s full-bodied physical acting at its best. [Saloni Gajjar]

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9. Zahn McClarnon, Reservation Dogs/Dark Winds

9. Zahn McClarnon, Reservation Dogs/Dark Winds

Dark Winds Season 1 Trailer | Rotten Tomatoes TV

Zahn McClarnon is a masterclass performer, as established in Longmire, Fargo, Westworld, you name it. In 2022, the actor plays a police officer in two totally different shows: FX’s sublime Reservation Dogs and AMC’s gritty Dark Winds. It’s impressive how much range he brings to both roles. He’s laid-back, witty, and even a little rambunctious in Dogs. And in Winds, his soulful performance as an Indigenous cop investigating local deaths in Navajo Nation is one of his best. McClarnon proves there’s not a genre he can’t handle, so it’s not surprising that he ventures into superhero territory next with Echo in 2023. [Saloni Gajjar]

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8. Rhea Seehorn, Better Call Saul

8. Rhea Seehorn, Better Call Saul

Better Call Saul 6x12 “Kim cries” Season 6 Episode 12 HD “Waterworks”

Kim Wexler’s name might not be in this already seemingly classic show’s title, but don’t be fooled: She was the one we were all thinking about and pulling for as Saul neared its finale. As Saloni Gajjar so accurately and plainly put it in our winners and losers of the summer feature: “Kim Wexler has cemented herself as an instantly iconic character in what is arguably one of the best dramas of all time.” Again, that’s no oversell. It’s also not hyperbolic to say that Rhea Seehorn (who somehow didn’t nab an Emmy and wasn’t even nominated for a Golden Globe) turned in the trickiest performance on the show. For proof, just check out the scene above, when Kim, whose main character trait could almost be not showing emotion, displays some big ones, breaking down on an airport shuttle, finally cracking with the weight of what she did in Albuquerque. [Tim Lowery]

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7. Antony Starr, The Boys

7. Antony Starr, The Boys

Homelander’s Darkest Moments From Season 3 | The Boys

No one is having more fun on TV than Antony Starr in the third season of The Boys, when he ventures into unknown territory as Homelander publicly embraces his asshole persona. Tired of being told how to act in front of an audience, Homelander gives in to his worst impulses. Anyone who knows Homelander personally fears him, but the world mostly accepts his racist, classist, misogynistic outlook. So yes, The Boys once again nails its satire in an all-too-real way. And this storyline means Starr doesn’t have to restrain his douchebag alter ego anymore. The actor revels in getting to say and do the most ridiculous stuff, sure. But that’s not all. Underneath the crassness, Starr brings unexpected depth to Homelander, who gets to reconnect with his dad in season three, and gives one of the year’s most unhinged and scary performances. [Saloni Gajjar]

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6. Oscar Isaac, Moon Knight

6. Oscar Isaac, Moon Knight

Marvel Studios’ Moon Knight | Official Trailer | Disney+

Considering Oscar Isaac has played his fair share of big spectacle heroes (Star Wars’ Poe Dameron) and villains (Apocalypse in X-Men: Apocalypse), it’s no surprise to find he was a great fit for the inner two-hander required of him in Marvel’s Moon Knight. Called to play no-nonsense gruff-voiced mercenary Marc Spector as well as mild-mannered English gift shop clerk Steven Grant—not to mention their respective Khonshu avatars (that’d be the eponymous Moon Knight and the more gentle Mr. Knight)—Isaac brought the same gravitas that’s long made him able to shuttle between billion-dollar-grossers and quiet, intimate indies. But more than merely giving us a morally complex Marvel (anti)hero, Isaac also brought the humor, making the Disney+ series a must-see summer event. [Manuel Betancourt]

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5. Aubrey Plaza, The White Lotus

5. Aubrey Plaza, The White Lotus

The White Lotus: Unpacking Season 2 Episode 2 with Aubrey Plaza & Will Sharpe | HBO

When the cast for the second season of Mike White’s dark satire was announced, all eyes were on Aubrey Plaza. Those who’d seen her in films like Ingrid Goes West and Black Bear knew the former Parks And Recreation star had more to offer than the surly “over it” demeanor she’s best known for. But nothing could’ve prepared us for the way her Harper could, with a withering look or a dismissive grimace, cut through the bullshit of her increasingly nightmarish Sicilian holiday. In Plaza’s hands, this tightly wound lawyer shined in every scene she was in, keeping characters and audiences guessing as to what was behind that mask of forced smiling civility. Equally capable of playing flirty and wounded, jealous and cutting, Plaza handily became a meme-ready scene-stealer in one of 2022’s most talked-about shows. [Manuel Betancourt]

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4. Minha Kim, Pachinko

4. Minha Kim, Pachinko

Pachinko — Official Trailer | Apple TV+

You’ll be hard-pressed to find a performance as endearing as Minha Kim in Pachinko, one of the best TV shows of the year. The Apple TV+ drama is rooted in her character Sunja’s perspective as she emigrates from South Korea to Japan during a political crisis. The older Sunja is played by Oscar winner Youn Yuh-jung—who is also terrific—but it means the pressure on relative newcomer Kim is real (especially because the show is based on Min Jin Lee’s beloved novel, too). Luckily, the actor is more than up to the task. Her evocative work elevates Pachinko, so it’s not a drama about hardships, but a resonant story of survival. [Saloni Gajjar]

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3. Mandy Moore, This Is Us

3. Mandy Moore, This Is Us

Dr. K Helps Rebecca Move On | NBC’s This Is Us

Mandy Moore has quietly delivered the most affecting performance over six seasons of This Is Us, although the Emmys unfairly snubbed her in 2022. Moore’s Rebecca Pearson is a constant and poignant presence in each of the show’s timelines. It means the actor can fully illustrate her range as Rebecca goes from a young woman in love to a grieving widow with three teenage kids to a proud grandmother. She shoulders the responsibility of bringing her character to life across an entire lifespan, and goddamn, she never misses a beat. Moore’s layered performance remains intact in season six toward the end of Rebecca’s life (and of the show’s). While This Is Us is known for Sterling K. Brown’s Emmy wins, Milo Ventimiglia’s swoon-worthy Jack, and a breakout in Justin Hartley, the resilient Moore is actually the standout star. [Saloni Gajjar]

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2. Sarah Goldberg, Barry

2. Sarah Goldberg, Barry

Sarah Goldberg in Barry
Sarah Goldberg in Barry
Photo: Merrick Morton/HBO

Bill Hader’s titular hitman-turned-aspiring actor may be the driving force behind HBO’s buzzy Emmy-winning comedy, but Sarah Goldberg has quietly emerged as the series’ MVP with her take on Barry’s girlfriend Sally. Embodying an outsized version of every driven (and therefore self-involved) working actor you’ve ever come across, Goldberg’s Sally is just narcissistic enough to (maybe) make it in Hollywood. Yet, as her season-three arc proved, the actor’s blinkered vision of success and of herself is both her greatest strength and her greatest weakness. Watching Sally go from girlboss showrunner extraordinaire to angry neurotic murderess in the span of eight episodes was nothing short of thrilling—especially the way Goldberg was able to pull off not one but two instantly iconic angered outbursts featuring two different four-letter words. [Manuel Betancourt]

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1. Zendaya, Euphoria

1. Zendaya, Euphoria

Zendaya in Euphoria
Zendaya in Euphoria
Photo: Eddy Chen/HBO

Euphoria is one of the most talked (and tweeted) about TV shows of the year. It’s easy enough to dismiss it as campy, sure, but Sam Levinson’s melodramatic teen drama had several unforgettable moments in season two, from Cassie’s downward spiral to Lexi’s entertaining play. However, the HBO show is ultimately anchored by Zendaya’s breathtaking performance. The actor owns each frame she’s in as Rue unravels due to her drug addiction. Zendaya’s visceral work is so effective that it often transcends the screen to feel incredibly real. She grounds the chaos that Euphoria thrives in, lending an air of authenticity to it all, often making it difficult to watch her. Season two’s fifth episode, “Still Standing Like The Hummingbird,” is a nonstop 45-minute display of her immense talent, and it’s no wonder it won her an Emmy for the second year in a row. From wrenching monologues to haphazardly running around town to breaking down, Zendaya aces it all. [Saloni Gajjar]

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