As we enter the final days of 2021, we can all breathe a big sigh of relief, and let go of the long-running debate over whether TV is back in full swing. Considering all of this year’s debuts and returning series, we’ve had as many compelling reasons to stay inside as frightening ones. Great adaptations, poignant new comedies, and outlandish sketch shows beckoned us throughout the year, led by an array of actors from the big and small screens (and a few frequent fliers in between).
Some performers gave new life to a role they’ve embodied for years, while others found the role of a lifetime. One of Christopher Guest’s favorite collaborators clawed her way to the top of a cast of standouts, as two comedy icons welcomed a third into their fold/Manhattan apartment building. A magnetic young actor held Barry Jenkins’ gaze and our own. And the star of an HBO Max comedy and an HBO limited series made us consider giving her two spots on our list.
In putting together the best TV performances of the year, The A.V. Club always looks to highlight ensembles and individuals. But when the nomination process began, we once again found ourselves singling out powerful leads, stalwarts in supporting roles, and those who are climbing through the ranks. So the ensembles will (mostly) have to wait until next year.