TV  |  Lists

The 25 Best TV Performances of 2010

December 31, 2010  |  7:00am

A year ago we proclaimed that a new Golden Age of Television had emerged during the new millennium. The good news is that much of the amazing talent from that first decade is still here; and better yet, some new kids on the block are causing a stir. The not-so-good-news is that more networks need to get with the program. Of the 25 Best TV Performances 19 of them are from NBC, AMC, HBO and Showtime. The gauntlet has been thrown. While we wait to see who picks it up in 2011, let’s celebrate the talent of 2010.

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25. Amy Poehler (Parks and Recreation)
Character: Leslie Knope
Network: NBC
Poehler’s portrayal of an over-eager small-town bureaucrat with a heart of gold manages to stay peppy and slightly over the top without veering toward annoying; she is the lynchpin of both the Pawnee Parks department and the show, which came into its own during the second season.—Alissa Wilkinson

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24. Louis C.K. (Louie)
Character: Louie
Network: FX
The former Conan writer and Pootie Tang director has emerged as one of the most honest voices in comedy today. With a style that falls somewhere between George Carlin, Rodney Dangerfield and Harvey Pekar, the show biz veteran’s FX show Louie is a mesmerizing slice-of-life showcase full of belly laughs and mid-life regret.—Sean Edgar

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23. John Noble (Fringe)
Character: Walter Bishop
Network: Fox
The show may have taken some time to find its footing but John Noble was excellent right out to of the gate. Even when his crime-solving science projects get a little silly, Dr. Walter Bishop is the show’s best character. He’s both grandfatherly and dangerous, showing flashes of great anger and then humble remorse. And he’s self-absorbed but with a sense of curiosity and playfulness.—Josh Jackson

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22. Jane Lynch (Glee)
Character: Sue Sylvester
Network: Fox
The always-amazing Jane Lynch found the role of her life in Sue, a mean-spirited, conniving cheerleader coach. Lynch is wickedly good.—JJ

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21. Ted Danson (Bored to Death)
Character: George Christopher
Network: HBO
As Jonathan Ames’ magazine editor and cohort, Ted Danson quickly makes us forget he was ever in Becker. His chemistry with Jason Schwartzman and Zach Galifianakis is potent.—JJ

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20. Danny Pudi (Community)
Character: Abed Nadir
Network: NBC
On a truly character-driven show, Pudi’s portrayal of Abed—the lovable savant with a pop-culture penchant and a sweet inability to read social cues—stands out for his quiet zaniness. Whether he’s an innocent, the voice of reason, or the mysterious god of the machine, Pudi’s wide-eyed quirkiness steals every scene.—AW

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19. Edie Falco (Nurse Jackie)
Character: Jackie Peyton
Network: Showtime
Edie Falco plays Showtime’s morally ambiguous protagonist, a cranky ER nurse who’s snorting painkillers and having sex with the hospital pharmacist (how convenient) while the World’s Best Husband waits for her to come home to him and their two girls. Jackie Peyton is a maddening, two-faced character, kind and empathetic with her patients and stoically hurtful to the people closest to her.—Kate Kiefer

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18. Steve Carrell (The Office)
Character: Michael Scott
Network: NBC
When Michael Scott leaves Dunder-Miflin, it’s hard to imagine The Office will ever be the same. Even as the show became less funny, Steve Carrell’s character has grown from completely self-unaware caricature into an endearing person.—JJ

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17. Giancarlo Esposito (Breaking Bad)
Character: Gustavo “Gus” Fring
Network: AMC
As the fried chicken magnate who holds the life of Walter White in his hands, Giancarlo Esposito plays an exquisite and totally unlikely drug lord.—TB

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16. Betty White (Saturday Night Live)
Character: Betty White
Network: NBC
What started as a campaign on Facebook became the year of Betty White, thanks to her wonderful job hosting SNL.—JJ

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