Best of 2022: Performances features spoilers for various shows. Please be advised if there’s something you don’t want to know.
Year after year, performances continue to get better and expand the world of television in a way that nothing else could. Sometimes, the performer is so good they’re the sole reason you’re sticking around. And sometimes, the performer isn’t given the proper credit they deserve because prestigious academies continue to disregard genre television.
For the Best of 2022 performances, each person in this category did something unforgettable, something indescribable, and left us in awe more on more than one occasion.
For more end-of-the-year coverage, be sure to check out our Best of 2022: Romance Novels, the Best of 2022: Scene Stealers, the Best of 2022: Characters, the Best of 2022: Found Families, the Best of 2022: Romantic Relationships, and the Best of 2022: TV Episodes.
1. Rhea Seehorn
Better Call Saul
In the same way that we’ll forever be enraged that Keri Russell never won an Emmy for her role as Elizabeth Jennings in The Americans, we’ll be screaming about Rhea Seehorn’s performances as Kim Wexler to the end of time. Like her immediate scene partner, Bob Odenkirk, Seehorn brought some of the most captivating performances to our screens for six years. And in the final few episodes, as the pieces of Jimmy McGill came tumbling down and Howard Hamlin was murdered in front of her, Seehorn brilliantly showed us the symbolic death of Kim Wexler as we knew her.
And as we got glimpses of her in the past and present, Seehorn’s expressiveness showed us a loss prodigious and unmoving. Whether she was convincing Howard’s widow, Cheryl (Sandrina Holt), or uttering her rage to Jimmy—Seehorn encapsulated the wide range of Kim Wexler’s emotions breathtakingly. In the same way that Jimmy McGill stayed within Saul Goodman all these years, Kim did what she had to because it was important for her to be by his side—she enjoyed it, despite the misgivings and where it led her; it was all for their relationship. It was a means of escape and a means to live, bringing to our screens some of the most brilliantly complex attributes we’d seen in years. Seehorn’s time as Kim Wexler doesn’t just mean she brought one of the Best of 2022 performances, but she’s the kind of performer we’ll remember for years and years.
2. Ewan McGregor
When it comes to stepping back into a career-defining role almost two decades after the last time you played the character, it could be challenging to showcase familiar mannerisms while concurrently evolving the character to pay homage to the growth that’s taken place. But in every way where it matters, Ewan McGregor’s performances in Obi-Wan Kenobi stick an unparalleled landing. McGregor stepped back into the role with tremendous heart and a love for the old Jedi to reveal what it’s like when grief, guilt, and desolation battle for control. Gone was the Obi-Wan Kenobi we left in Revenge of the Sith—the man standing before us was tirelessly fighting battles internally, attempting to grapple with the mundane and the arising trials.
Where he needed to be vulnerable, McGregor dove deep into the character’s psyche to exhibit all the ways in which loss and years of battles broke him. In delivering how time had changed the man, McGregor didn’t miss a single beat in showcasing the cold, dreary heartaches from coming up short in battles where you were once the best. For six episodes, he allowed the character to grow through an organic path, revealing that learning from others is the most substantial way to go while reminding us why the character is special, comforting essence in the first place.
3. Dominique Tipper
Dominque Tipper once again proved that this industry isn’t worthy of her grace or essence because her performances remain unparalleled. In the final three episodes of The Expanse’s sixth season, Tipper excels at everything she’s given us in the past by bringing a full range of emotions as Naomi navigates through the subtle changes, her demons, and fighting through the trauma left behind by everything she experienced aboard the Free Navy ship. And in the final episode especially, Tipper delivered some of her finest work as she went from happy to utterly heartbroken to undeniably hopeful, marking the changes so effortlessly that they felt more authentic than anything else we’d seen from the show.
As Naomi reunites with Drummer and holds her through the pain in “Why We Fight,” followed by Holden holding her as she comes to the knowledge that Filip might actually be dead, the pain Tipper evokes is utterly agonizing. She’s harrowing throughout the silent exhibitions of trauma, but the guttural scream in those final few moments is the definition of heart-wrenching. And then, in the last few moments, as she allowed herself to find a glimmer of hope, the magic in her eyes gave viewers every bit of the boundless love residing in her. Through everything—all the pain, trauma, and darkness—there’s still so much hope within her, and Tipper showed us that Naomi Nagata is never giving up believing that the world could be a better and a little less cruel so long as people like them exist.
4. Bob Odenkirk
Better Call Saul
For six years (and the years during Breaking Bad), Bob Odenkirk brought facets of Jimmy McGill, Saul Goodman, and Gene to life remarkably. Through the finest expressions and painstakingly exhausting vocal range at times, Odenkirk’s final few performances in Better Call Saul Season 6 were thoroughly extraordinary. But if we take apart his work in “Saul Gone” alone, we have a masterclass of performances waiting to be studied. Odenkirk turned one switch off after another as he left behind the three characters enraptured in a sea of corruption.
As he went from maliciously careless as Gene to Saul Goodman’s ruthless stamina as he spat out lie after another, Odenkirk brought Jimmy McGill back to our screens as we’ve never seen him before—putting it all on the line for Kim Wexler. Odenkirk conveyed an exhibition of sincerity brimming through an ocean of uncertainties and regrets in a way that might haunt me for the rest of my life. No, he wouldn’t take it all back. Yes, he enjoyed some of it. But the regrets will live alongside the chaos he caused, spinning pieces together to make the best decision as all three of the alter-egos, for the man within. In every way necessary to show the audience what’s inside of him, Odenkirk subtly steered viewers toward every blockading load lifting off him as he stood on the courtroom podium one last time. It was gripping, heartbreaking, and utterly satisfying in every way.
5. Sharon Horgan
It’s nearly impossible to choose a single performer from Apple TV’s Bad Sisters because it feels wrong not to include all of them—every single one. But Sharon Horgan’s nuanced range throughout the series, followed by her final few moments in the finale, “Saving Grace,” are some of the most exemplary pieces of acting I’ve seen this year. When Eva broke down over John Paul’s accusations toward her and relived the horrific memories of what he did to her, Horgan brought her A-game. As hard as it was to choose, she had to be number one in our Best of 2022 performances list.
Eva was torn into pieces yet simultaneously freed from the darkness of caring that weight on her own, and Horgan showed it to us through the kind of heart-wrenching cry that felt so real, it was utterly upsetting to watch. Horgan brought Eva’s heartaches front and center organically, but what was plastered in her eyes was the profound love she shared for her sisters more than anything else. That’s what made the scene such a cutthroat work of art because, despite everything else, she needed her sisters to believe her, and she needed them to know how much she loves them. And we saw that clear as day, with every breath Horgan took and tears she shed. And it wasn’t merely in the final episode, but all throughout the series where Horgan bared her emotions with such subtle movements that it was brilliant to watch as she continued to layer the character’s rage, adoration, frustrations, fears, and everything in-between.
6. Diego Luna
Diego Luna‘s inherent warmth and natural spark easily make every character he plays an absolute delight to watch. But when it comes to the Best of 2022 performances, and ones that will live on in the memories of many of us, Luna’s embodiment of Cassian Andor is a masterful depiction of shining talent. Luna was fantastic in Rogue One, but on Andor, his gifts are on a whole new level. Luna’s portrayal of the reluctant rebel was brought to life by an array of authenticity, where the character’s emotions were displayed through stunning, organic fashion.
Where Cassian’s words tell us one thing, Luna’s performances breathe life into them with a charm that stirs through every wrecking bone in a person’s body. Luna understands the characters’ struggles, but simultaneously, the state of the world where all the characters are. He’s aware of the desperation that goes into doing something for survival and precisely what that entails when examining the bigger picture through an intimate lens. It’s why every time Cassian is on screen, a comforting sense of ease is restored to the calamity and calm within the scene. Luna wore his heart on his sleeve while at the same time showcasing every fire that was bursting within Cassian exquisitely.
7. Simone Ashley
It’s always tricky when one of your all-time favorite novels gets the green light for an adaptation, and your favorite character is about to grace your screen for the first time. And in all my years as a fangirl, I never cried tears of joy the way I did when Netflix announced that Simone Ashley would be playing Kate Sharma. This was it. My favorite romance heroine was about to come to life on my screen, and though we hadn’t seen her in the role yet, something about Ashley’s casting felt indescribably right. Though the series doesn’t place her front and center in the way they should, resulting in faulty execution that only left us wanting more instead of fully satisfied, Simone Ashley’s embodiment of Kate Sharma is perfect in every way.
Ashley’s eyes were the gateway to storms flooding with emotions—she spoke a thousand words aloud through every look and layered the character brilliantly with compassion, grit, and infectious warmth. When Kate cried, your heart shattered for her. When she laughed, her joy was shared with your whole being. She brought to life something so profoundly heartbreaking in the character’s loyalty that it stung far worse than a single bee could manage. Where the words on the page didn’t let us learn as much, Ashley showed us everything we needed to see, proving that the character’s happiness and heartaches matter as much to her as they do to the fans. She’s a star well on her way toward becoming one of the most sensational actresses of our time.
8. Luke Kirby
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
What Luke Kirby brings to the stage as Lenny Bruce in The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is a tremendous accomplishment. The series isn’t a biopic and the actor’s embodiment of the role doesn’t necessarily serve as one, but the charm and stamina that Kirby brings to the role always makes the character (or figure), in this case, the most memorable one. There’s a reason he’s also featured on our Best of 2022 Scene Stealer list this year and will likely be next year as well because Kirby is that spellbinding in the role.
Kirby is an electrifying performer because even when he’s on a stage by himself, the spotlight gleaming right at him with nowhere for the eye to turn, you’re terrified to blink in case you might miss something. And in the Season 4 finale, “How Do You Get To Carnegie Hall?” Kirby leaves every breath on the stage, dropping a mic in a way that’s never been done in a performative showcase like this. The heartbreak, rage, and complete incredulity Kirby disperses in front of us with the words “you will break my fucking heart,” echoes like a haunting, loudly whimpering ghost that’s still very much screaming to be heard. It’s all about understanding Lenny Bruce, looking deep into the crevices of every joke, every look, and realizing what it truly means to seize the opportunities life presents and the perils that come with it.
9. Mandy Moore
This Is Us
You don’t have to watch This Is Us consecutively to know that Mandy Moore is one of the most influential actresses of our time. Still, if you do, you have proof—if not, her work in the show’s penultimate episode, “The Train” is a tour de force worth admiring for hours on end. For six seasons, Moore has brought an avalanche of emotions pouring over from our screens through the finest depictions of some of the most inexplicably human emotions. And in her final episode as the character, Mandy Moore was otherworldly.
Moore dove heart deep into showcasing Rebecca Pearson’s most prominent moments as a character while looking onward toward her final hours with hope. There was a look in her eyes that’s still so indescribable—it almost feels like an intimate language only the actress and the character could understand, something that’s meant to move us in a way that’s beyond comprehension. And move us it did, so much so that we watched with our eyes burning and hearts bursting because such performances only make their way onto our screens once in a blue moon.
10. Jonathan Bailey
Jonathan Bailey was an admirable performer during Bridgerton’s debut season, but the moment he took the reins in Season 2, Bailey was on an intoxicatingly new level of excellence. Anthony Bridgerton is a complicated man with a plethora of pain sitting at the crook of his chest, and in the show’s sophomore season, he was forced to confront the trauma to allow himself to love and be loved in return. Facing one’s trauma is never easy, but there are even more reservations when you’re a 19th-century nobleman who’s brought up to believe that you must be strong for everyone else. Bailey showed us a myriad of emotions while simultaneously painting a clear picture of the toxicity that governed those times. As Anthony made some horrible decisions drawn from his pain, Bailey allowed us to see why and how it all transpired.
Like his scene partner, Simone Ashley, Bailey added far more depth and heart to the words on the page—he pushed and maneuvered through the heartaches with so much organic emphasis that we rode the rollercoasters alongside him. When he was holding his breath and blaming himself for Kate’s accident, you felt the guilt in your chest too. Jonathan Bailey brought immeasurable depth to a genre that’s so often overlooked. People tend to frown upon romance, but make no mistake in ever thinking that a brilliant performance is effortless. It requires understanding a character’s complexities in such a way where there’s no corridor of their being left abandoned. It requires looking inward to bring organic displays of heart and vulnerability to life. Bailey does this impeccably as he charms with the viscount’s antics, then he slowly chips away at the walls towering over him when he falls in love with Kate Sharma. What we’re saying here is that Jonathan Bailey can tackle a high-stakes action film or an indie drama, but not every actor can move through romance as seamlessly.
11. Kaley Cuoco
The Flight Attendant
Kaley Cuoco’s performances in The Flight Attendant Season 2 are still some of the most harrowing displays of pain and heartache we’ve seen on television. In a single scene, Cuoco was unbearably difficult to watch as Cassie confronted her mother. Whether you understood her feelings or not, it was seamless to feel for her and see that everything she was showcasing was lifting a prodigious weight from her shoulders.
At the same time, this year, Cuoco played multiple versions of her character in the chaotic rumble of unforgettable emotions that continually stirred within her. And that alone required that her work be acknowledged for our Best of 2022 performances. In our feature praising Cuoco’s performances, I said: “As the season thematically focuses on deconstructing the character’s current misfortunes along with her past, Cuoco never once overacts when presented with specific developments pertaining to either her recovery, her relationships, or the uncertainties ahead. Though the chatter is purposely too loud and overwhelming at times, in each interpretation, Cuoco brings her strongest performances to the surface, showing off her chops in a way she’s never done before as she blends them all together while keeping them distinctly separate.”
12. Oscar Isaac
Oscar Isaac is one of the two actors featured on our Best of 2022 performances list who wasn’t just embodying one character but multiple. Moon Knight is all about embracing the chaos, and Isaac’s performances showcased the actor’s chops effectively by giving him an array of feelings to play with as two versions of the character. Steven Grant, Marc Spector, and, subsequently, everything we get behind the mask as Moon Knight. Isaac is one of the most brilliant performers of our time; thereby, when he was cast in the role, it was a given that he’d nail every aspect.
But what’s most admirable here is that Isaac’s depictions of both characters aren’t just one of the best performances of the year but throughout the MCU in general. The role required that Isaac dig into some heavy territory to fully display what it looks like for a man to be at his lowest, angriest, and most heartbroken. It required understanding how the two characters are connected, where one ends and where the other begins, and blending them seamlessly while keeping them distinguishable to illuminate the heartaches from where they came. Whether it was fear, desolation, anger, motivation, strength, calm, or chaos, Isaac embraced them all, taking every line and utilizing it thoroughly to convey a collection of emotions with ease.
13. Christina Applegate
Dead To Me
Christina Applegate brought a masterful performance in the final season of Netflix’s Dead To Me, showcasing that where there’s tremendous heart, incomparable transparency is bound to make its way onto our screens. Applegate has always been astounding as Jen Harding, but every move, expression, and spoken word in the third season hit like a ton of bricks after everything her character went through.
When it comes to crying on television, there’s always the unfortunate qualm of overdoing it—pushing too far, making it a performance rather than an embodiment. Still, Applegate was breathtaking, as every tear she shed was laced with undeniable authenticity. Her adoration for this character, the story, and the friendship between Judy and Jen is evident beyond comprehension. Applegate was equally hilarious as always, deeply concerned given the circumstances, and full of so much adoration as Jen that it made the series worth every moment.
14. Adam Scott
Adam Scott’s performances throughout Apple TV’s newest hit, Severance, are all-around astounding, but goodness, the unsurpassed work in the season finale is some of the actor’s most satisfactory work to date. If you’ve been following Scott for a while now, then you’re likely fully aware of his chops. And yet, as Mark, Scott brought the character to life in a way that he’s yet to accomplish—vulnerable, terrified, and utterly stunned by the end of it all. The characters on this show play two versions of themselves: who they are at Lumon, their “innies,” and who they are outside their “outies.” It’s all a bewilderment, and the truth comes down to the detail that it’s almost hard to imagine if this show would have its same appeal in the hands of other actors.
Throughout the penultimate and season finale especially, Scott’s range allowed the audience to watch Mark crack at the seams, untethering himself from the character we met in the first episode. The man we met in the first episode and the one we leave behind in the season finale are two completely different people, brought to life exceptionally by the same actor, giving his everything to what might be his most revolutionary role. There’s a moment in the penultimate where Scott showcases so much of Mark’s fears before breaking into an effortless laugh with Helly that it evokes the kind of gut punch that’s hard to come back from. Leaving it all behind, moving forward, learning the truth, and everything in between, Scott stepped into this role with such strength and stamina every moment drew you in and pulled you through emotionally gripping roller coasters.
15. Sadie Sink
On a show like Stranger Things, it isn’t rare for the young stars to brilliantly hold their own next to the adults. A mark of true talent here lies in the decision made by each of the actors to understand their characters on a close, intimate level, choosing to grow alongside them as the people embodying them. Millie Bobby Brown consistently floored the audience with her performances as Eleven, but as Stranger Things Season 4 used Max Mayfield to bring the audience closer to understanding Vecna’s curse, it relied heavily on Sadie Sink to give us authentic, heart-shattering, and vulnerable performances.
In “Dear Billy,” especially Sink was otherworldly in displaying a wide range of emotions and setting the stage for more significant, more gut-wrenching battles to come. Throughout the season, Sink placed Max’s grief front and center with a subtlety that many have yet to master, exhibiting the weariness inside of her and the pain seeping through the look in her eyes. As she functioned throughout the episodes, breaking apart from it all, Sink went to places with the character’s psyche to understand pangs of heartaches for which there are few words for. Sink’s full range of emotions and the colossal heart she masterfully brought to our screens remain unmatched in the series.
16. Tyler James Williams
At first, Tyler James Williams’ performances as Gregory Eddie in Abbott Elementary were merely outright hilarious. He’s like a new, better Jim Halpert. (I think John Krasinski would agree here.) But then we were given the opportunity to get to know the character—the chance to look inside of him and see what matters beyond the disbelieving, sardonic eyes that are too tired and very much done with everyone. And it was through those moments, as well as the meme-worthy ones, that Williams showcased he’s no longer the kid from Everybody Hates Chris.
There’s a reason everybody loves Gregory Eddie, and it’s because he sees beyond the words he says aloud, and Williams shows this to the audience with some of the most subtly impressive performances. Williams consistently showcases that there’s a lot more depth to the character that we still need to see, and when we get there, continually peeling back his layers, it’s undoubtedly going to make him even more captivating than he already is.
17. Jenna Ortega
Jenna Ortega is, in every way, dreadfully perfect as Netflix’s titular character, Wednesday Addams. Ortega brought fresh, nuanced performances to the iconic kooky essence by undoubtedly having a blast but simultaneously holding enough back to master the character’s apprehension. Ortega not only breathed new life into Wednesday’s ghoulish deadliness but subtly allowed room for moments of vulnerability that were only visible upon close inspection. The delightfully brilliant embodiment meant she would be in our Best of 2022 performances from the moment she graced our screens, and that’s no small feat.
Wednesday Addams is a character who cares despite her desires not to, and that compassion is revealed in small chunks, when appropriate, and when it’s because of her choices. As a character fully aware and in control of her agency, Ortega allowed Wednesday to dim and shine at the right moments for maximum effect. And the iconic “Goo Goo Muck” dance alone is something that none of us will ever stop replaying. Oh, and how could we forget the cello scene? Unparalleled.
18. Matthew Goode
A Discovery of Witches
In the hands of any other actor, A Discovery of Witches’ Matthew Clairmont would likely have been insufferable, but Matthew Goode brought layers and soul to the character in a way no one else could. For three years, he delivered top-notch performances, and in the show’s final season, he left the character with trails of examples to follow. I’ve said it once, and I’ll say it always—Matthew Goode made vampires cool again. He made them alluring and romantic, but more importantly, he brought to life a sense of vulnerability that not many have before him. Matthew’s sole priority was Diana and protecting his family, and Goode’s ability to show us every inch of the character’s emotions will be something that’s sorely missed in the coming years.
His delivery of the soft, beautiful edges remain incredibly memorable, and his means of uttering some of the most satisfying forms of dialogue continue to be dazzling. All the rage, pain, and frustrations that Goode needed to touch on with Matthew’s journey were done through organic performances that were consistently gut-wrenching and palpable. The series might’ve ended earlier in the year, but we knew right away that Matthew Goode would be on our Best of 2022 performances list—just as he has been from the beginning.
19. Florence Pugh
Florence Pugh‘s performances as Yelena Belova were incredible in her debut during Black Widow, but they’re even more astounding in the Disney Plus series Hawkeye. And while the series aired last year, our performance reviews had gone up, meaning Pugh’s time as Yelena had yet to be concluded. It is especially important to acknowledge them for the work she brought to the finale when Yelena learned that not only did Natasha sacrifice herself, but that she continuously told Clint about her sister and all their memories.
Pugh brings such harrowing sadness to life as she grapples with the grief once more while trying desperately to hold on to the happiness of what it means to have been so deeply loved by her sister. Throughout Hawkeye’s season finale, Pugh is given the opportunity to showcase a full range of emotions, from Yelena’s quirks to her rage, and she does so through the kind of nuances that hit all the right marks while showing us so much more than she’s able to say with words. As Pugh brought her all to action sequences, she exhibited the heart through her expressiveness—the moments that made it clear she’s not only excellent for the role, but she’s bringing layers to a character who will go for in the MCU.
20. Charlie Vickers
The Rings of Power
The Rings of Power featured many gifted actors I personally hadn’t seen elsewhere, and in doing so, it allowed me to walk into the series expecting nothing but getting everything. While there are stars in every corner, Charlie Vickers deserves credit where credit’s due in making us doubt, then shifting gears on us in the blink of an eye. Sure, we all suspected that Halbrand was also Sauron, but at some point, Vickers made us doubt—he made us question and believe in his sincerity. And then, once Galadriel puts two and two together, Vickers shifts gears brilliantly, the look of a mastermind shadowing every glimmer of awe he once fooled us with.
There’s a moment in every show where once the villain is revealed, those first few moments dictate much of who they are and how they will operate. Vickers is at the start of absorbing himself into this role, and the few moments of Sauron that we get are nearly harrowing when juxtaposing the bits of him trying to lie through his teeth as he quietly seizes all that he wants. There’s so much that we’ve yet to see with Vickers in his true villain era, and with the organic changes in his physicality and the gaze in his eyes, something tells me watching him as Sauron is going to be a lot of fun.
Honorable Mentions: Natasha Lyonne (Russian Doll), Quinta Brunson (Abbott Elementary), Selena Gomez (Only Murders In The Building), Sterling K. Brown (This Is Us), Lily James (Pam & Tommy)