I HAVE a love-hate relationship with end-of-year lists.
I hate the way they reduce good work to an arbitrary system of rankings, but I love the way they get conversations started.
I love that they have a clear beginning and a clear end - after 10, you're usually done - but I hate leaving deserving shows out in the cold.
Nevertheless, here, in no particular order beyond girl-boy, girl-boy, are 10 performances that caught my eye in 2010. Feel free to discuss.
Role: Margaret Schroeder on HBO's "Boardwalk Empire"
Why she's a 10: No, not for her character's Irish accent, which remains controversial in some circles, Macdonald being Scottish and Margaret sounding less Kerry and more caricature at times. What matters is that while Martin Scorsese and "Boardwalk" creator Terence Winter cast Steve Buscemi as their lead, it took Macdonald to turn the actor with the crooked smile into a true leading man. That scene in the Season 1 finale, in which she finds out who this Enoch "Nucky" Thompson she's been keeping company with for most of the season really is? Together, she and Buscemi took my breath away.
Role: Abed Nadir in NBC's "Community"
Why he's a 10: The funniest guy on the funniest show you're probably still not watching, Pudi's portraying a guy with a clear (if never specified) disability in a way that somehow allows Abed to be in on even the jokes he doesn't completely understand. He can also play it straight (sort of). Earlier this month, in the show's stop-motion episode, "Abed's Uncontrollable Christmas," Pudi had to make do with his voice alone. He not only pulled it off, he did it with such feeling that I might have been able to see those Christmas pterodactyls even if they weren't right there on screen.
Role: Reluctant grandmother Virginia Chance in Fox's "Raising Hope"
Why she's a 10: It seems like only yesterday that Plimpton was playing a wild child in Ron Howard's "Parenthood," but she's not exactly knitting booties in "Hope," Fox's most successful attempt in recent years to marry the wackiness of its animated shows to actors boasting the full complement of fingers. At once both its most out-there character - if you don't count Cloris Leachman's half-dressed Maw Maw, and I simply choose to avert my eyes - and its most grounded, Plimpton's teen-mom-turned-grandma adds a flavor to "Raising Hope" that's both tart and sweet.
Role: Sunil in HBO's "In Treatment"
Why he's a 10: Khan, best known in this country for playing the police inspector in "Slumdog Millionaire," took what seemed at first to be a particularly sedate role in HBO's addictive therapy series - as a depressed widower reluctantly transplanted from India to New York - and turned it into something menacing.
Yes, there's a snap at the end that still smarts a little, but that's on the writers. Khan had me on the edge of my seat every time he sat down on Paul's (Gabriel Byrne) couch.
Role: Temple Grandin in HBO's "Temple Grandin"
Why she's a 10: Though I'd be hard-pressed to find a performance in this biopic that wasn't note-perfect, there's little question that any hope of telling the story of Dr. Temple Grandin, author, academic and advocate for the humane treatment of animals, turned on Danes' ability to incorporate elements of Grandin's Asperger's syndrome into her performance without doing an impression of her - or exciting our pity, something Grandin herself would never seek.
Role: Detective Chief Inspector John Luther in BBC America's "Luther"
Why he's a 10: Anyone who'd seen Elba as Stringer Bell in "The Wire" (or as a manager in "The Office," or as an amorous artist in "The Big C") might reasonably expect that Elba's take on that classic of British television, the detective series, would give off more heat than, say, "A Touch of Frost." But as creator Neil Cross happily burned at least one of Luther's bridges behind him - and gave him an unlikely partner in the form of a serial-killer prodigy (Ruth Wilson) - all that Elba intensity went into forming a character who's not easily shaken off. Fortunately, the BBC has reportedly commissioned two two-hour "Luther" episodes for 2011.
Role: Sally Draper on AMC's "Mad Men"
Why she's a 10: Too young to lift a cocktail - or smoke a cigarette with style - Shipka's Sally Draper nevertheless personifies the tail end of an era where children were meant to be seen but not heard. (Not that she's sitting still for that.) With a cipher for a father (Jon Hamm) and a narcissist for a mother (January Jones), Sally has every excuse for being even more screwed up than she is, but Shipka (who turned 11 in November) never overplays her, delivering one of the more subtle performances in a show where over the top is too often a starting point.
Role: Swedish police detective Kurt Wallander in PBS' "Masterpiece Mystery!" presentation "Wallander"
Why he's a 10: It's not easy for a guy who looks like Branagh does in real life to look like the human equivalent of navel lint, but in the second season of "Wallander," he took the moody, diabetic detective closer to the abyss than ever in pursuit of the character in Henning Mankell's not exactly light and bright novels. And I'm pretty sure he got his man.
Role: Camille Braverman in NBC's "Parenthood"
Why she's a 10: When has Bedelia not been a 10? But in the crowded - and talented - ensemble of "Parenthood," she stands out as a still sexy grandmother who's fighting the good fight in her marriage to the clueless (but still clearly besotted) Zeek (Craig T. Nelson). The rest of the show's grown on me, but Bedelia's had my heart from Day 1.
Jonny Lee Miller
Role: Motivational guru (and major bad guy) Jordan Chase on Showtime's "Dexter"
Why he's a 10: Just as John Lithgow last season made his "3rd Rock from the Sun" character the very first victim of the "Trinity" killer - believe me, if you saw him in action, you'll never look at Lithgow quite the same way again - Miller took "Eli Stone," cuddly corporate lawyer and possible prophet, as well as the maybe too-adorable Mr. Knightley from the latest "Masterpiece" version of "Emma" and stuffed them both into one of those barrels that Jordan and his old camp buddies used for, er, storage. Little wonder that even Dexter Morgan (Michael C. Hall) found Miller's Chase a tough enough nut to crack that the writers had to reach a bit to get it done.
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