In a lot of ways, TV acting is the most difficult form of acting there is. Instead of portraying a character for one two-hour long movie, a good television series requires an actor to follow a character for years to come, charting their best and worst moments and capturing how they grow in the face of their adversity.
For this particular list, focus will be put on the actors who best rose to this challenge and ended up giving some of TV’s most formidable and iconic performances.
From career criminals to lawyers, cops to crime bosses, politicians to queens, and bartenders to superheroes, this article will cover a wide range of critically acclaimed shows and characters, in hopes of digging into the best performances the small screen has offered audiences over the years.
Sticking with a character for as long as some of these actors have deserves praise for commitment alone, but each of the following made the most of their time on screen and helped make the success of their respective series’ possible.
With that in mind, here are 20 TV acting performances that are absolutely flawless.
Minor spoilers follow.
If you were to ask any TV fan to name a character from The Wire – whether they’ve seen the show or not – chances are Omar Little would be the first one they’d name. And why wouldn’t they? Within a series populated by some of pop culture’s greatest characters and career-defining performances, Omar sits head and shoulders above the competition.
Omar’s intense complexity and constantly intimidating presence was brought to life by the show’s greatest actor, the typically dependable Michael K. Williams.
For five seasons of murder, betrayal, blackmail and tragedy, Williams was able to craft out of his remarkable performance a character for the ages. Omar was at once sinister and noble, living by a strict moral code whilst maintaining a reputation as one of Baltimore’s most notorious stick-up men.
All of these traits, added together with his open homosexuality and signature whistling, were balanced to perfection by Michael K. Williams’ charming, charismatic performance, which worked wonders with the writing to create one of TV’s best-ever characters.