Olivia Colman – Broadchurch: Episode 1.1
Olivia Colman’s brilliant, emotionally raw performance as Detective Miller was one of the best things about the first season of Broadchurch. In this first episode, we see her as a competent woman plunged into the kind of case she thought she’d never have to deal with, a brutal child murder among people that she knows and cares about. Colman’s performance is nothing short of excellent.
Olivia Colman – Broadchurch: Episode 1.8
Colman’s performance in the season finale takes everything up a notch, just as it should. It’s astonishing, without a single false moment.
Laura Dern – Enlightened: Pilot
Dern is excellent throughout the first season of Enlightened, but the Pilot calls for the biggest range. We have to see her pre-breakdown/mid-breakdown/post-breakdown. And she nails them all, probably most terrifying mid-breakdown. It’s a far cry from the kind of subtle work she does in the rest of the season, but it’s undeniably compelling.
Laura Dern – Enlightened: Lonely Ghosts
Lonely Ghosts gives Dern one of the strongest single-episode arcs of the season. As she tries to reintegrate herself into the good time group she used to party with, she realizes that things have changed, in many ways, some good, some bad. It’s a wonderful episode and Dern’s work in the final montage is her most sensitive of the season.
Katie Lowes – Scandal: White Hat’s Back On
Katie Lowes was an inexperienced actress when she got the very important role of Quinn Perkins on Scandal and she hadn’t put a foot wrong for the first two seasons. And then she got this episode. Talk about a killer performance. Quinn’s just gone by the time this episode is over; there are two really fantastic scenes here toward the end of the episode. Lowes has never been better.
Pauline Quirke – Broadchurch: Episode 1.7
Secrets are coming out in the penultimate episode of Broadchurch’s first season and none are more brilliantly handled than the final truth about Susan Wright, the strange, menacing figure played by Pauline Quirke. Her performance in this episode is nothing short of breathtaking. She’s been very good; in this episode, she’s nothing short of truly great.
Kerry Washington – Scandal: Boom Goes the Dynamite
It’s hard to play the lead in a series like Scandal; it’s hard to keep a central character fresh and compelling over seasons like this and even harder to find moments of real character change, but Washington does it in this episode from midway through the second season. There’s a real character realization in this episode, a powerful epiphany that culminates in what is probably her finest acting of the first three seasons, a beautiful monologue that ties together her season-long story with the case of the week. Breathtaking.
Kerry Washington – Scandal: Top of the Hour
It’s quite a job swinging Scandal into the second half of season 2 and it wasn’t ever quite as good as the first half, but Washington does more than her best in this episode. If Boom Goes the Dynamite featured some her subtlest work in a beautiful resonant character arc, this episode just gives her moment after moment after moment to unleash the kind of powerful acting that holds the show together.
Jodie Whittaker – Broadchurch: Episode 1.2
The typical pick is, I guess, the first episode when you’re looking for Whittaker’s best work as grieving mother Beth Latimer. But I pick episode 2; the grief and loss has really started to settle in and Whittaker finds the weak stumbling of a woman barely able to remain functional. Brilliant.
Bellamy Young – Scandal: Mrs. Smith Goes to Washington
Young is typically wonderful as the overachieving First Lady on Scandal, forever plastering on a smile and powering through the **** to make sure she gets what she wants. But this episode allowed her to show us all the rage boiling under that plastic smile. A final scene, a near-uninterrupted monologue as a tipsy Mellie tells her husband exactly where he can (and can’t) get off is a tour de force.