The best TV performances of 2021


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Clockwise from left: Park Hae-soo, Squid Game (Photo: Netflix);  Charlotte Nicdao, Mythic Quest (Photo: Apple TV +);  Christina Ricci, Yellowjackets (Photo: Paul Sarkis / Showtime);  Paulina Alexis, Reservation Dogs (Photo: Shane Brown / FX);  Thuso Mbedu, The Underground Railroad (Photo: Kyle Kaplan / Amazon Studios);  Selena Gomez, Steve Martin and Martin Short, Only Murders In The Building (Photo: Craig Blankenhorn / Hulu)

Clockwise from left: Park Hae-soo, Squid game (Photo: Netflix); Charlotte Nicdao, Mythic Quest (Photo: Apple TV +); Christine Ricci, Yellow jackets (Photo: Paul Sarkis / Showtime); Pauline Alexis, Dogs Reservation (Photo: Shane Brown / FX); Thuso Mbedu, The Underground Railroad (Photo: Kyle Kaplan / Amazon Studios); Selena Gomez, Steve Martin and Martin Short, Only the murders in the building (Photo: Craig Blankenhorn / Hulu)

As we move into the final days of 2021, we can all breathe a big sigh of relief and let go of the long-standing debate over whether television is in full swing. Considering all of the debuts and returning series this year, we’ve had as many compelling reasons to stay inside as we have had scary ones. Big adaptations, poignant new comedies, and weird skits have drawn us in throughout the year, led by an array of actors from the big and small screen (and a few frequent travelers in between).

Some performers have given new life to a role they’ve played for years, while others have found the role of their lives. One of Christopher Guest’s favorite collaborators worked their way to the top of a star group, as two comedy icons welcomed a third to their Manhattan apartment building. A young magnetic actor held Barry Jenkins’ gaze and ours. And the star of an HBO Max comedy and an HBO limited series made us consider giving him two spots on our list.

By bringing together the best television performances of the year, The AV Club always seeks to highlight groups and individuals. But when the nomination process began, we again found ourselves distinguishing between powerful leads, pillars in supporting roles and those rising through the ranks. The sets will therefore (especially) have to wait until next year.

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