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Best TV Performances of 2016

Which performers were unforgettable?

Alexander Zalben

With more TV shows, and more great TV shows, every year it gets harder to pick what were the singular best performances out of the plethora of phenomenal acting available. But TV Guide's editors are more than up to the task, so here are our picks for the best actors and actresses delivering unique, stunningly different characters each and every week.

And if you disagree, let us know by voting on your own picks for top TV performances of 2016!

10. Chrissy Metz as Kate Pearson, This is Us

Chrissy Metz, This Is Us

Chrissy Metz, This Is Us

NBC, Ron Batzdorff/NBC

Larger body shapes are making a comeback on TV, and Chrissy Metz's Kate is leading the charge. Though Kate struggles with obesity, she hasn't let her weight loss battle completely define her. It realistically influences other aspects of her life, but she hasn't let it hold her back from finding love or a new purpose in life. Kate has shown the power of being vulnerable and allowing your true self to shine, no matter what you look like. She also is finally taking a stand for what she really wants in this life and she won't let anyone derail her from it -- even the man who may be the love of her life. She is the glue of the Pearson family siblings, keeping Randall (Sterling K. Brown) and Kevin (Justin Hartley) not only in line, but connected. Metz's performance is fierce, funny and makes Kate the type of person you'd definitely love to get a glass of wine with -- even if it is 150 calories. -- Megan Vick

9. Pamela Adlon as Sam Fox, Better Things


Pamela Adlon as Sam

Colleen Hayes/FX

Better Things' excellent first season may have been overshadowed a bit by the debut of Donald Glover's Atlanta, but the stealth comedy and Pamela Adlon's Sam are as equally worthy of praise as their network neighbor. A strong and dominant female voice leading a quietly radical feminist series, Sam is a working actor and single mother to three daughters who is forced to balance many roles onscreen and off. Although she is far from perfect -- and would be the first person to tell you so -- Sam's fierce dedication to her daughters and the entire spectrum of life's circumstances has led to some of the best mother-daughter relationships depicted on TV. -- Kaitlin Thomas

8. Kelly Bishop as Emily Gilmore, Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life


Kelly Bishop, Gilmore Girls


Throughout Gilmore Girls' original seven-season run, Bishop's Emily Gilmore and the WASP-y environment in which she existed was a constant source of drama and conflict for Lorelai (Lauren Graham), who eschewed her privileged upbringing and left home as a single mother at age 16. However, despite this conflict, Emily was a fan favorite character, and in Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life, a newly widowed Emily again was a standout. Her grief revealed vulnerability and helped to thaw her heart while also making progress with Lorelai. But if you're looking for a true highlight, look no further than the scene in which a give-no-f---s Emily quit the DAR in epic fashion. If you need us, we'll be trying to figure out how to make her exclamation of "bulls---" our ringtone. -- Kaitlin Thomas

7. Brian Tyree Henry as Alfred "Paper Boi" Miles, Atlanta


Brian Tyree Henry as Alfred Miles

On, uh, paper, Paper Boi is drug dealer slash aspiring rapper -- one of the oldest clichés in the hip-hop canon. Henry makes him much more than a one-dimensional stereotype, though, a mishmash of intelligence and confusion, self-awareness and awkwardness. And he's hilarious. -- Malcolm Venable

6. Millie Bobby Brown as Eleven, Stranger Things


Millie Bobby Brown, Stranger Things


Brown's Eleven was so instantly iconic that the rapper 2 Chainz wore a hoodie with her face on it. Stranger Things' psychokinetic preteen took the world by storm, thanks to the eleven-year-old Brit's magnetic, monosyllabic performance. Brown's incredibly expressive face conveys pain and hope in a way that seasoned actors struggle to do with a lot of dialogue. And the blonde wig/bloody nose combo is unforgettable. In a show full of breakout characters (we miss you, Barb), no one else broke out bigger. -- Liam Mathews

5. Riz Ahmed as Nasir "Naz" Khan, The Night Of


Riz Ahmed, The Night Of

Riz Ahmed's tour de force performance carried the series, and was one of the most memorable on television in 2016. As one of very few Muslim characters (let alone lead characters) on TV, Naz allowed The Night Of to tackle difficult issues like Islamophobia and the socioeconomic implications of our country's criminal justice system. Over the course of eight episodes, Naz goes from a wide-eyed kid to a hardened criminal, as viewers debate whether someone like him could actually be capable of murder. By the end of the series, though that question is definitively answered as it relates to the central murder mystery, the real truth is even more murky. -- Liz Raftery

4. Louie Anderson as Christine Baskets, Baskets

​Louie Anderson, Baskets

Louie Anderson, Baskets

Ben Cohen/FX

Obviously the big story here is that famed comedian Louie Anderson is playing across sexes as Chip Baskets' mother, but what Anderson -- who won an Emmy for his performance -- has done with Christine is create an entirely realistic character that we all know in real life, yet also a character who fits perfectly in this surreal world. Partially based on his own mother, Christine is a mom still trying to rein in her children even though she knows they're beyond her control, yet can't help but meddle because her whole social life depends on their success. And because her biological children aren't that successful -- failed rodeo clown, trade-school dean -- there's just enough hope that she'll be needed that she doesn't have to change her ways. -- Tim Surette

3. Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister, Game of Thrones


Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

It was the year of the women on Game of Thrones, but no one paid quite the price for victory as badly as Cersei Lannister did. Never one to gracefully accept the limits of her gender, this season, Cersei proved exactly how far she was willing to go for a taste of real power -- a move which ultimately cost Cersei the one thing she truly cared about: her final remaining child. With her last ties to her humanity seemingly severed, a newly hardened Cersei wasted no time in crowning herself queen, in a moment we won't soon forget. -- Sadie Gennis

2. Thandie Newton as Maeve Millay, Westworld

Thandie Newton

Thandie Newton

In a show full of fascinating personal stories, Sweetwater's brothel madame has the most electric. The show's central theme of emerging consciousness lays heavily on her (and Newton's) artificial shoulders as she slowly learns the truth about Westworld and her role in it; and through her steady stages of accepting the truth and her awareness -- confusion, fear, anger -- she became the one character we felt the most compassion for. Are we rooting for Maeve to escape her dusty prison and raise hell in the outside world, potentially jumpstarting the Singularity and ending human control over the planet? Absolutely. -- Tim Surette

1. Sarah Paulson as Marcia Clark, The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story


Sarah Paulson as Marcia Clark


It's both wrong and accurate to call Marcia Clark a "character." She's a real person, obviously, but history demeaned and remembered her as a pitiful caricature of perma-scowl and, well, a perm, thanks in no small part to the media that hated to love her and loved to hate her. That all changed with Sarah Paulson's Emmy-winning turn as the lead prosecutor of the Trial of the Century. Paulson's appealingly authentic portrayal, full of pathos and resolve, single-handedly turned Clark into a feminist icon, shamed our punchline treatment of her and reminded us that there's a human being underneath the "character." -- Joyce Eng

Check out the rest of our Best of 2016:

Best TV Shows of 2016

Best TV Episodes of 2016

...And vote for your own Best of 2016:

Your Best TV Shows of 2016

Your Best TV Performances of 2016

Your Best TV Episodes of 2016