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Best TV of the '00s: Dramatic Actor

by Jane Boursaw, posted Dec 30th 2009 11:06AM
Bryan Cranston, Breaking BadMore of our best of the decade coverage, which started on Tuesday. You can read the other posts at the link above. Here, we talk about the best dramatic actors of the decade. And, boy, was it a tough choice.

From a meth-making chemistry teacher to a damaged 1960s ad exec, the guys populating the dramatic actor category in our best of the decade are nothing short of brilliant.

It's hard to choose favorites when you're dealing with the likes of Jon Hamm, Bryan Cranston, Mark Harmon, James Gandolfini, and many others, but the TV Squad team has spoken.

Did your favorites make our list? If not, feel free to add them in the comments below.

Bryan Cranston, Breaking Bad

Allison says: For much of the decade, Bryan Cranston was a schlemiel named Hal, Lois's husband on Malcolm in the Middle. But when he was cast on AMC's Breaking Bad as Walter White, Cranston was a revelation. It's hard to imagine any other actor capturing the depth of despair, desperation and determination in a character who feels that life owes him one and he's going to get his fair share. He's made Walt into a mild-mannered, completely understandable monster.

Jon Hamm, Mad MenJoel says: It's a tough choice between Cranston and fellow AMC star Jon Hamm. Both carry heavily emotional lead roles in intense dramatic series, and both can be wickedly funny when given the opportunity (Jon Hamm's John Ham from SNL, Tim Whatley asking for a "shtickle" of fluoride on Seinfeld). But Cranston gets my nod because, while Hamm gets to do his dramatic heavy lifting in a fedora and sharp suit, Cranston has truly uglied himself up to play Walter on Breakng Bad. The character was never a GQ cover model to begin with, but the ravages of cancer plus the constant stress of being a meth maker has taken even more of a toll on the character, and all of it shows in Cranston's face.

Jon Hamm, Mad Men

Bob says: Was Jon Hamm in other things before AMC's Mad Men? Of course, he played a lot of other roles. But he embodies cheating ad exec Don Draper so much that the character was instantly iconic. It's like someone took all of the attributes of a 60s leading man, fed them into a computer, and produced Hamm as the result. But an actor can look the part without doing a good job with the acting, and that's where Hamm is compelling. He does things with silence and a curve of the mouth and the eyes and with a cigarette that you really can't teach. It's a truly complete performance and a star-making turn.

Mark Harmon, NCISMark Harmon, NCIS

Isabelle says :
NCIS has been one of the most watched TV series since it premiered in 2003. One of the reasons for such popularity: a fantastic cast led by People magazine's Sexiest Man Alive of 1986 and veteran actor Mark Harmon. At 59 years old, Harmon still has the charm, the looks and the acting chops to offer us each week a believable and compelling character, Special Agent Jethro Gibbs.

Often in procedural series such as NCIS, lead characters are kept in the background of the case of the week. But thanks to Harmon's portrayal of Gibbs, the character takes precedence over the case. Mark Harmon is such a huge part of why NCIS is popular that when he threatened to quit the show due to producer Donald Bellisario's chaotic management style, Bellisario agreed to take a back seat. Good decision because it gave us fans more of NCIS and the great Mark Harmon.

James Gandolfini, The Sopranos

John says: Only the very un-PC, violent nature of The Sopranos prevented Gandolfini from winning Emmys and Golden Globes every year the series ran on HBO. A perfect choice for the role of a depression and anxiety riddled mobster and family man, Gandolfini's portrayal of Tony Soprano transitioned smoothly and believably from love to rage, vulnerability to homicidal intent. The career-defining performance convinced every fan of the show that Tony was a tragic figure -- a sensitive man trapped in a world where empathy is a deadly sin.

Terry O'QuinnTerry O'Quinn, Lost

Mike says:
TV vet Terry O'Quinn is the perfect actor to play Lost's vulnerable island philosopher, John Locke. Like Locke, O'Quinn flirted with greatness for most of his career, but he never seemed to get that big break. At the age of 52, he finally landed the role of a lifetime after making memorable guest appearances on a number of popular TV shows (The X-Files, Alias, The West Wing). As Locke, O'Quinn earned an Emmy, and a rabid fan base, for his genuine performance as a broken man born again after a tragic event. O'Quinn makes Locke's blunt transitions from know-it-all roughneck to wounded hard-luck case seem smooth and believable.

Denis Leary, Rescue Me

Jason says: Who knew that a brash Irish-American, chain-smoking comedian could put together one of the most compelling, intelligent, funny and under-appreciated shows on television? Even more impressive, he's absolutely amazing in the lead role of Rescue Me. Leary tackles the role of an alcoholic firefighter suffering a major emotional breakdown after he loses his cousin during 9/11. He's a disaster in his own life, sabotages every relationship he's ever been a part of, and suffered more pain and loss than one fragile man can handle. And through it all, we believe every minute of his tragically flawed and beautifully screwed up character.

Michael Chiklis, The ShieldMichael Chiklis, The Shield

Danny says: An actor doesn't often get the opportunity to transform himself, both as an actor or a person. Chilkis had been playing the lovable, dumpy, bald guy in shows and movies up until his failed sitcom attempt, Daddio, when his wife suggested he re-image himself by slimming down and shaving his head that was already balding due to an accident with improperly applied greasepaint in a stage play. Suddenly the man who brought larger-than-life guys (both figuratively and literally) like John Belushi and Curly from "The 3 Stooges" back to life had become someone who could take both of them in a fight and hardly break a sweat.

Chiklis' new persona coupled with a serious dramatic experience made for some of the most tense and heavy television that audiences hadn't seen in a long time. It not only provided serious entertainment, but also some serious questions about the duality of morality in the face of public safety.

David Tennant, Doctor Who

Brad says: David Tennant took a role made famous by a plethora of actors before him (most notably Tom Baker) and made it his. It likely helped that he was a fan of the show long before he took the role. He was so good as the odd and quirky central character of The Doctor that he was offered the lead on an American television show immediately after the end of his run, thus joining the legion of British actors and actresses trying to imitate an American accent for American networks. However, given the nature of Doctor Who, I have a sneaking suspicion that he'll return to the role from time to time.

Michael Emerson, LostMichael Emerson, Lost

Jonathan says: From the moment he uttered "You guys got any milk?" Michael Emerson changed the face of evil on prime time television. As Benjamin Linus, the ultimate pain in every Oceanic 815er's ass, Emerson made being bad funny and witty on ABC's Lost. He steals every scene he's in, spews some of the most quotable lines from any TV character in recent memory, and best of all, the next decade gets to have him around for 18 more hours during Lost's sixth, and final, season.

Christopher Meloni, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit

Nick says: Meloni's Detective Elliot Stabler is a classic flawed hero. He's a workaholic, his family is coming apart at the seams, and yet nothing can keep him from bringing in the particular scumbag he's after. And without Meloni's incredible intensity (something he's been able to parody a bit, most effectively in Wet Hot American Summer), the character would be little more than a cop cliche. He's added some real depth, especially in episodes dealing with Stabler's son, and he's been reliable week in and week out for a full decade. Grab your popcorn and watch him kick ass. Maybe the good guys can win a few.

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I agree that Michael Hall, James Spader, William Peterson, Hugfh Laurie, Ian McShane & James Marsters were oversights.
The list contained some brilliant actors, though.

February 06 2010 at 2:41 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

James Marsters of "Buffy The Vampire Slayer." He gave an
Outstanding performance. Somebody must have liked the looks because there was a Spike like character in the movie "Knowing."

January 02 2010 at 9:33 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Whew, I got a chill when I read Ben's milk line.
I'd probably have Michael C. Hall as Dexter on that list too.

December 31 2009 at 5:35 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
John F.C. Taylor

Arguably a list that should have been longer. Definitely would have included William Petersen on my list if I'd been composing it. Kind of surprised to see Doctor Who's David Tennant make the list. Surprized, but glad to see it. Only show among those listed I actually watched. By the way, you've got another year to go on the decade. The decade, century and millennium started 01/01/01, not 01/01/00. Why do you think Arthur C. Clarke titled his book 2001: A Space Odyssey?

December 31 2009 at 2:10 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

For my money it was 3 time Emmy winner James Spader. He weekly took his character, Alan Shore, wherever the script led from heart wrenching drama to pure slapstick comedy and he was always pitch perfect in his performance. The range that he demonstrated weekly was amazing.

December 31 2009 at 10:24 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

all great mentions of course (Bryan Cranston definitely has to be my fave actor on tv right now - absolutely astonishing), but really the best performance has to go to Ian McShane for his stunning performance in Deadwood. It's just mesmerizing to watch him act in that role.

December 31 2009 at 5:44 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Thank you!

December 31 2009 at 1:07 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

What about John Noble? Too many actors play crazy by presenting characters who don't make sense or seem "checked out". John plays Walter Bishop in Fringe in a unique way that makes him a little scary, but very loveable at the same time.

Truly, his range and diversity should earn him at least an honorable mention. The man can make you laugh and cry in the same scene! It's enough to make you want to go a little crazy with him.

December 31 2009 at 1:05 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Sean Prizzle

I agree that the number one actor should be noone but Michael C. Hall. He went from playing a gay funeral director to a blood splatter analyst who moonlights as a serial killer. It's a hell of allot easier to play the same role year after year but to have to completely erase a well known and loved character from the public's eyes and create a polar opposite one in a new show to me should get you to the top of this list. Votes for Ian Mcshane and Hugh Laurie to be on the list as well.

December 30 2009 at 6:22 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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