As our feature on the best television of 2020 amply demonstrates, the current TV landscape is replete with excellent ensembles that make stumping for your favorites during awards season a nigh-impossible task. And yet, though our annual compilation of the best TV performances typically includes dynamic duos and other group nominations, 2020 seems to be the year of the standout or soloist. Maybe it’s the continued migration of big-screen stars to premium-cable and streaming dramas, or perhaps it’s the feelings of isolation prompted by quarantine, but this year’s list honors more individual performances than ever before. The lead of a star-studded period drama, a couple of scene stealers, and an actor who puts the “support” in “supporting role” have been singled out for praise along with a witty newcomer, a late-night host with the most innovative sketches, and a rom-com icon who’s gone full (murderous) rogue.
A quick note on nominations: Though we once again sought to highlight performers who hadn’t graced this list in the past, there were some incumbents who just couldn’t be denied.