Best TV Performances of 2021

Variety Best of TV Performances
Courtesy of HBO/Netflix/AppleTV+

With such a rich and overwhelming array of television to choose from at the end of every year, there are inevitably worthy shows that go unheralded. There’s only so much anyone — even TV critics! — can watch and absorb, try though we might to stay on top of everything available. And yet, there are always excellent performances that break through the rest of the noise, demanding recognition by virtue of their undeniable pull.

In looking back at this year in television to choose 25 of its most compelling performances, Variety’s chief TV critics Caroline Framke and Daniel D’Addario considered buzzy new shows (“Squid Game,” “WandaVision”), shows that snuck up on them (“Starstruck,” “Love Life”), and shows that took their final bow (“Shrill,” “Pose”). Some actors have had time to settle into their roles and find new ways into their roles on established shows such as HBO’s meticulous drama “Succession,” while others burst onto the screen with impressive ease on promising newcomers such as Peacock’s gleefully bonkers comedy “Girls5Eva.” Some broke out of their respective casts to establish their own impressive rhythm; some found strength as part of a pair, making it difficult to extricate one performance from the other.

All of them made for unforgettable moments on sweeping dramas, character comedies, rom-coms, and even as the unflappable facilitators of interviews that kept viewers talking far beyond the ending credits. Together, the work of these 25 people represents the extraordinary breadth of the medium, and how truly great acting can give any project that extra indelible spark of inspiration.

Here are Variety’s picks for the 25 best performances from this year in television, presented in alphabetical order.